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Carlos A. Azpiroz Costa, o.p.
2/2/08

ORDO FRATRUM PRAEDICATORUM
Curia Generalitia

Rome, January 7, 2008
Feast of St. Raymond of Peñafort, O.P.

Prot. n. 17/08/28 PO

To:       All who have received the document Kerk en Ambt published by the Dutch Dominican Province.

From:   The Master and the General Curia of the Order of Preachers.

            In early September, 2007, the Dominican Province of The Netherlands published a booklet Kerk en Ambt and sent it to all the parishes. In addition this booklet was circulated beyond The Netherlands by the news media and the internet.  This booklet has provoked many different reactions from around the world.

            As a result, the General Curia of the Order, after discussion with our Dutch brothers, believes it is necessary to offer an official response of our position.  While we are sympathetic with the concern for a lack of ordained priests to minister to the People of God, we do not believe the solution proposed by our brothers is in harmony with the constant and authentic tradition of the Catholic Church.  Furthermore, we do not believe it was within their competence to call for pastoral action contrary to the practice of the Church.

            The enclosed response, by Father Herve Legrand, O.P., Ordinary Professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris and a noted French Ecclesiologist, represents the official position of the Curia of the Order of Preachers.  While we offer this article as a critique of the position published by our Dutch brothers, we are open to consider alternative solutions to the grave problems facing Holland and other parts of the Church.  However, a search for a solution must be within the faith of the Church and include those who have proper and ordinary authority both within the Order as well as the broader Church.

                                   Respectfully,

                                                                       Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, O.P.
                                                                                 Master of the Order
                                                           And the General Council of the Order of Preachers

Convento Santa Sabina (Aventino) – Piazza Pietro d’Illiria, 1 – 00153 ROMA
( +39 06 57940 204 - FAX  +39 06 575 0675 – e-mail  [email protected]

 

The Report of the Dominican Province of the Netherlands on
Ordained Ministry and the Eucharist

Critical reading on the request of the Master General of the Dominican Order by Fr. Hervé Legrand, OP

Faced with the very serious lack of priests in the Church of the Netherlands, the Dominican Province officially sent a report to the country’s 1,300 parishes urging them to have non-ordained Christians preside over the celebration of the Eucharist if the bishop refuses to ordain the man or woman appointed to this ministry by the parishioners.  “We urge parishes to act in this way,” p. 29)(1)

Requested by the Provincial and his Council, received and distributed by them, the report’s introduction specifies, “It is not meant to be a guideline or doctrinal position, but a contribution to renewed discussions on a deeper level” (p.6).  As such, this precision will elicit two remarks from any attentive reader.

First remark. This precision was necessary because with or without the assistance of his Council, the Provincial of a religious order as such has neither the capacity nor the responsibility for giving directives to the parishes of an entire country(2), let alone advising them to act against the common doctrine of the Catholic Church.  It is, of course, legitimate to suggest a debate to discuss poorly resolved serious problems.  Canon law guarantees Catholics this freedom(3) and even considers it a duty in certain circumstances(4).  The New Testament already encourages subjecting one’s own opinions to the discernment of other Christians, as Paul writes to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, “I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying”(5).  His advice to the Thessalonians is also familiar, “Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil”(6).

Second remark. It is surprising to see the Provincial and his Council characterize as an invitation to dialogue a report which actually calls for creating a fait accompli situation. While they expected it to contribute to an improved level of discussion, the report is in fact a call to action. Moreover, one may wonder how the authors can call for celebrating the Eucharist in a way contrary to Catholic doctrine with no precedent in the tradition.  The Lord’s Supper is not just one of the seven sacraments.  It is the most important sacrament, the sacrament of the unity of Christians.  How can such a report be other than a doctrinal position?  If the report’s approach is not hypocritical or contradictory, one may at least say that it derives from a paradoxical communication strategy(7)

Now that this approach has become the subject of debate, as any debate worthy of the name, it should be conducted according to clear, adequate procedures.  What follows is a critical analysis of the report from the perspective of generally accepted rules  of communication. These suppose that everyone concerned be given a fair hearing and this in a manner appropriate to the questions raised and respectful for the diverse skills required.  Without such a methodology, certain convictions will be vainly opposed to others, leading to a general frustration and providing no relief for a desperate situation.

I.         The pastoral disarray of the dioceses of the Netherlands justifies the authors’ sounding of the alarm. It is a cry of the Catholic conscience. This must be recognized, regardless of the intrinsic value of the theological and pastoral claims.

