Vatican City: June 2, 2009. In March Pope Benedict XVI called for a Year for Priests, beginning on 19 Jun. The call signals his determination to hold the line against moves to "dilute the priesthood."
Dissidents are calling for an end to the celibacy requirement for priests, for the ordination of women and more power for the laity. Clergy sex abuse scandals, priest shortages and bankrupted parishes have strengthened the calls. The year will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Vianney, Cure of Ars.
In the midst of the clergy abuse scandal, Lisa Sowle Cahill, theology professor at Boston College, published an opinion piece in The New York Times asserting that the priestly abuse "exposes the weaknesses of a virtually all-male decision-making structure." Her solution was to ordain women, and encourage "all Catholics to withhold funds from all diocesan and Vatican collections and organizations."
Others dissidents have been relentless in drawing attention to the Catholic scandals of the past by presenting the cases as part of a systemic problem caused by the celibacy requirement and the church's teachings on homosexuality. Former Maryknoll priest Eugene Kennedy claims to long for a "post-clerical, de-centered priesthood, in which the adjustments to celibacy are varied." For Kennedy, the priesthood must be changed to include "the love and understanding of a specific woman, or, in some cases, a certain man."
The Pope made the announcement during a Mar 16 meeting with members of the Congregation for Clergy. He stressed the need to strengthen the missionary identity of the priesthood, cautioning against pastoral plans that would make it possible "to 'do without' ordained ministry." He said such plans could "lay the foundations for a further dilution of priestly ministry." Apparently referring to plans for "priestless parishes" in regions where the shortage of priests has become acute, the Pope warned that such efforts to cope with the shortage could actually aggravate the problem.
The Vatican announced that the Pope will open the Year for Priests with a Vespers service in St. Peter's basilica on June 19. Bishop Guy Bagnard of Belley-Ars, France, will bring the relics of St. Jean Vianney to the Vatican basilica for the occasion. During the year the Pope will formally proclaim the Curé of Ars as the patron saint of all the world's priests. Mar/09