Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fala Brasil!: An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

The following letter about married priesthood and Church reform written by 110 committed Catholic lay men and women in Brazil was published in Folha de S. Paolo on 9/28/2007 with an introduction signed by Carlos Alberto Roma, a former Franciscan seminarian. The text of the original in Portuguese can also be found here.

I want to add that it's interesting how lately the issues of priestly celibacy and the participation of divorced and remarried Catholics in the Eucharist have been united in the struggles for church reform around the world. This is one more example. And, by the way, the link mentioned at the end of this letter doesn't work.

As lay Catholics, our disatisfaction with the insensitivity of the hierarchy of our Church – that is, the Vatican – is growing.

The basic problem is the explicit lack of courage to take the necessary steps towards moving the Church into the 21st century, especially opening it to lay people.

We are taking a theological formation course. We are 110 lay people. After reflecting on Jesus’ courage and actions in the face of the religion of his time – using Br. Carlos Mesters’ book “Com Jesus na Contramão” as a basic text – we have decided to draft a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and the entire Roman Curia:

We are ever more motivated to serve God through our Church. In spite of this, we are suffering a lot because successive priests who function in our parish have a serious problem: As much as they try to motivate the young men of today, they are not inspired to enter seminary to serve as priests. We have also noted this problem in the old continent and have found that the situation there is even more dire.

We lay people ask forgiveness for daring to send this letter directly to Your Holiness, without going through the proper channels. It’s a very delicate matter and local [church] authorities do not have permission to discuss it. We are asking for this discussion to begin. During our Sunday celebrations, we have asked brothers and sisters in the parish and have found that over 95% understand that the Church needs to take new steps.

Brazil has the lowest ratio of Catholic priests in the world, according to the Centro de Estadística Religiosa e Investigações Sociais. Whereas in Brazil there are 18,685 priests (1 for every 10,000 people), in Italy there is 1 for every 1,000. In [the rest of] Latin America, the problem is also obvious. Argentina has 1 priest for every 6,800 people, and in Colombia there is 1 for every 5,600 people. The average for Mexico – the second most Catholic country in the world – is the one that comes closest to Brazil’s: 1 priest for every 9,700 people.

With the huge scarcity of priests, confirmed by studies in every country in the world, we are asking ourselves: why not admit married men and women into the priesthood and readmit married priests into service in the Church?

We know there have been 39 married Popes historically. The first was Peter the Apostle (Luke 4:38-39).

According to research by the Centro de Estadística Religiosa e Investigações Sociais (CERIS) published 1/31/06, there are about 5,000 married priests in Brazil who cannot exercise their ministry. Most of these men feel the vocation to the priesthood beating strongly in their hearts. Isn’t this an act of violence against the Lord of Life who sent missionaries for the labor?

Catholic priests were permitted to marry in the first millenium of the Christian era. It was the first two Lateran Councils in 1123 and 1139 that instituted priestly celibacy and abolished marriage for priests. The current times call us to make a courageous review and change our paradigms. We are asking Your Holiness to create a commission that also includes lay men and women to study and resolve four issues:

1) The development of two models of priesthood: a) celibate and b) married, with specific canonical norms for each state.

2) The development of a female priesthood with two modalities: a) celibate and b) married with specific norms for each state.

3) The reintegration of married men who still have a vocation into service in the Church.

4) Review the problem of Christians in second marriages and their participation in the Eucharist.

With respect to the above reflections, we feel called to an egalitarian participation in the journey of Church life, especially its future. We want to express our thoughts and expectations, stating that it is essential that the Church hierarchy hear our cry.

Will the hierarchy of our Catholic Church continue to be indifferent? Or will it be open to the Holy Spirit and step up? We cannot go backwards anymore in this debate. Are we perhaps lacking “ecclesial will” or “political decisiveness”?

We are proposing that all the cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people who work in the pastoral movements initiate this debate in their areas and have a thorough discussion of the issues above. Our group of lay people has a Web page:

We invite all lay people who feel prophetic strength into this debate.

No comments: