VATICAN CITY, MAY 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Wary of a clericalization of the laity and a laicization of the clergy, John Paul II insisted that the relation between priests and faithful is one of complementarity, not equality.
The Holy Father clarified the Church´s position on this matter when he met with the bishops of the Antilles at the end of their quinquennial “ad limina” visit to the Holy See.
In his farewell address to the bishops, the Pope reminded them that “first and foremost, you are priests.”
“[You are] not corporate executives, business managers, finance officers or bureaucrats, but priests,” he said.
“This means above all that you have been set apart to offer sacrifice, since this is the essence of priesthood, and the core of the Christian priesthood is the offering of the sacrifice of Christ,” the Holy Father added.
The Holy Father reminded the bishops that the Second Vatican Council resulted in “the awakening of the lay faithful in the Church,” but that this does not signal an alteration in the laity´s irreplaceable role.
Specifically, the Pope said, some “persons, we know, affirm that the decrease in the number of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that God himself will lead the Church, making it so that the government of the lay faithful will take the place of the government of priests.”
“Such a statement certainly does not take account of what the Council Fathers said when they sought to promote a greater involvement of the lay faithful in the Church,” the Pontiff stressed.
“In their teachings, the Council Fathers simply underscored the deep complementarity between priests and the laity that the symphonic nature of the Church implies,” the Pope explained.
“A poor understanding of this complementarity has sometimes led to a crisis of identity and confidence among priests, and also to forms of commitment by the laity that are too clerical or too politicized,” the Holy Father continued.
John Paul II warned that the involvement “by the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are assumed by the lay faithful, or when the latter set out to accomplish tasks of pastoral governing that properly belong to the priest.”
“It is the priest who, as an ordained minister and in the name of Christ, presides over the Christian community on liturgical and pastoral levels,” the Pope pointed out. “The laity can assist him in this in many ways.”
However, “the premier place of the exercise of the lay vocation is in the world of economic, social, political and cultural realities. It is in this world that lay people are called to live their baptismal vocation,” the Holy Father stressed.
At a time of “insidious secularization,” it might “seem strange that the Church insists so much on the secular vocation of the laity, but it is precisely this Gospel witness by the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church´s answer to the malaise of secularization,” the Pope emphasized.
“The commitment of lay persons is politicized when the laity is absorbed by the exercise of ´power´ within the Church,” John Paul II added. “That happens when the Church is not seen in terms of the mystery of grace that characterizes her, but rather in sociological or even political terms.”
The clericalization of the laity and laicization of the clergy occurs when “it is not service but power that shapes all forms of government in the Church, be it in the clergy or the laity, [when] opposing interests start to make themselves felt,” he warned.
What “the Church needs is a deeper and more creative sense of complementarity between the vocation of the priest and that of the laity,” he concluded.