The statistics quoted in the report, which I have not verified, are striking.  In the diocese of Groningen, for example, half of the Sunday celebrations take place without a priest.  In the diocese of Den Bosch in 2004 alone, there were 95 fewer Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist than in 2003 and only 50 more Sunday services without Mass(8)

The report also reflects an understanding of liturgical and ecclesiological realities that has become increasingly deficient theologically.  We are far from the climate of the early fourth century, when during the reign Diocletian, the priest Saturninus gathered the Christian community together on Sunday, despite the imperial edict, knowing this would lead to his death by execution.  He stated, “We celebrated the dominicum fully aware of the consequences . . . Sine dominico esse non possumus.”(9)  Indeed, our current discussions revolve around power struggles: (Who has the power to consecrate?  Who has the right to appoint ministers?)  or the personal status of ministers (Married?  Single?  Men?  Women? etc)

The theological and pastoral situation described in the text seems to be as chaotic as in the first decades of the Reformation of the sixteenth century.  At least, so it seems to me.

Such is the seriousness of the situation that it is understandable that the Provincial and his Council took it upon themselves to sound the alarm at the request of the Provincial Chapter.  The Master of the Order and his Council have taken stock of the situation that motivated them and have asked them about the content of their report, which they cannot approve.

The present analysis is that of a theologian who has reflected especially upon the theology of the Church, a discipline both practical and dogmatic. The Provincial Chapter had requested that “a committee or working group of experts…study the theological aspects of the question.”(10)  However, the twenty-five page report leaves the impression of a real lack of critical thinking (II) and a neglect of generally accepted rules of communication. As for its doctrinal pronouncements, they appear too broad when compared with what theology offers.

These two limitations will prevent the report from accomplishing its objective. Let us consider why. 

II.        Inadequate Critical Reflection

Bringing together very different pastoral options requires the use of both theological reasoning and the art of communication.  Generalities that cannot be verified are unacceptable.  Without a critical conceptual framework that takes into account the complexity of reality, one’s arguments will not be heard.

   The report does not have a critical conceptual structure

The entire report is built on an opposition between the grassroots and the hierarchy.  Is it possible to accept such a general, simple idea without any reservations?  In twenty-one pages:

-  the term “official authority” (or its equivalent, “church authority,” “church officials,” “higher authority,” etc) is used 28 times. Two observations will be made regarding the repetition of these words:

1)  Almost without exception, the usage of these terms is pejorative. Authority is assimilated to, blocking (p.10, last §); prohibition (p. 10, last §); obstacle (p. 12, first line); impossibility (p. 12, last line). 

2)  Moreover, the Christians designated as “official bearers of authority” supposedly all agree on everything. This is unlikely. They are seldom considered personally – only once is a bishop designated as such (p.7). They are systematically ignorant of the “faith community experience,” which, by contrast, is valued as being presumably right. For example,

-  “from above” (official authority) is opposed to “from below” (grassroots, faith community level) on twenty-two occasions. In every one of them “From above” is negative and “from below” is positive.

This opposition, repeated fifty times in twenty-one pages (more than twice a page), will have a subliminal effect on readers. It will encourage no one to pursue dialogue with “official authority,” which is the goal sought by the Provincial Chapter.

First inadequacy: The report discredits one of the interested parties a priori.  Will this help bring about the dialogue between everyone concerned, requested by the Provincial Chapter?

Notwithstanding the authors’ intentions, the report does not give voice to everyone. The survey mentioned (“soundings,” p.15) says nothing about its methods, the population sample, or any statistical result. Consequently, characterizing the “grassroots” as generally in favor of all the report’s objectives without distinction will invite skepticism from even the moderately critical and will not facilitate open dialogue(11)

Furthermore, as noted above, the report disqualifies the bishops as legitimate participants in dialogue.  They are anonymous, legalistic administrators, far removed from the faith experience of the faithful, and know only how to “forbid, block, obstruct, and render impossible.”  So characterized, what desire will the bishops have to meet with their interlocutors? To put it in the terms of communication sciences, by making impossible what they ask for, the authors engage in a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” 

This is far from the wish of the Provincial Chapter to “create an open dialogue in which all interested parties might participate”(12).

Second inadequacy: By crediting the grassroots with all of the qualities once attributed solely to the hierarchy, the report simply reverses the problematic with which it contends, without doing anything to facilitate overcoming it.

