Subject: Local Church Urgently Needs To Declericalize

TIMOR LESTE UCAN Column - Local Church Urgently Needs To Declericalize

By Hipolito Aparicio

August 15, 2008 | TL05570.1510

DILI (UCAN) -- "Declericalization" is a challenge facing Church leaders in much of the world, including the Catholic Church in Timor Leste.

The issue mainly refers to laypeople willingly assuming roles traditionally performed, if at all, by priests, whom Timorese Catholics regard as God's representatives. More generally, it concerns laypeople confessing their faith by taking active part in Sunday liturgies and devotional services at special times such as Christmas and Easter. 5693_1.jpg

Hipolito Aparicio

Many Catholics in the developing world have limited access to priests, the sacraments and devotions, but they are quite religious and want to be part of their Christian community. Looming in the background are generous Pentecostals keen to shower them with attention and pastoral care.

Sharing a challenging example from my personal experience may be helpful.

An old woman who spent almost 20 years working as a devoted cleaner at a church in Timor Leste told me about a relative who was hospitalized with cancer. Her parish had no resident priest, and the hospital's overworked nuns and zeladores (care-givers) could see her only briefly and episodically.

Every day, a Pentecostal community recently established in the country had members in her room praying for and comforting her, bringing her flowers and seeing to the needs of her family while she was in hospital.

The old woman told me it is no mystery why her sick relative considered joining that Pentecostal church. In the end, the family persuaded her to remain Catholic, but the outcome in many similar situations is not the same.

Examples like this may explain why Protestantism is making such headway in Timor Leste. Protestant ministers in a comparable context simply do not need the kind of rigorous commitment and training required of Catholic priests.

All one needs to do is hang out a shingle and, with the help of fellow community members, a pastoral worker is instantly created.

The environment is entirely different for a priest. He is expected to do everything on his own, so over a long period of time he must undergo hard training and evidence serious commitment. Therefore, the mentality of priests remains paternalistic and elitist.

If retaining souls is what the competition is all about, one must radically increase the number of priests, which likely would entail the lowering of standards, or else shift many responsibilities from priests to laypeople.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his March 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity), spoke against lowering standards for priests, thereby pointing toward increased lay involvement in pastoral work.

tl_dili.gif Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, during his time as leader of the Timor Leste Church (1988-2002), initiated such a low-profile change in the local Church by advocating the establishment of parish councils.

His idea was to encourage laypeople to take part in the Church's pastoral work, but some priests regarded it as premature or even too revolutionary.

Would it not be prudent to allow married men to be ordained as priests? This does not mean there should be "women priests" or gay priests, or that priests should get married. It is simply a call to allow viri probati (mature men) to be ordained. Otherwise, there will be more and more poaching of our sheep.

We obviously must avoid clericalizing laypeople. Our lay vocation is, very importantly, "consecration of the world." so we must remain in the world.

We can of course help perform some customary clergy chores but our main task should be sanctifying the world, and this includes evangelization. So training laypeople in their vocation and about its importance is needed, in line with the open support Pope John Paul II gave the Communion and Liberation lay ecclesial movement.

Then laypeople would see the importance of holiness in the world, as they work in the midst of ordinary life with their families and friends.

Then the Gospel can be handed from friend to friend, and more holy vocations to all the various states in life can arise.

How should we Catholics react when we consider the public testimony of local Pentecostal community members who went to the room of the old and devoted woman day after day, praying for and comforting her, bringing her flowers and attending to her family's needs while she was away?

Why is it that only a priest, or a layperson partially acting as a priest, can perform such services? These are corporal works of mercy that every member of the community can and, frankly, SHOULD do.

The issue is not so much how to adjust the roles of priests and laity. The question largely concerns how any member of a Catholic parish can donate time, and even goods, to help other members of the flock who may need help.

Offering comfort, food and flowers are not sacramental mysteries requiring only priests. Any of us laity can and should perform these acts of charity.

The point is that while Timor Leste's Catholic Church has the truth, it will continue to lose ground to Protestants who, besides spreading the Gospel, do much more in ministering to the people's social and psychological needs.

Catholics in most parishes apparently just show up for Mass and then leave. For Protestants, there is Sunday school for adults as well as children, and other social interaction that draws them closer and often is more fulfilling.

For some reason, the Church in Timor Leste decided that priests should do it all. Laypeople have no role, so they expect priests to do everything for them. Laypeople today are more capable than ever in various areas of expertise to serve the Church's pastoral needs, but priests keep accumulating functions. This happens when, for example, a parish priest overloaded with pastoral and sacramental works is named director of a diocese-wide educational foundation that needs dedication, good management and administrative skills.

We must honestly admit that many of our priests have never been trained to be good managers and administrators. However, from all that I see, the Church in Timor Leste has no interest to make changes, and I really think it does not even care that the Church is losing members.

Timor Leste's Catholic Church cannot justify keeping qualified laypeople from becoming involved in pastoral work, as the Second Vatican Council taught. We are lamentably far from implementing many of the Council's teachings.

An urgent, practical step forward must be declericalizing the local Church. -----

Hipolito Aparicio, 48, was born in Timor Leste, where he taught and directed Catholic schools for many years. More recently, he has served as a translator and been involved as manager of numerous NGO-sponsored projects.


Back to August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu