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“Ministries with an Amazonian Face”: An Eclipse of the Catholic Priesthood and the Hierarchical Character of the Church (2)

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In the previous article we presented a summary vision of the triple munus – pastoral, magisterial and priestly – that Our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to the Church through the ministerial priesthood of the clergy, transmitted by the laying on of hands in ordination. We also saw how the sacrament of Holy Orders is the foundation of the hierarchy of orders and jurisdiction in the Church, as well as the essential difference (and not just one of degree) that it establishes between the ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the universal priesthood of the laity.

Today we will look at the process of inadvertent ecclesiological shift that has led us from the traditional conception to the implicit proposal to split the triple munus of the sacrament of Holy Orders, contained in the Instrumentum Laboris of the Pan Amazon Synod. In effect, that document calls for studying the possibility of ordaining tribal leaders as second-class priests who are only authorized to say Mass and administer the sacraments while devoid of any pastoral or magisterial power. We will show how such a process of transshipment occurred through an inflation of the universal priesthood of the faithful and the opening of “ministries” of various kinds to the laity.

It is worth remembering that at the beginning of the 20th century, in response to Modernism and to the attempt by the French Masonic government to entrust the Church’s worship and property to lay associations, Saint Pius X categorically reaffirmed that “the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock,” the former with the right to command, and the latter with the duty to obey.[1]

Beginning in the 1930s this truth was gradually challenged in more “advanced” circles of Catholic Action on the pretext that Pope Pius XI, by erecting the group of lay apostolatic organizations that took that name (divided into sections such as JEC, JOC, JUC, etc.) had granted its members a “mandate” by which they “participated in the hierarchical apostolate of the Church.” They claimed this conferred on them a new position within the ecclesial structure that made them directly dependent on the bishop, without the interference of pastors or other religious superiors.

“On the basis of this ‘participation’ and of this ‘mandate’” – Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira denounced in his first bombshell book, In Defense of Catholic Action – “it has been contended that the laity demeans itself by obeying fully the ecclesiastical assistant and that Catholic Action leaders have an authority of their own that makes of the assistant a mere doctrinal censor of social activities,”[2] with which “his position in the parochial environment changes radically.”[3] He recounts cases of Catholic Action centers founded in certain parishes and Catholic schools unbeknown to those in charge in order to ensure that C.A. “not be a dictatorship of priests and nuns,”[4] and also that of a young man, cited in a C.A. newsletter, who wrote to his prelate – based on the “passive priesthood” of the laity: “best regards from your colleague in the priesthood”!

However, these errors continued to infiltrate Catholic circles, especially European ones, based on a “rediscovery” of the role of the laity in the apostolate of the Church. Thus, on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, there was a clash between two well-defined theological currents.


The previous schemes on the Church and the apostolate of the laity, elaborated by the Preparatory Commission, reiterated traditional ecclesiology and only emphasized that the laity actively participate in the Church, not only as collaborators of the hierarchy, but also with their own particular mission.

However, in the second draft, after the previous schemas were rejected by the conciliar assembly and rewritten by progressive-leaning experts, “the Church is no longer understood as an unequal society (in a class sense), but viewed through the prism of the variety of functions of its members,” says the Spanish canonist José M. González del Valle. Moreover, “from the third schema, the Church appears as the People of God of which all Christians are a part with a primary and radical situation of fundamental Equality: the condition of dignity and freedom of the children of God. This condition is a consequence of the principle of fundamental equality proper to all those who make up the People of God. This principle extends to both dignity and common action and is prior to the principle of distinction of functions.”[6]

“The whole structure of the Constitution Lumen Gentium,” Father Tomás Rincón-Pérez confirms, “just as well as numerous conciliar texts, supports this new ecclesiological turn: the transition from an ecclesiology with a hierarchical and stratified predominance to an ecclesiology of communion.” [7] In this ecclesiology, the new ontological configuration of the priest “does not give rise to a different kind of Christian, of a higher rank”: if his ordination and mission confer a particular dignity and honor upon him, “it is a dignity of an order other than that of every baptized person; a dignity that does not substantially alter the equality based on baptism.”[8]

