Thursday, October 11, 2007

What do Rosebank, Johannesburg, and Australia got in common? Read on...

When I saw on Cathnews a link to a document from the Rosebank Parish in Johannesberg, I thought "That's a bit far afield, isn't it?". Then I saw that the link was to a paper reproduced in Catholica Australia, entitled: The Crisis in Ministry, and all the pieces began to fit together.

Same old same old, of course. Quick fix solutions that seem great over a glass of chardonnay on a sunny afternoon, but might not seem so great at 3am in the morning having to make an emergency call to anoint a dying person at the local hospital.

Expect no extensive commentary from me, except for a few observations.

The first is that the entire section of their second proposal "Optional Celibacy" is taken from the National Council of Priests in Australia 2004 document "Reflections on the Lineamenta". Nice to know that we are a world leader in this area...

Secondly, their third proposal "Ordained Community Leaders", citing St Paul's letter to Titus, fails to recognise that this very passage is the basis for what they have called (in section one) Proposal 1 - Traditional Vocations. What do the authors think that priests are, if not "ordained community leaders"? Remember too, that St Paul was hardly in the position to set up seminaries for young men with vocations to the priesthood. If he were, I am sure he would have jumped at the chance. But this was the first generation of Christians, and the "ordained community leaders" he is talking about were the first bishops and priests of the Christian Church.

Third, note that there is no proposal about ordaining women or even asking the Church to resume discussion about it (although a footnote shows that it did come up in one of their meetings and 80% were in favour). If only the Australian petitioners could have been so wise.

Fourth, among the websites linked are: http://www.futurechurch.org and www.marriedpriests.org . Great company.

3 Comments:

At Friday, October 12, 2007 12:18:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“their third proposal "Ordained Community Leaders", citing St Paul's letter to Titus, fails to recognise that this very passage is the basis for what they have called (in section one) Proposal 1 - Traditional Vocations. What do the authors think that priests are, if not "ordained community leaders"? Remember too, that St Paul was hardly in the position to set up seminaries for young men with vocations to the priesthood. If he were, I am sure he would have jumped at the chance . . .”

I wouldn’t be so sure. The seminary system as we have known it up to recent times really only dates from Trent, and it was adopted then because previous models of clergy selection and formation were not serving the needs of the church. I see no reason to suppose that the Fathers of Trent achieved some kind of Pauline ideal which had eluded the church for the previous 1600 years.

There an irreducible sacramental core to priesthood, but a vast amount that is left to the church to design, structure, change and adapt to meet changing circumstances and situations, and I think if the church has been given that kind of authority it has a responsibility to use it wisely. It’s patently obvious that the seminarised, professionalised “standard” clerical model that has been developed over a period and has been more or less fixed since Trent is not currently meeting the needs of the church. Are we supposed to ignore this and just hope that the needs of the church will somehow come back into line with the clerical model that we are familiar with?

Of the various proposals for change that have emerged recently – the Australian petition, the radical document from the Dutch Dominicans, this initiative from South Africa – this one is much the most conservative. It goes out of its way to acknowledge, respect and retain the strengths of the existing model, and not to challenge any aspect of our concept of priesthood that is seen as intrinsic and immutable. Hence, as you point out, although consultation revealed wide support for ordaining women, no such proposal is advanced in the document.

In fact, it seems to me that everything this document suggests is either something that the church has previously done, or something that it is currently doing. If anything, it could be criticised as insufficiently imaginative, and not looking for solutions which, while respecting the fundamentals of Catholic teaching on priesthood, are nevertheless new.

At that level, “same old, same old” is a defensible comment, although I suspect that’s not the sense in which you intended it, David. But this is a document which recognises the shortcoming of the Tridentine clerical model in today’s circumstances and seeks to address those problems while remaining squarely within the bounds of authoritative teaching about priesthood. I think it deserves better than that kind of dismissive response.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 4:06:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

The great advantage of the seminary model (which, as you point out, stems from the Reforms of Trent) is EDUCATION. This is a good thing, and that's what I meant when I said that if St Paul could have had access to such education, he would have jumped at the chance.

The reforms of Trent for educating clergy (a model generally adopted by Protestants as well) were necessary because of the low standard of education for priests pre-Reformation. In earlier centuries, other methods of education had obviously been more or less sufficient.

We may very well look for alternative methods of education to the seminary/academic model. But I fear that many of the suggestions being proposed overlook the necessity for priests to have a very solid personal formation and education. Even the new criteria here in Melbourne for permanent deacons requires a full theology degree and an additional formation year. Could anything less be required of these "community leaders"?

True, seminary training could well be made optional, but it would have to be replaced by something just as rigourous and effective.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 6:07:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

OK, I see your point, which is more about education than seminaries, as such. The South African discussion document does specifically quote St Paul’s requirement that the candidates should “have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition, so that he can be counted on both for giving encouragement in sound doctrine and for refuting those who argue against it”, and I think that does envisage some standard of theological education – although, obviously, it need not be delivered in a seminary setting (although, equally obviously, it may be).

When I lived in Ireland, the Anglican church had “non-stipendiary” ministers, who were ordained priests, mostly late vocations who either had another career that actually paid the bills or were retired. As the name suggests, they weren’t paid. They acted as assistants to stipendiary ministers, did chaplaincy work, parish relief, etc. There was no sacramental objection to their being appointed to a parish priest-type position, but obvious practical objections, so it wasn’t done (and there may well have been a regulation forbidding it). Theological education was part of the formation process. I do not know whether the same standard of theological education was required as for a full-time minister, but certainly the idea of ordaining mature members of the community is not inconsistent with the idea that they must be theologically educated.

But, especially as this particular proposal comes from Africa, we must consider the practical aspects. There’s a signficant cost to obtaining third-level theological education. Even if the education is provided for free, assuming the local church has the resources to do this, there’s an opportunity cost for the candidate, in terms of lost wages or lost time with his family or both. There’s also a problem for the candidate whose general education has not been completed to a high enough standard to enable him to benefit from third-level education. This may or may not be an issue in Rosebank, but in many parts of Africa it would be a very signficant issue for a lot of people. In short, the higher the standard of education required, the greater the barrier this is to people answering the call to this particular form of ministry.

This calls for clear and honest thinking about the level of theological education that we should require in our ministers. Yes, they must be theologically educated; St Paul says as much. But it’s a consideration that he only mentions after character, family life, behaviour and reputation. If we insist on the equivalent of a four-year degree course, we rule out a great many men who might have been more than acceptable to St Paul. Remember St Joseph of Cupertino!

 

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