Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Speaks on Service and Unity
By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, SEPT. 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, rarely intervenes in public debates. He is known, rather, for his quiet and untiring work and his insightful observations on contemporary culture.
The 67-year-old Italian will next month complete his first year as head of the Vatican's clergy congregation.
He spoke with ZENIT about what power in the Church really is and what women could be doing to offer their feminine genius to Church leadership.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, over the past decades, with surprising regularity, the same set of ecclesial questions resurface in public debate like clockwork. How can we explain this?
Cardinal Piacenza: There have always been in the history of the Church "centrifugal movements," attempts to "normalize" the extraordinary Event of Christ and of his Living Body in history, the Church. A "normalized Church" would lose all of its prophetic force; she would no longer say anything to man and to the world and, in fact, she would betray her Lord. The major difference in the contemporary age is media-related and, at the same time, doctrinal.
Doctrinally, there is an effort to justify sin, not entrusting oneself to mercy, but trusting in a dangerous autonomy that has the odor of practical atheism. With regard to the media, in recent decades, the physiological "centrifugal forces" receive attention and inappropriate amplification from the media, which in a certain way, lives on conflict.
ZENIT: Is women's ordination to be understood as a doctrinal question?
Cardinal Piacenza: Certainly, and -- as everyone knows -- the question was clearly confronted by both Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II and, the latter, with the Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" of 1994 definitively closed the question. Indeed there it is stated: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Some, grasping at straws, have spoken since then of a "relative definitiveness" of the doctrine, but frankly, the thesis is so odd as to lack any foundation.
ZENIT: So, is there no place for women in the Church?
Cardinal Piacenza: On the contrary, women have a most important place in the ecclesial Body and they could have one that is even more evident. The Church is founded by Christ and we human beings cannot decide on its form; therefore the hierarchical constitution is linked to the ministerial priesthood, which is reserved to men. But there is absolutely nothing to prevent the valuing of the feminine genius is roles that are not linked with the exercise of Holy Orders. Who would stop, for example, a great woman economist from being head of the administration of the Holy See? Who would prevent a competent woman journalist from being the spokesman of the Vatican press office? The examples could be multiplied for all the offices that are not connected with Holy Orders. There are tasks in which the feminine genius could make a specific contribution!
It is another thing to think of service as power and try, as the world does, to meet the quota for this power. I maintain, furthermore, that the devaluation of the great mystery of maternity, which has been the modus operandi of the dominant culture, has a related role in the general disorientation of women. The ideology of profit has stooped to the instrumentalization of women, not recognizing the greatest contribution that -- incontrovertibly -- they can make to society and to the world.
Also, the Church is not a political government in which it is right to demand adequate representation. The Church is something quite different; the Church is the Body of Christ and, in her, each one is a part according to what Christ established. Moreover, in the Church it is not a question of masculine and feminine roles but rather of roles that by divine will do or do not entail ordination. Whatever a layman can do, so can a laywoman. What is important is having the specific and proper formation, then being a man or a woman does not matter.
ZENIT: But can someone really participate in the life of the Church without having effective power and responsibility?
Cardinal Piacenza: Who said that participation in the life of the Church is a question of power? If this were the case, we would unmask the real equivocation in conceiving the Church herself not as she is -- human and divine -- but simply as one of the many human associations, maybe the greatest and most noble, given her history; she would then have to be "administered" by a division of power. Nothing is further from reality! The hierarchy in the Church, besides being of divine institution, is always to be understood as a service to communion. Only an equivocation, historically stemming from the experience of dictatorships, could make one think of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as an exercise in "absolute power." This is known to be false by those who, every day, are called to assist the Pope in his personal responsibility for the universal Church! So many and such are the mediations, the consultations, the expressions of real collegiality that practically no act of governance is the fruit of an individual will, but always the outcome of a long process, listening to the Holy Spirit and the precious contributions of many people. First of all the bishops and bishops' conferences of the world. Collegiality is not a socio-historical concept, but derives from the common Eucharist, from the "affectus" that is born from taking the one Bread and from living the one faith; from being united to Christ: Way, Truth and Life; and Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!
ZENIT: Doesn't Rome have too much power?
Cardinal Piacenza: To say "Rome" is simply to say "catholicity" and "collegiality." Rome is the city chosen by providence as the place of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul and communion with this Church has always historically meant communion with the universal Church, unity, mission and doctrinal certainty. Rome is at the service of all the Churches, she loves all the Churches and, not infrequently, she protects the Churches most threatened by the power of the world and of governments who are not completely respectful of that inalienable human and natural right that is freedom of religion.
The Church must be seen from the perspective of the dogmatic constitution of Vatican Council II "Lumen Gentium," obviously including the note attached to the document. There the early Church is described, the Church of the Fathers, the Church of all ages, which is our Church of today, without discontinuity; which is the Church of Christ. Rome is called to preside in Charity and in Truth, the sole sources of authentic Christian peace. The Church's unity is not compromise with the world and its mentality, rather it is the result, given by Christ, of our fidelity to truth and to charity that we will be capable of living.
I think that it is indicative, in this regard, that today only the Church, as no other, defends man and his reason, his capacity to know the real and to enter into relationship with it, in sum man in his totality. Rome is at the service of the whole Church of God that is in the world and that is an "open window" on the world. A window that gives a voice to all those who do not have a voice, that calls everyone to a continual conversion and through this contributes -- often in silence and in suffering, paying the price herself, even being unpopular -- to building a better world, the civilization of love.
ZENIT: Doesn't this role that Rome plays hinder unity and ecumenism?
