Cardinal Sarah Rejects Lay Appointments to Leading Positions in the Curia

August 05, 2022

An article by Sandro Magister, a Vaticanist at L'Espresso, opportunely talks about a text by Cardinal Sarah, taken from a book published a year ago in France and recently in Italy, which has the title: For Eternity: Meditations on the Figure of the Priest.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, 77, of Guinean origin, was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2014 to 2021. He is now without a position, which leaves him with free time to write books. One of the best known was written to dissuade Pope Francis from giving the green light to married priests, a request made by the special synod on the Amazon in October 2019.

According to Sandro Magister, “from various clues one could gather that Francis did not take at all kindly the release of that book. But to everyone’s surprise, when a few weeks later he published the document summing up the synod on the Amazon, by no means did he authorize married priests, much less women deacons.”

“And he did so – Sarah emphasizes today in his new book on the priesthood – ‘with words similar’ to those written in the book that also had Benedict XVI as a co-author.” This new book is a clear contestation of all the current proposals for the reform of the ‘clerical system,’ from married clergy to women priests to government by the people.”

A passage also criticizes Pope Francis' practice, as part of the reform of the Curia, of giving leadership roles to non-priests. The objection is formulated as follows: “Sometimes one hears it said that the exercise of authority must be separated from the ordained ministry. It is stated here and there that government in the Church can be as much the work of men as of women, of lay people as well as of priests and bishops.”

“Such statements are terribly ambiguous and destructive of the hierarchical structure of the Church, as Jesus Christ Himself thought of and intended it. Of course, there are lay people, men and women, more competent in communication, management, and strategies of governance than are priests.”

“They need to be given the proper roles of competence and consultation. Strictly speaking, however, government in the Church is not in the main a competence, but a presence, that of Christ as servant and shepherd. This is why the function of government can never be exercised in the Church by others who are not ordained ministers.”

That has the merit of being clear. This criticism has already been expressed several times in our articles, but it is good to find a cardinal with the courage to formulate it clearly.

“More generally, Sarah thinks of the current season as a great confrontation between the Church and the new powers of the world, analogous to the Gregorian reform of the beginning of the second millennium: ‘This was aimed at freeing the Church from the grip of the secular authorities. By interfering in ecclesiastical governance and appointments, political power had ended up producing a real decadence of the clergy.”

“There had been a proliferation of cases of concubinary priests engaged in commercial activity or political business. The Gregorian reform was characterized by the resolve to rediscover the Church of the era of the Acts of the Apostles. The principles of this movement were not based in the first place on institutional reforms, but on the renewal of the holiness of priests.”

“Is there not the need today for a reform such as that? In fact, secular power has regained a foothold in the Church. This time it is a matter not of political power, but cultural. There reappears a new struggle between priesthood and empire. But the empire is now the relativist, hedonistic, and consumerist culture that has infiltrated everywhere. It is time to reject this, because it is irreconcilable with the Gospel.”