Visiting Bishop Fritz Lobinger’s ideas on
Priesthood in two forms:
Priests and Elders.
In 2008, nearly 49,631 of the world’s 218,865 parishes did not have a
resident priest. (CARA)
"The Brazilian bishops, especially the pope's close friend Cardinal Claudio
Hummes, have asked Pope Francis to enable married priests in Brazil to
return to their pastoral ministry. With its 140 million Catholics, Brazil needs
at least 100,000 priests but it only has 1,800, (National Catholic Recoder
Dec 30, 2016)
In 2014 Bishop Erwin Krautler, a bishop who leads a geographically
expansive diocese in the Brazilian rain forest met with Pope Francis to
discuss how much the priest shortage affects the church in the Southern
Hemisphere. Krautler’s diocese only has 27 priests for 700,000 Catholics.
As a result, many Catholics might only hear Mass a couple of times a year.
Salford Diocese has revealed plans to cut its number of parishes from 150
to 75. By 2020 it is estimated that there will only be 108 priests (under 75
years of age) in pastoral ministry. “To allow the parishes to be missionary,
lay people will have to take up not only a great deal of the administration
but also their rightful part as co-workers with the priests in the task of
evangelisation and other ministries. (Bishop John Arnold)
4. A church order which has developed
historically can both help and hinder
what it was intended for.
5. There are promising developments in
the explosion of lay ministries across
the church the development of which
are often hindered by the absence of a
male celibate priest.
6. These new developments in many
respects parallel the Spirit inspired
diversity of the New Testament
7. After Vatican II which changed the
basis on which celibacy is seen as a
necessary requirement for ordination, it
is clear that celibacy is no longer a
requirement for ordination.
8. However the Church is extremely
reluctant to change the rule of celibacy.
9. Where do we go from here?
1. The community has a right to
2. The decisive element in
ministry is the recognition of the
minister by the community
3. Problems arise when priestly
ministry is no longer related to
the church community but to the
power associated with
The 12 and the other apostles and the prophets we hear
about in Acts and the Didache were sent, by their dead and
risen Lord, to continue his proclamation of the kingdom and
his enacting of reconciliation.
This is initially based on first hand experience of Jesus.
When they died the communities they had founded were
conscious of what they had received and of the importance
of passing this apostolic foundation on.
The Pastoral Letters begin to work out
ways to carry on the apostolate, but
there’s no apostolic succession, no
fixed form of ministry. However by the
end of the first century we have a
range of terms for ministers
presbyters, episcopoi /overseers,
and diaconoi/deacons but it is difficult
to work out exactly what their duties
were e.g. presbyters are sometimes
Interestingly the ministry did not
develop around the Eucharist or
liturgy but from building up the
community. Such minsters/ leaders
are models for the community
through whose lives and ministry the
community can see the Gospel of
What is important is the continuity of
the story of, and about ,Jesus, and the
continuity of a radical discipleship
following him under the inspiration of
his teaching of the kingdom of God.
In the third century Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage , martyred in 258,
introduced a new word. He loved the Old Testament, and applied its
institutions to the Christian Church. He begins to talk of the Eucharist in
terms of OT priestly sacrificial language and he calls the minister at the
eucharist sacerdos/priest. A link the earliest church avoided as Christ
was the only high Priest (cf Hebrews) and the community is a priestly
people but whose leaders are not called priests.
This introduction of the word sacerdos/priest had unforeseen effects.
The Hebrew priests were required to abstain from sex before their service
in the Temple. By the end of the 4th Century married priests were required
to abstain from sexual intercourse the night before they celebrated
Eucharist. As the Western Church began to celebrate daily Eucharist
abstinence became a virtually permanent condition for married priests
and in the 12th century it was turned into the law of celibacy. Increasingly
Priesthood (as sacerdos rather than presbyteros) becomes seen in
relation to the cult rather than the community.
In the council of Chalcedon in 451
the rule is that no-one is to be
ordained unless a community was
assigned to him i.e. only someone
called by a particular community
to be its pastor and leader
authentically receives ordination.
So the community maintains its
right to leaders and takes the
initiative and the link between the
community and its leader was
such that he could not be moved
to another community except out
of need. And a minister who for
personal reasons ceased to
preside over a community
returned to being a layman.
Recognition of his leadership as
arising from the community and
recognised as the gift of the Holy
Spirit to them is crucial.
