Tuesday, October 13, 2015

My Address to the Canon Law Society of America

Instead of the entire script, I am attaching the twelve things I have learned from teaching and implementing Canon 245.
Canon 245 
§1. Through their spiritual formation, students are to become equipped to exercise the pastoral ministry fruitfully and are to be formed in a missionary spirit; they are to learn that ministry always carried out in living faith and charity fosters their own sanctification. They also are to learn to cultivate those virtues which are valued highly in human relations so that they are able to achieve an appropriate integration between human and supernatural goods.  
§2. Students are so to be formed that, imbued with love of the Church of Christ, they are bound by humble and filial charity to the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, are attached to their own bishop as faithful coworkers, and work together with their brothers. Through common life in the seminary and through relationships of friendship and of association cultivated with others, they are to be prepared for fraternal union with the diocesan presbyterium whose partners they will be in the service of the Church.
Some Things I Have Learned from My Work in Teaching and Implementing Canon 245

1. Revived at Vatican Council II (Christus Dominus, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Optam Totius), the theology of a “presbyterate” has been neglected since the early church. 
Writing at the start of the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch provides a clear idea of the threefold ministry we know today. 
“I exhort you to strive to do all things in harmony with God: the bishop is to preside in the place of God, while the presbyters are to function as the council of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ." (Magnesians 6:1). 
St. Ignatius speaks often of the presbyters, but normally refers to them as a council; in Greek: presbyterion, in Latin: presbyterium. The primary idea of St. Ignatius concerning the presbyterium is that priests remain in close union with one another and have a strong bond with their bishop. Thus his famous analogy: "your presbytery, which is a credit to its name, is a credit to God; for it harmonizes with the bishop as completely as the strings with a harp." (Ephesians 4:1) 
His letters frequently indicate that the presbyterium acted as a collective body: a band, college, council, or senate. For Ignatius, this collegiality is always characteristic of the presbyterium. Indeed whenever the Patristic Fathers of the first three centuries mention presbyters, they almost speak of them in the plural and never in the singular: they always constitute a college. 
Notice that the relationship Ignatius describes between the bishop and presbyters is not one of equality: the presbyterium is subject to the bishop who presides over them as Christ over the apostles. On the other hand, as the bishop's senate, the college of presbyters shares with him the responsibility for the well being of the ecclesial community. Saints Clement of Rome and Cyprian of Carthage are just two important examples of the many other Church fathers who describe presbyters as constituting a council and being counselors of the bishop. 
From the New Testament and early Christian writings, we see that the ancient church did not think in terms of solitary priests but of a presbyterium. United with the local bishop, it was a college that surrounded him and helped him to carry out the work of the church. 
The loss of the concept ... 
So what happened to the presbyterium and this idea of the collaboration of the presbyters? As the Church expanded after the legalization of Christianity, priests were stationed outside the episcopal city in order to administer the sacraments in rural districts. This physical separation from the city where the presbyterium would meet limited the priests' participation in it. 
With the spread of the gospel into rural areas, isolated from the episcopal city and the presbyterium, the presbyter's role declined as counselors who assisted the bishop in administration. In its place, other bodies developed such as the Cathedral Chapter and the Diocesan Synod, which continued some of the presbyterium's advisory and governing functions. 
Another historical factor that encouraged individualism was development of the benefice system, by which priests were ordained for a particular benefice, a ministry to a particular church or benefactor who guaranteed his economic sustenance. This contributed to a decline in the common life and collaboration among priests, as they would feel less of a bond to the bishop than to their benefactor. 
Some also see individualism coming from the developing theology on the priesthood that would culminate with the council of Trent. Of course, nothing is wrong with emphasizing the character of the priest as representing Christ, with a special dignity and personal power to celebrate the Eucharist. This idea, however, should not lead to a separation of the priest from the community or to an individualism or competitiveness in pastoral work. 
With the spread of the Church, there was a general breakdown of the early collegiality, and a trend toward an individual, not collegiate, ministry. The conception of presbyteral community, as well as knowledge of the meaning of the word presbyterium itself, was slowly lost in centuries of neglect.” (Gary Coulter, Juridical Manifestations of the Presbyterium, 2004) 
2. The American bishops called this a “neglect” in their The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, saying that this “neglect” has left a vacuum:
  • “To pursue the ongoing formation not simply of (individual) priests, but of a presbyterate as a whole, brings us to new territory.” (This calls for individual mentoring, as well as mentoring into the group.)
  • “The corporate sense of priestly identity and mission, although not fully developed even in official documents, is clearly emerging as an important direction for the future.” (This is why I got into this work.)
  • “Its neglect favors division and a number of attendant problems within the diocese.” (“Nothing gets better by leaving it alone.” (Winston Churchill)
3. When I started this work, I realized very quickly from a show of hands at every presbyteral convocation that most US priests have had no formal education in the theology of presbyterates. As a result of this neglect, many priests have fallen into the habit of a priesthood of “private practice” or “private practice” which flies in the face of the "radical communitarian dimension of ordained ministry" that Pope John Paul II was so adamant about. Even though Canon 245.2 called for seminarians to be trained to take their places in presbyterates, when I started this it had barely been implemented, if at all. As a result of a continuing neglect and lack of a common vision, many of today’s young priests are forming “tribes” within their presbyterates, struggling against other priests over who has the right vision. Some of these “tribes” are actively cultivating members from among seminarians. They groom them in secret, advise them how to "get through" seminary formation programs and which bishops deserve respect and obedience. If problems like these are being caused by neglect, imagine what we could become if we were to become more intentional about strengthening presbyteral unity? The biggest misconception priests have had of the “intentional presbyterate” idea is that it is about making priests happy. While that may be an important by-product of the process, the main reason for an “intentional presbyterate” is to offer the People of God a more coherent and effective ministry. Finally, as Lumen Gentium taught us, as well as Canon 245 #1 and Pastores Dabo Vobis, that working for presbyteral unity is an essential part of a priest's spiritual life.