The report deplores the opposition between the grassroots faith communities and the hierarchy(13), but it does not move beyond it. It is like turning over an hourglass – the same sand will continue to run through it. In fact, the “church from below” is mentioned 22 times, always in a positive way.  The “church from above” is mentioned 28 times, 24 times in a negative manner, and only four times in a positive manner.  The only teaching retained from Vatican II, often repeated, is that with the order of Chapters 2 and 3 of Lumen Gentium, the ecclesial pyramid has been inverted.  Will inverting the pyramid be enough to “renew discussion on a deeper level”(14) as the Provincial Chapter has asked?

Third inadequacy: systematic, yet hardly realistic, assessment of the virtues of the grassroots

Some familiarity with the social sciences could have prevented the report from giving the grassroots a credit that owes more to ideology or belief than to scientific analysis, based upon historical and sociological evidence.  Actual history shows that the grassroots is quite capable of opposing scientific progress (e.g., the cases of Darwin and Pasteur), technological development (mechanization), and social advancement (obligatory schooling, social security contributions). The same attitudes are displayed towards the arts (painting, for example) and show themselves in politics (witness the phenomena of populism and xenophobia). Parallel attitudes are recognizable in the life of the Church, such as the rejection of scholarly biblical exegesis and the tendency towards the fabulous (e.g., pseudo-apparitions).  A case which is even more stark comes to mind – because it was so closely modeled on democracy, German Lutheranism met with catastrophe.   Bearing in mind that Christian faith cannot be confused with grassroots opinion, even a majority one, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer and others made the redemptive choice to institute the “Confessing Church.” By overestimating the grassroots, the report betrays a blind spot in the sociology of knowledge. This has a parallel in the way the report presents the teaching of Vatican II concerning the “people of God,” specifically, as if it included the laity alone, when in fact it includes the episcopacy.

With respect to communication, a fourth inadequacy is worth noting.

Fourth inadequacy: the report confuses very different questions with the predictable result that none of them will be answered.

Towards the end, the report states the following normative criterion for resolving the crisis: “Those who preside in local celebrations (…) whether they be men or women, homo- or heterosexual, married or unmarried is irrelevant.”(15) 

The report invites debate, so let us debate. It is indeed important in crisis situations such as this to find to identify criteria for a solution. Professing fidelity to the vocation of friar preachers, the report opts for a militant attitude that can be called “prophetic” and seeks to put an end to all prejudice, a stance quite common in contemporary media, though notably only in the West. So disposed, it denounces the archaic aspects of Catholic culture and its unjust, arrogant, and hurtful attitudes towards married people, women, and homosexuals. However this may be, any method which consists in stating a priori a normative criterion of this sort warrants debate. Let us debate.  

First issue of debate: Such an attitude contradicts the goal stated by the Provincial Chapter, “to create an open dialogue in which all interested parties might participate.” By deciding that such is the criterion to be employed, the report at the outset demands that readers adhere to it rather than debate it! Moreover, the report constantly confuses analysis and normative judgments(16). Expertise and prophecy are certainly legitimate and necessary, but the simultaneous combination of them presents a question: Is it possible to be an expert, activist, and decision-maker at the same time? 

It is not necessary to have read Max Weber to realize that this is impossible. Governments usually avoid appointing farmers to the Ministry of Agriculture. If an open dialogue is what is really desired, it will be necessary to have experts, activists and decision-makers sit down together at the same table. This report, however, gives free rein to activist language, with the easily predictable risk of resulting in a cry in the wilderness. Such are the rules of social communication, and they apply even to Dominican friars.

Second issue of debate: Since the report “prophetically” lumps together several very different questions, it orchestrates its own failure to result in action and delays any possible good outcome, all in the name of a patently unattainable ideal. 

The authors of the report have made the effort to communicate in English so as to have access to the media of the English-speaking world. They are aware of the real consequences of the ordination of a homosexual bishop in the Episcopalian Church in the United States—at the national level, new and competing schismatic dioceses have been founded, while at the global level, the worldwide Anglican Communion has been ruptured. How could the Anglican Church of Nigeria, the largest in the world, accept full communion with this bishop, in a country where Islam claims a slight majority and is decidedly fundamentalist? Being a worldwide communion is a very important Christian issue – what happens when the ministers of communion become the cause of schism? Moreover, hasn’t such a struggle against homophobia, perceived as inextricably bound up with Western cultural imperialism, had the adverse effect of reinforcing it in several regions of the world? In short, those isolated in schism are no longer capable of influencing the larger Anglican Communion. Are the activists satisfied with this result?  Was this their intention? 

