Pope Francis and the reform of the Priesthood

The commentary below offers a suggestion as to what our Pope may be trying to say about the reform of the sacred priesthood. The standing of priests both within and without the Church has been greatly affected by the abuse scandal. The scandal does point to problems. Many have been addressed by the reform of seminaries, what they teach and how they form priests. But I think probably much has to be developed on, for want of a better expression, the spirituality of the secular priest.

Reflecting on what I have learnt in the last two years since becoming a Catholic and being ordained in the Catholic Church, is that previously my life had been too comfortable, and in a sense, too easy. I don't mean that being an Anglican Rector was a breeze and I could do it standing on my head (in fact in many ways my ministry was not successful and I struggled enormously). But, for me at least, it hadn't required much faith and trust in God alone. My stipend was guaranteed and more than met my needs. Also my status within society was also guaranteed, and although not always respected it was still there. This contrasts markedly with being an Ordinariate priest. My income is not guaranteed - we have to trust that the Lord will provide. We have no status either within society or within the Church. While at times of need the local diocese is grateful for our help, in many ways we are on the fringe. Many Catholics are not sure of what the Ordinariate is so are understandably cautious, or simply ignore us. While all this doesn't give me outward security it does mean I have to fall back on inner security which can only be found in Christ.

In a sense what I am trying to say is that the clergy of the Ordinariate, and their people with them, have been undergoing a kind of reform already. And what I want to testify to is that it has been very good for me, and, I hope, thereby very good for the people God is calling me to pastor and serve. It is clear from reading Bl. Pope John Paul II, the Pope Emeritus Benedict, and now Pope Francis, that reform needs to begin with the priesthood and work its way out from there to the faithful and then all God's people.

Lastly I just want to say what a difference it makes if the faithful pray for their priests and support them in their reform. Pray for us please!

This is very well worth reading...


COMMENTARY



If there were any doubt that Pope Francis was elected by the cardinals to lead the reform of the Vatican, he himself implied as much when he joked with journalists on March 16 that various cardinals had suggested he take the name “Adrian” after Adrian VI, a Pope who aggressively reformed the Church’s central administration after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

But the reform that man proposes is often just a small part of the renewal God disposes.

When St. Francis of Assisi, for example, heard Jesus say to him from the St. Damian Crucifix, “Rebuild my Church,” he thought that the Lord was asking him to rehabilitate that tiny dilapidated Church, but God actually had a much larger reconstruction project in mind: reshaping the living stones of the Church as a whole.

Likewise, even though the cardinals seem to have elected Pope Francis to address much-discussed issues within the Vatican Curia, he, like his papal patron saint, may be God’s instrument to bring something much larger back into shape.

One of the most urgent reforms facing him is the restoration of the moral credibility of the hierarchy, and especially of the priesthood. The scandals of clerical sex abuse and tales of Vatican corruption have not only severely undermined the Church’s moral authority, but given the impression that living by the Church’s teachings forms freaks and moral monsters rather than saints.

In his first couple of weeks as Pope, as well as his 14 years in Buenos Aires, Francis has been charting out the trajectory of priestly reshaping. We can focus on seven aspects of this needed renewal.
The first is with regard to priestly simplicity.

Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty, but commit themselves to a simple lifestyle. In many places, this principle is given lip service, as members of the clergy drive fancy cars, frequent the finest restaurants and live in exquisite digs. Cardinal Bergoglio’s example of living in a small apartment rather than an episcopal palace, taking public transportation rather than a car with a driver and cooking for himself cannot help but lead priests to a sincere examination about the sincerity of their own spiritual poverty.

Second, throughout his time as archbishop, the future Pope spoke out forcefully against priests’ living a “double-life.” When he was asked in a 2010 book-length interview, El Jesuita, about the common saying in Argentina, “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in priests,” he replied, “Many of us priests do not deserve to have them believe in us.”

He wants to change that, by calling, helping and requiring priests to live with genuine priestly integrity.
In Buenos Aires, if the priests found themselves in difficult circumstances, he would help them address their situation, even if it meant their deciding to leave the priesthood. What he absolutely wouldn’t tolerate, however, was priests’ living incoherent lives, because he knew how much that harms and scandalizes God’s people.

This leads to the third aspect of his reform of the priesthood: bringing about priestly accountability.

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