7-May-2002 -- Vatican Information Service |

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COMPLEMENTARITY, NOT EQUALITY, BETWEEN PRIESTS AND LAITY

VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2002 (VIS) - The bishops of the Antilles were welcomed by Pope John Paul this morning who, in his talk to them in English and French, focussed at length on the "deep complementarity" - not equality - that must exist between priests and the lay faithful.

"You come as Pastors who have been called to share in the fullness of Christ's eternal priesthood," said the Pope in opening remarks. "First and foremost, you are priests: not corporate executives, business managers, finance officers or bureaucrats, but priests. This means above all that you have been set apart to offer sacrifice, since this is the essence of priesthood, and the core of the Christian priesthood is the offering of the sacrifice of Christ."

He then mentioned Vatican II, calling it a "great grace" for the Church, and highlighted how the role of the laity in ecclesial life had evolved since that 1962-65 council. He reminded the bishops that, "along with the awakening of the lay faithful in the Church" there has been a decrease in vocations in seminaries under their care. He told the bishops that they were "rightly concerned" at declining numbers because "the Catholic Church cannot exist without the priestly ministry that Christ Himself desires for her."

"Some persons, we know, affirm that the decrease in the number of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit and that God Himself will lead the Church, making it so that the government of the lay faithful will take the place of the government of priests. Such a statement certainly does not take into account what the Council Fathers said when they sought to promote a greater involvement of the lay faithful in the Church. In their teachings, the Council Fathers simply underscored the deep complementarity between priests and the laity that the symphonic nature of the Church implies. A poor understanding of this complementarity has sometimes led to a crisis of identity and confidence among priests, and also to forms of commitment by the laity that are too clerical or too politicized."

"Involvement by the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are assumed by the lay faithful or when the latter set out to accomplish tasks of pastoral governing that properly belong to the priest. ... It is the priest who, as an ordained minister and in the name of Christ, presides over the Christian community on liturgical and pastoral levels. The laity can assist him in this in many ways. But the premier place of the exercise of the lay vocation is in the world of economic, social, political and cultural realities. It is in this world that the lay people are called to live their baptismal vocation."

"In a time of insidious secularization," asserted John Paul II, "it could seem strange that the Church insists so much on the secular vocation of the laity. But it is precisely this Gospel witness by the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's answer to the malaise of secularization."

"The commitment of lay persons," the Pope stated, "is politicized when the laity is absorbed by the exercise of 'power' within the Church. That happens when the Church is not seen in terms of the 'mystery' of grace that marks her, but rather in sociological or even political terms. ... When it is not service but power that shapes all forms of government in the Church, be this in the clergy or in the laity, opposing interests start to make themselves felt." And this hurts the Church, he added.

"What the Church needs," he told the bishops, "is a deeper and more creative sense of complementarity between the vocation of the priest and that of the laity." The Pope spoke of the importance of developing "a new apologetic for your people, so that they may understand what the Church teaches." Especially, he added, "in a world where people are continuously subjected to the cultural and ideological pressure of the media and the aggressively anti-Catholic attitude of many sects."

"The Church," he continued, "is called to proclaim an absolute and universal truth in the world at a time when in many cultures there is deep uncertainty as to whether such a truth could possibly exist. Therefore, the Church must speak in ways which carry the force of genuine witness. In considering what this entails, Pope Paul VI identified four qualities, which he called 'perspicuitas, lenitas, fiducia, prudentia,' - clarity, humanity, confidence and prudence."

John Paul II underlined that "to speak with clarity means that we need to explain comprehensibly the truth of Revelation and the Church's teachings which stem from it. ... This is what I meant when I said that we need a new apologetic, geared to the needs of today, which keeps in mind that our task is not to win arguments but to win souls. ... Such an apologetic will need to breathe a spirit of humanity, that humility and compassion which understand the anxieties and questions of people."

"To speak with confidence," he explained, "will mean that we never lose sight of the absolute and universal truth revealed in Christ, and never lose sight of the fact that this is the truth for which all people long, no matter how uninterested, resistant or hostile they may seem. To speak with that practical wisdom and good sense which Paul VI calls prudence ... will mean that we give a clear answer to people who ask: 'what must I do?'. In this, the heavy responsibility of our episcopal ministry appears in all its demanding challenge."

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