Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Council of Priests, Canberra, Australia, 11 September 2018
Address to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests, Christchurch, New Zealand, 13 September 2018
“Being a priest in an unprecedented time of change”
PART 3: BREAKING OPEN THE PRIESTHOOD
The separated, exalted and elitist priesthood, which is a byproduct of the ecclesiology that emphasises the perfection of the Church must be consigned to the past. This kind of priesthood has been mystified by a notion that a priest has exclusive and privileged access to the divine.
This religious elevation is suspect and unreal to say the least in the light of the clerical sexual abuse crisis. In fact, such an image of a priest has become discredited and shattered. There is no going back to the self-enclosed, elevated and exalted clerical world. Your magnificent Cathedral of Christchurch, which was destroyed by the recent earthquake may or may not be rebuilt because of the extent of the damage. We can be certain that the pieces of the old exalted and elitist priesthood cannot be put back together.
The myth of the mysterious, heroic, uncontaminated, unblemished “men in black” has imploded.
Instead of doctoring the image and reviving the mythology and mystique of the priesthood of yesterday, we can accept that what has been destroyed is irretrievable. Perhaps the end of the old world could lead to a new era and the current crisis offers the priesthood a chance to free itself from the manacle of clericalism.
The priest is not a lone and exalted figure exclusively chosen and gifted with something, which most people do not have. Rather, the priest is the presence in whom the implicit priesthood of the baptised is called to become explicit and active. In this way, we learn to discover a deeper and more holistic identity as members of the People of God and as presbyters in the sense of going in front leading people but not hermetically sealed from them.
We must rediscover the specific and full charism of the priesthood within the matrix of the universal priesthood of the faithful. The priesthood cannot be lived fully apart from the community of disciples. This is one of the key insights of the Vatican Council. The Church is not the Church of the ordained but of all the baptised.
There existed a variety of ministries in the early Church. Paul bears witness to this when he lists a number of gifts or charisms that Christ gave to the Church for the building up of His body. Yet over the centuries, this richness has been gradually concentrated in the ordained at the expense of the baptised.
In effect, the priesthood of the ordained has assumed and usurped the rich and varied ministries of the baptised. It is time, therefore, that the notion of priesthood needs to break open anew so as to fully honour what Paul says, “everyone is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
If we are to break open the priesthood and allow the ministries of the baptised to flourish, I think we will need to revisit the clerical and patriarchal culture along with its many institutional dynamics such as titles, privileges, customs, structures et cetera. I am not suggesting the ordained and the non-ordained should be collapsed into one another.
Rather, each one should complement rather than stifle the other. I hold that those institutional dynamics that breed clerical superiority, elitism and power over against the non-ordained, stifle rather than facilitate the outpouring of grace through the whole body of Christ.
Furthermore, it is my conviction that the priesthood “pedestalised” is the priesthood dehumanised. It is bound to lead us into the illusion of a messiah complex and an inability to claim our wounded humanity and to minister in partnership. What we need to do is to humanise the priesthood so as best to equip ourselves with relational power for authentic Gospel living and service.
Part 4 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 2 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.