The Attitude Of Bishops And Priests

The Chilean episcopate provided the model for Latin America in the decades which preceded Vatican II. Since Vatican II, it is the Brazilian episcopate that has pointed out the road for us. They have found themselves at a very difficult crossroad, and many of them have played an important role. Among them, of course, stands Dom Helder Camara.

His life has been most interesting. He is the son of a public school teacher, and hence he grew up in an educa-ional atmosphere. He was ordained at the age of twenty-three, and was immediately entrusted with a task that was practically political in nature. Certain parties had agreed to include the Church and its rights in their program, and Helder Camara was to serve as the spokesman of the Church in connection with these groups. Being a great organizer, he did much to shape the whole structure of this coalition. Afterwards he was appointed Minister of Education in his own province, and then later in Rio de Janeiro. In short, up to the age of thirty he spent most of his working life in civil organisms of the State.

Camara got the idea of organizing an episcopal conference in Brazil. He went to speak to the papal Secretary of

State, who would later become Paul VI. The papal secretary of State liked the idea and appointed Camara Secretary of the new organism.

In 1955 Cardinal Gerlier of Lyons, a great missionary bishop in the tradition of Lienart and Suhard, asked Camara why he did not turn his organizing talents to the whole problem of the slums, the Brazilianfavelas. It was Gerlier's questioning that awoke the social conscience of Camara, as he himself has admitted.

The Brazilian episcopate is an exemplary one, and so it is not surprising that there have not been many priestly protest movements in Brazil. The top leadership has led the way, and the rest have followed. The lack of episcopal leadership in Argentina, on the other hand, explains why one of the major priestly movements in Latin America arose there: the movement of Priests for the Third World.10 The history of the Church in the Argentinian nation has been very conformist. Rarely if ever has it broken new ground or played a prophetic role. But this priestly movement is truly something new and extraordinary in Argentina.

The beginning of this priestly group goes back to meetings that took place in 1965 and 1966. At them priests discussed Vatican 11's pastoral constitution on the Church in the World of Today (Gaudium et spes), and the message of eighteen bishops from the Third World. The press referred to the discussion group as "Priests for the Third World," and the name stuck when it officially organized in Cordoba, Argentina, on May 1, 1968.

The most important fact about this movement is that its Members are exploring new ways to live the priestly life. he secular priesthood is the ecclesial institution which is most severely affected by the difficulties of the present-day situation. Bishops and members of religious orders have a certain "internal" environment within the Church which enables them, to a certain extent, to forget the outside world and its problems. The layman may suffer exclusion from the Church if he chooses to live his life in certain ways, but his life will still go on as before. The one who is caught in the middle is really the simple priest. He is a man of the Church, yet he is directly confronted with the world situation too. It is in connection with the institution of the priesthood that the most difficult problems have arisen during the course of Church history, and it is there that the most basic crisis is evident today.

In a strident article I van Illich has voiced the opinion that we shall soon see the end of the clerical state ("The Vanishing Clergyman," Critic, June-July 1967). His point is that within the context of what I have called "Christendom" the priesthood has been a profession similar to other accepted professions. But once Christianity separates itself from this cultural setting and prophetically confronts secular society, the clerical "profession" will no longer be a real possibility. The priest will have some other profession, but he will also officiate as a pastor of souls at the liturgy .The clerical status will disappear in the secular city, and indeed the process has been going on for some time already. It is evident among the priests who belong to the Argentinian movement, among priests in Peru who are part of the ONIS group, among the Golconda group in Colombia, and among the priests who were members of the Christians for Socialism movement in Chile. In all these groups we can see an attempt to explore and redefine the priesdy function in the Church and world of today.

The Roman Synod of 1971 discussed some secondary aspects of this w hole question. The question itself, however, will persist for some years to come because the priesdy institution is a central one. Only a solid theology of the ministry will be able to point out a pathway that is truly missionary and prophetic.

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