This lessening of priestly dignity is accompanied by an accentuation of the supernatural, mysterious nature of the Church to the detriment of her nature as a visible and perfect society.[9] At the same time, the Church is conceived as being mainly a work of the Holy Spirit and having a mainly eschatological dimension in which she appears as an “icon” of the Most Holy Trinity – a model of unity and diversity – and therefore as a figure and anticipation of the new, recreated humanity. (A model, in fact, unattainable by mere creatures, including spiritual ones, who can never reproduce the perfect equality of the three divine Persons; besides, such equality would be contrary to the hierarchical order that God established in creation.)[10]

In this pneumatic ecclesiology, they insist that the set of gifts of the Spirit is distributed throughout the Body of Christ and that such gifts are not derived from a primordial charism that would contain and summarize all the others. Even the charism of the Apostles is a particular charism that cannot absorb all responsibilities and constitute a monopoly, but the diversity of charisms has interdependence and complementarity as a corollary.

With this conceptual universe as background, the conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium teaches that, in the Church, each person exercises his mission together with others through the “recognition” or “reception” of his services and charisms.[11] The Belgian canonist Fr. Alphonse Borras and the Canadian theologian Fr. Gilles Routhier comment: “This perspective of the diversity of charisms enables us to escape the hierarchy-laity couple to favor the charisms-community couple.”[12]

In the name of this new pneumatic and communion ecclesiology, the conciliar decree on the missionary activity of the Church (Ad Gentes) – for the first time in a magisterial document – employed the word “ministry” to refer without distinction to the sacred functions of the clergy and the collaboration of the laity in them: “in order to plant the Church and to make the Christian community grow, various ministries are needed [Lat. varia ministeria[13]], which are raised up by divine calling from the midst of the congregation of the faithful, and are to be carefully fostered and tended to by all. Among these are the offices of priests, of deacons, and of catechists, and Catholic Action.”[14]

The conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium affirmed that the laity “have the capacity to assume from the Hierarchy certain ecclesiastical functions, which are to be performed for a spiritual purpose,”[15] a statement also contained in the new Code of Canon Law. The aforementioned Fathers Borras and Routhier say that this statement “will pave the way for the principle of entrusting ministries to lay people, authorized by a new understanding of the concept of ‘officium ecclesiasticum’ that from now on, since Vatican II, participation in the ‘power of orders’ is no longer required for a person to be entrusted with a charge (Lat. munus) or an ecclesial function (Lat. officium).”[16]

In parallel, one of the most important innovations of Vatican II was to promote the restoration of the permanent exercise of the diaconate, allowing this ministry to be conferred “upon men of mature age, even upon those living in the married state.”[17]

This conciliar opening to lay charisms and, on a civil level, the anti-establishment student revolt that led to the Sorbonne revolution in Paris in May 1968, among other events, favored an intense intellectual and activist fermentation that gave rise to a proliferation of small groups outside the official cadres and without organic links with the Hierarchy, animated by a  team in which the distinction between clergy and laity was overcome.

Such groups revolved around a current that considered itself especially assisted by the charisms of the Holy Spirit, and defined itself as “prophetic” in its struggle against the “Church-institution,” and in the promotion of a “New Church” free from any subservience (to God, to the supernatural, to the faith or to the hierarchy). To acquire this “new face” the Church should undergo a “radical democratization” through the participation of the laity in elections to ecclesiastical offices, and especially in the selection of bishops, and in the creation of “institutionalized agencies” of lay people – mouthpieces of the sensus fidelium – that would make it possible to supervise the hierarchy and provide for a true co-governance.[18]

In January 1969, the magazine Ecclesia, official organ of Spanish Catholic Action, denounced the doctrines and practices of the said “prophetic groups.”[19]  The journals Catolicismo (Brazil), Cruzada (Argentina) and Fiducia (Chile) and Lepanto (Uruguay) reproduced that denunciation enriched with an analytical study by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira titled “Hidden Groups Plot Subversion in the Church.”[20] In the following months, volunteers of Tradition, Family and Property in those countries distributed over 250,000 copies of these publications through public campaigns in direct contact with the population.

