The Church at a Post-Secular Crossroads (Part 2)

Interview With Cardinal Julián Herranz

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ROME, MARCH 23, 2010 ( It is not accurate to say that the Church is in a vocations crisis, and less so to claim that a change to rules on celibacy is the solution.

This is the estimation given by Cardinal Julián Herranz, a member of the Roman Curia since 1960. He has been at the service of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  In recent years the cardinal has served as president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and as member of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Bishops, and for Evangelization.  

In his Spanish-language book «En las Afueras de Jerico: Recuerdos De Los Anos Con Josemaria Y Juan Pablo II» [On The Outskirts Of Jericho: Remembering the Years of St. Josemaría and John Paul II], which is in its fifth edition, he evokes with a wealth of data and personal experiences the years of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent and current period of its implementation.   

Here is the second part of an interview with «Temes D’Avui,» a magazine in Spain that deals with current pastoral issues, in which the cardinal speaks about some of the issues facing the Church today.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.  

Q: In Europe, and in other countries and regions, it seems that we are going through what some call a winter of priestly vocations. How do you see the recovery?
Cardinal Herranz: There is a colorful Italian expression that might be useful to clarify the situation: «a macchia di leopardo.» The spots on the skin of a leopard describe phenomena differentiated in the geography of a country or a region. This is the case with this topic. In Europe, some countries have suffered a genuine winter of religious persecution and of de-humanization of society under Marxism, and now they enjoy a splendid springtime of young men who feel Christ’s call to the priesthood. In other nations — such as Poland — even under that persecution abundant priestly vocations arose.
As I mentioned earlier in regard to man’s frailty in face of pleasure, the welfare society in other European or American countries, with more comforts, also makes the decision to follow Jesus more difficult, as happened to the rich young man who rejected the invitation to give himself completely. Yet even so, Christ attracts and the Holy Spirit awakens desires of total self-giving to God, of spiritual paternity, of evangelization to take the light of the Risen One to the world, to live not to be served, but to serve everyone.

In countries or dioceses that had many priests before — such as Spain — after a notable decrease, we can now see an improvement in quality and quantity of vocations. It has happened thus, for example, in my native diocese, Cordoba. During the maelstrom of the so-called post-conciliar crisis, we suffered the abandonment of many priests and the lack of vocations. The seminary was closed for 12 yeas. Now, thank God, everything has changed: There are three seminaries — major, minor and missionary — with 54 major seminarians and 40 minor seminarians; in the last six years 41 priests have been ordained, and 120 of the 284 priests of the diocese are younger than 40. I have known similar cases personally in Italy and France, and they are beginning to happen in other European nations.
In a single country there can be dioceses with quite flourishing seminaries and others in a precarious situation. Very varied circumstances influence the situation. At times, having preserved and enriched popular religiosity theologically facilitates following the Lord; a higher birth rate creates a propitious environment to give oneself for life. There is also the phenomenon of young men with a vocation to the priesthood who seek formation in seminaries that give them confidence and that do not necessarily coincide with their place of residence. In any case, it seems vital to put the task of human and Christian formation as a permanent priority of the first order: schools, colleges and associations, the universities and in a particular way the seminaries. Benedict XVI is insisting on the educational emergency. I know bishops who are faced today with the task of reconstructing the diocesan seminary — not only the building — and of following closely the formation team, because for years there has been a hermeneutic of rupture. It’s hard to do it, undoubtedly, but when all is said and done it is Jesus’ formative task with the Twelve.
Q: Could the suppression of the law of priestly celibacy help to overcome the lack of priests, or should the solution be found instead in a spiritual revitalization of Christian communities?
Cardinal Herranz: Priestly celibacy — which as consecrated virginity and apostolic celibacy in general, goes back to the first centuries of the Church —  is not the simple consequence of an ecclesiastical law, but responds to profound theological reasons of suitability that the Second Vatican Council summarized thus: «Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven, priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason. They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ» (Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16).
It is true that in the Eastern Churches celibacy is only exacted of the bishops. But I think that the experience of places where candidates to the presbyterate are also chosen among those who have not received from God the gift of celibacy, shows that the suppression of that venerable canonical discipline in the Latin Church would not be a more valid solution to the scarcity of priests. The grace of apostolic celibacy and concretely of priestly celibacy is a treasure for the whole Church: a treasure of adoration of God and, in the case of priests, of configuration to Christ.
As you yourself suggest, there is a growing awareness in Christian communities that the filling of seminaries is the responsibility of all the faithful — I am thinking especially of Christian parents and educators — not only of bishops and priests, and it is part of the baptismal duty to participate actively in the mission of the Church. Jesus has left us this intention — firstly for our prayers — in a very explicit way: «The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest» (Matthew 9:37-38).
Q: The «Year for Priests» declared for the whole Church includes Benedict XVI’s call to the holiness of priests. Is this call especially important in the present context? Is it in response to the moral scandals of priests — although the percentage of clerics is very minimal — which have had such an echo in the media?
Cardinal Herranz: All that can be said about the importance of the holiness of priests will be little. I prefer to be the echo of far more authoritative voices than my own. The Epistle to Diognetus of the 2nd century states that «what the soul is in the body, is what Christians are in the world»; the mission of Jesus’ disciples is to be light and salt of the world; Christ chose twelve with the function to help all the others. The bishops and their necessary collaborators  — the presbyters — have a special responsibility. The progress of the Church depends in great part on their holy life. Stated in the Decree «Presbyterorum Ordinis» from Vatican II is: «Holiness does much for priests in carrying on a fruitful ministry. Although divine grace could use unworthy ministers to effect the work of salvation, yet for the most part God chooses, to show forth his wonders, those who are more open to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit, and who can by reason of their close union with Christ and thei
r holiness of life say with St. Paul: ‘And yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me’ (Gal 2:20)» (No. 12).

And in regard to the responsibility of the bishops it reminds: «[B]ishops should regard priests as their brothers and friends and be concerned as far as they are able for their material and especially for their spiritual well-being. For above all upon the bishops rests the heavy responsibility for the sanctity of their priests. Therefore, they should exercise the greatest care in the continual formation of their priests» (No. 7).
On Dec. 21, 2009 Benedict XVI said to us cardinals and the other superiors of the Roman Curia, referring precisely to the meaning of the «Year for Priests» in the context of the New Evangelization: «As priests we are available to all: to those who know God at first hand and to those for whom he is the Unknown. We all need to become acquainted with him ever anew, and we need to seek him constantly in order to become true friends of God. How, in the end, can we get to know God other than through those people who are friends of God? The inmost core of our priestly ministry consists of our being Christ’s friends (cf. Jn 15:15), friends of God through whom others may also discover God’s closeness.»
Q: In some of his conferences he has spoken of the «rediscovery» of the sacrament of reconciliation. To what degree do you regard this need as important?
Cardinal Herranz: To the degree that this sacrament is, as the arteries are for blood in the body, the privileged channel for the life of grace in the soul, the «stopping» or abandonment of the sacrament of penance or reconciliation would produce a heart attack or necrosis in the spiritual fabric of the person, and also of whole Christian communities, because the sense of sin, the need for forgiveness and the enjoyment of peace and joy of the reconciled soul would be gradually lost.
In fact in the address I just referred to, Benedict XVI addressed this profoundly human need: «If man is not reconciled with God, he is also in conflict with creation. He is not reconciled with himself, he would like to be something other than what he is and consequently he is not reconciled with his neighbor either. Part of reconciliation is also the ability to acknowledge guilt and to ask forgiveness from God and from others. Lastly, part of the process of reconciliation is also the readiness to do penance, the willingness to suffer deeply for one’s sin and to allow oneself to be transformed.»

And the Pope added: «Today, in this world of ours, we need to rediscover the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. The fact that it has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of Christians is a symptom of a loss of truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace..»
In many cases — as John Paul II reminded in his Motu proprio «The Mercy of God» — it suffices for the priest to be available at all times and also in an ample schedule known in the parish and other places of public worship, so that little by little many more Christians will again receive this sacrament in a personal way. As is logical, we must also pray and do everything possible so that abuses in collective absolutions, wherever they happen, will disappear, which do grave damage and do not give true peace and joy to consciences. When sacramental confession is practiced frequently, there begins to be spiritual direction, greater desires for holiness, more peace in families and justice in society, more priestly vocations.
It is well known that I owe very much to St. Josemaría Escriva. He was a great apostle of sacramental confession, which he presented in his European and American catecheses as the sacrament of joy.» He said for example in Chile, with the direct and familiar style that characterized him: «Confess, confess, confess! Christ has lavished mercy on creatures. Things don’t go well, because we don’t go to him, to cleanse us, to purify us, to inflame us. […] The Lord is waiting for many to have a good bath in the sacrament of penance! And he has a great banquet prepared for them, that of a wedding, of the Eucharist; the ring of engagement and fidelity, and of friendship for ever. Go to confession! You, daughters and sons, bring souls to confession. Don’t make my coming to Chile futile!»

Q: What would you say to those who do not value sufficiently the norms of the Church, for example, in liturgical matters, or show a lack of ecclesial communion disapproving certain episcopal appointments or other decisions of the Holy See?
Cardinal Herranz: As you say, in some places ecclesial communion has been greatly weakened or has been felt as a vague affectionate sentiment. In practice, it has been forgotten that Jesus left us this wonderful family of children of God that is the Church with two essential characteristics that are profoundly united: as community of faith, of hope and of charity and at the same time — Vatican II reminds in the Constitution «Lumen Gentium,» No. 8 — as a visible organism, a hierarchically constituted society. To that end he instituted the group of the Twelve Apostles, of which the bishops are successors in communion with the Pope, Successor of Peter, all with a precise mission of love, which is that of teaching, sanctifying and governing the rest of the members of the Church. So said Jesus to Peter three times after the Resurrection: «‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep'» (John 21:15-23; cf. Matthew 16:19). And he conferred the same power on the College of Apostles presided over by Peter (Matthew 28:16-20).
There has been, and in part continues to be still in some ecclesiastical ambits and of civil society, a crisis of obedience and at times also of authority. I believe that this crisis has been influenced above all by two different factors, but in some cases superimposed. In the countries of the so-called West, the influence of a growing libertarian philosophy — I don’t say liberal — fruit to a large extent of that ideological cocktail of Marx, Freud and Marcuse in which the «revolution of ’68» degenerated. The ecclesiastical ambit was influenced by the interpretation «of rupture» — rejection of the preceding magisterium — of Vatican II, both in the theological realm — socio-political reduction of the mission of the Church, democratic interpretation of the concept and structures of the Church People of God, etc. — as well as in the liturgical realm — anarchic and demystifying experimentalism, in name of the abusively called «liturgical reform desired by the Council» — and even more showily in the disciplinary and canonical realm — laicization of the lifestyle of clerics, contempt for the norms of ascetic prudence and priestly piety, defection. Thanks be to God this maelstrom passed to a large extent. We have arrived at a period of serenity of soul and magisterial lucidity that reinforces communion.
In regard to episcopal appointments I can assert — because I am a member of the Congregation for Bishops — that all are made on the basis of the legitimate exercise of the supreme power of the Roman Pontiff and with the greatest respect for the norms of the Code of Canon Law, promulgated in implementation of Vatican II after a threefold consultation with bishops worldwide. Norms that provide, for each appointment by the Holy Father, a long process of study and consultation — of bishops, priests and laity — on the pastoral needs of each diocese, the selection of candidates, and the evaluation of their respective personal and pastoral qualities.
Perhaps we must all pray to God more for the grace to desire and want to imitate Christ more, who was obedient unto death, and death on a cross, as St. Paul says to the Philippians. To pray also so that authority will always be exercised as service, as an «officium amoris,» in St. Augustine’s words. All is possible only in a climate of authentic c
harity, of profound friendship with Christ in the Gospel and in the Eucharist — in the Bread and in the Word  — of having as the absolute center of one’s life the Holy Mass, of knowledge and respect for the liturgical and canonical norms, of fraternity and of purification, of effective concern for the neediest.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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