Priestly Life and Ministry Draft Gets Spirited Discussion

101st General Congregation
October 14, 1964

A kind word for assistant pastors and a stern warning against modernism and secularism among the clergy marked the ecumenical council’s second day of debate on the proposition on “Priestly Life and Ministry.”

Two council Fathers called for the establishment of advisory councils of priests to aid bishops in their work. Several spoke of the need for advanced training in spiritual life and in modern pastoral methods for priests who are years removed from seminary life. Encouragement was given associations designed to help priests in their personal spiritual life and in developing a missionary spirit.

Speaking in the name of 112 bishops of Brazil and other nations, Archbishop Fernando Gomes dos Santos of Goiania, Brazil, called for a complete revision of the text, calling it “too little too poorly done” and claiming that in its present form it would be an “insult to the priesthood.” He warned against too much rush in the progress of the council and said “haste should not be an obstacle to perfection of the heart.” His plea was met with applause alternating with good-natured groans when he further suggested that all voting be put off “until the next session of the council.”

Though it is generally known that a fourth session is in the works, this was the first public reference to it in the council hall.

In all, 19 bishops took the floor. Archbishop Pericle Felici, council secretary general, announced that reports on schema 13 were ready but still to be printed. He said discussion of the proposition on the Eastern churches would begin on Oct. 15 with the end of the debate on the priesthood. He speculated that discussion of schema 13 would begin either Oct. 16 or 19.

Auxiliary Bishop-elect Jozsef Bank of Gyor, Hungary, asked for clarification of the relationship between pastors and their assistants. Sometimes assistants “bear the burden of days and nights of labor” without proportionate compensation, he said. He asked that pastors work to establish with assistants “that unity of mind and heart so necessary for the smooth operation of the Church and for domestic peace.”

Recalling the teaching of the social encyclicals on just wages and other aspects of justice, he said that sometimes these documents “remain voices crying in the wilderness, hardly observed even by ecclesiastics.”

Returning to the previous day’s criticism of benefices — income derived from the capital of a given parish or church post — Bishop-elect Bank said these must be revised since they are obstacles to justice and equity and make the Church immobile, fixed in a certain pattern.

This, he said, often results in harm to souls. He also called for revision of the practice of stole fees — charges for administering the sacraments — as offensive to modern ears. Bishop-elect Bank said the payment of stole fees smacks of business, and if it cannot be abolished, at least it should be changed completely, with the assurance that no distinction is to be made in providing Church services based on the classes of people involved or on their ability to pay.

Warning against secularism and modernism creeping into the priesthood in some places, Bishop Smiljan Cekada of Skoplje, Yugoslavia, cited several characteristic and dangerous “signs of the times.” Among these he listed instances of priests in confessional work “trying to reform moral theology on their own authority — particularly regarding the Sixth Commandment.”

He also mentioned cases of priests who have called the need for auricular confession into doubt and who have maintained that all precepts of a purely ecclesiastical nature should be abolished.

He deplored the modern tendency of priests to lay aside clerical clothing in favor of lay garb and said that although there is no direct relation between clothing and holiness, “the cassock has always been a protection for us against the world.”

Spanish Bishop Marcello Gonzales Martin of Astorga called the practice of rejecting candidates for the priesthood because they are not needed in a diocese “scandalous.” He said that in Spain from 1,000 to 2,000 such candidates are turned away every year, “while countless other dioceses are encountering almost insurmountable difficulties in their efforts to provide for even the most basic spiritual needs of the people.”

He suggested that national and international seminaries under the auspices of episcopal conferences be set up to remedy the situation and also that funds be distributed to avoid instances where vocations are available but material means to develop them are not.

He asked that institutions be erected for further training of priests even several years after ordination and cited reasons why these are necessary:

1) The era of the laity makes it imperative that as the layman’s spiritual life becomes more intense, priests’ capacity to serve their needs should expand.

2) Such training would strengthen priests’ convictions if they wane in later years, and thus “lamentable defections” could be avoided.

3) Bishops cannot be content to let priests live their difficult lives without offering them fitting means to cope with their difficulties.

Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camera of Rio de Janeiro also called for better distribution of priests, but suggested that only dioceses be helped in which there is evidence of internal vitality and genuine efforts to recruit vocations on their own. He applied the same principle of helping those who help themselves to the distribution of financial aid.

