The reform of the ministry
by Adrian Hastings
from The Faces of God, publ. Geoffrey Chapman, 1975, Ch 11, pp.137-157.
Over the last decade there has been a not inconsiderable degree of reform within the ministry of the Catholic Church coupled with a steadily growing crisis in the priesthood. It would be a very grave miscalculation indeed to hold that this crisis will just fade away or that some slight increase in the number of young men in one country or another entering the seminary is indication that the worst is now over. The number of priests in the world is steadily declining. This is not a bad thing. In some places there were rather obviously too many, if in others (and much wider areas) there was already an equally obvious shortage. The decline in numbers is the inevitable concomitant of a vast process of declericalization which constitutes the most important structural change within the church of our time. As priests fade away the laity comes forward. Faced with the inadequacy of the one and the competence of the other, Church authority has pragmatically and at times reluctantly already sanctioned piecemeal a massive passing across to the non-ordained, lay and nuns, of tasks formerly reserved to the clergy.
It is now impossible for this process to cease or to be reversed and it is clear as day that for many such tasks there are lay people far better prepared than are the general body of clergy. Area after area of pastoral care and counselling is being taken over, as well as the greater part of the educational work within schools formerly carried out by priests, a large share of the general business of producing a contemporary-theological literature, as also much ecclesiastical administration. Faced with this takeover, neœssitated not only by the dwindling number of priests but also by their manifest overall inability to cope in today’s world with the range of tasks formerly expected of them—despite so many years of training—faced too with an almost universal failure of episcopal leadership to help the clergy imaginatively to come through this long period of crisis, it is less than surprising if the numbers and morale of priests have seriously declined.
The crisis in the priesthood is not, however, only caused by decline; it is also caused by growth—both the growth in awareness of the possible scope of priestly ministry, the vast range of needs to be met and being met by some outstanding pioneers in many countries; and the growth in the sheer number of Church members in South America, Africa and some parts of Asia. In nearly every case the tradition of the celibate Catholic priesthood had really not taken root in those continents (India being the chief exception), and the number of local priests was extremely small in relation to the size of the church, alike in Chile, in the Philippines and in Zaire. The Church in these and many other countries has been run for generations by foreign priests and nuns from Western Europe and North America. Today that foreign clergy is diminishing and the sources of its recruitment have almost wholly dried up, while the worldwide cultural revolution of the post-colonial era have made that precise type of inter-continental structuring of the Church profoundly unsuitable; at the same time the population of the Southern continents is rising by leaps and bounds. If in a few countries (such as Nigeria and Tanzania) there has been some significant increase in the number of local priests, that increase remains woefully inadequate to prevent a vast breakdown within the Church and her ministry over the next two decades let alone constitute an adequate instrument for evangelical mobility. Declericalization may and should go far, but the Catholic Church cannot exist in authentic form without an adequately numerous and properly distributed priesthood— though not necessarily a very clerical one. While authority has accepted some declericalization of the ministry, it has largely lost its nerve when it comes to the priesthood: that, apparently, is to be left, a dwindling island of celibate sand as the tide flows in. Such a course would be disastrous. The renewal of the ministry already in hand must have at its core a major structural change in the sociological pattern of the priesthood itself. The appeal for such a change is not an appeal of despair nor an appeal for clerical permissiveness but an appeal in christian hope for a living ministry with a cutting edge, its own relevant asceticism and a capacity for survival in late twentieth-century society which the present structures simply do not have. It is also an appeal grounded in a careful appraisal of the Church’s own history.
In setting forth upon a pilgrimage of ministerial discovery, there are elements of stability that the Church provides us with, elements that must be maintained arid affirmed through any process of change. The first of these concerns what we can best ~ call the primary ministry, that is to say the ministry of the whole Church. No restructuring can alter the responsibility of the whole Church, the total people of God united in communion, in koinonia, to undertake the ministry of both kerygma and diakonia, of witness and of service. The reality of this primary responsibility should never be submerged by any sort of clericalism, frequently as this has in fact happened.
