Fall of diocesan clergy! (Church Restoration Series III) By Fr. Anand Muttungal
26 Sep 2011
For a believer, there isn’t much difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest. But indeed, there is. In contrast to the religious priests, the diocesan priests lived among the people like one among them. The vow of chastity remained optional for diocesan clergy in the early period. In 1074 Pope Gregory VII summoned a council in the Lateran Palace which confirmed celibacy as mandatory for the all clergy of Catholic Church. The spirituality of the diocesan priests stemmed from their participation in the ministerial priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders, grounded within the context of service to people of God in a particular territory or diocese.
But the people compared them with monks lived in the monasteries that spent whole of their time in prayer and learning and made available to people, occasionally. This made the people believe that the diocesan priests are leading a less spiritual life. Probably the Community that was under the trance of religious orders did not understand the spirituality of diocesan clergy stemming from their day today relation with the laity and the result was that they were branded ‘secular clergy’.
The diocesan clergy got very little opportunity to pursue higher learning. The theology and Church laws were made in the background of life in the monasteries. They defined the concepts of spirituality, good Catholic life, vocation, ministry, priesthood, brotherhood, sacraments and family life. If we read the Church teachings between the lines then it becomes clear that they made all possible explanations to faith concepts to keep up their upper hand in everything. It was an unseen intellectual invasion into the spiritual life of the diocesan priests and the laity as well. This may have gradually led to laxity among the diocesan clergy to strive towards high spiritual standards in their life and mission. The term ‘SECULAR CLERGY’ too indicates the malicious design of an organized system set opposite to the diocesan clergy over the years.
Another example that can be analysed is that at the time of ordination diocesan clergy take ‘solemn vow’ to live in chastity, poverty, obedience and respect to the diocesan bishops. They are to live in simplicity but they are to mange their own up keeping so the vow of poverty is practiced in various degrees. A religious priest on the other hand, is a member of a community that goes beyond the geographical limits of a diocese. Religious priests too take vow of celibacy, obedience and poverty. They live with a community of men supposed to be of mutual support and part of the accomplishment of a particular work based on charism. Charism in simple terms means special ministry on which the congregation was founded as per the needs of that time. It is possible those ministries were need at the time but today it may not be applicable. For instance we find some very talented men and women religious running printing presses and publishing houses like any other business establishment.
We must understand the ideological jiggery of words and technical differences created by the religious to keep up their superiority over the diocesan priests. When a diocesan accepts the ideals of celibacy, obedience and poverty, it is called, “PROMISE” but when the same one is accepted by a religious they are called “VOWS”. In practical sense all the three evangelical councils are practised by both of them. It is true of most diocesan clergy that they live among the people with utmost simplicity in their whole life with commitment towards the Church and the laity.
But when it comes the religious priest their commitment is for their society and its charism. It might not be inappropriate to say that a good number of religious today are living within the four walls of their houses and few friends and are distanced from the laity. The religious communities that have a budget for everything, their opinion is taken for transfers, running of the congregation and freedom to have all aspects personal life, Can they any longer claim being better than the diocesans and laity? How long this intellectual violence will continue against the diocesan clergy?
Now it might be clear to understand the difference between the two! It is right time the Church avoids obsolete terms and treats all catholic priests as priests of the Catholic Church.