Winter 1996

Priestly Ministry at the Service of Ecclesial Communion

Marc Ouellet

"The future of the mission of the Church and Christian communities will come about through a development of a missionary consciousness that involves all of those who are baptized."

"Pastoral leadership, in the sense of specific ministries, is now in the hands of the laity, religious men and women, and priests. The tension between the clergy and the laity is gradually giving way to a collaboration which bears witness to the communion of persons in the Church."1

Such was Msgr. Bernard Hubert's address to the Holy Father in the name of the bishops of Québec, during the ad limina visit in May 1993. His account reflects the new ministerial practices2 that are increasingly on the rise in the various dioceses. It is worth remarking that these new practices do not intend to establish a temporary substitute leadership while awaiting an increase of vocations to the priesthood. They carry out an understanding of the Church-communion which attempts to integrate the various ministries in the service of the common mission.

As legitimate as it may be, this understanding has its limits and dangers. To be persuaded of these dangers, it is enough to cast a glance at Risquer l'avenir3 [Risking the Future], which pictures the future of Christian communities almost by making an abstraction of the specific role of the priests. A new leadership of pastoral agents will thus take over for the aging clergy. Some would no doubt wish to turn the page and bid farewell to the clericalism that has characterized the Church's development in our country. But do we not risk compromising the future if we do not give the priestly ministry its due place?

It goes without saying that such an evolution in the understanding of the ministry does not occur without shocks and bruises. The priests in the field experience it vividly. Many, even among those most open to collaboration with the laity in personal matters, live the readjustments of ministerial responsibilities only painfully. Confronting the vageuness of certain situations, they experience frustrations and begin to ask questions about their identity. Especially when they happen to be displaced by "lay pastors" whose spiritual formation does not compare with theological competence, and who threaten to replace the old clericalism with another of equally shabby quality.


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1. The Visit of the bishops of Québec to Rome, Monsignor Bernard Hubert's address to Pope John Paul II," in l'Église de Montréal, 27 May 1993, 520.

2. The Committee of Ministers of the Bishops' Assembly of Québec, Les nouvelles practiques ministérielles (Fides, 1993).