Students of Pope Benedict XVI gather in Rome to proclaim, defend priestly celibacy
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September 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Today, September 28, the Circle of Students, as well as the New Circle of Students of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, had a symposium addressing the topic of the Catholic priesthood. At the end of this symposium, they published a statement summing up some key elements of their discussion. The statement defends priestly celibacy as intimately linked with the essence of the priesthood, which is the imitation of Christ.
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Additionally, the organizers published a summary of the different speeches. Both documents can be found at the end of this report.
In the final statement, the Ratzinger Circle of Students write: “[O]ne can deduce some fundamental statements regarding the priestly lifestyle, which must remain in harmony with the lifestyle of Christ himself. Only then will the ‘re-presentation of Christ’ of the priest be believable. The presence of Christ should not be limited solely to the sacramental action, either, but must be evident and at work in the daily life of the priest. This is the reason for the duty of the priest to obedience and the commitment to celibacy, as remaining single for the sake of the Kingdom — that is, a human as well as spiritual expression of the sacramental unity of the priest with Christ.”
The symposium was titled “Recent Challenges of the Ordained Ministry in the Church,” and it took place at the Augustinianum in Rome.
Most prominently, Cardinal Gerhard Müller spoke on “What are the preconditions for ordination?,” and Cardinal Kurt Koch spoke a welcoming word and the conclusion of the symposium.
Among the speakers were Professor Karl-Heinz Menke, a dogmatician from Bonn and a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. He spoke on “The Sacramental Office in the Church.” Christoph Ohly, a canon law professor of Trier, spoke on “Why is an ordained office needed in the Church?”
Professor Marianne Schlosser — who has just made it public that she will not participate at the women’s forum of the upcoming “synodal path” in Germany, due to its “fixation” on the ordained office — spoke on “Ordained priesthood and celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.”
In their final statement, the Ratzinger Circle of Students explains that “in this ‘time of suffering,’ overshadowed by the scandal of clerical abuse, we set ourselves this challenge of searching ‘for words and paths of hope.’ Thus, after a certain time of purification, the ordained ministry can once again shine forth in all its beauty as a great gift from the Lord to His Church.”
The authors remind us that the vocation to the priesthood, “as well as the existence of the priest are solely dependent upon the will of Jesus Christ alone (see Hebrews 5:1ff)” and are, therefore, “not derived from either human considerations or Church regulations.”
The final statement recalls that the Catholic priest is “being made like unto” Christ, which the priest “receives in the sacrament of Holy Orders.” The priest acts “in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church,” for example, when he gives absolution in the Sacrament of Penance or when he celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” “The priest, in a sacramental way, represents Christ as the Good Shepherd,” the statement continues.
With repeated specific reference to the current abuse crisis, the Ratzinger Circle of Students believes that “it is not first and foremost structural reforms that will bring healing and relief, but an authentically lived life of faith.” Members call for priestly celibacy, which, according to the constant tradition of the Latin Church, is seen as “a clear witness to a belief-filled hope and generous love for Christ and his Church.”
A renewal of the priesthood — for which the Ratzinger Circle of Students wishes to study Joseph Ratzinger’s theology — lies in making clear “what the essence of the Church’s ordained ministry actually is, and priests show this clearly through their actual lives.” Such a renewal has to be “deeply rooted in Tradition, but also leads to those reforms that our lives will align with Christ.”
Please see below the full statement and a summary of the talks:
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you”
to the public symposium on
“Current Challenges to the Ordained Ministry in the Church”
1. With the symposium on “Current Challenges to the Ordained Ministry in the Church,” the Circle of Students, as well as the New Circle of Students of Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, have, for the first time in many years, decided to bring this subject to a larger audience. This decision came about from the conviction that the time has come for the theological thought of the Pope Emeritus to be brought to the wider public. We aim to open up this unique “School of Thought” through presentations and discussions. We are glad and grateful that so many people have shown interest and followed our invitation, and we hope this Symposium will set a good start for our future work.
2. The letter of Pope Francis to the priests on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the death of the sainted Curé of Ars — from the 4th of August 2019 — has only strengthened us in the previously taken decision, to devote this Symposium to the subject of the ordained ministry. In this “time of suffering,” overshadowed by the scandal of clerical abuse, we set ourselves this challenge of searching “for words and paths of hope.” Thus, after a certain time of purification, the ordained ministry can once again shine forth in all its beauty as a great gift from the Lord to His Church. Therefore, in our ponderings, we decided to set the accent on the sacramental priesthood and try to penetrate its mysteries with the light of the theology of Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI.
3. The statements to the ordained priesthood are inseparably joined to the nature of the Church. The theology of Joseph Ratzinger relies heavily upon the 2nd Vatican Council for its sources and provides an authentic interpretation of the same. Pope John XXIII had already recognized this as he with general agreement accepted the document prepared by Professor Ratzinger for Cardinal Frings on “The Council and the Modern World of Thought.” The last council referred to the Church as the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium 48). As such, it is “a sign and a tool for the most intimate union with God as well as for the unity of all humanity” (LG 1). In the Church, the risen Christ continues His work of salvation. In baptism being conformed to Christ and in the Church becoming a member of his body, the Christian receives a share of eternal life and is called to follow the way of holiness. To such a life of giving witness all those baptized into the common priesthood have been appointed. As is evident in Joseph Ratzinger’s theology — those people who are called to live such a holy life will find themselves being drawn into the very center of the Church. That is the aim of every Christian: becoming ever more like unto Jesus Christ himself. Thus, we are grateful for all witnesses to this holiness in their lives, in marriage and the family, in the consecrated life, and in other ways of life that can still be found in the Church today.