Secondly, this primary ministry is channelized and manifested through a great many different ministries responding to a variety of charisma and personal abilities, and only some of these ministries require the commissioning or ordaining of hierarchical authority. One has always to be on guard against the institutionalization of all the ministries of the Church. This is indeed a constant temptation to which the hierarchy is exposed: to admit other ministries only if they have been institutionalized and brought within the hierarchical system, made indeed into instruments of the hierarchy; we can see very clearly how this was happening in the age of Pius XI and Pius XII in regard to the great emergent movement of lay apostolate which was to be controlled as ‘Catholic Áction’, an organization dependent upon the hierarchy’s mandate. This was really to deny that there can be a non-hierarchical ministry within the Church.
The kerygma, the diakonia, the koinonia of the Church are the responsibility of all. And yet, thirdly, in a very important way the leadership in all these is also the special responsibility of a commissioned group. This ordained group, which represents apostoIic aùthority within the different churches, is the backbone for the communion and mission of the whole Church; it has to articulate it, it has to trigger it off, strengthen it, lead it, but not dominate or swallow it up, not clericalize it, not even domesticate it. Its core function is fo preside over the community gathered together for the celebration of the eucharist, just as the eucharist itself is the core of the Church. At the same time, this apostolically commissioned ministry both represents the local church to the wider church and represents the authority and the continuity of the wider church to the local church. This is what the priest of a parish does in relation to the wider community of the diocese: he represents both upwards and downwards. Equally the bishop, the chief minister of a diocese, both represents it in face of the Universal Church and represents the Una Apostolica to his own local church. Because he shares in the episcopal college, he can represent that college and the communion of all the other local churches which is signified by it to his own diocese, to his own Ecclesia.
Within and beyond these basic data of theology, is the overriding principle that the structuring of the ministry must be related to the contemporary pastoral needs of the Church, local and universal; not the other way round. From this theological basis of what is inherent to the ministry of the Church (and it has here, of course, been very skimpily indicated), it is possible for many very different sociological patterns of ministry to grow. If anything is clear from history it is this, that the shape of the Church’s ministry has varied enormously from age to age and place to place. A sociological comparison between the ministry of the apostolic Church, the ministry of the third and fourth centuries, the ministry of tenth-century Northern Europe, the ministry of seventeenth-century Southern Europe, the ministry of twentieth-century North America, would make this crystal clear. There has been a vast range of patterns as regards the kind of work chiefly done, the methods of selection and training, the degree of remuneration, the married or celibate status of the minister, the whole shape of the hierarchical structure and its mode of geographical extension. All these have altered radically time and again according to the pressures and needs of contemporary society and the contemporary Church. This does not mean that all the alterations of history have been desirable ones; very often, maybe, the Church has to a considerable extent succumbed in practice to undesirable pressures which have seriously weakened the effectiveness of its ministry, But equally desirable alterations may not have been made; conservative pressures within the Church may have canonized the pattern of a preceding age to such an extent that necessary reform has been delayed or prevented. The real point is that there is no one absolute pattern in itself wholly desirable but a series of patterns each of which to a greater or lesser extent has responded to the needs of a certain situation. Above all at a number of particular and crucial phases in the history of the Church, there has been a striking change in the pattern of ministry brought about by the inherent requirements of ministry within an enormously changed environment. These major and often relatively abrupt changes we can define as structural revolutions.
In approaching a consideration of the structural revolution needed today, it is very helpful to consider some earlier structural revolutions in Church history, and in particular that which occurred in the fourth and fifth centuries. It appears to me that what we need today is very comparable with the structural revolution of that time. What happened? There was, first, a vast population explosion within the Church. In the first three centuries the size of the Church, though steadily growing, remained relatively small. Individual local churches were kept down in their numbers by the pressure of the law, a hostile government, occasional persecution. But with the ending of those pressures and their replacement by imperial favour, the number of Christians grew enormously, multiplying in the towns and spilling over into the countryside to an extent that had not hitherto happened. Doubtless there were areas in the east where this process had already begun before the end of the third century, and there were areas in the west where it was a fifth-century phenomenon rather than a fourth-century one but the general process is clear. Certainly it had its disadvantages and the quality of normal Christian living may have deteriorated, but the Church could not refuse these people, yet equally it could not begin to cope with them through the old structures. As a consequence the whole shape and nature of a diocese as of the local ministry came to be chang t time