May 18, 2023


Around 200 priests, religious, theologians, and laypeople participated in a symposium on the theology of the priesthood featuring Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect emeritus of the Dicastery of Bishops, at The Catholic University of America May 16. 

A follow-up to the Vatican’s symposium on the priesthood in February 2022, the North American symposium “Toward a Fundamental Theology of the Priesthood” was co-sponsored by the Centre de Recherche et d’Anthropologie des Vocations, the Thomistic Institute, the Institute for Human Ecology, and Theological College to provide deeper discussion of topics from last year’s symposium. 

The symposium was part of Cardinal Ouellet’s international movement to promote collaboration between ministerial priests and the faithful in an increasingly polarized world.

Father Dominic Legge, director of the Thomistic Institute, said the reflections that emerged in Rome were “very rich and deserved further study, (and) further engagement by the Church, especially in this time when so many questions about the priesthood have arisen again and have been called into question.”

The 12 symposium speakers focused on the collaborative roles of the baptismal and ministerial forms of the priesthood and expounded on the dignity and complementarity of the various sacramental vocations. 

In his keynote address, Cardinal Ouellett emphasized a need to restore an understanding of the common priesthood of the baptized.

“When we mention priesthood, we still think immediately and exclusively of bishops and priests,” the cardinal said. “The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, has firmly and prudently clarified that there are two fundamental participations in the one priesthood of Christ, that of the community of the faithful based on baptism, and that of the ordained ministers based on the sacrament of holy orders.”

Ouellet said since all baptized men and women have received the “seal of divine sonship,” their participation in the mystery of God’s trinitarian life is “the foundation and essence of the common priesthood of the faithful.”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave the opening talk, focusing on the priestly ministry in relation to this “primary vocation” of baptism.

“When the priest or the community has a baptismal fervor, this attracts vocations,” he said.

The archbishop said the heart of discourse in priestly ministry flows from the fourfold closeness a priest must possess: to God, to the bishop, to other priests, and to the people of God. 


Bishop William Byrne of the Diocese of Springfield said the understanding of the ministerial priesthood related to the baptismal priesthood is the role of fatherhood.

Bishop Byrne said the priest’s role as a father is to set “vision” for the faithful, which is not from his mind alone but comes from walking with people and listening to them. The Holy Spirit “doesn’t just talk to those in Roman collars,” he said.

Mother Mary Christa Nutt, superior general of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, spoke on the participation of men and women in the life and ministry of the Church, explaining that the reception of supernatural grace equalizes men and women. 

“Both men and women are heirs to the kingdom and both are born into the trinitarian life by grace through baptism into Christ,” she said. “It is the life of grace that begets mission in the Church.”

Jennifer Frey, professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, and Father Andrew Hofer, associate professor of patristics and ancient languages at the Dominican House of Studies, spoke on the priestly roles in the sacredness of the liturgy, the sacraments, and the cultivation of true religion. 

Other speakers were Father Thomas Petri, president of the Dominican House of Studies; Father Carter Griffin, rector of St. John Paul II Seminary; Father Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at Catholic University; and Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg of the Diocese of Reno.

John Grabowski, Catholic University professor of moral theology and ethics, who spoke at the symposium on the baptismal vocation of a universal call to holiness, said having the North American priesthood symposium at the University was fitting.

“It underscores our character and mission as a pontifical university founded by the bishops for the service of the Church in the United States,” said Grabowski.

Grabowski said a renewal of the priesthood is “vital” because “priests make Christ present in their sacramental ministry — particularly in the Eucharist, which is the ‘source and summit’ of the Church's life. … As Catholics we believe that the ministerial priesthood is one of the Lord's great gifts to the Church.”