However, the onslaught on the ministerial priesthood was not limited to small, marginal “prophetic” groups but included diocesan experiments that sought to end the traditional system of evangelizing through parishes by entrusting pastoral activity to so-called “Basic Ecclesial Communities” (CEBs). In Latin America, the impulse to make the CEBs an “initial cell of ecclesial structuring and focus of evangelization” started from the CELAM Conference held in Medellin in 1968.[21] In Africa, two years later, the archdiocese of Kinshasa (Zaire) published a document titled “Mission de l’Église à Kinshasa: Options Pastorales,” which concluded with this paragraph: “Historically, all functions in the community were gradually taken over by the clergy. The renewal of the theology of the People of God invites us to situate the priest in his true place and to give back to the laity the exercise of their responsibilities also in the domain of the internal life of the Church.”[22]

This universal denial of the role of the clergy led to a “crisis of priestly identity” and to an unprecedented number of requests for reduction to the secular state.[23]  Between April and May of 1969, the plenary conferences of the episcopates of four countries (Canada, the United States, Italy and France) dealt with the priestly ministry. In 1971, the second Synod of Bishops was dedicated to the priesthood. During its debates, for the first time in an official forum of the Church, the appearance of new lay ministries was explicitly evoked, and so was the proposal to study eventually admitting women to the ministries.[24]

In 1972, Paul VI promulgated the motu proprio Ministeria Quaedam, suppressing minor orders and replacing them with two new liturgical ministries – the lectorate and the acolyte – which could be entrusted to laymen. In this regard, the aforementioned canonist Fr. Tomás Rincón-Pérez commented: “In the old discipline, these ministries were reserved for the Ordo clericorum, given that the concept of clergy was broader than that of a sacred minister [the clerical state began with the tonsure, before any ordination]. By restricting the concept of cleric – equivalent to sacred minister – and by entrusting those ministries to laymen, there is an obvious ‘declericalization’ of those ministries, but at the same time the laity are added to the ecclesiastical organization.” The author criticizes the “terminological imprecision” of the motu proprio: “The term lay Ministries, coined by the doctrine, has not been a happy conquest for dogmatics since the word ministry ‘had recovered an important objective significance for the theology on the priesthood’ (A. Fernández). This being so, the same author asks, ‘if the word ministry had semantically defined the office conferred by the sacrament of Orders, why not let it be and coin the terms functions, office or services to designate the various missions that the laity are called to fulfill in the Church’?”[25]

Since Ministeria Quaedam stipulated a “discrimination” against women – who could not access the lectorate or acolyte – this led to very few bishops entrusting such liturgical ministries to lay people, except for permanent deacons and seminarians, as a preliminary stage to their ordination. Yet bishops’ conferences took advantage of a provision of the same motu proprio that attributed to them a prerogative of establishing in their territory other ministries they considered useful and capable of being entrusted to the laity (ever since then, in almost all the dioceses of the world, churches were filled with female readers, acolytes, ministers of the Eucharist, pastoral animators, etc.).

Taking advantage of the breach opened by Paul VI, Cardinal Joseph-Albert Malula, archbishop of Kinshasa, went much further, as we shall see.

In July 1973,  in the conclusion of its work, the Eighth Theological Week organized by the School of Theology of the capital of Zaire, on the theme “Lay Ministries in the Church,” denounced a centuries-old existence in the Church of “one privileged priestly class” and, in the name of “an effective Africanization of the Church of Zaire,” called for “a new structuring of ministries” that questioned the old idea of patron-priests and a submissive laity. As a practical suggestion, the document reported that “wishes have been formulated in the sense of the recommendations, finally insisting on the appropriateness of ordaining lay people to preside over the Eucharist in communities entrusted to them.”[26]

The proposal, made in the name of Africanization, was actually launched by the French Jesuit theologian Fr. Joseph Moingt in a lecture titled “The Ministry of Communities.”[27]

“Taking into account the shortage of priests and the positive evolution of the participation of the laity in ecclesial responsibilities, first during the Eighth Theological Week in Kinshasa, and then in a series of articles published in the journal Études, Father Joseph Moingt proposed a path to restructure ecclesial ministries…. The traditional ministry of bishops and priests will always be transmitted by the laying on of hands, which integrates a Christian into the apostolic succession; it will always involve a full-time, unlimited term commitment, being cared for by the Church, and the statutory obligation of celibacy…. Conversely, the new ministers, ready to offer their services to Christian communities, will keep their lay status in the Church: the laying on of hands – which will have to be justified later – received by some in view of presiding over certain sacraments (Eucharist, Penance) does not integrate them in the apostolic succession nor in the presbyterium of the bishop; the terms of their engagement will remain variable (full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid); in any case, these lay ministers will not form a body or ‘ordo’ either with one another or with the presbyterium; and their function will not be inalienable.”[28]

