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The Journey towards a synodal Church is at a crossroads, Part 2

In the olden days, a “priestly character” is understood synonymous to being called a “father,” commanding great respect. It is this priestly character that made parents entrust their child into serving the Church as acolytes or sacristans. It was also a trait that made Catholics give undue deference to priests on many matters including serving food or giving head of the line privilege. Nowadays of priests going to discos and pursuing a secular life (cars, clothing, entertainment), the distinction is blurred but still many are enamored with the undue deference syndrome. It is this embodiment that allowed predatory priest behaviors to remain hidden for decades because the laity was canonically “forbidden” from talking bad about a priest.

At the adjournment of the recent Synod on Synodality, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy, the Bishop of San Diego emphasized that “There should never again be a synod without lay people as voting members.” The cardinal’s pronouncement is a good thing and highlights the need for the synodality processes to continue.

Cardinal McElroy believes that Pope Francis’ push for synodality is oriented toward the future and that conversations with people at the grassroots level and in the local dioceses and parishes must continue to help the Synod formulate the needed theology when they return next year. He believes that a “synodal culture is one founded on the Eucharist, the word of God, prayerful listening to one another, and dialogue, discernment, collaboration, co-responsibility, inclusion, humility.”

Synodal consultations and conversations should address an important matter that, I believe, contributes to the arrogance that some men of the cloth believe they possess passively in every aspect of their priesthood and that is with respect to their ontological gift upon ordination. From “in persona Christi” to “in persona Christi Capitis” that Vatican II expanded, I believe also contributes to a mindset that an ordained minister (bishop, priest, deacon) possesses such ontological gifts 24/7. To some degree, it is a question for present day deacons and lay parishioners who volunteer (common priesthood) for important functions such as Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister.

The question of whether the ordained minister’s ontological gift transcends to the common priesthood is at the core of clericalism and that extends to the question of the existence of God. Ontology refers to the study of being, according to More specifically, the theology on this involves the Trinitarian nature (God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit) of such metaphysical change.

The Council of Trent canonized the “in persona Christi” doctrine that allowed ordained ministers to celebrate the Sacraments (Eucharist, baptism, confession) as if they were Jesus Christ, himself in person. Vatican II expanded the term of what appears to be unduly exalting a priest as if he is God, to include the extra word “Capitis” as in “in persona Christi Capitis” to mean that the apostolic succession from Jesus during the Last Supper where he granted the apostles the power to forgive sins includes by succession (Jesus to Peter, to pope successors) and by extension, to today’s priests.

This is such an important theology that was at the crux of Synod of Synodality convocation. Following pre-Thomism understanding, only the universal Church was able to celebrate the sacraments and that priests were presbyters or representatives of the Church. The Council of Trent emphasized the objective efficacy of the sacraments that by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, an ordained minister acts in persona Christi. Did they really mean to put priests in such a pedestal reserved only for God?

Cardinals from old school believes that the pope is the head of the Church, but it is the cardinals as a collegial body (through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) who has the power to determine the direction of the Church, and to make or break a pope (conclave). The Synod of Synodality that was convened by Pope Francis meets the requirements of the Church’s dogma of “papal infallibility” because Pope Francis as the supreme authority (1) intends to teach (2) on a matter of faith and morals (3) to the Church (4). Yet, many conservative cardinals are bent out of shape because they are being left out and given lesser importance.

When Cardinal McElroy was asked, “who leads the Church” (in the context of ongoing Church division), he responded that there isn’t a singular answer to it. “The whole people of God coming together (i.e., synodal Church). Secondly, the College of Bishops has a particular role in the church; and thirdly, the pope.” Think about the order of importance of his response: Whole people of God over the College of the Bishops and the pope. Such a concept really illuminates synodality and why it begins with the people of God at the lowest level of the church hierarchy through consultation and dialogue.

It is important for the faithful to understand these Catholic doctrinal issues that are cloaked with metaphysical attributes, if we have to walk together towards a synodal Church. For example, in persona Christi Capitis only works when a priest celebrates the sacraments of the Holy Orders for Jesus. He does the action with the Holy Spirit in him. It cannot be a passive one 24/7 and it does not extend to Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers and deacons.

In view of this, therefore, a confounding question arises: when an immoral priest baptizes a person, does it nullify such an act? Similarly, when a pedophile bishop ordains your cura parruco, what effect does it have on the Masses you went to? Did the priest get the ontological gifts? Recently, a Filipino priest resigned when all the baptisms he performed were nullified by the diocesan bishop because he used “we” versus the word “I”.

These questions are valid topics for raising the laity’s awareness with a goal of diffusing the pervasiveness of undue deference. For example, the answer to the question about an immoral priest’s act of baptism. The answer is “no” because it was the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus who did the baptizing and therefore, the priest’s immorality was not at play. Similarly, the answer regarding the pedophile bishop is “nothing” because in persona Christi works the same way.

The priest who used the imprecise word was ordained in 1990 when the use of “We baptize” went unnoticed following a formula emphasizing the connection of the local church as a community, with the apostolic Church. This practice, however, was halted by the conservative Pope Benedict in 2008 upon the recommendation of the Doctrine of Faith (DOF).

Which brings up a point about the DOF’s legalistic approach that invalidated many baptisms because of the wrong choice of word from a formula created by men. This included an ordained priest in Detroit whose baptism in the 90’s was invalidated and had to be re-ordained to cure the defect. Following the same doctrine of in persona Christi, the baptisms should have been fine. Computers can be unforgiving, but the DOF cardinals had to make a point. (To be continued)


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