the norm was to identify the eucharistic community with the diocese presided over by a bishop for which the classical picture has been provided by the letters of St Ignatius in the early second century. The presbyters were the bishop’s advisers and substitutes on occasion but they were not typically the heads of independent congregations. Even towards the close of the fourth century this pattern of ministry could still be regarded as the norm and in the Milan of St Ambrose with its many tens of thousands of Christians, there might still be a single episcopal mass on a major feast day. Despite the grand new basilicas that were going up at the time, it was clearly now impossible for the majority of town Christians to attend mass on such a day. No basilica could house a church community of that size; only about one tenth of the Church of Milan could possibly have attended the episcopal mass. And a still more obvious problem than the multiplication of Christians within a town was that of all the Christian communities growing up in villages outside. The old pattern whereby the bishop was regarded as the normal minister of the Eucharist and the head of the local congregation (a pattern harked back to rather naively by the second Vatican Council) had now become deeply obstructive for the healthy life of the Church. Short of multiplying dioceses beyond all measure the idea of identifying the diocese with the eucharistic community had now become anachronistic. The consequence was the parish system. The diocese broke up into parishes and, instead of having one eucharistic community, the diocese came to consist of a great many congregations growing more and more independent. With the parishes emerges the order of the parochial clergy: the presbyter not the bishop had now become the basic pastor and normal president of the local eucharistic assembly; the bishop instead discovered his role as one of general pastoral oversight. A structural revolution had been forced upon the Church by the fact that the number of Christians, instead of being a matter of tens of thousands, had now become many millions. And only some sort of patristic fundamentalist will in principle regret it.
Roughly speaking it could be said that we have managed ever since with the structures that were created at that time. But that would really be an over-simplification for the Church’s total ministry has been diversified and therefore greatly changed in its overall balance several times since then. This has happened particularly through the sudden structural revolutions which produced on a large scale congregations of men dedicated to specialized non-diocesan ministries. The first and really the most decisive of these revolutions took place in the early thirteenth century with the founding of the friars. There was, of course, great resistance to such a revolution on the part of contemporary ecclesiastical authority: the fourth Lateran Council (1215) actually forbade the establishment of any new religious order. But such resistance, as at many other moments of Church history, proved quite ineffectual. Despite the Lateran Council the Church’s march to a more adapted and diversified ministry went on. It later proved indeed one of the great weaknesses of the post-Reformation Protestant churches that they dismantled the religious orders and returned to a too simplified and basically antiquated pattern of ministry, instead of purging and diversifying. Indeed when they were faced with the missionary challenge of the nineteenth century they were forced to establish new patterns of ministry, in the shape of the missionary societies, not wholly unlike the Catholic orders.
In the Catholic Church too the nineteenth century witnessed yet another major structural revolution, without which she could not possibly have responded effectively to the call of the times and the vast opportunities which were now appearing both in modern urban industrial society and overseas. On one side was the immense development of male missionary orders, many of them without vows, in the years after 1840; without them the newly opened up world would have remained almost entirely unevangelized from the Catholic side: their enormous expansion and characteristic life style has deeply altered the overall picture of the priestly ministry. On the other side, and still more remarkably, was the massive entry of women into the Church’s active ministry above all of teaching and nursing both at home and abroad.Up to the seventeenth century there was no consistent active participation of women in the Church’s ministryat all, and in that century the attempt to bring it about was strongly resisted by ecclesiastical authority (Mary Ward, its great protagonist, was even imprisoned by the Pope) but it was not prevented. Yet it was only in the nineteenth century that it grew on a really large scale to alter the whole balance of the Church’s organized ministerial effort. Today we take it for granted that the majority of the Church’s active workers are women, restricted as their role still may be. This was a réally formidable revolution and one only about a century old, without which the Church would have been quite incapable of responding to the opportunities of the modern world, and yet how many people advert to it today?
In each example of a structural revolution (from the very first one described in Acts 6) what happens is that, when faced with a new situation and large numbers of people, the ministry of the Church is diversified in new ways. That is true of the apostolic age; it is true of the fourth and fifth centuries; it is true of the development of religious orders and societies in the thirteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; it is true of the massive reorganization of the nineteenth century with its large scale incorporation of women into the active ministry. It is true again of the structural revolution needed in our times when the Church is facing in the Third World a more massive population explosion than at any time since the fourth century.
To understand properly the shape that this revolution should take a good many things could be carefully analysed: the whole shape of a society and its income, the size and needs of local Christian communities, the position of women, the work of the priestly ministry as at present exercised in practice. Most of this it is impossible to do here. What one can quite easily see is how the type of priestly ministry that we have at present is seriously unrelated to the structure of the community: for example, the Catholic Church in Africa in reality consists for the most part of a vast number of fairly small village groups; the possible community can only be a small one of this kind, relating to the pressures of geography, the facts of daily life, the needs of nonmotorized man. The small worshipping groups of the independent churches respond to the situation, as does the village chapel and the ministry of the catechist in the Catholic Church. But the
engaged most of the week in explicitly Church activities, then they have to be supported. A rich church can afford to support a large number of ministers full-time. Poor churches ‘ cannot afford to do so, especially if their ministers are fairly well educated. Now most churches in Africa are poor churches and are already facing a great shortage of finance, for they exist in countries where the average person’s income a year may be no more than £30 or £40; not one tenth or even one twentieth of the average income in most countries of Europe and North America. It is natural therefore that in these churches one should seek for a particularly large number of ministers to be self-supporting, tent makers like St Paul. Clearly the question of finance relates not only to a full-time or part-time ministry but also in several ways to that of celibacy. In general, married priests need considerably higher salaries than unmarried. In our present system whereby very often two or three priests live together, quite clearly this is a way of providing rather cheap labour. It is perhaps worth noting that it is the rich churches like those of the United States and Holland, which are making most noise about ending the rule of celibacy: they won’t have any great problem with regard to paying a married clergy. It is also understandable that on the whole African bishops, who are some of them facing near bankruptcy in their dioceses as it is, are mostly against ending the rule of celibacy—for they don’t see how they would begin to provide for their clergy if the majority of priests were married. This is, clearly, a very practical and important question if one has as a major concern precisely the viability and self-reliance of the local church.
The correct conclusion, however, is not simply to perpetuate the present system which is breaking down anyway, but it does mean that if you are thinking in terms of married priests then you must aIso think of them in terms of being mostly selfsupporting. One can see the same problem in the Anglican and Protestant churches, which have an almost entirely married clergy. In Africa their priests are mostly less educated than Catholic priests; even so they have considerable difficulty in providing them with a sufficient stipend. If their ministers were better educated, it is recognized that they would have to be paid still more. Again, to a large extent, the Catholic clergy in Africa today is supported on anonymous mass stipends coming from North America and Europe. This is in principle a deplorable system and it should be brought to an end because it is deplorable, theologically so. As a matter of hard fact, it is now on its way out. The supply is failing, and that again is creating immediate very practical material problems for our churches and can result in absolute penury for many good men. The present system of ministry will not in fact be financially viable in the future, and that is true not only for the Third World but for many churches in Europe too.
Thirdly, there is the question of the level and type of education a priest needs. Some people are absolutely against lowering the standard of education for any priest in any way. Many bishops have difficulty on this point. They fear the consequences of ordaining men who have not had a full secondary and then a full major seminary education This is understandable particularly when it is reinforced by vague fears of various undesirable consequences and references to the state of the clergy in the middle ages, but it is mistaken. There is no correct level of education proper for a minister of the Church as such; of course there is a certain minimum, but the training and educational level of a priest needs to be related, far more than has been the case, to the community which he is working for and with. A village priest needs a very different kind of training from a university chaplain. As a matter of fact, if in some circumstances you can have a priest with too little education, in others you can have one who has too much; if you educate a man for a great many years and then put him in a deeply rural community where almost nobody else has any comparable education, he may very easily and quickly become frusstrated: some will not do so but many will. Alternatively he may be completely paternalist. The education he received has not really related him to the type of ministry he has to exercise and the type of society he has to minister to. A far more flexible approach is needed here as in every other one of the fields we are considering.
Again, the educational pattern and professional training of the modern world is turning increasingly to in-service and updating courses. The old conception of education was that you started with a long apprenticeship, and would afterwards need no further training. You were set up for life. Priestly training continues to operate on this model and increasingly unsuccessfully. The shape of society and the problems to be tackled change so radically in one decade nowadays, that the only feasible way of training effective ministers is to provide far more up-dating and specialized courses for those already in the field. This means that the initial training ceases to have the final definitive character we still associate with the years in a seminary. In a modern training context these can be more easily cut down and indeed those who have had a lengthy old type seminary course can prove less responsive to later in-service training than others.
