Commentary on the Holy Priesthood
Gino Concetti

The value of community life for today's diocesan priests

The concept of community life immediately recalls the life of Religious who by professing the evangelical counsels also commit themselves to live that typical "form" of life of their institute. It is their houses, shrines and churches that make visible the community life of Religious. Only hermits, opting for a solitary life, live on their own.

Are priests, that is, diocesan priests, bound to live in a community? Is this element part of their status as priests?

From a glance at history, this does not seem to be the case. Priests who live together on the same premises and form a community are few and far between.

In past centuries, most of those who were not parish priests lived at home. It was rare to come across communities in which priests lived together, sharing their apostolate, ministry, food and dwelling.

The problem has always been recognized by those circles that were pleading its cause. For the most part, it was Religious who pressed for and upheld it and demonstrated not only the financial but above all the spiritual advantages that could also derive from it for diocesan priests.

At the Second Vatican Council, the matter arose in the context of examining the life and ministry of priests. In the preparatory phase and even earlier, it was members of Religious Institutes who showed their consensus.

However, the ambiguity was plain to all: diocesan priests are different from priests who belong to Religious Institutes in the form of their lifestyle. It was thus pointed out that the priesthood as such does not require priests to live in community.

It emerges clearly from the many proceedings, votes, suggestions and drafts of the Second Vatican Council that the attempts to introduce for diocesan priests the typical community life characteristic of Religious were systematically rejected.

To presume that their rejection was justified by recognition of the greater scope for freedom of diocesan priests does not seem convincing. The conditions and the ministry that diocesan priests are called respectively to abide by and to fulfil prove rather that the contrary is true.
Theologically speaking, presbyteral communion as such implies a dimension of full fraternal communion; however, the principle must take into account the needs of the People of God and the functionality of the presbyteral ministry carried out by diocesan clergy.

Although the Second Vatican Council made a thorough examination of the issue, for this and for other reasons, it decided in the end on a flexible and multiform concept of community life.

Vatican II on community life

The study by Francesco Treccia, La vita comune del clero secolare nel Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II, Perugia, 2004 (the community life of secular clergy in the Second Vatican Council), has refocused the attention of priests and scholars on this topic. Treccia, furthermore, is a Franciscan and thus bound to live in community. He uses extensive and detailed studies of the Conciliar Documents over a long period, following their different stages and drafts.

In his essay he refers to the long preparatory process of the specific Decree [Presbyterorum Ordinis], based on proposals from the Congregation of the Council, the Pontifical universities in Rome and the superiors of Religious Orders and Institutes. The suggestion made by Fr Renato Ziggiotti, Rector Major of the Salesians, deserves mention among others:

"In this connection a great contribution would be made by a certain degree of community life for the clergy of parishes belonging to the same centre, or at least by the community action of the said clergy of the same centre, where following the directives and un-
der the control of the diocesan Bishop (with adequate financial provision), the various tasks required for the care of the various categories of the faithful would be distributed between the secular and regular (Religious) clergy".

According to Fr Mauro dell'Addolorata, Prior General of the Carmelite Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate, "vita communis sacerdotum, etiam in domo paroeciali urgenda est".

Among the European universities, the Catholic University of Santander asks that the clergy of the small confederated parishes live in community to safeguard the priests' chastity and prevent loneliness: the Catholic University of Lublin deemed that pious unions of
priests should be set up to spread the idea of community life among the clergy.

Birth of 'Presbyterorum Ordinis'

The Council procedures themselves were long and arduous. Six drafts were examined and discussed. On 28 May 1965, the fifth draft was sent to the Council Fathers. Discussion of it began on 14 October 1965, following a report by Archbishop Marty.

Almost all the Fathers were in favour of it: of the 1,521 present, 1,507 expressed a favourable opinion. The sixth draft, after the Fathers' comments had been accepted, was debated in the hall.

They voted on a seventh draft on 2 December 1965. After the final amendments had been incorporated, the voting on the text took place on 7 December 1965, the eve of the Council's closure. In all, 2,394 Council Fathers voted: 2,390 for it and four against it.

"Thus ended the discussion of a difficult text", Treccia comments, "that reflected all the difficulties surrounding the figure, activity and person of the priest, which in subsequent years were to receive harsh treatment".

The following is the text on the community life of priests, approved and promulgated, in the English translation [The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P., New Revised Edition, 1992]:

"Moreover, in order to enable priests to find mutual help in cultivating the intellectual and spiritual life, to promote better cooperation amongst them in the ministry, to safeguard them from possible dangers arising from loneliness, it is necessary to foster some kind of community life or social relations with them. This, however, can take different forms according to varying personal and pastoral needs: by priests living together where this is possible, or by their sharing a common table, or at least meeting at frequent intervals" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 8e).

Treccia points out: "Every one of the various attempts to make community life for priests obligatory, at least in some form or in some contexts, was rejected by the majority of the Fathers, hence, also by the Commission that passed the text subsequently approved by the Council Fathers".

Forty years later, the current situation allows for no second thoughts.

Of course ideally, wherever possible, priests should form a sort of "community life" that would benefit everyone, priests and faithful alike. The means of transport in our time enable priests to travel rapidly from one parish to another. Eating together, common prayer (the liturgy of the hours) and other forms of service would help them to compare views, keep up to date and replace one another.

The illuminated and wise Archbishop Giuseppe Chiaretti of Perugia wrote at the end of Treccia's study: "The ideal would be for priests to live a community life and have several common-rooms available. At least the priests of a single pastoral unit in a given place should be able to meet for two or three hours a day, to pray together, to eat a fraternal meal together, to study problems together, to plan work together, sharing tasks according to the skills of each one and checking together on the results of their work".

The Archbishop adds: "If it is impossible for them to meet every day, let them meet at least once a week".


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 January 2005, page 4

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