PRIESTLY vocations might be fewer in number and “chastened” by the Royal Commission’s hearings into abuse in the Catholic Church but “the gift of priesthood will remain”, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.
The Archbishop reiterated the anointed call of men to the priesthood during the Chrism Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral on April 6, where priests of Brisbane archdiocese renewed their vows publicly and oils used throughout the liturgical year were blessed.
The Mass coincided with the final day of the annual Convocation of Priests, where recommendations following the Royal Commission’s final hearing into the Catholic Church response to sexual abuse were discussed, including clericalism as a primary cause of abuse.
Archbishop Coleridge used his homily to explain a concept questioned by the Royal Commission, notably the profound ontological change that occurred in men ordained to the priesthood.
“It’s worth asking tonight what the Church was trying to say in speaking of ontological change in those ordained,” he said.
“It was an attempt to speak of the priesthood in a radical way, as something beyond the merely functional.
“When a man is ordained he is radically configured to Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd. This in turn changes the pattern of his relationships with other people. Those relationships become radically different because he’s ordained.”
In this way, a man called to the priesthood was “set apart” from other ministries in the Church.
“Now it’s true that no one in the Church is superior to anyone else; in that sense we are all of us, the baptised, equal before God,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“But equal doesn’t mean the same – the fact that some of us are bishops, priests or deacons doesn’t make us in any way superior, but nor does it make us the same.
“We’re equal but different because of the call of God and the ordination conferred by the Church. But we are ordained to serve, not to wield power over others, to walk with people, especially the broken-hearted, not to stand apart as some separate caste.”
This temptation to use the priesthood as a means of attaining power, rather than to be of service to the Church, was the true meaning of clericalism.
“Unintentionally the Royal Commission echoed at Pope Francis who, speaking from a very different angle, has left no doubt that clericalism is a disease in the Church that needs to be treated and treated without delay,” the Archbishop said.
But when the Pope spoke of clericalism, he was referring to a priesthood that “is geared to power rather than service”.
“He means the priesthood geared to power rather than service, the priesthood understood as a separate and superior caste whose judgement is not to be questioned, whose will is quasi-divine and who are accountable to no-one but themselves,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
The Royal Commission also criticised seminaries as imparting clericalism, and while Archbishop Coleridge agreed progress was being made, he said it was important to remember that good vocations had come from within the seminary.
“It’s no less true that the same seminaries have produced many, many remarkable pastors and even saints and that’s a very long way from clericalism,” he said.
But the Royal Commission was “surely mistaken” to say the Catholic priesthood was the same as clericalism, he said.
“At times there was a sense in the Royal Commission that the understanding of clericalism had become so broad that the Catholic priesthood itself was equated with clericalism, but that is surely mistaken,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “Holiness therefore means separation not for its own sake but separation for the sake of service.
“Separation for its own sake would mean an inward-turning and self-serving clericalism – a Church concerned only for itself and a priesthood that doesn’t give a damn about the poor, the blind, the captive, the abused but looks only to its own interests.”
With the Royal Commission leaving a sorrowful mark on the Church, Archbishop Coleridge said new forms of leadership, especially among the laity, were needed to let “priest to be priest, pastor to be pastor”.
“But whatever new forms of leadership emerge in time to come, the gift of the priesthood will remain, chastened perhaps by recent sorrows, fewer in number than in the past, and situated differently in the life and mission of the Church,” he said.
“But God will surely not fail to raise up men anointed by Him, holy and humble of heart, themselves missionary disciples building up the whole Church as a priestly people called to be good news for the poor, new sight for the blind, liberty for captives and healing for the abused.”