Maike Hickson

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Bishop Marian Eleganti

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Swiss bishop warns against ‘destruction of the priesthood and of the sacred character of the Church’

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

August 6, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Marian Eleganti, the auxiliary bishop of Chur, Switzerland, delivered a video message on his Kath.net blog defending the sacred character of the priesthood, which is not a “profession like any other.” Eleganti points out that the mission of the priest is threefold: “to govern, to preach, and to sanctify.” Any attempt at separating these three offices of the priesthood, he adds, would lead to “the destruction of the priesthood and of the sacred character of the Church.”

Bishop Eleganti responds indirectly to the working document of the upcoming October 6-27 Amazon Synod, which dubiously proposes to “reconsider the notion that the exercise of jurisdiction (power of government) must be linked in all areas (sacramental, judicial, administrative) and in a permanent way to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” This separation could lead to the possibility of women governing a parish while the priest’s duty would be limited to celebrating Mass and administering the Sacraments.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, in his own strong critique of the Amazon Synod’s working document, also recently stated that the hierarchical and sacramental aspects of Holy Orders may not be split apart, calling this egregious idea a “direct attack on the hierarchical-sacramental constitution of the Church.” 

Moreover, Professor Karl-Heinz Menke, a member of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, said at the beginning of July that “the Second Vatican Council (see LG 28) strictly binds the judicial power to the reception of the analogous [sacred] ordinations.” 

“The power of ordination (potestas ordinis) and the judicial power (potestas jurisdictionis) may not be separated,” Menke, a priest and retired professor of dogmatics at the University of Boon, also told LifeSiteNews.

In his new video statement, Bishop Eleganti – who has expressed his strong support for Cardinal Brandmüller’s recent critique of the synod’s working document – insists on the sacredness of the priesthood.

The priest is “not a social worker, not a psychologist, nor a manager, nor a mediator,” he added. Through ordination, the priest “receives something that stems from above, and not from below, from God Himself who calls him and chooses him.” This ordination “empowers him for a three-fold office which then sets him apart from all the other baptized people.”

Thereby, explains Eleganti, the priest receives “something sacred” – the rite of ordination – and then passes on to others “something sacred, which stems from God alone and which no one else can give in the Church.” The three priestly offices that come with ordination – to govern, to preach, and to sanctify – “cannot be split apart,” the Swiss prelate explains, “so that the priest would only...stand at the altar,” and someone else (male or female) preaches and yet another one (male or female) would govern. 

“This is at heart the destruction of the priesthood,” he says, adding that this constitutes a “dismantling that has to stop.”

“The priest has to be that which he is from God,” Eleganti adds, “by virtue of his ordination.” At ordination, the priest receives a special character which cannot ever be removed. 

“That is why he is a sacred figure,” said Eleganti. “This is the truth about the priesthood.” 

Bishop Eleganti calls upon Catholics to give back to priests this “sacrality,” to accept this “difference,” so that “he truly is a man of God and so that he also meets us as a man of God.” The Swiss prelate reminds us that we should not regard a priest as “something profane, purely sociological or psychological.” At the same time, he insists that this sacredness of the priesthood “has nothing to do with clericalism.” On the contrary, says the 64-year-old prelate, a priest must receive his ordination “with humility” and with an awareness of his own sinfulness. Thus, a priest may not “elevate himself,” but at the same time, he also should not “deny himself.”

Furthermore, Bishop Eleganti explains that a priest may not effectively deny his ordination, for “he has been taken into possession by God, and he acts in the person of Christ, the head of the Church, the Bridegroom of the Church.”

Here, Eleganti adds that this is the reason why a priest has to be a “man, just as Jesus Christ is a man – very concretely so – in His Incarnation.” 

The priests’ mission is to help reconcile man with God, the bishop continues, and thus the priest has a mandate and an authority “which no one else has: to forgive sins and to speak validly, in the person of Jesus Christ, the words of consecration, so that what then happens is not anymore something human, but something Divine.”

Moreover, such a change of character and of being, Eleganti explains, “also happened with the priest at the moment of his own ordination,” just as there is a change during the consecration of bread and wine at Holy Mass.

“Let us be careful not to split apart and to destroy and merely to functionalize the priesthood in its integrity. Neither ought we create a ‘priesthood lite,’” Eleganti continues. “There is not a priesthood lite that the electrician next door could exercise” after an ordination for the sake of celebrating Mass for a specific parish, “or a far distant region,” and who would “not have the fullness of the priesthood to govern, to sanctify, and to preach.” For Eleganti, it is about the “whole priesthood, indivisible, with all three offices which cannot be split up into [different] functions.” 

“This would be the destruction of the priesthood and of the sacred character of the Church which is led and sanctified by the priesthood,” Eleganti concludes.

Bishop Eleganti's remarks in defense of the Catholic priesthood come not only in the context of the Amazon Synod, but also in the context of a call from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, to discuss letting male or female laity preach during Mass.

“How does the homily of the future look like? May only the priest preach? Things have to develop further,” Marx told an assembly of lectors of his own Archdiocese of Freising-Munich. 

Bishop Eleganti is so concerned about such developments in the Catholic Church, especially in light of the upcoming Amazon Synod, that he stated at the end of June 2019 that he fears the October meeting “will contaminate the whole Mystical Body of the Church – and gravely damage it.” 

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.