The full interview follows.
CNA: A series of events and exaggerated reporting by the secular media has created a “crisis,” so to speak, of the image of a Catholic priest. How can we rescue that image for the good of the Church?
Cardenal Piacenza: In Catholic theology, image and reality are never separate. Image is repaired by repairing the interior. We must bring about healing first of all from “within.” We should not be too concerned about how things appear on the outside, but rather about “truly being.” It is easy to identify the dynamics that move these campaigns and the interests behind them.
We must never hide, but wherever necessary, we must recognize mistakes with humility and truthfulness and be willing to repair, whether humanly or spiritually, trusting more in the Lord than in our own poor human strengths. That is how the rescue will come, when a priest is who he is supposed to be: a man of God, a man of the sacred, and a man of prayer and, therefore, completely at the service of others, of their authentic and comprehensive well-being, whether spiritual or material, and of the good of the community as such.
CNA: How can we help Catholics who are disillusioned see that the so-called “sexual scandal” of the Church in no way defines the ministerial priesthood or the Church?
Cardinal Piacenza: On human level it is understandable – as the Holy Father mentioned during the in-flight interview on his way to Germany – that some might think that they cannot see themselves in a Church in which certain despicable acts occur. However, on that occasion Benedict XVI himself clearly invited us to go to the heart of the nature of the Church, which is the living Body of the Risen Christ that prolongs His existence and salvific action through time.
The horrible sins of a few do not delegitimize the good actions of many, nor do they change the nature of the Church. They certainly weaken her credibility enormously, and therefore we are called to work ceaselessly for the conversion of each person and for that evangelical radicalness and fidelity which should always characterize an authentic minister of Christ. We should remember that in order to be truly believable we have to be true believers.
CNA: Some believe that this “crisis” is another argument in favor of reforming the way the priesthood is lived. For example, the demand for married priests as a solution to both the loneliness priests experience and the lack of priestly vocations. What does “reforming the clergy” really mean in the mind and magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI?
Cardinal Piacenza: This kind of argument, if it were followed, would create an unprecedented break. The suggested cures would make the disease even worse and would turn the Gospel on its head. The issue is loneliness? Why? Is Christ a ghost? Is the Church dead or alive? Were the holy priests of centuries past abnormal men? Is holiness a utopia, a matter for a predestined few, or a universal vocation, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us? If the climb is arduous, we should take vitamins, strengthen ourselves, and with great impetus, continue upwards with joy in our hearts.
Vocation means “calling,” and God continues to call, but we need to know how to listen, and in order to listen we must not cover our ears. We need to be silent, we need to see examples and signs and we need to draw close to the Church as the Body in which the encounter with Christ always takes place.
In order to be faithful we must be in love. Obedience, chastity in celibacy, total dedication to the ministry without limits of time or days, are not seen as constrictions if one is truly in love, but rather as the demands of the love that one cannot help but give. They aren’t a bunch of “no’s” but rather one big “yes,” like that of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.
The reform of the clergy? It is what I have been calling for since my time as a seminarian and later as a young priest (I am referring to 1968-69), and I am thrilled to hear the Holy Father continually call it one of the most urgent reforms needed in the Church. But let us remember that the reform we are speaking about is Catholic and not “worldly!”
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To be extremely brief, we could say that the Pope greatly values a clergy that is truly and humbly proud of its identity and completely absorbed with the gift of grace it has received, and that consequently sees a clear distinction between the “Kingdom of God” and the world. A clergy that is not secularized and does not succumb to the passing fads and ways of the world. A clergy that recognizes, lives and proposes the primacy of God and understands how to bring out all of the consequences that flow from it. This means trusting not so much in structures or in human endeavor but rather, and above all, in the strength of the Spirit.
CNA: There is often talk of “women priests.” In fact, a movement exists in the United States that is demanding that women be made priests and bishops. It claims to have received this mandate from the successors of the apostles.
Cardinal Piacenza: Apostolic tradition in this sense is absolutely unequivocally clear. The great, uninterrupted tradition of the Church has always recognized that the Church has not received the power from Christ to confer ordination on women.
Any other claim smacks of self-justification and is historically and dogmatically unfounded. In any case, the Church cannot “innovate,” simply because she does not have the power to do so in this case. The Church does not have greater power than Christ!
When we see non-Catholic communities led by women we should not be shocked, because where the ordained priesthood is not recognized, leadership is obviously entrusted to the lay faithful, and in such a case, what’s the difference if that lay faithful is a man or woman? The preference of one over the other would be a mere sociological fact and therefore changeable over time. If they were only men it would be discriminatory. The issue is not between men and women but between ordained faithful and lay faithful, and the Church is hierarchical because Jesus Christ founded it that way.
Priestly ordination, which is particular to the Catholic Church and to the Orthodox churches, is reserved to men, and this is not discrimination against women, but rather a consequence of the unsurpassed historicity of the act of the Incarnation and of the Pauline theology on the mystical body, in which each one has his own role and is sanctified and produces fruit consistent with his own place.