Clarify the understanding of priestly identity
At the press conference, held on 18 October 2002, Archbishop Csaba
Ternyák, Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, spoke about the
way the document was organized into two sections, a presentation of the
principles and then the pastoral application. The Secretary pointed out
the persistent need in some parts of the world to understand better the
essential distinction between the royal priesthood of the baptized and
the priesthood of the ordained. The explicit aim is to emphasize the
parish priest's sacramental leadership in the parish. This constitutes a
firm foundation for lay generosity and collaboration. Archbishop
Ternyák also begged patience for repeating what can seem to be obvious
pastoral directions in many places, that in other places can be under
dispute. He explained the difference between a Directory and an
Instruction. An Instruction does not impart new norms, but aims to
clarify and support the application of existing norms. We offer a
translation of the key sections of Archbishop Ternyák's presentation.
1) In the work of drafting the document: The
Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community, an effort has
once again been made to offer for priests' reflection the fundamental
theological values, sometimes obscured, that motivate a priest to do the
work of the evangelizing mission. Much was done to highlight the
relationship between the pneumatic-ecclesiological dimension, which
explains the essence of the priest's sacred ministry, and the
ecclesiological dimension, which helps people understand the importance
of his special office in the Church.
Central theme: essential distinction between priesthood of the
baptized and that of the ordained
We had to examine the confusion regarding priestly identity with its
sacramental foundation and the pastoral abuses that result from such
confusion. We also received so many requests for clarification that it
became necessary to set out a doctrinal section that would respond to
the widespread request for making clear again the essential
distinction between the baptismal and the ordained priesthood.
2) Since the majority of these pastoral abuses are restricted to
several particular ecclesial regions, in the Instruction the
Congregation has tried to respond in a realistic and constructive
perspective. The ease of communication and exchange today—as
we know from experience—along with the
spread of good ideas, can permit the rapid "export" of ideas
and practices which are, pastorally harmful. Thus some people may say
that the Instruction does not in any way concern them, but our
common pastoral responsibility requires us to inspire and to carry on
the work of prevention. In bringing to bear a variety of experiences
from around the world, the Plenary Assembly certainly contributed to
broaden the scope and foster a stronger missionary orientation.
3) Perhaps, after scanning some parts of the text, some may say that
we are presenting the obvious (for example, the parish priest has the
responsibility of taking care of the confession of the children who are
being prepared for their First Communion). In this regard, I would like
to say that people often raise this objection to documents of the Holy
See, because people forget that Rome has to keep in mind the situation
everywhere, and what can seem obvious in one part of the world may not
always be so in another place. The need to be of service to all is the
reason for certain editorial choices.
4) With regard to the nature of the document, it is an Instruction.
An instruction does not impart new norms but aims to clarify and
encourage the implementation of the existing norms.
In general, for priests, as you know, since Holy Thursday 1994, the Directory
for the Ministry and Life of Priests has been in force. A directory
is a summary of the existing norms presented as a set of basic guiding
principles. The Directory and the Instruction are meant to
complement each other.
Today, priests have received the relevant summaries that serve as
authoritative guides for their life and ministerial activity. As a
result, it is important to see that these texts be universally
published, examined, promoted and applied. They should also be a
substantial part of every programme for the continuing formation of the
clergy, that has to follow-up on the formation that priests receive
5) Reading over the document, one can perceive a common theme that is
the explicit aim of the Instruction: to emphasize the
"sacramental leadership" that belongs to the parish priest.
This does not in the least mean that the Congregation does not
appreciate the active and generous contribution of the laity to the
parish community. It is most appropriate to promote such involvement
within the clear recognition of the priestly identity. The more clearly
the parish recognizes the priest's identity, the more the laity can
exercise their specific pastoral co-ministry.
Urgent pastoral problem
Some are bound to remark that the documents that Cardinal Castrillón
Hoyos mentioned, namely, the Directory for the Ministry and Life of
Priests, the Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio,
the Circular Letter The Priest and the Third Christian
Millennium: Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments
and Leader of the Community have dealt with the subject. I must
say that, since pastoral problems continue to exist, it seems pastorally
helpful to reaffirm the teaching but this time from a different angle.
6) Finally, the document that we now present, is also an act of
homage and gratitude to the parish priests of the world who silently and
faithfully go about their ministry with all its problems,
misunderstandings and humiliations.
The Congregation wants to show its great appreciation to all the
priests who are involved in the care of souls and to encourage them to
be an image of the Good Shepherd for the people to whom they have been
sent by obedience to their superiors.
The Lord has taught us there is more joy in giving than in receiving
and I certainly hope that parish priests and all their collaborators may
experience the great joy of the Lord.