Fourthly, there is the age for ordination. Again we have taken for granted rather a rigid conception of this: twenty-four to thirty. Of course, of recent years there has been more talk of late vocations, but they are still considered as rather exceptional. I suspect that in the future ministry of the Church it may well be that a majority of priests will be ordained after the age of forty, and only a minority will be younger men. In fact it has often been quite a problem what to do with the immature priest of twenty-four. No age is right in principle. Of course, if you are going to insist upon a long seminary training and celibacy for all priests, then indeed you have closed your options here too and you have to look predominantly for young men immediately upon leaving school or still at school. But all the signs of the times are against this. Once again the modern shape of society, shown in the increasing length of the average life span together with the relatively early age for retirement in many occupations, is creating the possibility of a quite new type of priestly recruitment on a large scale. The acceptable sociological shape for the ministry today will depend on such factors.
Fifthly, there is the issue of celibacy. No one, thinking seriously about it, is likely to argue that the mere changing of the law of clerical celibacy will solve the ministerial problems of the Catholic Church—the malaise and the need for readjustment go far deeper than that. Nevertheless, the nature of this law has been such as to force the whole pattern of ministry into certain directions, excluding a vast range of alternative options. Until the law is changed those options remain closed. Yet many of them are very sound ones. Their exclusion needs very strong theological reasons to justify it, particularly at a time when in practice a wholly celibate priestly ministry is clearly in the greatest difficulties. But these theological reasons simply do not exist. In scripture there is not the slightest indication that Christian ministers should not marry. On the contrary, St Paul takes it clearly for granted that most will be married men. How could that be the case If there was some strong intrinsic reason making for celibacy? The Vatican Council has firmly declared that the Church is subject to scripture, and we cannot apply in this field principles quite different from those which we accept elsewhere. Moreover Church history bears witness that if in the West there was for many centuries a tendency towards an ever greater insistence upon clerical celibacy, yet in every age the Church has also accepted married priests in one country or another and it already does so today. The positive content of the Catholic tradition includes being a very strong assertion of the value of celibacy but ít justifies no belittIing of the value of marriage and hás finally always refused tolink the ministerial priesthood with one alone of these two states.
Today the theological defence of the present Western position generally takes the form of demonstrating the congruity of celibacy for a priest. True enough. But the congruity of a celibate priesthood does not in any way rule out an equal congruity in a married priesthood. Congruity means the harmonious relationship between two conditiòñs.Such a relationship does exist between celibacy and the ministerial priesthood, but it equally exists between the latter and the sacrament of märriage. To deny this would be very perilous. But if something is highly congruous in theory, it should certainly not be wholly excluded in practice. In fact an argument from congruity is gravely misused when it is taken as proving that an alternative should be excluded. The Eastern practice whereby the priesthood is seen as essentially straddling these two states of life would seem to express the truly Catholic sense of the universality of the priesthood: it must not only offer the Mass and the ministry of the sacraments but a leadership within the Christian community which operates incarnationally from within, not externally—simply shouting instructions to the faithful from the safety of the touchline.
The universalization of clerical celibacy has in practice disparaged marriage. It has suggested that there is something about marriage so imperfect that it is not fitting for the ordained. The further effect of this has been that all the guidance the teaching church gives in this vast segment of life—sexual, marital and family responsibilities—has had to be done from outside, offered by people themselves never experiencing the implications of what they teach in their own life.
Moreover the rule has blurred celibacy’s very sense. Its call, its charism, have not appeared with the clarity, the intrinsic meaning they do indeed possess: they appear in fact far more clearly in the world of women than in that of men, just because with women celibacy has been quite unrelated to priesthood. For men its sense will only re-emerge when the vocational difference between the religious life and that of the pastoral clergy is again made precise.
Again, it is absurd to disregard the sound, and at times saintly experience of a married priestly ministry in the Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches: nothing is more depressing than the almost contemptuous way in which Catholics have often spoken of the married priesthood outside their own communion—and even within their communion, in the Eastern uniate rites. It enables the priesthood to be linked with, for example, the virtue of hospitality (one of the most characteristic biblical and Christian virtues), a thing which has almost disappeared, being labelled dangerous, within the celibate clerical world.
