Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, leaves the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 6, 2014. Cardinal Stella said the current abuse crisis facing the church would not have been so grave if laity were more involved in the formation of priests. CNS photoPaul Haring

Laity must have role in formation of priests, fighting clericalism, Vatican official says

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  • September 5, 2018
VATICAN – Clericalism has led to a distorted view of authority that has contributed to the problems of sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience affecting the Catholic Church, said the head of the Vatican's clergy office.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, said the crisis facing the church would not have been so grave if laity were more involved in the formation of current and future priests.

"Even the work of the dicastery attests that many situations in the lives of priests -- generated by loneliness, tiredness and misunderstandings -- would not have degenerated or would have been addressed in time if there had been listening, accompaniment and sharing by bishops and the entire Christian community," Cardinal Stella said Sept. 3 in Fatima, Portugal. The cardinal's office gave the text to Catholic News Service Sept. 5.

Dedicating his talk to priestly ministry according to Pope Francis' teachings, the cardinal said priests must be "permanent disciples of the Lord" who always are on guard against the temptation of "feeling accomplished."

"To be and feel like a disciple means avoiding the risk of habit, of being lukewarm, of routine and the 'corporate executive syndrome,' thus avoiding falling into what Pope Francis has defined as 'spiritual Alzheimer's,'" the cardinal said.

In the wake of recent events, including the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the Pope's Aug. 20 letter on the abuse crisis, Cardinal Stella said addressing the problem of abuse does not depend "solely on the hierarchy and priests."

"On the contrary, precisely clericalism, and often the reduction of the church to an elite class, has generated an anomalous way of understanding authority that has devalued baptismal grace and, not infrequently, has contributed to forms of abuse, especially on a person's conscience," Cardinal Stella said.

Laypeople, he added, can contribute to "the essential human formation of the priest and the necessary spiritual solidarity of his life."

Citing Pope Francis' letter, the cardinal said that the only way to root out the evil of sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience and power is "to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the people of God."

"Together, priests and laity, as the one people of God -- each one according to the specificity of their vocation -- we are invited to walk and work in the service of the Kingdom of God, supporting one another and sharing with tender love the joys, difficulties and sufferings," Cardinal Stella said.

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Abuse does not happen in a vacuum. People know. Word gets around. Somebody in some organization in one parish tells someone in a priest's new parish about why said priest was abruptly moved.

All too often though, laity set aside adult...

Abuse does not happen in a vacuum. People know. Word gets around. Somebody in some organization in one parish tells someone in a priest's new parish about why said priest was abruptly moved.

All too often though, laity set aside adult understanding of evil and turned to the holiness of the priesthood as reason to deny what their observations told them, even to the point of blaming victims and accusing them of lying.


In permitting and accepting this religious authority and moral superiority, the laity has allowed grave harm to come to the Body of Christ. Not only victims have suffered. Perpetrators have lost their souls because they were not stopped. Priests who honored and still honor their vocations have been scarred badly and their honor and dignity taken from them.

It is time for laity to carry some of the responsibility for the scandals that rock our church. We can no longer afford the mistaken belief that vocation, vows and appointments to high office remove a man from the herd of Jesus' sheep. They are sheep with holy responsibilities, but they are still sheep like the rest of us. If our Church is to recover, and it will, then those of us who are the Body of Christ must support and encourage, love and pay attention to the wellbeing of the souls of our religious and be prepared to act to confront evil and slack teaching

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