Closing Ceremonies of the Year for Priests

Source: FSSPX News

Having begun a year ago with the theme Faithfulness of Christ – faithfulness of priests, the Year for Priests concluded on June 9-11 in Rome.  On the first day of the closing ceremonies, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne (Germany), affirmed that priests who distanced themselves from the confessional risked experiencing “a serious identity crisis”. Speaking in the Roman Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls with several thousand priests in attendance – some of whom were following this conference on the large screen at Saint John Lateran – the German prelate declared, “The loss of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the root of numerous evils in the life of the Church and in the life of priests.” He asserted that “one of the most tragic losses” which the Church has undergone “in the second half of the 20th century” was “the loss of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Reconciliation”.

In his meditation on “conversion and mission”, Cardinal Meisner explained at length that “a priest who does not find himself regularly on either side of the confessional grill suffers permanent damage to his soul and his mission.”  As the Archbishop of Cologne sees it, the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be received “at least once a month”.  A priest who “is no longer a confessor”, he added, “becomes a religious social worker”. “The supposed crisis of the Sacrament of Penance is not only due to the fact that people no longer go to confession; we priests are also responsible for it,” he added, “because we are no longer present in the confessional.” He then confided in his brother priests that “a confessional in which a priest is present, in an empty church, is the most touching symbol of the patience of God who waits.”

On the evening of June 9, in the presence of several hundred priests, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, mentioned “the suffering” that the Church has gone through recently because of the cases of sexual abuse scandals committed by members of the clergy.  “This is why”, he explained, “the Pope, responding to journalists during his recent voyage to Portugal, had spoken about a ‘persecution’ which originates within the Church itself.”  The Roman prelate devoted part of his speech to the question of priestly celibacy, affirming that priests were “the brothers of everyone, of men and women”, that they should “love and serve with total devotion, without any attachment, without seeking their own interest”.  This is how, according to Cardinal Bertone, we must “understand the relevance and the beauty of celibacy”.

On the morning of June 10, during a Mass which he celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, the Secretary of State of the Holy See once again discussed consecrated celibacy, declaring, “The requirement of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven” is a “condition for the complete and definitive consecration which priestly ordination involves.”  He recalled that “priestly celibacy” is “a sign and at the same time an encouragement to pastoral charity”, while being also a “special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world”.

That same day, June 10, in the Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, primate of Canada, declared: “We see today an unprecedented wave of litigation breaking over the Church and over the priesthood, following the revelation of scandals whose seriousness we must acknowledge, and the consequences of which we must sincerely correct.” The Archbishop of Quebec stated that “besides the necessary purifications” within the Church, it was necessary to “recognize at the present moment overt opposition” to “the service of the truth” performed by priests and “attacks from outside and even from inside that are aimed at dividing the Church”. Cardinal Ouellet deplored “the sins in the Church, especially those which are a cause of scandal and the alienation of the faithful and of non-believers”, yet acknowledged the “inexhaustible devotion of all those consecrated souls”.  He also expressed the opinion that “the constant scandal of the division of Christians, the recurring tensions between clerics, laypeople and religious, (...) the urgency of a new evangelization”, were calling down “upon the Church and the world a new Pentecost”. Finally, he concluded, “today as at the beginning of the Church, the challenges of evangelization are accompanied by the trial of persecutions.”

In the evening of Thursday, June 10, in St. Peter’s Square, with nearly 15,000 priests from a hundred different countries in attendance, as well as eighty cardinals and 300 bishops, the Pope answered questions posed by five priests around the world, speaking without notes for almost forty minutes. Asked by a Slovak priest about clerical celibacy, the Pope, seated in front of the Vatican basilica beneath a large portrait of St. John-Marie Vianney, mentioned the “great scandal” that celibacy represents to the “world today.” “This continuous criticism against celibacy may surprise,” he confided, “in a time when it is becoming increasingly fashionable not to get married.” “This not-getting married,” the Pope explained, “is something totally, fundamentally different from celibacy, [….] based on a will to live only for oneself, of not accepting any definitive tie.” On the contrary, he explained, “Celibacy is a definitive ‘yes.’” “We know that besides this great scandal that the world does not want to recognize, there are also the secondary scandals of our shortcomings, our sins, which obscure the true and great scandal,” the Pope also affirmed, before concluding, “We pray to the Lord to help us, to set us free from the secondary scandals.”

A Brazilian priest asked the Supreme Pontiff which “direction” to take while Latin-American parish priests are confronted with “particularly large communities” in the midst of a society “that is no longer entirely Christian.” The Pope then invited the priests to be attentive to the “three pillars of the priesthood”: “the Eucharist”, “the Proclamation of the Word”, and “caritas, the love of Christ for those who suffer.” Benedict XVI, greeted with sustained applause, also called the priests to “humility”, to have the “courage to rest” in the face of the “impossibility of doing everything.”

Questioned by a priest from Côte d’Ivoire on the apparent “rift between theology and spirituality,” Benedict XVI wished to salute the work of numerous theologians, touching on the “abuse” of some, judging also that certain theological hypotheses from the 1970s and 1980s have “aged, are no longer valid, [and] seem almost ridiculous.” Answering an Australian priest concerning “effective” ways to face the growing decline in vocations, the Pope suggested praying “with great insistence, with great determination, even with great conviction,” ensuring that the priesthood is lived “in such a way as to be convincing,” and finally having “the courage to talk with young people.” At the end of this vigil, the largest gathering of priests ever organized, Benedict XVI presided over the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, before reciting a prayer composed for the occasion of the Year for Priests.

On Friday, June 11, the final day of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI “insistently” asked for forgiveness in the name of the Catholic Church for the pedophilia of certain priests: “we too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again.” “And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite,” the Pope declared during the closing Mass of the Year for Priests. It was the first time since the pedophilia scandals erupted at the heart of the clergy in the fall of 2009 that Benedict XVI asked forgiveness of the victims in public.

During a long homily, Benedict XVI also took care to promise that “in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation,” the Church will do everything possible to “weigh the authenticity of their vocation.” He also indicated that the Church wanted to better “accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers.” In an allusion to the significance of the shepherd’s rod or staff, Benedict XVI explained that its use protects “the faith against those who falsify it, against currents which lead the flock astray.” “The use of the rod can actually be a service of love,” he continued in the presence of several hundred bishops and dozens of cardinals, indicating that “it has nothing to do with love when conduct unworthy of the priestly life is tolerated.” “Nor,” he added, “does it have to do with love if heresy is allowed to spread and the faith twisted and chipped away, as if it were something that we ourselves had invented.” (Sources: Apic/Imedia/Zenit/VIS – DICI no. 217 dated June 26, 2010)

[MZ1]The translated text on the website says 1960s