Summary of second lecture to the NCP by Fr Timothy Radcliffe

 Article created on Wednesday, September 4, 2002

For the joy that was set before him' In his second lecture to the National Conference of Priests today, Fr Timothy Radcliffe will examine the creative tension that priests face as members of their local communities and as representatives of the Universal Church. How does the priest, for example, proclaim the teaching of the Church on sexual ethics, when for most people such teaching is remote and unconvincing?

Radcliffe traces the movement of Moral Theology from Pre Tridentine 'Practical Wisdom,' to a Post Reformation Jesuitical, abstract and deductive approach to the Natural Law. He maintains that the priest's mission is to occupy the uncomfortable place that exists between the teaching of the Church and the lived reality of people's lives. Presbyteral fraternity, i.e. genuine brotherly friendship between priests and the bishop is to be seen as one way of helping individual priests to remain between 'the rock and the hard place'.

The priest is called to be a person of truth and to sensitively proclaim the teaching of the Church, giving due regard to the various situations in which he finds himself. Openness, debate, courage and humility exercised in the power of the Spirit will help the priest to discover the truth and will prevent the Church from falling into error. However, the way that priests communicate the truth has to be compassionate rather than confrontational. In their search for truth, priests should not be afraid to seek appropriate places where they can engage in honest debate, and reach out to people with different opinions, above all they should not be afraid to be wrong.

Such experiences can be life giving.

The Church has much to offer the world of which it forms a vital part. It calls humanity to a joyful adventure, an adventure that involves, personal transformation, outreach and forgiveness. This can be seen especially with regard to the present difficulties faced by the Church and its Priests with regard to the whole area of child abuse. Such an adventure begins in the place that lies between the teaching of the Church and the experience of our society. This is a place of discovery, a place where we can dare to be wrong as we search for truth. Such a journey can be exhausting, but the story of the Gospel and the reality of salvation will sustain us.

Prepared by Fr Shaun Middleton, press officer, NCP

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