Celibacy is an important and fruitful calling in its own right place and its recognition (so derided at the Reformation) has been an immense source of strength to the Catholic Church in comparison with the Reformed Churches, particularly within the missionary ministry; but it is essentially—when it passes beyond the limits of a private decision—part of the calling to a religious order, be it ‘active’ or ‘contemplative’. Much of the strength of the Catholic ministerial tradition has lain in the major divide between its ‘secular’ and its ‘religious’ sectors, but this divide has been steadily and unhappily eroded over the last centuries. Its renewed recognition can be nothing but a benefit—and to both sides. While the present debate over celibacy is essentially a matter for the seculars~ it is in practice wrecking havoc with the religious orders, and it is probable that the crisis within the latter cannot be even partially resolved and their own identity reaffirmed before the Church positively recognizes the regularity and desirability of the non-religious, non-celibate pastoral clergy.
We are being called in this age to a new appraisal of the structures of the Church in the light of the Gospel and the shape of human society. To right the inevitable imbalances of the past. It would be absurd and a new imbalance to decry the value of celibacy or its capacity for fruitfulness in human living and many patterns of ministry; but we must not be anti-marriage either and it would be hard indeed to show the Western canonical tradition of celibacy has not owed much to a profound theological and spiritual depreciation of marriage. Only from a balanced vision, which gives its due to both, can we go forward as we must to a ministry which welcomes not only the celibate but the married, and not only the ordination of the married but the marriage of the ordained.
The future shape of the Church’s ministry will vary from continent to continent, country to country, city to isolated rural community, just as it has in practice always done but probably (at least for a time) the divergencies will grow rather than diminish as we understand better the implications of coping both with New York and with Norway, both with Northern Nigeria and with Nicaragua, both with the Netherlands and North Vietnam. In Africa too there will be far from only one pattern. The shape of society enormously varies between the big towns and the deep rural areas; some rather thickly populated countryside and much that is extremely thin; areas with a cash crop and an expanding economy and areas of extreme poverty and subsistence farming; areas in which Christians are numerous others in which they are very few. These differences are certainly not going to disappear in the next twenty-five years and the Church’s ministry must be structured accordingly.
Nevertheless, nearly everywhere there are likely to be four chief elements in the ministry requiring to be related to one another in a variety of ways. The first element we will speak of is the new kind of priest. Many in this group will be active professional and business people who will operate as part-time priests and be supported by their work; some will be retired men living on a pension: some will be chosen from among the thousands of catechists working in Africa and Asia today. As ordained catechists they will be supported by the Church to roughly the same extent as they are at present as unordained catechists. Most dioceses in Africa have some hundreds of catechists; their training standards and amount of work greatly vary, but they have in many places been given much help over the last ten years with the greater stress on catechist formation that has now become prevalent, and it does not appear wildly ambitious to suggest that over a period of five years 10% of them could, with further training be ordained. This could make a staggering difference to the pastoral and missionary effectiveness of the Church of 1980. It would bring the eucharist back into the heart of the local church where it should so essentially be but now increasingly cannot be. It may well be that the new kind of priest will often work as one of a team of such men rather than as the sole ordained minister in a place, but either model can be appropriate.
This does not, of course, mean that every congregation or village church in Africa, France or England must have its own priest or priests; as things are at present that is hardly possible, and probably not necessary. The basic aim should be that at least every group of some four or five village churches have a priest between them, who is a man living within their community, not outside it, and that every congregation be able to celebrate the eucharist at least once a month.
The qualifications to be insisted upon in all cases are: first holiness, a real dedication to the work of God, to the service of the Church and of other men; secondly, human maturity and balance of character; and thirdly, a sufficient minimum of theological education so that they can properly understand their duties and participate intelligently in the initial training and subsequent refresher courses.
Among the new priests there will not be only one classification. Some will certainly be very much part-time, but others could be full-time. Some of the new men may be even better educated than the present priests, and after ordination may make greater efforts to keep up with theological developments. It has at least been found to be so in other Churches: some tent-making ministers subsequently read more theology than those who have had a standard seminary training. It would be a mistake to plan one fixed form of initial training for new kinds of priests: for catechists it should be possible to arrange a full year, or more, in one of the present catechist centres or some comparable place. But for many professional and business people, ordination training will have to be done chiefiy by correspondence stiffened by a series of rather short residential courses. Clearly all will need to reach a certain standard of knowledge, of a relevant pastoral sort. Over the years these various groups will probably come together to form a considerable majority, and this means that a large proportion of priests are likely to be married.
