VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI on Monday (Oct. 18) praised Catholic lay movements as a source of vocations to the priesthood, but cautioned against their potential to breed divisions among future clergy, who he said “often live on very different spiritual continents.”
The pope made his comments in an open letter to seminarians, marking the end of the Catholic Church’s Year of the Priest.

“The movements are a magnificent thing,” Benedict wrote. “Yet they must be evaluated by their openness to what is truly Catholic, to the life of the whole church of Christ, which for all her variety still remains one.”

Lay movements have been among the most flourishing parts of Catholicism since the modernizing reforms ushered in by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Among the best known movements are the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Neocatechumenal Way and Regnum Christi, the lay arm of the Legion of Christ.

Critics have charged that such movements, which typically practice distinctive forms of discipline and devotion, are effectively Catholic “sects,” whose loyalty to their founders undermines the authority of local bishops.

In Monday’s letter, which offered wide-ranging advice on the spiritual and intellectual preparation of future priests, the pope noted that many candidates for the priesthood now come from “within the movements, which favor a communal encounter with Christ and his church, spiritual experiences and joy in the service of the faith.”

“As a result,” Benedict wrote, “candidates for the priesthood often live on very different spiritual continents. It can be difficult to recognize the common elements of one’s future mandate and its spiritual path.”

Benedict said the remedy lies in a seminary’s community life, which he called a “school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ’s Body.”

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