Pope to priests from St. Pat’s: Find unity in Christ
Benedict’s homily (text via CNS) at the mass with priests and seminarians this morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (the first papal mass ever at the great church) was a heartfelt and often lyrical call for American priests to overcome divisions so that the church can grow once again.
“We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ!” Benedict told the assemblage. “In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions. Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear ‘what the Spirit is saying’ to us and to the Church.”
“Was not this unity of vision and purpose–rooted in faith and a spirit of constant conversion and self-sacrifice–the secret of the impressive growth of the Church in this country?” the pope asked.
The pope referred once again to the sexual abuse crisis, which he did during each of the first three days of his visit. Today’s reference was somewhat more measured–no surprise given his audience of clergy, who have faced unprecedented suspicions and mistrust because of the scandal–saying he wished to encourage them in this time of “healing” and “purification.”
He also praised the hierachy, saying the priests should “cooperate with your bishops who continue to work effectively to resolve this issue.”
On Wednesday in Washington the pontiff drew praise for echoing a comment of Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops conference, that some cases of abuse were “badly mishandled” by some bishops, the first public sign of Vatican unhappiness with any bishops, who the flock holds most responsible for the crisis.
But the Vatican has since signaled that it does not foresee any plans to censure individual bishops, and Benedict’s successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, former San Francisco archbishop Cardinal William Levada, said yesterday that Rome’s main focus was on tweaking canon law to raise the statute of limitations on reporting abuse to make it easier to laicize abusive priests. He specifically rejected charges that bishops were knowingly responsible for sheltering abusers, despite evidence to the contrary. (See yesterday’s post on Levada’s comments.)
Benedict oriented his homily around the Gothic structure of the great cathedral, noting that the beauty of its windows, like the beauty of the church, could only be perceived from the inside. He compared a Gothic cathedral to a dynamic organism, constantly striving upwards toward God even as it is composed of many disparate parts. He cmpared this to church “divinely-willed structure” which has “hierarchical and charismatic” gifts, and he underscored the indispensible role of priests “who have been configured to Christ, the Head of the Body.”
The thrust of the pope’s homily was to enourage the priests, uurging them to “forgive the wrongs we have suffered and put aside all anger and contention.” The homily also highlights again Benedict’s “frank” view, as expressed to the bishops in Washington on Wednesday, that the barometer of a church’s health is its priests, and given the crisis in vocations and the priesthood, the church in America faces serious problems.
Surveys of the priesthood over the years have shown a deep divide among priests, largely generational, and also between differing models of the priesthood, usually categorized as the “cultic,” or higher view of the priesthood that Benedict seems to prefer, and the so-called “servant-leader” model that emphasizes the priest as a cooperator with lay people on a team.
For further reflections on these issues within the priesthood, check out this April 2006 Q&A with Purdue sociologist and church researcher James Davidson, published in the Catholic Spirit. See also a very good essay in Commonweal magazine from November 2007 titled, “Mind the Gap: The Return of the Lay-Clerical Divide.”
Crosspost with “Benedictions.”