In the present situation in the Church the ordination to the diaconate is a suitable half-way house in the restructuring of the ministry and it may, indeed, be of real value to have a half-way house of this kind. As we are now allowed to train men and to ordain them to the diaconate, to ordain married men thus far is what we ought to be doing now and it is a great pity and a sign of shortsightedness that the Churches in Africa are not doing so on a larger scale while the Churches of Europe and North America are. It is, of course, very possible that the recent revival of the diaconate as a mini-priesthood (that is to say doing all the present duties of a priest, short of saying mass and hearing confession) is basically a conservative attempt to avoid what is really needed, the priestly ordination of married men, by misusing a different ministry. The diaconate’s real function should rather be institutionalized service; diakonia in the sense of secular concern. This may well be true. At the same time the original meaning of the diaconate as a particularized ministry and also its historical development, are far from clear. Probably we have misused the diaconate for many hundreds of years by making it simply a final stepping-stone in the curriculum of the seminary. If it has already been misused in a non-pastoral way and if today we to some extent misuse it again (but this time for good pastoral purposes) then let us for a while do so. The point is that we are allowed to do this now, and by doing it we can select men, train them, and give them extra immediate responsibilities so that when the Universal Church comes to agree that married men should be ordained as priests, then the candidates are there and ready.
There will certainly remain the greatest need for a smaller group of very professional priests with a still more intensive theological training than is today offered. These will nearly all be more or less full-time ministers. Some will be members of religious orders, others diocesan; all the former will be celibate and some of the latter. It is essential that there be men in every local church with a full theological education and, while a theologian does not need to be ordained, it is to be expected that among our theologians many will be priests. In a way, they will be involved in the sort of ministry that in the past has been associated with the episcopate, that is to say oversight: episcope. They will not, because they will be far too few, be the normal ministers of word and eucharist in individual Christian communities at least in South America and Africa. African rural parishes already often consist of twenty or more communities which ought each to have a regular celebration of word and eucharist but cannot receive it; in many dioceses today there are no more than four five or six local priests and very few seminarians. Such dioceses have mostly some twenty parishes and over three hundred major worshipping centres. It is clear as day that such a small group cannot possibly provide the regular pastoral ministry. What they will have to do is to serve the local priests who are going to provide the pastoral ministry. The function of the fully trained clergy will be to run some of the central parishes and the training colleges and to provide updating courses for both clergy and laity. They will frequently be travelling missioners, providing, in fact, a pre-eminently kerygmatic ministry, in striking contrast with the rather limited concern for the word and major preoccupation with the sacraments forced upon the fully-trained clergy at present. It is greatly to be hoped that among these priests there will be a considerable number of members of religious orders. The Catholic Church’s ministry in the past has been immensely strengthened and enriched by the diversity of the religious orders and the need for them will be no less great in the future, precisely because they can provide far more explicitly than can the diocesan clergy a ‘Catholic’, inter-diocesan, international type of ministry.
Evidently these different groups will need to work together. Just as it would be disastrous to continue with only a small group of seminary-trained men, so it could be disastrous to have only a clergy with rather limited training, without any priests with a lengthier theological education. One group will not be better than the other; each will have its own strength. Just as members of religious orders are not better than seculars, just different. Each group has to balance an other and without the more highly trained and professional, more full-time, probably more celibate groups, the others could lead in the direction of a rather inturned Church. It is a criticism of the Eastern Churches that with an almost entirely married clergy, of somewhat limited education, they have become very inward looking, without much sense of mission. This is surely an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon; nevertheless it has some truth in it. It will be especially for the ‘full-time’ priests, some of whom will certainly continue to be celibate, to contribute particularly to the wider sense of both mission and communion and to ensure the doctrinal and theological standards of the local church (functions in the Eastern Churches fulfilled particularly by monks). We have simply to recognize that both groups have an essential role to play within the ministry of the Church of the future.
A third and most important group is that of the sisters. We have spoken already of that vast structural revolution in the nineteenth-century Church whereby women entered on a large scale into the active organized ministry of the Church both at home and in missionary situations. In this way religious sisters undoubtedly took a front place in the ‘women’s liberation of that age as well as enabling the Church as a whole to respond to the educational and medical needs of the time to an extent which would otherwise have been quite impossible. What is needed today is a further leap forward in the same direction. Up till now the ministerial role of sisters has remained mostly within the environment of school and hospital. Today, without abandoning this kind of work, they need to enter extensively into many other social and pastoral fields of activity: social work, catechetical work, counselling, the intensive visiting of an area, the provision of special courses of instruction, and—in some places—the regular running of a parish. There are undoubtedlv sides of the Church’s organized work which women can do fár better than men and the Church’s healthy development in this age of an ever increasing women’s liberation requires that many women, both lay and religious, enter into them.
