Daily Archives: November 3, 2010

Fr Lombardi’s “Reformation Day” message

Lutheran readers of this blog will be aware that we have not only celebrated All Saints Day this week, but also “Reformation Day”, the anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new “Reformation Day” to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!). Gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo, a short walk from the Vatican, a victims group called “Survivors Voice” (led by two Boston-area abuse victims from the United States, Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid) held a vigil last Sunday to call the Church to greater action in this area.

Fr Fredrico Lombardi, the Vatican Press spokesman, met the group and read to them a personal message (not an official statement from the Pope) urging the group to see the Church as an ally in the fight against child abuse, rather than an opponent. Here is his letter (courtesy of John L. Allen Jnr):


On the occasion of “Reformation Day”, organised by “Survivor’s Voice”
By Fr. Lombardi

The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.

This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.

In this, I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again.

I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.

It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.

Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.

It is true that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities, and that there must be a good collaboration between these two, in conformity to the laws and situations of the countries concerned.

I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.

Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.

But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.

The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focussed on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.

This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.

What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.



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“The Priesthood of All Believers”

In the “On the Square” column of the First Things website, Peter Leithard has an article on the Lutheran doctrine of “the Priesthood of All Believers”. It is quite a good read, and I think that even Catholic readers will be edified by it, especially the reflections on the Aaronic priesthood, and how that reflects in the priestly character of the Church today.

The Second Vatican Council embraced its own version of this classic Reformation doctrine. Essentially, it reclaimed the scriptural teaching that the whole assembly of the faithful are a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9).

“Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God”…

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”. The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.” Lumen Gentium 9,10

However, the Council continued to uphold the distinction between the “ministerial priesthood” and the “common priesthood of the faithful” in the following way:

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The distinction between the “priesthood of all believers” and the “office of the ministry” can also be found in Lutheran doctrine, with a corresponding teaching that the difference is one of “essence” and not only “degree”, yet Lutherans are usually a little less inclined to actually ascribing the categories of “priesthood” to the “office of the ministry”. They see the latter purely in ministerial terms, and not (generally) in priestly terms. This is because (again, generally speaking), they see the Aaronic priesthood to have been replaced soley with “the preisthood of all believers”, leaving no place for a order of priesthood within the priestly people of God.

Catholic doctrine is a little different, as it sees a continuation of the Aaronic priesthood in the “ministerial” (ordained) priesthood. Although many people have things to say against him, I have Raymond Brown to thank for the fact that I realised early on – long before I became Catholic, while I was still a seminarian – that the inauguration of the new covenant in the Highpriesthood of Christ does not exclude the existence of a continuing order of priests within and serving the Priestly People of the Church. His little book “Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections” was most helpful in this regard. The Old Covenant People of God was a true priesthood embracing the whole nation of Israel, and yet Israel herself required a priesthood to serve her, to offer sacrifice and intercession for her, and to do all the things for her that Leithard outlines so well in his article. The New Covenant People of God are no different, and there is no more contradiction in having an order of ministerial priests within the priestly community in the New Covenant than there was in the Old Covenant. We, as with the Lutherans, see the Priesthood of Christ as the final fulfillment of both the Aaronic priesthood and the priesthood of Israel, but we say that both the continuing New Testament office of the ministry AND the continuing New Testament priestly community of all the faithful derive from this one Priesthood of Christ.

Where Leithard has it exactly correct is his criticism of the way in which the rise of Individualism has skewed the teaching of the baptismal ministry, to lead to the notion that the idea of the priesthood of the baptised somehow leads to the detachment of the individual from the liturgical assembly. Perhaps he could have taken this a little further and noted that the true New Testament doctrine about “the priesthood of all believers”/”common baptismal priesthood” teaches a priesthood that each of the baptised possesses only in union with the whole community of the Church. It is only AS “the People of God” that we exercise this priesthood.

This is then not unrelated to the doctrine that we often hear from Protestants in criticism of our Catholic practice of canonising particular individual believers as “saints”. They object that “we are all saints”. Yes, but not individually. Whenever the New Testament refers to “the saints” they are speaking of the whole Church as one body of the sanctified, not of a property that each believer already in this life possesses in and of ourselves in some individual manner.

Catholics can affirm with Lutherans that all the baptised are together “priests” and all the baptised are together “saints”, but we pay especial attention to the danger of individualism of which Leithard’s short article warns us.


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