Cardinal Malula took the recommendation of the Theological Week very seriously to promote the ordination of lay people to preside over the Eucharist – a recommendation he himself had initiated.[29] In the 1974 Synod on evangelization he made the following proposal: “The Episcopal Conference of Zaire demands that the problem of living communities [this is the name of CEBs in Africa] be taken into consideration, and especially that the ordination of married men to the ministries be contemplated.”[30]

Going one step further, and to favor “the rise of an authentic local Negro-African church,” in May 1975 Cardinal Malula officially installed in Kinshasa the first five bakambi (plural of mokambi in the Lingala language), that is, “community guides” as heads of parishes, all of them lay and married, exercising a profession and freely consecrating their free time to the Church. The direction of the parish was entirely in their hands and in those of the parish council, with the help of an external “animator priest” who would come regularly to celebrate Mass, hear confessions and impart other sacraments but refrain from interfering in the parish management, limiting himself to being the first collaborator and counselor of the community guide: “If the mokambi must respect the role of the priest and his authority in all that concerns his specifically priestly ministry, for his part the priest must fully respect the role and authority of the lay person as the parish mokambi. He accepts the mokambi to direct the life of the parish and make decisions,” affirmed the archbishop of Zaire.[31]

Cardinal Malula was aware of the illegality of his pastoral plan: “The current legislation does not provide for any ‘parishes’ entrusted to laity. Every parish must have a priest pastor.  The priestly function can only be entrusted to a priest. By entrusting some parishes to lay people, we are leaving the framework of the current legislation. We believe that this way of acting is justified because of the particular circumstances of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa: the lack of priests and the urgency of Africanization.”[32]

However, despite the illegality, some wanted to take the pastoral role of these community guides even further: making the bakambi able to administer Baptism and Extreme Unction, and to be official witnesses to the marriage of couples they themselves had prepared. Furthermore, Fr. Paul de Meester, a Jesuit and professor at the University of Lubumbashi (Zaire), asked himself:

“Is it contrary to the provisions of Christ for a community president, who assumes a service recognized by the bishop, which service is by no means reserved to the ordained ministries [sic], to be authorized, according to the circumstances, to celebrate the Eucharist? The one who usually chairs the liturgy of the Word in these Sunday assemblies would be allowed to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy by an ordination understood as the actualization of the universal priesthood and an extension of Confirmation. This ordination could only be exercised to the extent that the person concerned would in fact preside over the destinies of his community; it would therefore be limited in space and time while allowing the local Church to satisfy its fundamental right to the Eucharist.”[33]

Despite the heterodoxy of such proposals and initiatives adopted in the name of the “lay ministries” favored by the Second Vatican Council and by Ministeria quaedam, in December 1976 Pope Paul VI published the apostolic constitution Evangelii Nuntiandi, the text of which repeats the conciliar ambiguity of using the word “ministry” both for the sacred ministry of the pope, bishops and priests (nos. 5, 67 and 68), and for the “diversified ministries” of the laity, to which the constitution devotes a long section (No. 73).[34]  It affirms that “the Church recognizes the place of non-ordained ministries which are able to offer a particular service to the Church,” among whom it cites “catechists, directors of prayer and chant, Christians devoted to the service of God’s Word or to assist their brethren in need, the heads of small communities, or other persons charged with the responsibility of apostolic movements”[35] (all that was missing was for Paul VI to have used bekambi instead of “heads of small communities”…).

In spite of the numerous practices, which became habitual, tending to a leveling between the clergy and the laity, the editors of the new Code of Canon Law gave a legal basis to the post-conciliar status quo. In effect, the fundamental legislative text, promulgated in January 1983, consecrated the concept of “ministries” (c. 230 §1) and the aptitude of the laity to assume a ministry (c.222 §1) . And, contrary to the Code of 1917, they did not reserve to the clergy the possession of an “office” in the technical sense of officium ecclesiasticum so that, in current law, access to an office does not necessarily imply ordaining or participation in the power of jurisdiction (although some offices may require one or the other or both). The most delicate case is that of lay people who, as judges, make up a diocesan tribunal that judges matrimonial causes.