Concelebration referred originally
to the community celebrating with
the priest presiding in a servant
role. The Eucharist in the early
community is a function of the
community not the individual.
Tertullian argued at the beginning
of the 3rd century that where no
ministers had been appointed the
people, the laity, must celebrate
Eucharist and baptise.( A right that
Augustine would subsequently
deny the laity).
At the 3rd and 4th Lateran
Councils (1179 & 1215) the
emphasis is on the individual
discerning a priestly calling,
making it known, training and
being ordained and waiting for
appointment by a bishop.
The claim of the community ,
previously so important an
element of ordination, now
disappears. Now the 4th Lateran
Council declares that the
Eucharist can only be celebrated
by a validly and legitimately
Christian leadership is detached from
the local church. The great boundary
is now between the ordained priest
and the layperson. Ordination, now a
sacred rite, gives a man a status and a
power he did not have before,
irrespective of any involvement with a
local church. It opens up practises like
private masses. Now ordination gave
him power in connection with the
mystical body of Christ in the
Eucharist. This power of consecration
becomes further emphasised in the
Reformation debates and for many
Catholics since is the core reality of
Vatican II tried to sort all this out. It re-emphasised the priesthood of the
whole people of God, of all the baptised . It emphasised the Eucharist as
the sacrament which builds and sustains and gives identity to
But in exploring the scriptures and tradition it ended up with a
compromise between the model of the presbyter, what we might call the
local community leader and the model of the sacerdos/priest, the holy
person, ordained to do holy things in a holy place through the power of
ordination. Although it avoided potestas/power language in describing
this and emphasised the language of service e.g. munera and ministeria.
1. Imitate what the Eastern Churches, the Ethiopian
Church, or the Anglican Church does.
2. Ordain some of the highly educated married
Church employees that are already serving the
parishes in some countries.
3. Ordain some of the many voluntary proven married
local leaders that we find in great numbers in our
parishes and communities.
4. Ordain women from among the many who already
minister in our parishes in formal and informal ways.
In the discussions among bishops and priests, this
suggestion is presently omitted because it is regarded
as something that can at this moment not be expected
Africa, has a
missiology at the
He wrote and
edited the series
“Training for Local
Ministries” at the
of Lumko (1971-
86). His latest book
In the Eastern Churches the monks are
all celibate while the priests of the
parishes are practically all married.
There is no real shortage of priests. But
post Vatican II we have a participatory
model of liturgy and Pope Francis is
encouraging a more participatory model
of church at every level.
To try and imitate the pattern of the
Orthodox Churches would mean to
abandon celibacy altogether and this
suggestion would, in the present
situation, split the Church. Celibate
parish clergy have proven to be of
enormous value in our Church. Any
attempt to copy the pattern of the
Eastern Churches would lead to chaos.
Lobinger points out the Eastern
Churches don’t offer an example for a
professional pastoral clergy of celibate
priests working next to married ones.
Anglican model of "self-supporting
priests. “Non stipendiary ministers.
These are teachers and office
workers who had for many years,
besides caring for their families,
assisted the congregation through
their voluntary work. They then
received theological education
through distance learning methods
and were ordained.
The scheme was so successful that
now about half of all Anglican priests
are self-supporting. However the non
stipendiary clergy are called
"Reverend," and they dress in the
same way as the full-time priests.
They usually work next to an
overburdened full-time priest, almost
like an assistant priest although they
are not called by that term. It is
usually one self-supporting priest
working next to one full-time priest.
Lobinger asks would this lead to a
more particpatory Church?
From countries where the Catholic
dioceses have introduced highly
trained full-time pastoral workers in
their parishes. They are married but
have often completed the same
theological courses as the priests.
They are a great asset to the parishes
and their priests, although they
cannot administer the sacraments.
Ordination is ruled out for them
because they are married.
These highly trained and well
remunerated married pastoral
workers are only found in the older
dioceses of Europe and North
America. The young Churches of the
developing world could not afford
financially to employ such persons.
This would lead to a mixture of two
types of full-time priests, some being
full-time celibates while others are full-
time married priests. In our present
public climate, it is impossible to
expect half of the priests to remain
celibate while this is not expected of
the other half, although they do exactly
the same kind of pastoral work.
Lobinger points out that the early
Church had ordained elders who were
all married, but after some centuries
they were all celibate. Some individual
exceptions are possible, but it will
soon lead either to an all-celibate or to
an all-married priesthood, as the
examples show. Although we all know
that the discipline of priestly celibacy
is fraught with some great difficulties
and problems, we also know that it is
very highly prized by many Catholics.
Ordination of Proven Local Leaders
This third proposal is of a different nature than the other two. It is suggested
that it is impossible to mix full-time celibate priests with full-time married
priests. However if teams of local leaders are ordained the two different types
of priests will need each other and will complement each other instead of
competing with each other. The key issue is actually in their difference,.
Two Distinct Forms of Priesthood: Priests and Elders
This, in part, already exists in the young Churches. In mission territories with large
parishes consisting of many self-ministering communities the priests already exercise
the role of formaters of communities. The idea then would be to create two types of
priests, two forms of priesthood. The one type dedicates his whole life to his priestly
ministry. The other type remains embedded in the local community, having a family,
having a secular profession, being addressed like anybody else.
Lobinger suggests a differentiation of role encapsulated in different titles.
Priests and Elders.
Both Priests and Elders are ordained by the same sacrament of the ministerial
priesthood. There is no difference in their sacramental definition, but there is a
big difference in their role. The difference in title explains the difference in
The priest will effectively be full-time spiritual formators, involving a life
commitment, including celibacy, full theological training to a tertiary standard.
For the role of Elders it would be expected they would have the normal education
of the particular area, but it would be expected that they have a proven track
record over years of lived Christian example and community leadership. The
difference in role explains the difference in preconditions.
The use of a different term is partly to protect the Elders against unrealistic
expectations . The difference between Priests and Elders will also be reflected in
their number. The number of Elders will be far higher than that of Priests.
In the missions it is not unusual for one priest to accompany or serve ten to
twenty self-ministering communities, or two priests about forty. In this revised
model each community would have their team of four, six, eight ordained Elders.
Then there would be a ratio of 20:1 and even higher, between the Elders and the
When Lobinger discussed this question with groups of priests, he found
that many of them were initially reluctant to agree to this change in role.
They said they were trained to be priests, not to be formaters. Only
gradually it became clear to them that most of them were already
exercising the role of formaters. For many years each one of them had
been training the effective leaders of these "self-ministering
communities." Each of them was constantly giving ongoing formation to
fifty, hundred, and more leaders.
As a result to prepare such leaders for ordination would not be a
completely new and highly specialized task. It would only mean a rather
small change. It would be possible for most of the existing priests. When
the practical implementation of such a proposal is discussed in detail,
then it also becomes clear that the change would not be a sudden one. It
would be a slow and gradual one. Initially only a few of the priests would
change their role, and even these few would not change their role
completely but only partially.
An Enhancement of Priesthood
There is no doubt that the role of formater-priests would be more
demanding than priesthood is today.
The bishop, the priests, and the communities would be determined that in
the future, only such candidates would be accepted for priesthood of
whom they can be sure they will be willing and able to work as formater
For the two forms of priesthood, this would mean that both move in a
certain direction. The priesthood of the Elders would move closer to the
side of the community. The priesthood of the formater-priests would
move closer to the side of the bishop. Their role would become more
similar to that of an overseer. It would be a more intensive participation in
the role of the bishop.
The formater- priests will have a greater need to sit down with their
bishop and plan together. They will become even more intimate co-
operators of the bishop. Some bishops may even prefer to appoint many
of them as Episcopal Vicars for the areas where they act as formaters. It
will certainly, and in several ways, mean an enhancement of their
Pilot Projects as the Best Way to Start
Lobinger thinks it is unlikely that a Synod of Bishops or a Council could come to
a unanimous decision to permit the ordination of teams of Elders. It therefore
seems advisable that the bishops should rather aim at the permission to start
several pilot projects.
A few dioceses which are well prepared for such a step should ask the Holy See
for the exceptional permission to ordain teams of Elders. In their application they
should clearly and in great detail indicate in what way they would implement this
project. In this way the other dioceses could more concretely see that this step is
not endangering the present priests but it is an enhancement for them.
Bishops of dioceses with many priests have objected to experiments of this kind
because they feared that such innovations would necessarily spill over into their
diocese and would cause harm to their priests. But the rarity of the sacraments in
parts of the church is like an open wound in the body of the Church and this
wound must not be left unattended. It must be healed.
Lobinger proposes a more widespread and more thorough discussion of this
important topic which we, the Germans, the south Americans and some of the
Africans have begun to take up.
What do you think?