4. To understand the ordained ministry, one requires such a sacramental perspective, as was set out by the last council. Christ the Lord has given his Church various offices “which are organized for the well-being of the whole body” (LG 18). The vocation as well as the existence of the priest are solely dependent upon the will of Jesus Christ alone (see Hebrews 5:1ff) and are not derived from either human considerations or Church regulations. In Him and with Him the priest becomes the “proclaimer of the Word and the servant of joy.”
5. The “being made like unto” Christ, which the priest receives in the sacrament of Holy Orders, differs not only in degree, but in essence from that of the common or general priesthood received by all the baptized (see LG 10). The priest acts “in the person of Christ, the Head of the Church” (agere in persona Christi capitis). He is not an official, but rather, in being united with Christ, he performs a mission that comes directly from God. This is especially evident in the holy power to absolve sinners, to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and to celebrate the other sacraments. The priest, in a sacramental way, represents Christ as the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn. 10:10). In this personal relationship between Christ and the Church, between priests and faithful, is to be found, according to the teaching of the Church, the crucial difference, because it is the essential foundation for the sacramental representation of Christ in the priest. He does not represent Christ as an ambassador would his king or government; rather, it is a real representation, wherein the key criterion is the way of the cross (Christ’s own via dolorosa).
6. Therefore, one can deduce some fundamental statements regarding the priestly lifestyle, which must remain in harmony with the lifestyle of Christ himself. Only then will the “representation of Christ” of the priest be believable. The presence of Christ should not be limited solely to the sacramental action, either, but must be evident and at work in the daily life of the priest. This is the reason for the duty of the priest to obedience and the commitment to celibacy, as remaining single for the sake of the Kingdom — that is, a human as well as spiritual expression of the sacramental unity of the priest with Christ. Consequently, ordination to the priesthood implies an individual following of Christ, and thus, the sins of the present scandal reduce the believability of this position. As the priest exists only from his relationship with Christ, a participation in the lifestyle of Christ would seem to be appropriate (Presbyterorum Ordinis 5) for those who are to act in His person. According to the constant tradition of the Latin Church, celibacy is seen as a clear witness to a belief-filled hope and generous love for Christ and his Church.
7. In these times of crisis and a painful cleansing of the Church, it is not first and foremost structural reforms that will bring healing and relief, but an authentically lived life of faith. Only when we all return united to our common understanding of Jesus Christ as true God and true man will the Church be able to be renewed.
8. The statement of St. Paul’s, “I have received from the Lord what I have delivered to you” (1 Cor. 11:23), reflects the essential feature of the priest. The magnitude of this gift has been veiled by the scandals, and its credibility has been shaken. A way out can be found only if we make clear what the essence of the Church’s ordained ministry actually is, and priests show this clearly through their actual lives. The theology of Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict gives an answer to this dual challenge, pointing to a road that remains deeply rooted in Tradition, but also leads to those reforms that will align our lives with Christ and give them a new credibility.
9. We dedicate our study and prayers during this symposium to the intercession and assistance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.
Rome, on the 28th September, 2019
Circle of Students and New Circle of Students
Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI
Symposium “Recent Challenges of the Ordained Ministry in the Church”
September 28, 2019 / 3 P.M.–7 P.M.
Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, Rome
Summary / Lecture Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Menke
The sacramental ministry in the Church is currently facing criticism — not only as a result of clerical abuse scandals and the newly fired debates about celibacy and the ordination of women. There are theological currents that question the sacramental nature of the Church as a whole and the distinction between the specific priesthood of ordained ministers and the universal priesthood of all the baptized. This is the challenge that the Schülerkreis and the Neue Schülerkreis Joseph Ratzinger / Papst Benedikt XVI would like to take up at their annual symposium this year.
Summary / Statement Dr. María Esther Gómez de Pedro
The sacrament of baptism is the door through which we enter God’s family; in it we are conformed to Christ, who is Priest, Prophet, and King. This unction, which is common to all the baptized, gives us access to the presence of God to lay before him our supplications, our praise, and our spiritual offerings. Our entire life can thus become an offering to God and a service of charity for our brothers and sisters. The ordained ministry, in that it makes possible our union with Christ in the sacraments, is established and has to be lived as a service to the universal priesthood of all believers.
Summary / Statement Prof. Dr. Christoph Ohly
The question of why the ordained ministry in the Church exists can be answered when we look at its origin. We connect it with the conviction that Christ himself established the apostolic ministry in his Church, to be present in it sacramentally through the existence and the actions of the priest. The gift of the priest’s conformation to Christ consequently becomes his mission, in his style of life, his personal attitudes, his life of prayer as well as in the duties assigned to him.
Summary / Statement Prof. Dr. Marianne Schlosser
According to the Catholic understanding of the term, ordination to the priesthood signifies not just an empowerment to fulfil a certain function within the Church, but a call to personal identification with Christ, the Good Shepherd. Celibate life thus appears to be convenient in many respects (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16): it is Christ’s own way of life, who gave His life for humanity, even unto death. Since there is no other priesthood in the New Testament but that of participating in the priesthood of Christ, it is also convenient for those who have been taken into His service (sacerdotium ministeriale) to proclaim His word and to act “in his person” (in persona Christi capitis) to share His style of life. Celibacy is a telling witness of the faithful person’s hope for eternal life. By renouncing marriage and the founding of a family, celibacy wants to foster a generous love for the entire familia Christi as well as a personal bond with the Lord.