Beyond the doctrinal controversy,[36] it is important to highlight the prudential issue: in a cultural environment in which egalitarianism predominates and which favors “democratic” currents within the Church, those canonical changes de facto favored the weakening of the essential distinction between clergy and laity in the minds of Catholics.

This is all the more so since in the matter of parochial authority, although the new code maintains the rule that a parish’s pastoral care can only be entrusted to a parish priest as its proper pastor (canon 515), two canons later prescribed that, “If, because of a lack of priests, the diocesan bishop has decided that participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is to be entrusted to a deacon, to another person who is not a priest, or to a community of persons, he is to appoint some priest who, provided with the powers and faculties of a pastor, is to direct the pastoral care” (c.517 §2). Cardinal Malula concluded, forcing the note, that this canon legitimized his institution of the mokambi: it was enough to give the “accompanying priest” the parish priest’s label, but not the reality of power…

Two months after the promulgation of the Code, Pope John Paul II received in audience a group of Zairian bishops visiting ad limina. In his speech, he told them:

“We must vigorously reject the idea that in the face of ministries and sacraments, all members of Christian communities have the same responsibilities and the same problems. From the apostolic era, the Church appears to be structured; next to the faithful, there are the “apostles,” the “apostolic men” with their successors the Bishops, priests, deacons…. If certain ways of understanding the ‘sensus fidelium’ recalled by the Second Vatican Council have been abusive, this has also happened with the common priesthood of the faithful…. Some theologians were quick to call for “re-shaping” the ministries. But who doesn’t see it? A minister designated by the community, or as it is sometimes said, from the “base,” cannot be the legitimate collaborator of the Bishops and priests. He is not linked to the venerable apostolic tradition that from us all the way to the Twelve and then to the Lord characterizes the historical persistence of the laying on of hands for the communication of the Spirit of Christ.”[37]

The Synod of Bishops of 1987, on the apostolate of the laity, echoed the same concern. At the beginning of the work, one of the intermediary reports expressed the fear of a “theological shift between the (ordained) priestly ministry and the other un-ordained ministries,” before adding: “The inflation of the term ministry has caused here and there an obfuscation of the priestly ministry.” Feeling attacked, Cardinal Malula answered in the synod hall: “The parish mokambi is a true lay minister…. He is not named pastor and is not part of the hierarchy of the Church. Lay minister…the bishop entrusts him with the task of residing in the parish, assuring its administration and the organization of parish activities.”[38]

Addressing the issue of abuses, the post-synodal exhortation Christifideles laici recognized they were a “post-conciliar” novelty and that, in the synodal assembly, “a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements about a too-indiscriminate use of the word “ministry,” the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of “substitute,” the tendency towards a “clericalization” of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders” (no. 23).

However, instead of taking the bull by the horns and reversing the course radically, Pope John Paul II opted for a policy of “giving in some so as not to lose all”: he admitted that the term “ministry” could be commonly used to designate lay services (he used it 18 times in that sense and only 16 times referring to the sacred ministry of the clergy), but he added the condition that such ministries “be exercised in conformity to their specific lay vocation, which is different from that of the sacred ministry” (idem).

As expected, this homeopathic medicine did not have the effect desired by the pontiff, who had to take advantage, six years later, in April 1994, of a meeting promoted by the Congregation for the Clergy to try to rectify the deviations that continued to spread not only in Africa, but everywhere. This time his tone was more energetic:

“We cannot increase the communion and unity of the Church either by “clericalizing” the lay faithful or by “laicizing” presbyters. … To speak therefore of the ‘participation of the lay faithful in the pastoral ministry of presbyters’ it is necessary above all to reflect carefully on the term ‘ministry’ and on the different meanings that it can assume in theological and canonical language.

“For some time now it has been the custom to call ‘ministries’ not only the ‘officia’ and the ‘munera’ exercised by the Pastors by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders, but also those exercised by the lay faithful by virtue of the baptismal priesthood. The lexical question becomes even more complex and delicate when one attributes to all the faithful the possibility of exercising – in the capacity of substitutes by official deputation bestowed by the Pastors – certain functions more proper to the clerics, which, however, do not require the character of Orders (cf. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 230).

“It must be recognized that language becomes uncertain, confused, and therefore not useful for expressing the doctrine of faith, whenever, in any way, the difference ‘in essence and not only in degree’ between the baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood becomes blurred (cf. Lumen Gentium, 10)….