Cardinal Piacenza: On the contrary, it is their necessary presupposition. Ecumenism is a priority for the life of the Church and it is an absolute exigency that flows from the prayer itself of the Lord: "Ut unum sint," which becomes for every true Christian the "commandment of unity." In sincere prayer and in the spirit of continual interior conversion, in fidelity to one's own identity and in the common striving for the perfect charity bestowed by God, it is necessary to commit oneself with conviction to seeing to it that there are no setbacks on the journey of the ecumenical movement. The world needs our unity; it is therefore urgent that we continue to engage in the dialogue of faith with all our Christian brothers, so that Christ be a leaven in society. It is also urgent that we work together with non-Christians, that is, in intercultural dialogue to contribute together to the building of a better world, collaborating in good works and making a new and more human society possible. Even in that task Rome has a unique role of propulsion. There is no time for division; our time and energies must be spent in seeking unity.
ZENIT: Who are the priests in this Catholic Church and what is their role?
Cardinal Piacenza: They are not social workers and even less are they functionaries of God! The identity crisis is especially acute in the more secularized contexts in which it seems that there is no space for God. But priests are what they have always been; they are always what Christ wanted them to be! The priestly identity is Christocentric and therefore Eucharistic. It is Christocentric because, as the Holy Father has recalled many times, in the ministerial priesthood "Christ draws us into himself," involving himself with us and involving us in his own existence. This "real" attraction happens sacramentally, and so in an objective and unsurpassable manner, in the Eucharist -- of which priests are ministers, that is servants and effective instruments.
ZENIT: But is the law of celibacy so absolute? Can it really not be changed?
Cardinal Piacenza: It is not a mere law! The law is the consequence of a much higher reality that is grasped only in a living relationship with Christ. Jesus says: "He who understands, must understand." Holy celibacy is never something to progress beyond, rather it is always new, in the sense that, even through it, the life of the priest is "renewed," because it is always given, in a fidelity that has its root in God and its fruition in the blossoming of human freedom.
The true problem is in the contemporary inability to make definitive choices, in the dramatic reduction of human freedom that has become so fragile as not to pursue the good, not even when it is recognized and intuited as a possibility for one's own existence. Celibacy is not the problem, nor can the infidelity and weakness of certain priests be the criterion of judgment. Statistics tell us that more than 40% of marriages fail. But 2% of priests fail in celibacy, so the solution would not be in making holy celibacy optional. Should we not instead stop interpreting freedom as the "absence of ties" and of definitiveness, and begin to discover that the true realization of human felicity consists precisely in the definitiveness of the gift to the other and to God?
ZENIT: What about vocations? Would they not increase if celibacy were abolished?
Cardinal Piacenza: No! The Christian confessions in which, because there is no ordained priesthood, there is no doctrine and discipline of celibacy, find themselves in a state of deep crisis regarding "vocations" to the leadership of the community. There is also a crisis in the sacrament of marriage as one and indissoluble.
The crisis from which, in reality, we are slowly emerging, is linked, fundamentally, to the crisis of faith in the West. It is in making faith grow that we must be engaged. This is the point. In the same spheres the sanctification of the feast is in crisis, confession is in crisis, marriage is in crisis, etc…
Secularization and the consequent loss of the sense of the sacred, of faith and its practice have brought about and continue to bring about a diminution in the number of candidates to the priesthood. Along with these distinctively theological and ecclesial causes, there are also some of a sociological character: first of all, the evident decline in births, with the consequent diminution in the number of young men and, thus, also of priestly vocations. This too is a factor that cannot be ignored. Everything is connected. Sometimes the premises are laid down and then one does not want to accept the consequences, but these are inevitable.
The first and undeniable remedy for the drop in vocations Jesus himself suggested: "Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into the harvest" (Matthew 9:38). This is the realism of pastoral work in vocations. Prayer for vocations, an intense, universal, widespread network of prayer and Eucharistic adoration that envelops the whole world, is the only possible answer to the crisis of the acceptance of vocations. Wherever such a prayerful attitude has a stable existence, one sees that a real turnaround is occurring. It is fundamental to watch over the identity and specificity in ecclesial life of priests, religious (in the uniqueness of the foundational charisms of the order to which they belong) and faithful laity, so that each may truly, in freedom, understand and welcome the vocation that God has in mind for him. But everyone must be himself and must work every day more and more to become what he is.
ZENIT: Your Eminence, in this moment in history how would you sum things up?
Cardinal Piacenza: Our project must not be to stay afloat at all costs, to desire the applause of public opinion: We must only serve our neighbor, whoever he is, out of love and with the love of our God, remembering that only Jesus is the Savior. We must let him pass, speak, act through our poor persons and our daily work. We must not put ourselves forward but him. We must not be frightened in the face of situations, not even the worst. The Lord is also aboard the Barque of Peter even if he seems to be sleeping; he is here! We must act with energy, as if everything depended on us but with the peace of those who know that everything depends on the Lord. Therefore, we must remember that the name of love in time is "fidelity"!
The believer knows that He is the Way, the Truth, the Life and not just "a" way, "a" truth, "a" life. This is why the key to the mission in our society is in the courage of truth at the cost of insults and scorn; it is this courage that is one with love, with pastoral charity, which must be recovered and that makes the Christian vocation more attractive today than ever. I would like to cite the words in which the Council of the Evangelical Church summed up its program in Stuttgart in 1945: "To proclaim with more courage, to pray with more confidence, to believe with more joy, to love with more passion."
(Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic)