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Benedict's view of priesthood

 |  NCR Today

This essay by John Cornwell, The Pope, the people and the paedophiles, has several incisve points about the current state of the Catholic church. Some highlights:

Pope Benedict XVI will be coming to Britain this September. For a man of 82, he has a light step. Yet for the remainder of his papacy he will be travelling the world weighed down like Marley's ghost with the invisible chains and burdens of an agonising crisis. The scandal of the world's Catholic paedophile priests may become the greatest catastrophe to afflict the Church of Rome since the Reformation.

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John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger ... shared an elevated view of the priesthood which proclaimed that the sacrament of ordination bestowed special graces on a priest, enabling him to withstand the particular temptations that went with his office. John Paul II spoke of the priesthood as a status above that of the angels. Both men simply could not believe that priests could be abusers on anything but a very minor and exceptional scale. Benedict has been forced to alter that opinion, but he continues to think of the abuse as a spiritual lapse, rather than a psychological, social and criminal problem. Priestly paedophile abuse, in his view, is a failure of priesthood, a failure of holiness, asceticism and piety. It is a great sin rather than a great crime. His strategy for dealing with the crisis is accordingly based on that conviction.

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Had Benedict cited John Henry Newman as an exemplar of priesthood, rather than John Mary Vianney, he might have proposed a preparation and style of priesthood more suited to the pressures of Catholic pastors in the modern world. ... Newman, whatever his sexual tendencies, surely lived a life of chastity. But he believed that a priest should enjoy a permanent companionship, with all the mutual affection and support that such a relationship implies. Catholic clericalism, however, has traditionally involved the cauterising of permanent emotional ties, thereby contributing to the crisis that led to defecting and defective priests.

In Newman's view, formation for the priesthood should be done on the job, in parishes, rather than in an enclosed monastic hothouse. His idea of a priestly lifestyle could not be more different from the outlandish asceticism of John Mary Vianney, or the exalted notion of John Paul II and Benedict.

Make sure you read the full essay.

John Cornwell's new book, Newman's Unquiet Grave: Portrait of a Reluctant Saint, will be published by Continuum on 31 May

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