“Only the constant reference to the one and central ‘ministry of Christ’ – to the ‘holy diakonia’ lived by Him for the good of the Church his Body and, through the Church, for the whole world – allows to a certain extent applying the term ‘ministry’ to the lay faithful without ambiguity: that is, without it being perceived and experienced as an undue aspiration to the ‘ordained ministry’ or as a progressive erosion of its specificity (cf. John Paul II, Christifideles laici , 21).

“In this original sense, the term ‘ministry’ (‘servitium’) expresses only the work with which members of the Church prolong ‘the mission and ministry of Christ’ internally and for the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 34 ).

“However, when the term is distinguished from and compared with the various munera and officia, then it should be clearly noted that only in virtue of sacred ordination does the word obtain that full univocal meaning that tradition has attributed to it. There is an urgent pastoral need to clarify and purify terminology, because behind it there can lurk dangers far more treacherous than one may think. It is a short step from current language to conceptualization.”[39]

Three years later, the Vatican returned to the charge with the “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest,” signed by the cardinals responsible for no less than eight Roman dicasteries. This Instruction reiterated the traditional teaching that “the exercise of the munus docendi, sanctificandi et regendi by the sacred minister constitutes the essence of pastoral ministry” and that “only in some of these functions, and to a limited degree, may the non-ordained faithful cooperate with their pastors should they be called to do so by lawful Authority and in accordance with the prescribed manner,” because “in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination.” And in its practical provisions, it emphasizes “the need to clarify and distinguish the various meanings which have accrued to the term ‘ministry’ in theological and canonical language,” hence it disposes that “It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as ‘pastor,’ ‘chaplain,’ ‘coordinator,’ ‘moderator’ or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest.” 

And in what seems an indirect response to Cardinal Malula, it provides, in relation to canon 517 § 2, that the exceptional participation of a lay person in pastoral care does not consist in “directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the Parish.”[40]

Unfortunately, neither the speech of John Paul II to the clergy nor the Instruction by the imposing squadra cardenalizia managed to stop the disorderly and abusive blossoming of all kinds of “lay ministries” in almost all regions of the Catholic world, often relegating the priest to the function of “president (but not much) of the Eucharist” and to the nowadays little-requested function of confessor (performed so many times with boredom and… by previous appointment). All the rest – catechesis, funerals, pastoral care of hospitals, preparation for marriage, church decoration and liturgical arrangements, etc. – is assumed by laity, most of the time by women, lest the priest be accused of “clericalism.”

This environment, which we do not hesitate to describe as “anticlerical,” tendentially prepared the next episode in the confrontation between the Vatican and the supporters of Church democratization in the name of “lay ministries.” It took place in Latin America and culminated in Chiapas with regard to the “native indigenous ministry” which Bishop Samuel Ruiz designed for the diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas.

This is what we will see in the next article. Of course, the reader will have noticed that the proposals contained in Bishop Fritz Löbinger’s books, which Pope Francis deems “interesting,” are not African but rather European. Nor are they a novelty but rather forty-five years old, if we take the first article by Fr. Joseph Moingt, S.J. as their initial milestone…

…Or perhaps five hundred years old, if we go all the way back to Luther…

[1] Encyclical Vehementer Nos,


[3] p. 49.

[4] p. 50.


[6] Ius Canonicum, 1973, vol. XIII, n° 25, p. 309.

[7] “The participation of the laity in the sanctifying function of the Church,” Ius Canonicum, vol. 29, n° 58 (1989), p. 624-625.

[8] Ibid. p. 626.

[9]  In this regard, the well-known theologian Msgr. Brunero Gherardini commented: “I have nothing to object on the concept of the Church as a sacrament. … But since the idea of Church-sacrament is used to expunge the notion of ‘perfect society’ from the theological consideration of the Church or even to accentuate her invisible and mysterious component more than needed, I must rightly disassociate myself from it. In fact, it is deplorable to note the absence of any reference, if only in passing, to the genuine concept of the Church as ‘perfect society’ – that is, a society sufficient unto itself, endowed with all the means necessary to achieve its aim. In that case, her mysteriousness/sacramentality would not have been contradicted in in any way” (Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II: Un discorso da fare, Casa Mariana Editrice, Frigento, 2009, p. 228-229) [Our translation].

