In an article published by L'Osservatore Romano today-- the sixth article commenting on the recent Vatican instruction on collaboration between the clergy and the laity-- the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reflected that the Vatican's warnings in that document were prompted by abuses which are common particularly in Northern Europe, but also in North America and Australia. It is important, he said, to avoid further confusion about the different roles of clerics and lay people.
Cardinal Ratzinger urged that any lay people who are being trained for collaborative ministries should be given "adequate, coherent theological and pastoral formation." That training, he added, should guard against the development of a "functional," or "pragmatic," or "utilitarian" view of Church ministry. It should also clearly indicate the special role of the sacerdotal priesthood, and inculcate a strong "sense of the Church." Such formation, the cardinal considered, will avoid two related problems: the "devaluation" of the priestly ministry and the "clericalization" of the laity.
Cardinal Ratzinger deplored the "relaxation" of Church norms regarding the roles of priests and lay workers, saying that this trend has led to theological confusion. When lay people no longer clearly understand the distinction between "extraordinary" ministers and ordained priests, he noted, there will be much less attraction to priestly vocations, and lay people may slip into an exaggerated understanding of the "priesthood of all believers"-- an understanding that is common in Protestant communions.
The Vatican instruction, the cardinal pointed out, is fully supportive of lay people and their work for the Church. A proper recognition of the lay vocation, he said, would lead to a deeper understanding for the responsibilities of lay people in evangelization, religious instruction, and the work of transforming society.