Returning to the report, in stating a criterion that combines the ordination of married men, women and homosexual persons, the authors were aware of this precedent, which constitutes a textbook case. Who cannot see that the report so diminishes the real possibility of ordaining married Christians? Doesn’t trying to change everything have the effect that nothing changes? As far as action is concerned, we already know the answer.

The report goes further. To its discourse of conviction it adds a call to action which we have already mentioned: “We urge parishes to act in this way with a great amount of self-confidence and courage”(17).  This amounts to encouraging parishes to excommunicate themselves, should they follow through. As early as about 120, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “May only the Eucharist presided over by the bishop or his delegate be considered legitimate”(18), and in 2008, every Catholic Eucharist still remembers the local bishop in prayer. 

It is clear then that the report not only risks worsening the polarization of the Church in the Netherlands, it also risks encouraging schism in the very context of the celebration of the sacrament of unity.

Conclusion

At the end of this first reading, undertaken from the perspective of communication, two conclusions emerge for the Dominicans. 

1.  The report and its subsequent circulation are hardly faithful to the Provincial Chapter’s resolutions.

The request to include all of the interested parties was not respected.  A committee of experts capable of “renewing discussion on a deeper level” (p.6) was not engaged, and a “communication strategy” (p.6) was not elaborated.  There is nothing new about opposing the grassroots and the hierarchy. The uncritical confidence accorded to the grassroots is hardly scientific. Moreover, combining scholarly expertise and prophetic stances is not an effective strategy.  

2. The report and its subsequent circulation are doctrinally questionable because of their inadequate methodology.

The Provincial of the Netherlands and his Council were not sufficiently critical in their choices of their methods of reflection and action. Any fruitful debate with them must begin with an acknowledgement of this. Directly opposing them with “doctrinal arguments,” even if this can and should be done, would be an error. They would only be rejected by those authors who see themselves as the proponents of the right solution and the representatives of an open-minded evangelical theology, confronted with the “authorities” who betray the Gospel by their legalistic institutionalism and cultural backwardness. If there is to be a real doctrinal debate, the most important step is to understand how the authors came to adopt this mindset. 

III.      The doctrinal criteria suggested by the report cannot be the basis for the initiatives recommended to the parishes.

To examine the doctrinal accuracy of the initiatives recommended to the parishes, we will keep in mind that the Provincial Chapter had asked for “a committee or working group of experts to study the theological aspects” (p.5) and “renew discussions on a deeper level” (p.6).  Doctrinally, the present text does not meet these requirements, it seems to us, because it is too weak in several of its particular statements are too weak (3.1) and especially because it is mistaken about the basis it claims for the parish initiative—having celebrate the Lord’s Supper someone whom the bishop has refused to ordain.

3. 1 The specific arguments of the report have many drawbacks.

The report intended to be both the work of experts and a call to action for all the parishes in the country. Could this explain its grand historical simplifications and numerous doctrinal assertions that are at best inexact? This may be illustrated by the passage at the top of page 18, which is typical of the lot of them. The report claims that “in the course of time, a pyramidal vision comes about.” The report describes this vision using the terms of Pseudo-Denys, who did not, however, have any influence whatsoever upon Western liturgical texts(19). Neither did he touch the equilibrium of ministries, described as late as the twelfth century by the blessed Guerric Igny, a Cistercian monk:

“We should not believe that the virtues we have just spoken of are necessary for the priest alone, as if he were consecrating alone, as if he were offering the sacrifice of Christ alone.  He does not sacrifice alone, he does not consecrate alone, but the entire assembly of the faithful around him consecrates with him, offers the sacrifice with him.”(20)

On this point, St. Thomas Aquinas and scholasticism will indeed introduce a departure, in understanding the action of ministers along the lines of Aristotelian instrumental causality, which rules out the perspective of pseudo-Denys. In fact, the influence of the pseudo-Denys “over the course of time” amounts to no more than his undeniable influence on the French School, whose understanding of the figure of the priest was dominant in large Catholic circles in the nineteenth century.

The following paragraph twice affirms that in Catholic theology the sacraments are efficacious only if they are administered by ordained ministers”(21).  Yet, Christian men and women can baptize in emergency situations and they are the ministers of their marriages (the presence of a priest prevents clandestine marriages). In three instances the report remarks that the priest is essentially changed because his whole person and essence are sanctified. Yet nothing of the sort is found in scholastic theology, particularly not in Thomas Aquinas, for whom the grace of ordination is a grace for other Christians, not for the priest himself. Even the most mediocre theology manuals taught this on the eve of Vatican II(22).

The text then states that “in this way an essential distinction between laypeople and the ordained minister comes into being, which is indelible.”  The adjective “indelible” must be an allusion to the fact that one cannot receive baptism, confirmation, and ordination twice, a fact that the Council of Trent links to the impression of a “permanent mark in the soul.” But, the Council of Trent did not teach that the character of the sacrament ontologically changes the priest(23), as the report claims(24). Neither is any such teaching to be found in later manuals of theology(25). If such an erroneous opinion was held by some Dutch Catholics, theological experts should have corrected it. In a country with diverse Christian denominations, the report has simply adopted a Protestant misconception found even in scholarly encyclopedias(26)

One could object – of course, it is too bad that parishioners receive imprecise and even erroneous information. Yet, in relation to the heart of the issue, isn’t this “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel” (Mt 23:24)? 

It is because the basic problem posed by the report is serious that the competence of the committee of experts should be verified. The preceding will have shown that it is hardly first rate(27).  Furthermore, the main argument of the report is even more inadequate. 

3.2 The report does not prove its main argument that according to tradition, Vatican II, and contemporary theology, a Eucharistic celebration presided by Christians elected by parishioners but not ordained by the bishop is legitimate and authentic.

Starting with the call to action that concludes the report, we will discuss its three main theses, one after the other.  While the first thesis is acceptable, the other two, as explained, are inadmissible in Catholic doctrine.

            1.  Parishioner participation in the election of ordained ministers is theologically legitimate.  “With some emphasis we urge our faith communities, the parishes…to choose their own leader or team of leaders from their own midst” (p.28).

This type of participation poses no theological difficulties.  It is a question of whether or not it is feasible and advisable to do so.  In any case, history shows that it was frequently practiced in the Germanic countries and in Italy until the Reformation and even later(28).  On this point, the report’s general scholarly expertise is correct (p.13, p.24, p.25).  The report could have nevertheless insisted on the fact that even if the election is part of the ordination process, being elected has never been enough for being ordained.  Section III on the Eucharist unfortunately does not discuss the strong correlation between Eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion.  This is a position held unanimously in the Church since its origin.  Considering it normal for non-Christians to participate in the Eucharist, the report loses sight of the fact that the Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of the unity of the Church(29).  The plea for the Eucharist to be celebrated by a Christian not ordained by his bishop clearly negates this fundamental correlation.

2. The celebration of the Eucharist by a Christian not ordained by the bishop is contrary to Catholic doctrine and is thus a schismatic practice.  “On the basis of the priority of the people of God over the hierarchy…If a bishop should refuse such a confirmation or ordination on the basis of arguments not involving the essence of the Eucharist, such as obligatory celibacy, parishes may be confident that they are able to celebrate a real and genuine Eucharist…(p.28)  We urge parishes to act in this way with a great amount of self-confidence and courage” (p.29).

Celebrating the Eucharist outside the communion of the Church and against the local bishop has always been understood as the institution of schism and its most visible sign, as the works of: St Ignatius of Antioch (around 120)(30) ; St. Cyprian (around 250)(31) ; St. Jerome (early fifth century)(32); St. Augustine (early fifth century)(33); Pope Pelagius (mid-sixth century)(34) all demonstrate.  Moreover, until this day, at all Catholic Eucharistic celebrations, prayer is offered for the local bishop to symbolize this communion.

The only argument in support of claiming that a Eucharist celebrated outside communion with the local bishop is “real and genuine” is the priority of the people of God over the hierarchy at Vatican II.  This argument is completely fallacious, and not even one text can be cited in support of it.  If this were the case, the debate would be over.  The reality of the People of God(35) implies that the minister is both in the Church and before the Church(36).  If the minister is no longer understood as in the Church and before the Church, the key to understanding the identity of ministers and local communities is lost(37).

Any local community that decides to follow the report’s recommendations would be turning its back on the ecclesiology of the People of God, and end up in sectarianism.  The community thus would also be turning its back on Reformed ecclesiology, which allows non-ordained Christians to preside in exceptional situations, but always with the required delegation of pastoral authority, and not against this authority.  No theologian of any Christian confession would recognize Catholic or Orthodox ecclesiology in the report, because both Churches establish an intrinsic bond between Eucharistic and ecclesial communion.  Rejecting this foundational bond (cf. I Corinthians 11:17-34) will not resolve anything.  To the contrary, this bond, as it was eventually understood, is the reason why pastors must be ordained.  Encouraging parishes to take this action purely and simply amounts to exhorting them to schism.

3.  The call to action is based neither on Vatican II, nor on theological works. “In conclusion, we would like to emphasize once more that our argument is based on statements of the Second Vatican Council and on publications of professional theologians and pastoral experts which have appeared since this council”(38)

It is impossible to find a single text from Vatican II that would justify what the report advocates. Neither the content nor the “spirit” of Vatican II legitimate refusing communion with the local bishop by celebrating a Eucharist presided by non-ordained Christians. Lumen Gentium explicitly refuses it(39).

In the final bibliography citing the works of renowned theologians, it is also impossible to find even one specific, verifiable quotation in support of the report’s argument. Although Fr. Schillebeeckx does not rule out the hypothesis that celebrating the Eucharist without a priest in extreme cases like persecution would be possible, this remains just a hypothesis in his work(40). All the more, he does not imagine the very different case in which someone whom the bishop refused to ordain could preside over the Eucharist(41).

The parishioners to whom the report is addressed will use the same serious standards to assess it as they use in the rest of their lives.  If a family member is seriously ill, they will trust doctors with medical degrees.  In case of legal problems, they will consult an attorney certified by the bar.  In the present case, they will surely wonder whether they can consider truly theological a proposition that no faculty of Catholic theology in the world could support.

 

General Conclusion

Could the Order of Friars Preachers, any more than the faculties of theology, approve the conclusion of a report that clearly contradicts Catholic doctrine and calls all the country’s, or even the world’s parishes, to take action?  No one could be surprised that the Master General, who was not informed about the report beforehand, should take the appropriate measures when faced with such a public initiative.  His meetings with the Provincial leaders will probably be more than just debates.  He will pass judgment on the matter with his Council.

In theological terms, it must be recognized that the provincial leaders’ sounding of the alarm is justified as such. It is not enough to point out their doctrinal errors and problematic communication strategy, although these could delay the solution to a problem that led them to the radical position I believed needed to be rigorously criticized. 

The report is right to emphasize that all of the legitimate ecclesiological consequences have not been drawn from Vatican II.  This is obvious.  Furthermore, according to Vatican II, the current status of the priest is not the only one possible.  Presbyterorum Ordinis 16 states that “perfect and perpetual continence is not demanded by the very nature of priesthood” and praises Catholic priests who are married(42).  In light of the last sentence of the Code of Canon Law, “the salvation of souls which is always the supreme law in the Church,” pastors could modify the current rule of celibacy if this were to prove to be the principal cause of the priest shortage.

However, sending the report to all the parishes in the country has caused a real problem.  Such an action goes far beyond appealing to Catholic public opinion. Upon an utterly baseless foundation, the report contains call to action whose consequences could be very grave.  If they acknowledge that their choice was more than a misstep, the leaders of the Netherlands Province should be able to count on the help of the Master General of our order in a context removed from secular frameworks of obedience, understood as giving and carrying out orders.  Perhaps we will see in the resolution of what has become an “affair,” the truth of Proverbs 18:19, “a brother helped by his brother is like a fortress(43)?

If this is the case, the Order could perhaps, while clearly disavowing the present report, publicly state his concern upon seeing so many members of the people of God “wandering astray as a flock without pastors” (Mk 6:34). 

Fr. Hervé Legrand, OP
Master in Theology
Honorary Professor, Institut Catholique de Paris



(1)   This paper cites the page numbers of the English translation of Kerk en Ambt. As it is the work of one of the authors of the report, its accuracy may be a matter of confidence.

(2)   Or the entire world, since the English translation was published on the internet.

(3)   See Canon 218, “Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful  freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions  on  matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the magisterium of the Church.”

(4)   See Canon 212 § 3, “According to the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, they have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.”

(5)   I Co 10: 15.

(6)   I Thess 5: 19-22.

(7)   This type of communication, characterized by internal contradiction, has been studied in particular by P. Watzlawik.  See Watzlawick , J. Helmick Beavin  and D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication. .A Study of Interactional Patterns,  Pathologies and Paradoxes,  New York  1967.

(8)   Bottom of p. 14 and top of p. 15.

(9) T. Ruinart, Acta primorum martyrum sincera, Paris, 1649, p. 414. The Conference of Bishops of Italy used this expression for its pastoral letter on Sunday, cf.  « Senza la domenica non possiamo vivere »  in Il Regno-documenti 3/2005, 78-80, and gave title the same the Eucharistic Congress it organized in Bari in May 2005. 

(10) p. 5.

(11)   “create an open dialogue in which all interested parties might participate”,” think of a strategy to facilitate this open dialogue,” p. 5; lines 1 and 3 from the bottom.

(12)   See above footnote 11

(13)   p. 13, the next to the last paragraph suggests « combined action of below and above ; » idem., p.14, second § ; similar suggestion p.19 ; the second paragraph p.25 speaks of the participation of the leaders of neighboring communities in the ordination of the local bishop.

(14)  Bottom of p. 6. 

(15)   Top of p.28.

(16)   Thus pages 13-14 are very normative even though they are in the analytic section of the report. 

(17)  First line of p.29.

(18)   Aux chrétiens de Smyrne, VIII, 1 (Sources chrétiennes, p.162-163).

(19)   It is easy to show that Denys did not influence Western liturgy.  See for example Benedicta Droste, « Celebrare » in der römischen Liturgiesprache. Eine liturgie-theologische Untersuchung (Münchener Theologische Studien.  II  Systematische  Abteilung, 26. Band), Max Hueber Verlag, München  1963, who concludes “" celebrare"  is always a public community action. »  Rupert Berger,  Die Wendung « offerre pro » in der römischen Liturgie (Litugiegeschichtlichen Quellen und Forschungen  41), Aschendorff, Münster 1965 shows that the priest does not act instead of the faithful who would not rightfully offer the sacrifice.

(20) Blessed Guerric of Igny, Sermon 5 on Purification, PL 185, 87 : « Neque credere debemus quod soli  sacerdoti  supradictae virtutes  sint necessariae, quasi solus consecret et et sacrificet corpus Christi. Non solus sacrificat, non solus consecrat, sed totus conventus  fidelium qui astat, cum illo consecrat, cum illo sacrificat »

(21)   Further on the report states that this “has been recorded in canon law” and that “therefore (the ordained priest) is the only one who has the power to perform sacramental actions which are ‘valid’ (that is recognized by l aw).”

(22)   According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles IV, 74, this grace is given for the “construction” of the Church.  He adds that the “grace of God helps the minister.”  A typical theology manual, J. M. Hervé, Manuale theologiae dogmaticae. Nova editio a C. Larnicol recognita., p.409, in the 50th and final version, states only that ordination “infuses more grace” to him who already has sanctifying grace. This is so he may “dispense the sacraments in a dignified way.” It says nothing about ontological transformation!

(23)   On this subject, see the pre-Vatican II dissertation of the Jesuit Belgian, professor of dogmatic theology at the Gregorian in Rome, J. Galot, La nature du caractère sacramentel. Étude de théologie médiévale, Bruges, 1957,  especially  p. 224, “Trent explicitly wanted to avoid determining the nature of the character and did not condemn the opinions of any particular school, even that of the pure relation of reason suggested by Durand de Saint Pourçain.”  Further on, “(Trent)  explicitly left out characterizing the Decree to the Armenians because it entails a certain doctrine on the nature and function of character.”

(24)   For the third time, p. 19, line 1, “transferred into a different order of being.”

(25)   Cf. supra footnote 22.

(26) See Theologische Realenzyklopädie,   in the article Amt/Aemter, where C.H. Ratschow (University of Marburg) states p. 611: "Es bleibt im Katholizismus zwischen glaübigen Christen und den Träger des Amtes ein Wesensunterschied (LG 10). Diese ist in den evangelischen Erfassungen des Amtes aber nicht der Fall. (In Catholicism there is a difference of essence between the faithful and those who hold the official ministry.  This is not the case in Protestant conceptions of ministry.)  The same incorrect interpretation of Lumen Gentium 10 is found in L'Encyclopédie du Protestantisme (Ed. du Cerf, 1995) in the article Prêtre  ( P. L. Dubied, University of Neuchâtel), p.1208,  “Some aspects of the figure of the priest in the Roman Church of the sixteenth century have lasted up to and including Vatican II (cf. the difference in essence of the ordained minister).”  Here is the text of Lumen Gentium: Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree (licet essentia et non gradu tantum differan), the common priesthood (sacerdotium commune)  of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood (sacerdotium ministeriale seu hierarchicum), are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.”  The Protestant interpretation is understandable only if one confuses the person and the function, reading sacerdotes (nomen personarum) where Vatican II wrote sacerdotium (nomen actionis).

(27)   Theologians will note that liturgical renewal has had hardly any influence: near absence of the epiclesis; insufficient articulation of one/all/a few (p. 13, the request that everyone say the words of the consecration is not contested, but rather a good development p.14); the obsession with the consecration of hosts is fortunately criticized as ambiguous, but is not sufficiently corrected, as it is present throughout the study; reducing priesthood to sacerdotal ministry is contested, but its specificity as minister of the Word is hardly mentioned.  The report seems to let readers believe that a priest is the one who “says valid Masses.” 

(28)   . D. Kurze, Pfarrerwahl im Mittelalter, Cologne, Böhlau Verlag, 1966.  This type of election still formally takes place in the diocese of Saint Gall in Switzerland.

(29)   As stated on p.22, if we have understood correctly, “The Eucharist (…) is a table which is open for people from different religious traditions.”  The report did not specify “Christian traditions.”

(30)   Cf. Lettre aux Magnésiens 7, 2 (Sources chrétiennes 10 bis, p.101).

(31)   Around 250, St Cyprian writes, “Do those who celebrate in opposition to the bishops believe they are with Christ?”  L’unité de l’Église 17 (Sources chrétiennes  500, p. 224-227) .  See also Letter 43,5, “Another altar may not be built, another sacerdotal ministry cannot be instituted outside of the unique altar of the unique sacrifice.”  In Letter 73, 2, he describes the schism of Novatian as “pitting altar against altar and offering illegitimate sacrifices.”

(32)   “Saying one altar is like saying one faith, one baptism, one Church,” in In Isaiam prophetam

5, 19 (PL 24, 186).

(33)   “If we are united, why are there two altars in the same city?”,  In Epist. Joh. 3, 7 (PL 35, 2001).

(34)   “There is only one Body of Christ, only one Church.  An altar separated from the rest of the body cannot truly consecrate the Body of Christ.”  Ep 24, 14 (ed. Gasso-Battle, p.76).

(35)   The Dominican Yves Congar, an authority on the interpretation of Lumen Gentium, understands the constitution on the Church quite differently.  “The category People of God makes it possible to affirm both (author’s emphasis) the equality of  the faithful in the dignity of Christian existence and the organic or functional  inequality of the members.”  He adds, “the idea of the People of God, however rich pastorally and theologically  it may be, is alone unable to express the reality of the Church.” “ The Church: The People of God “ , Concilium 1, 1965, pp. 24 et 35 

(36)   This is present in the report on p.13, where ordination is described as “combined action of ‘below’ and ‘above’”, or, in more appropriate terms on p. 25, “the laying on of hands by leaders of neighbouring communities creatively expressed the collegiality among the local church communities.”

(37)   Cardinal Kasper takes this point as the basis of point the following axiom.  “A community without a priest is a contradiction in itself, and celebrating the Eucharist without priestly ministry is impossible…This is also true in extremely distressing situations (…)  the rule is even more valid in our situation of a relative lack of priests; priests can only be replaced by priests.”  Sacrement de l’unité. Eucharistie et Église, Paris, Éditions du Cerf, 2005, p. 25 (Original : Sakrament der Einheit. Eucharistie und Kirche, Freiburg i. B., 2004).

(38) p. 29.

(39)   Lumen Gentium n° 26 states it expressly.  “Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the bishop.”

(40)   In the Epilogue of the French version, Plaidoyer pour le peuple de Dieu, Paris 1987, he acknowledges that “the responsibility for demonstrating the legitimacy of exceptional celebrations belongs to those who consider them legitimate”, p. 301, and “my submission to the Constitution Lumen Gentium is complete”, p. 303, cf. the previous footnote.

(41)   Maybe such a position is held by Dutch writers that were not translated into English in this report. 

(42)   PO continues, “It permanently exhorts all those who have received the priesthood and marriage to persevere in their holy vocation so that they may fully and generously continue to expend themselves for the sake of the flock commended to them.”

(43)   This text is constantly cited, both in the East and in the West, to demonstrate the synodal practices of the Church.  Here it is quoted according to its translation in the Septante and then by the Vulgate.  “Frater, qui adjuvatur a fratre, quasi civitas firma et iudicia quasi vectes urbis sunt.”  Literally, a brother helped by his brother is like a fortress and their judgment is like the locks of a fortified city’s doors.” 

This is the official English text of the letter of the Magister of the Dominican Order and the attached official translation of the document of f. Hervé Legrand.
Published under the responsibility of Kerk Hardop , Netherlands .


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