Pope Francis’ “Bottom-up” Revolution

By Christopher Lamb, 10 April 2022
Pope Francis leads the Sunday Angelus. Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News

 

Across large parts of the Catholic world, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are in steep decline. Whether it’s Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon or the Archdiocese of New York, the decline has long posed the Catholic Church an existential challenge to how it carries out its mission.

Two arguments have traditionally been put forward to solve the problem. The first argues for a recruitment drive that has seen resources poured into initiatives encouraging single men to choose the priesthood. The second argues for expanding the ranks of the clergy by ordaining married men.

While not disregarding the merits of these arguments, Pope Francis has decided to pursue a third way, which is to build up lay ministry and leadership. Rather than focus on who can be ordained to the presbyterate, Francis has pointed to the vocation to ministry that every Christian, through their baptism, can follow.

In his new constitution for the Roman Curia, the Church’s central administration, the Pope makes the bombshell ruling that any suitably qualified male or female Catholic can lead a Vatican department. Praedicate Evangelium is a game-changer because it breaks the link between ordination and governance in the Church. Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, the Jesuit canon lawyer, explained the “power of governance in the church does not come from the sacrament of [Holy] Orders” but an individual’s mission.

The bottom line is that all church entities and all those involved in ministry, lay and ordained, need to serve the Church’s primary mission of evangelization.

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Christopher Lamb is Vatican Correspondent for The Tablet and author of The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Church.

With thanks to Go, Rebuild My House, a publication of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States.

 

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