Admitting that not all bishops are gifted with administrative ability — “I am one of them,” he said — he asked such bishops not to hesitate to make use of diocesan administrative councils. He also stressed the importance of annual retreats and monthly days of recollection for priests and suggested, since many Religious priests are in parish work, that the text should include them in its exhortations.

A formal petition that one of the pastors who were attending the discussions on the priesthood at the invitation of Pope Paul VI be invited to address the council was made by Archbishop Salvatore Baldassarri of Ravenna, Italy. He also said the text should be completely revised to avoid treating bishops’ “main collaborators in a second-rate manner.” He asked for recognition of priests’ spiritual and economic rights, leaving details to national episcopal conferences.

Bishop Kazimierz Kowalski of Chelmno, Poland, said that 100 years of experience in his country has proved the usefulness of such associations of priests as the Apostolic Union of the Clergy and the Union of the Clergy for the Missions. These were likewise praised by Bishop Laureano Castan Lacoma of Siguenza-Guadalajara, Spain, who also recommended other associations, such as those which encourage ecclesiastical studies and those which pool funds for social security for priests. He asked that the council take steps to assure priests of freedom to join such organizations.

The 101st general council meeting opened with Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Vincentas Brizgys of Kaunas, Lithuania, now a resident of Chicago. The Gospel was enthroned by Archbishop Michele Gonzi of Malta. The day’s moderator was Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian.

Archbishop Felici announced the procedure to be followed in voting on the proposition on the priesthood. The introduction and 12 articles were to be covered in eight votes. A report on the proposition dealing with seminary training was distributed during the meeting.

The Fathers were informed that the Commission on the Discipline of Clergy and the Faithful was preparing a proclamation for the priests of the world to serve as a supplement to the proposition under discussion. It will be a revised version of the original schema on the priesthood distributed at the last session. The council would be asked to signify its approval according to a procedure to be determined by the council presidency and moderators.

Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, said the text contained many fine points and reflected the wisdom and prudence of the commission that framed it. He asked, however, for more emphasis on the dignity and sublimity of the priesthood. He  said this is particularly necessary since the text now consists largely of admonitions and gives the impression that abuses are rampant. The text should not fail to express a word of appreciation to the countless priests whose lives are genuine models of a Christ-like priestly spirit, he said. He also said that special mention should be made of the pre-eminence of the parochial ministry.

The only other cardinal to speak was Fernando Cardinal Quiroga y Palacios of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, who said that the text suffers weaknesses of internal structure and should include more stress on the holiness of the priesthood.

Asking for a modification of the text’s absolute prohibition against priests’ engaging in commercial activities, Coadjutor Archbishop Antonio Ferreira de Macedo of Aparecida, Brazil, observed that in certain localities some activity of this kind is absolutely essential as a means of livelihood. He said he also wanted the text to stress humility, love of the Cross, and self-denial to remedy the basic lack of supernatural motivation in its treatment of priestly virtues.

Auxiliary Bishop Luigi Sanchez-Moreno Lira of Chiclayo, Peru, listed three great needs in the priestly ministry today: contact with the faithful, a knowledge of modern times and pastoral needs, and more mobility and specialization to assure greater adaptability in the approach to present-day needs. He asked priests to break down the “wall of separation” which tends to cut them off from the people and not to wait for the people to come to them, but to go out in search of the lost sheep.

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Latusek of Gniezno, Poland, asked that more attention be given to the spirituality proper to the diocesan priesthood. This, he said, should include a dynamic apostolic spirit, a missionary spirit toward Catholics and non-Catholics alike, an ecumenical spirit and one of collaboration with the laity. Stress on the diocesan priest’s spirituality is necessary, he said, because retreat preachers in seminaries and dioceses are often Religious without much pastoral experience.

According to Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Pereira of Coimbra, Portugal, the provisions of the text regarding the use of material goods seem to contradict the accepted teaching of moral theology and canon law and could give rise to scruples. He suggested that a distinction be made between money gained from the spiritual ministry and that coming from benefices. The former should be used in the service of the Church, but the latter as the priest desires, he said.

He suggested that the faculties for hearing confessions granted by a bishop be automatically valid for a whole nation.

