Pope to re-open exit from the priesthood
By Christopher Howse
POPE JOHN PAUL is soon to reopen the process of laicisation for priests according to Mr Norman St John Stevas who met him in private audience recently. The Pope had reserved the granting of laicisations to himself soon after the beginning of his reign and has granted practically none. Mr St John Stevas, the Catholic Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Arts. spoke openly to the Pope on the subject during a 45minute meeting during which no one else was present.
"I asked him if I might talk about laicisation and he agreed," Mr St John Stevas said. "1 told him that I was Chairman of New Bearings for Re-establishment, a voluntary body which helps priests in difficulties with their vocations. I said that the ban on laicisation had caused great suffering. In response. the Pope was very forthcoming."
Pope John Paul told the Minister that rules governing the reversion of priests to the lay state were being revised and put to the competent Congregation. The way to laicisation would then. be reopened.
The Pope stressed that laicisation was a pastoral problem
and he had been unhappy about the recent position where it had become too legalistic. That is why he had stopped it.
Mr St John Stevas told him that their body tried to persuade priests to go back to their vocation and the Pope said that every case had to be treated on its merits. He added that some priests feel that they can't live with their priesthood while they have it. but they then find that they cannot live without it. Mr St John Stevas said that the Pope had been impressed that the matter had been raised by him, a layman. He had left a memorandum with the Pope which put the views of the organisation he heads, which holds that the decision on applications for laicisation should rest svith the local hierarchy. Mr John Stevas plans to speak to Cardinal Hume on the question because he feels that it is important that it be followed up.
It was Mr St John Stevas's first private meeting with the Pope and he was impressed by his youthfulness and radiant health. They also discussed the possibility of a Papal visit to England, which should come next year or the one after. and the elevation of diplomatic relations between the Crown and the Holy See.
Northern Ireland also figured in their talk. The Pope said that he regarded the troubles as a social rather than a religious problem. At one dramatic moment, Mr St John Stevas said, the Pope drew himself up in an impressive stance and said of Ian Paisley: "He calls we Anti Ch rist."