Reviews of practices are the basis of strategic and visionary actions.
Changes are radical and often happen when it is too late for adaptations. Many people are afraid of changes but at the same time they are not ready for reviewing current situations or practices while adaptations would still be possible.
A very imminent issue is the reaction on scientists’ warnings regarding Climate Change. First, there is the tendency to deny the severity of the situation. Suggestions to review our behaviours are taken on board by some but not by the larger humanity – ironically often for reasons of powerlessness or for reasons of keeping the power.
In the Catholic Church, the issue is not any different.
As our Church has been sending missionaries out to the world, they brought with them the specific Catholic traditions and rules of their times. Becoming a Christian has also meant adopting these traditions and rules – no matter how foreign they might have been for the new converts. Yes adopting, not adapting.
Thanks to the visionaries of Vatican II, the main goal of missioning and evangelising others has turned into the aim to be good people who are missionaries by example not by proselytising.
In the early 1960s, after two world wars and in the light of several dictatorships, many countries started to push good education for all alongside the ability to discern what was right or wrong – rather than following blindly a dictator or an autocrat.
Visionaries like Pope John XXIII realised that if people are taught to think and to discern, their approach towards the Church also needed to change. Some changes were drastic, e.g. the layout of church buildings, the use of the vernacular and including lay people in the Sanctuary.
The doors of the Church were open for fresh wind. A review took place: why do we do what we are doing and how is it connected to the origins of our faith?
This approach is good practice for all companies and organisations. Regular reviews and, if necessary, actions to get back on track are important.
Some changes that were suggested during Vatican II were not immediately put into practice. It often started with some adaptations here and there. In many churches, radical changes only happened when they were not avoidable anymore.
For example, altar servers. In some parishes, girls were allowed to serve at the altar in others they were not. The reason was often simple: if there were enough boys, there was no need to allow girls to this ministry. Only when the number of boys were declining, girls were allowed to step up.
In recent years, there have been discussions about married clergy or women priests. What is the reason for restricting priesthood to celibate men?
If this was such a dogma, then I don’t understand how married men who were formerly presbyters in the Anglican tradition are allowed to preside at the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.
There are attempts to allow married men to be presbyters – if they are from an indigenous culture where celibacy was not acceptable.
If there are exceptions for converts and indigenous, then why can’t priesthood be opened to everyone?
In many Germanic traditions, the priests used to be always female. It was believed that the women were more spiritual than men. The priestesses were powerful and accepted in their societies. When the Roman rules were introduced and Christianity was imposed, the “indigenous” traditions were overruled. Spiritual women who continued to draw people to them were declared witches.
I don’t think that there is any culture where celibacy can be considered as “normal”. There are cultures where celibacy is a choice or an honour.
Allowing formerly presbyters in the Anglican tradition to preside at the Eucharist in the Catholic Church is an adaptation that is only possible because there are not sufficient male vocations to the celibate priesthood.
Since Vatican II we have moved on from a proselytising Church. We are called to be missionary disciples and to live our faith.
So, why do some countries meet a shortage of priests by asking priests from foreign cultures who are trained overseas to come and fill the gaps? Isn’t this a sign of a lack of courage to change? Isn’t this a request for the local congregation to adapt to a foreign priest and for a priest to minister to a foreign congregation?
Pope Francis and Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane have raised the possibility of indigenous married priests. I think that this is a good approach but should be valid for all Christians.
If a congregation can’t find enough willing celibate men to be their presbyters, we should open the priesthood equally to all Christians in the world.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if anybody who is called by God and accepted by their community could follow their vocation?
In a culture where women were traditionally the priests – why not allow them to become priests if this is their vocation?
In fact, there are, in the strict sense, no priests in Christianity. Jesus is viewed as the unique High Priest, and the whole people are priestly – and we are led by presbyters and bishops. These PRESIDE at the liturgy rather than act as ‘priests’ on behalf of the people. It is the whole community that celebrates – with the presbyter as leader.
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27)
– BM –