Monday, January 28, 2013

Pope reassigns responsibility for seminaries, religious instruction an administrative move reaffirming his efforts to promote a Catholic revival in the West and greater adherence to traditional church teaching, Pope Benedict XVI has reassigned responsibility among Vatican offices for the religious education of laypeople and future priests.

According to two papal decrees released by the Vatican Jan. 25, responsibility for seminaries has shifted from the Congregation for Catholic Education to the Congregation for Clergy, and responsibility for catechesis has moved from the latter office to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

The pope announced the changes in October, during the world Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, but did not sign the decrees putting them into effect until Jan. 16.

Under the new regime, Pope Benedict wrote, the Congregation for Clergy is now in charge of the "promotion and governance of all that pertains to the formation, life and ministry of priests and deacons."

Emphasizing the need to link the preparation of seminarians with their lifelong education after ordination, the pope quoted a warning from Blessed John Paul II that any "discontinuity or even difference between these two formative phases would lead immediately to grave consequences for pastoral activity and the fraternal communion among priests, particularly those of different ages."

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, told the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, that his office is well-suited to supervising seminaries around the world, since its comprehensive responsibility for the "ministry and life of priests, the knowledge derived from that and the study of emerging problems regarding priests in the world" will serve as an "indispensable compass" for planning the preparation of future clergy.

The cardinal suggested a need for increased rigor in seminary admissions, calling for reinforcement of an "authentic profile of priestly identity" and rejecting what he said was a widespread misunderstanding that a vocation to the priesthood is a subjective choice, rather than a "person's response to an objective call from God, mediated by the church."

The Congregation for Catholic Education, having ceded responsibility for seminaries, will continue to supervise Catholic schools and universities around the world.

However, authority over religious instruction of lay Catholics, including catechisms published by national bishops' conferences and textbooks for religious education used in Catholic schools, now lies with the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, noted that the council, which was established only in 2010, will now exercise a significant "jurisdictional power" in addition to its former advisory role.

In his decree, Pope Benedict stressed the importance of catechesis for the new evangelization, a project aimed at reviving the faith in traditionally Catholic but increasingly secular societies.

"The particular historical moment we are living, marked among other things by a dramatic crisis of faith," requires learning sufficient to provide believers with answers to new questions, the pope wrote.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the council's president, wrote in the Vatican newspaper that the challenges for catechesis today include the pervasiveness of "scientific and technological culture" and widespread "religious illiteracy."

In his decree, the pope wrote that catechesis in the years since the Second Vatican Council has been marked by "grave errors in method and content, which have provoked deep reflection and thus led to the elaboration of some post-conciliar documents that represent new richness in the field of catechesis."

Pope Benedict has often stressed the importance of interpreting the teachings of Vatican II in continuity with the church's millennial traditions, and not as a radical break with the past.

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