[10] St. Thomas Aquinas explains it thus: “The distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided and hence the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever.” And in the next article he adds: “…as the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality….For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things” (Summa Theologiae, Part I, q. 47, a. 1 & a. 2).

[11] LG, n° 12, 30.

[12] Les nouveaux ministères: diversité et articulation, Médiaspaul, Montréal, 2009, p. 79.

[13] The Constitution Lumen Gentium, approved earlier, had employed the same expression, varia ministeria, to refer to the established ministries.


[15] N° 33,

[16] Op. cit. p. 19.

[17] Lumen Gentium, n° 29. Fr. Alfons M. Stickler wrote at the time a documented article showing that, since apostolic times, the Church always demanded that its clerics, including deacons, cease marital relationships and separate from their wives if they were married before ordination. Already a cardinal, he published an expanded version of it in Scripta Theologica 26 (1994/1), p. 13-78,

[18] One of the most cited texts in those circles was the then recently-published work The Church, by Hans Küng, which rejected the distinction between clergy and laity with claims that a Protestant would willingly accept: “The fact that leaders of the Church are exclusively considered as ‘priests’ and, following pagan and Jewish ideas or conceptions, are repeatedly converted into a separate caste, which stands between God and men and closes immediate access to God by the priestly people, after all that is said, is opposed to the message of the New Testament about the only mediator and high priest, Jesus Christ, no less than to the general priesthood of all Christians” (p. 455, italics from the original

[19] N° 1423, January 11, 1969, pp. 19-33.


[21] “The experience of communion to which he has been called must be found by the Christian in his ‘basic community,’ that is to say, a local or environmental community, which corresponds to the reality of a homogeneous group, which has a dimension that allows personal fraternal treatment among its members” (Ibid, n° 10).

[22] Quoted by Jean Mpisi, Le Cardinal Malula et Jean-Paul II : Dialogue difficile entre l’Église ‘africaine’ et le Saint-Siège, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2005, p. 169.

[23] “From 1939 to 1963, the dicastery of the Holy Office granted an overall number of 563 dispensations from celibate priesthood. In the years following the Council, between 1963 and 1970, the number of dispensations increased to a total of 3,335” (Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: Una storia mai scritta, Lindau, Turín, 2010, p. 575, our translation).

[24] Alphonse Borras and Gilles Routhier, op. cit., p. 24.

[25] Op. cit., p. 645-646.

[26] Jean Mpisi, op. cit., p. 181-182.

[27] His lecture takes up again the thesis he had defended three years before in an article for the review Études (“Mutations du ministère sacerdotale,” April 1970, pp. 576-592,

[28] Fr. Eleuthère Kumbu ki Kumbu, “Les Présupposés théologiques du ministère laïc de présidence de communauté en Afrique : un essai d’évaluation ,” L’Avenir des ministères laïcs : enjeux ecclésiologiques et perspectives pastorales, dir. Léonard Santedi Kinkipu, Eds. Signes de Temps, 1997, p. 175-176.

[29] Jean Mpisi, op. cit., p. 182.

[30] Ibid. p. 194.

[31] Ibid. p. 204.

[32] Ibid. p. 208.

[33] Où va l’Église en Afrique, Cerf, Paris, 1980, p. 157-157, in Jean Mpisi, op. cit. p. 199-200.


[35] Ibidem.

[36]  This point was very much debated in the preparation of the new code and has not been doctrinally resolved to this day. One current defends the exclusive capacity of ordained clerics to exercise the power of jurisdiction; the other, a limited capacity of laymen to exercise it, as long as it is granted. Starting from a theological premise, the former insists that a lay person cannot govern the Church; without denying the above, the second, from a more legal and practical perspective, states that the lay faithful can perform some type of activity attributable to the power of jurisdiction. Underlying each current are two ways of conceptualizing that power: one, predominantly theological-ecclesiological, affirms the unity of sacred power (of order and jurisdiction) and sees the origin of the power of jurisdiction in the sacrament of Orders, requiring only, for its exercise, from its jurisdictional aspect, that the canonical mission be added; another, predominantly legal, reserves the term power of jurisdiction just for the power of government already exercisable. See Emilio Malumbres, “Los laicos y la potestad de régimen en los trabajos de reforma codicial: una cuestión controvertida,” Ius canonicum, XXVI, n° 52, 1986, 563-625.


[38] Ibid. p. 403.



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