4. From a show of hands at hundreds of presbyteral convocations, I have learned that an even greater number of US priests have had no formal education in the diocesan priest’s “promise of obedience.” As a result they tend to see obedience mainly in terms of a personal relationship with the bishop that is invoked in cases of interagency, rather than seeing what Pope John Paul II called its "communal relationship with the bishop and the presbyterate as a whole." While seminaries are regularly focusing on celibacy programs, many still neglect to teach “that other promise,” the promise of obedience which, when understood well, is critical in developing a common sense of purpose in our ministry because it has to do with what Pope John Paul II called "non-attachment to one's own preferences and points of view" for the sake of our common ministry. Obedience helps priests and bishops deliver a unified and coherent ministry to God’s People and is probably even more important to their shared ministry than the promise of celibacy.

5. Most bishops, where I have made presentations, have indicated to me that US bishops get no training in how to lead presbyterates when they are named bishops. As a result, bishops may not always know how to direct individual ministry accomplishments toward the ministry goals of the diocese as a whole. Priests are waiting, craving really, to be led by shepherds with convincing voices. Bishops are the designated leaders of presbyterates, but some may need a lot more help in becoming real leaders of presbyterates.

6. Bishops and presbyterates need to pay better attention to the transition of new priests out of seminary and into ministry, to the transition of priests into first pastorates and to the transition of international priests into new local presbyterates and parishes. Presbyterates need to see themselves as mentoring communities for these newest members and spend more time learning to be such mentoring communities. Presbyterates need to understand how risky it is for both sides for new priests to be made pastors without proper training. Presbyterates need to understand as well that it is risky, for both sides, to accept international priests without a plan to receive them well.

7. An intense, complete and ongoing study of the teachings in Pastores Dabo Vobis and your implementation document, The Basic Plan For the Ongoing Formation of Priests, would do more than anything else to help priests find common theological ground on which to heal ideological differences. As it is, both sides of the divide tend to pick and choose citations from church documents to bolster their, already arrived at, conclusions.

8. A general acceptance of the theology that the ministry of priests consists in helping the bishop carry out his ministry and making him present in the places where they serve would do wonders in building a sense of presbyteral unity among priests. This includes more dialogue with priests "on directions to be taken and choices to be made."

9. The best program to promote vocations today, I believe, would be one that is directed at building intentional presbyterates. Young men today will not be attracted to a loose association of “lone rangers,” but to the religiously saturated environment of a happy and effective presbyterate with a clear identity and mission. As Vatican II said so many years ago, “Let priests attract the hearts of young men by their own humble and energetic lives, joyfully pursued, and by brotherly collaboration with their brother priests.” If this is true, when we pray for more vocations to the priesthood, we ought to move away from asking God to change his behavior and toward asking God to help us change our behaviors – that we might be more humble and energetic in our individual ministry and see it as our share in a collaborative ministry, especially with our bishop and fellow priests.

10. Seminaries need more ways to introduce reality into their curriculums. As seminaries continue to add more and more mandated communal experiences, the numbers of priests living alone continues to rise - some say 58% at present and growing. Seminaries need to prepare young priests to creatively live alone, while working together, by experimenting with small group living and individual living situations while they are still in the seminary. (To that end, I have designed and spearheaded the building of a new "life-skills center" at Saint Meinrad to teach simple healthy cooking, to practice being part of a support group and to prepare for being part of a prayer group. It is to be finished by year's end.) To build more unified presbyterates, seminaries need to teach seminarians to respect and negotiate the various cultures of ecclesial life in today’s church rather than conspiring with them in protecting them from those cultures. Seminarians should be taught to identify and distinguish their own preferred learning culture from the learning cultures of other priests and be prepared to respectfully engage the needs and assumptions of other priests. 
11. What is needed, ultimately, for presbyteral unity is not a new program, but a new mindset. I believe at the root of things is a need for a radical conversion of mind and heart by priests and bishops toward the good of one another. Likewise, we need to replace our downward spiraling talk of diminishment with some upward spiraling talk of abundance. Believing is different from wishing. Believing leads to positive action on our part. Wishing simply waits for others to act on our behalf.

12. The Church cannot afford infighting and demoralization among its priests. We need all hands on deck. If we need all hands on deck, we need to start seeing our diversity as a blessing. We must firmly and consistently reject the Rush Limbaugh approach to presbyterates, where we feel free to demonize and attribute the worst possible motives to those with whom we disagree. If “every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty,” we must individually reverse the process and begin to practice the spiritual discipline of blessing each other by intentionally looking for goodness to affirm in each other.
  • The more lay ministry develops the more need there will be for well-formed priests.
  • Some statistics say 10% - 15% of our newly ordained priests leave in their first five years.
  • 50% of all US priests are scheduled to retire in the next five years.
Let me conclude here. I hope this has been helpful. Doing this work as the founding director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology and in so many dioceses around the country and around the world, has been the joy of my life for the last seventeen years. Sharing it with you here at this convention has been icing on the cake.

…and just to think I literally came within seconds of deleting all my original work and giving it up when I became despondent and discouraged during the height of the sexual abuse scandal!