Bishop Victor Garaygordobil Berrizbeitia for Los Rios, Ecuador, said he felt priests should be protected against the “arbitrariness of bishops, who are neither confirmed in grace nor infallible.” He suggested following the example provided by the early Church where priests were regarded “not merely as executors of episcopal desires nor mechanical instruments in their hands, but human and personal collaborators.”

Seconding Cardinal de Barros Camera’s suggestion of a board of priests to act in a consultative capacity, he said such a board should be composed of priests “who really represent their fellow priests.”

Bishop Leonidas Proano Villalba of Riobamba, Ecuador, called for the elimination of all honorary ecclesiastical titles for priests.

Mexican Bishop Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Tampico also urged abolishing the benefice system, which results in many “flagrant inequalities in the financial order.” He said it is not rare to find some priests with much more money than they need, while others, perhaps even their neighbors, are on the verge of starvation. He asked that all priests be provided with social security and health insurance and said this could perhaps best be done by setting up a common fund in every diocese.

Bishop Demetrio Mansilla Reoyo of Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain, and Bishop Edmund Nowicki of Gdansk, Poland, completed the day’s discussion, the latter calling for an amendment to the text dealing with the priest’s attitude on political questions and his mentality in dealing with economic problems.

Since some Fathers on the list of registered speakers on the subject had not yet been heard, Archbishop Felici said that voting on the proposition, scheduled for Oct. 5, would be postponed to a day to be determined by the council moderators.

Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent

* * * *

The council proposition on the priestly life and ministry consists of 12 individual propositions covering the practical aspects of the priesthood.

Bishop Charles P. Greco of Alexandria, La., a member of the commission which drew up the propositions, told the U.S. bishops’ press panel that as they stand the propositions are the end result of a long period of preparation and represent only a fraction of the total work his commission had been engaged in for the past several years.

Much of the commission’s work has been transferred to other schemata, and the remainder has been reduced to certain essential points, he said.

“No schema comes out perfectly, but we felt that what was wanted was something practical. The result is 12 propositions which cover the practical side of the priest’s life and work,” Bishop Greco stated.

Before the third council session opened on Sept. 14, there were only 10 propositions, but the commission added two others in response to suggestions by council Fathers, he said.

Following are the 12 propositions:

1 — Priests’ relations with the laity are stressed, with insistence on the fact that priests must be not only fathers and teachers but also brothers among brothers. This was one of the two later additions.

2 — Priests must feel the need for holiness and, because they are Christ’s representatives among men, they must reflect Christ’s sanctity.

3 — The exercise of the priesthood increases and sustains sanctity by its very nature, but priests are also admonished on the need for spiritual exercises, such as daily mental prayer.

4 — Priests must base their lives on the Gospel, observe the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience and avoid all vanity, whether in clothing or in titles, to bring the Gospel more effectively to the poor. The insistence on celibacy is given greater stress in the proposition’s final draft than in the earlier one to reaffirm the Church’s view of the matter. It is also stated that priests should live in common as much as possible.

5 — Priests must continuously deepen their knowledge of priestly studies and also of nonpriestly sciences insofar as they contribute to making priests’ work more effective.

6 — Centers should be organized for the study of catechetics, the liturgy and sociology. Special libraries should be established to help priests in their mission.

7 — Priests must have a concern for churches outside of their parish and must share in the bishop’s concern for the Church as a whole. Priests should even serve outside their own diocese if necessary. This was the second of the two later additions.

8 — Canon law should be altered to ensure a better distribution of the clergy. This does not apply only within a single diocese but applies to improving the supply of priests in whole regions, nations and continents. Steps are to be taken to establish international seminaries.

9 — Goods which priests acquire through exercising their ministry are destined for purposes of worship, necessary support, and apostolic and charitable work.

10 — The present system of benefices must be revamped.

11 — Priests are to receive normal compensation for their work.

12 — The richer dioceses should aid the poorer ones and a common fund should be established for assistance.

A member of the press panel, Father Frederick R. McManus of Boston, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, defined benefices as ecclesiastical offices to which an income is attached and said the proposition seeks to put the stress on the sacredness of the office rather than what it offers as income, so as to get away from any impression of gain-seeking on the part of the clergy.

Referring to a query as to what constitutes normal compensation for the clergy, Bishop Greco said it varies widely from area to area and nation to nation. But the ideal is to establish a regional norm.

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