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'Clericalism is bad for priests and laity'

Vatican Insider interviews Cardinal-elect Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

  • Andrea Tornielli, Vatican City
  • Vatican City
  • February 14, 2014
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His recent nomination as cardinal, the Pope’s letter to the new cardinals, the Congregation’s work, a priest’s identikit and the clericalism risk: Just a few days before the Consistory, during which he will receive the red biretta, the Prefect Beniamino Stella talks to Vatican Insider about his first few months as head of the dicastery that is in charge of priests.

How did you learn about your nomination as cardinal?

“On Saturday 11 January, the day before the names were announced, I attended a pre-scheduled ordinary audience with the Pope in which we talked for some time about the dicastery’s work. Before taking his leave, the Holy Father told me my name was going to be in the list of new cardinals which he was going to publish the next day. He communicated the news to me in a very simple and calm way. One thing stuck in my mind in particular: when he told me the news, he looked me straight in the eyes, with a profound expression, as if to tell me: “have courage, God will help you.” It was a moment of great inner intensity for me, thinking of this new life commitment that puts me in direct contact with the Pope.”

What do you think of the letter Pope Francis sent to all new cardinals?

“It was deeply appreciated. It didn’t come as a surprise because it’s the kind of thing the Pope does. He encourages us to be genuine, sober and joyous. This letter did me a great deal of good. It brought to mind that fundamental Gospel message, which is the reason for which Jesus came into the world poor and humble. The Holy Father tells us to “lower ourselves” and invites us to hold the humble and servant Jesus’ feelings close to heart. Pope Francis urges us to receive this nomination “with pleasure and joy”, two terms which may seem like synonyms. I would prefer to interpret the word “pleasure” as a feeling of joy in our hearts, while “joy” perhaps stands for a calm and smiley face. The joy of gratitude, particularly to God and to the Holy Father is also important."

There has often been talk of an identity crisis among priests in today’s society. How do you perceive the ideal priest to be?

“The priest essentially exists to do what Jesus did. He helped the sick and all those who sought his assistance by showing the merciful side of God, healing souls, forgiving sins, proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, without kicking anyone out but understanding their needs and helping them to grow. So I would say that a priest is someone who wants to obey Jesus every day, even if this involves sacrifice, someone who makes the Father’s wish his daily sustenance. As priests we must never forget to be “one with Jesus” in order to continue the mission among people. As such, our priority is to “be priests” not to “work as priests”, otherwise we fall into the dispersive and harmful realm of activism.”

The Pope has warned against the risk of clericalism on a number of occasions. What is it and how does the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy see it?

“Clericalism” is a word that has been on the Pope’s lips a great deal in recent months. I think I am right in saying that what the Holy Father means when he refers to the term “clerical”, is that it describes the kind of priest who wants to give orders, who always thinks he knows best and becomes closed, hindering the mission of the Church. 

A clerical priest is a priest who withdraws into his own shell, into his own mindset and does not consult or listen to others, especially the laity, as he doesn’t recognise the role of lay people in the Church’s mission.

“Clericalism” is bad for priests because it distorts their mission and is harmful for the laity because it hinders their development as adult Christians. This word, “clericalism”, is a call to us priests to examine our consciences every day so that we don’t forget that being clerics means being in a condition to bear witness to the faith in a more efficient way and show deep commitment to our vocation.

Full interview: 'Clericalism is bad for priests and laity'

Source: Vatican Insider

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