should eventually be replaced by a plurality of ministries were made at an international Catholic symposium on which PETER NOLAN reports.
Spate of ideas on shape of the Church to come
Many new forms of ministry are being tried by the Church throughout the world in which women are playing a growing role, and in one experiment priests are being replaced by laity.
A report by Pro Mundi Vita, the international Christian research association based in Brussels, this month reviews the Church's international reaction to the vocation shortage and pastoral ideas of Vatican 11.
A "colloquium" on new forms of ministry was organised by PMV at Louvain-Heverlee and attended by two cardinals, many bishops, eminent theologians, provincials of Orders and leading laity from almost 25 countries.
Odette d'Ursel, a Belgian theologian, in a paper at the meeting, said teams of nuns were running parishes in Brazil, and similar experiments had begun in Africa and in two Austrian parishes which lacked priests.
In Paris, four nuns acted as school chaplains; in Bruges, a woman sat on the Bishop's Council, and in Switzerland a housewife, selected by the laity and recognised by the hierarchy, led a pastoral team which included a priest.
The PMV report records that in a scheme in Zaire, under the patronage of Cardinal Malula of Kinshasa, lay "animators" who have completed a threeyear preparation course will next month begin to replace priests in some parishes.
Priests in these parishes "will simply and gracefully withdraw from them," because the animators "must be left alone in order not to be hindered in their new task by the presence of their former pastor. '
The laity, while keeping their usual employment, will undertake pastoral work, while the pastors' ministry "will be a specifically priestly one" administering the sacraments and attending to "the spiritual animation of lay people." The priests will be concentrated in a neighbouring parish.
– The laymenchosen "have given proof of a real sense of responsibility" and would at
tend clergy deanery meetings "in the same capacity as the clergy."
Cardinal Malula said: "Let us dare to let lay people take their responsibility, even if the beginnings are rather hesitant and even if they do not do things in the way we would have wished."
Odette d'Ursel, in a closely reasoned paper arguing for women in the ministry, said: "Notions born in the malecentred universe of antiquity with regard to a woman's place in society have been shaken."
Women were no longer restricted to domesticity, the difference between the sexes was now seen to be due more to social and cultural causes than biological and psychological ones, and women today "refuse to he restricted to some 'specific vocation' simply by the fact that they are able to give
birth to other huMan beings."
She went on to review women's place in the Church, and in a paper with no fewer than 67 references to other, largely Catholic, works and teachings from all over the world she dealt with the scriptural, traditional and symbolic theology arguments used to oppose the ordination of women.
She found St Paul "far from being the misogynist he is made Out to be" because he found it natural "that women should be entrusted with important ecclesial ministries in the Church."
Christ's positive attitude to women was revolutionary for his time, but the sociological structures of Palestine at that date made his having a woman apostle "practically inconceivable.'
Two current facts added urgency to the argument that women should be admitted to the ministry, she said. A growing number of women, both lay and religious, had acquired degrees in theology and believed themselves "called to an ordained ministry in the Church."
As the ministry was a charisma, why should the Spirit not bestow it equally on women. she asked.
Secondly, the fact that religious practice in France was declining far faster among girls than boys was thought to be due to the fact that the Church denied women responsibility, while liking to make use of them.
The whole question had become "a matter of the Church's credibility," she said. If it proclaimed the sexes were equal, it "should do as it preaches."
Fr Herve-Marie Legrand, OP, a professor at the Institut Catholique of Paris, examined developments in the Catholic theology of ministry and showed that research started from asking what the object of the ministry was, and found it to be the responsibility of all Christians.
He failed to find sound theological arguments for celibacy in the ministry and against admitting women. He demonstrated that Church structure as it exists at present is likely to become increasingly irrelevant, and the idea of a dichotomy of clergy and laity was being replaced by the concept of a combination of ministries building up the Church.
Ile said: "Why ' do theologians prefer today to speak of service rather than hierarchy, of a priestly ministry rather than priesthood, of ministries and communities rather than clergy and laity, of the charisma of the ministry rather than an indelible character, of being called by the Church rather than personal vocation, of sending and acceptance rather than just mission."
Preference for these terms "reveals a strong consistency; the central core round which a "theology of the ministry is built up now is the Church in which all Christians sliare, though in diverse ways, a common responsibility for the object of the ministry.
"It is no longer the priest, personally endowed with an ontological priesthood and a direct representation of Christ, unrelated to his situation in the
For the Church there was no longer a choice between cha)tge and no-change, he said. Within six years there would be, for example, 12.5 million Frenchmen between '10 and 25 and fewer than one priest under 50 for 10,000 inhabitants."
The colloquium's main work was completed in discussion groups, whose valuable findings are reported on at length, The general conclusions reached .emphasised the great need for a plurality of ministries rooted in the local Church.
They concluded that the "ever-growing number of pastoral situations where there is need of presidents for the Eucharistic Celebration'' suggested that Christians "who already have responsibilities in and for their communities" could be chosen.
These presidents would have to he accepted by the community and appointed by the ecelesial authority.
Their task would be "assumed in a spirit of common responsibility with those who have other tasks in the community" and the presidency should be given for a long period and regularly exercised — all conditions fulfilling the structures of ordination in the primitive Church.
New ministry training centres and programmes and greater liberty for bishops to meet the specific needs of their community would all be required.
The 100 participants in the colloquium included Cardinal Suenens of Belgium; Cardinal Darmojuwono, chairman of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, and the heads of leading Catholic theology institutesthroughout the world.
Ireland was represented by the Provincial of the Holy Ghost Fathers, while Britain's contribution was confined to two Anglican clergyMen almost the only non-Catholics present.
Further details from: Pro Mundi Vita, International Research and Information Centre, Rue de la Limite 6, B 1030 Brussels, Belgium.