Women, lay and religious, are called today to every side of the ministry, to kerygma and diakonia, to building up the full koinonia of the Church. It is a shame both for them and for the Christiàn community that they should still largely be confined or feel themselves confined to one or two traditional forms of institutionalized work.
In Brazil, in Uganda and elsewhere there are in fact parishes run by sisters on their own. The sheer scarcity of priests has forced the bishops to it, but they do it very well. They baptize, lead the worship of the congregation, give out holy communion, preach, visit homes, encourage and assist community development.
In the context of today we can no longer close our eyes to the possibility of women priests. No convincing argoment has been found against the ordination of a woman. In the past the question hardly arose because of a whole pattern of society and the position of women in it, but today it does—not only because of general changes in the world but also because of changes which have already taken place or are now rapidly taking place within the Church. What is of particular importance to cling to in the ordering of the Christian ministry is the close relationship of word and sacrament and the congruity that someone who is the regular community minister of the one should also be minister of the other. Those who regularly preach and even give communion should also be ordained to celebrate and preside at mass. Having decided in principle that women can and should do the one, it will be difficult for very long to deny them the other without creating a new artificial imbalance within the ministry. Doubtless this will not be agreed upon without much discussion, prayer and struggle, and we have enough to struggle about as it is, but the evolution of the ministry and the position of women within it will make it increasingly necessary to face up to this in coming years.
Fourthly, and most important of all, we come back to the ministry of the lay community. All other ministries must finally be seen as ways to stimulate and articulate the work of the community as a whole, and it is remarkable how alive and responsible a small community can become when it is really treated as an adult missionary fellowship to be directed by its own parish council working with its priest.The parish council is to be seen as having in consultation with him, the decisive responsibility not only for the collecting of money and its spending but for the basic liturgicàl, pastoraI and missionary planning of the local church.There are places where this is~indeed developing very effectively. In Africa is is generally not the parish council— on present terms—but the priestless sub-parish council which is becoming the decisive body. It is here that the local congregation can gather to plan its ministry, and the parish council is to be seen as a federation of sub-parish councils, and the diocesan pastoral council in its turn as a federation of parish councils. The corporate life of the local lay community implies a continuous diversification of ministries whereby some members of the congregation have particular liturgical and preaching responsibilities, others are assigned for teaching catechism at school, others again for leadership in the area of social development, still others for visiting the sick, laying hands upon them and praying with them. All these can be members of the lay community and will, of course, include women as well as men.
These are the ministries of the local community; they will be co-operating with a priest not so far removed from them, who will have nevertheless responsibility for several other congregations as well. He is likely to be a married man and probably not young. Both he and his congregations will be immensely helped by the full-time and far more highly qualified priest who will from time to time come to visit, to instruct, and to keep the church in touch with the rest of the diocese; they will also be helped by sisters. They may be so lucky as to have a house of sisters in their area but more probably they will simply receive a visit from an occasional peripatetic team to provide extra instruction and stimulatión. Both local priests and lay readers will also, of course, go away from time to time for retreats, refresher courses, and the experience of a wider ministerial fellowship.
A ministry of this type including both men and women, both : priests and lay men, both the full-time and the part-time, both the married and the celibate, both the local diocesan clergy and the inter-diocesan, international religious order, will have an immense strength of its own. The priesthood will then manifestly cease to be what it has at times seemed to be—an area of uniformity and of internal oppression. While at present there is a feeling, both within and without clergy ranks, that the young priest has often been almost conned into signing away his basic right to marry, the acceptance of a diversified ministry will enable the priest, whether celibate or married, to appear to the world what he should be par excellence—a free man. All this is not a day dream but a feasible reality if the Church has the will to bring it about, and in that case the present age, far from witnessing a painful and destructive collapse of the Church’s ministry, will be one instead of a magnificent renewal, enrichment and fruitfulness. We will then have indeed a strong, healthy, diversified ministry to offer the Church of the future, a future for which there need be no fear.