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What I like most about Pope Francis is probably his integrity. Honesty and humility wrapped up with transparency. This is exactly what some people seem to find most frustrating – the off-the-cuff remarks, open to interpretation, or occasionally without all the details in place. The WYSIWYG Pope (What You See Is What You Get). But that is precisely the charm. And a much needed breath of fresh air. Just as Benedict XVI was a different kind of fresh air after the long lingering of John Paul II, and his theological acumen and teaching gifts a welcome change from the poetic philosophy of our most recent sainted bishop of Rome, the straight-shooter Francis is a welcome change from the meticulously careful German academic.
I am still unpacking all the ecumenical and interreligious activity of the weekend, but some small examples suffice as well. During his interview on the plane, Papa Francesco again responded to questions about celibacy, stating ‘nothing new’ when he said that the door is (theoretically) open, as required celibacy for diocesan priests is a discipline and not doctrine or dogma. Many have said it before and anyone who has studied Church history or understands the hierarchy of truths knows this and is probably thinking, “Just words… I’ll believe it when I see it.”
But whether he is talking about celibacy, or clericalism, or retiring popes, he is willing to speak directly on subjects that have been largely taboo for the rest of us for the last generation. I am not talking about ‘liberal’ issues like changing church moral teaching, ordaining women, or embracing New Age spirituality as a replacement for the rosary. I am talking about centrist, orthodox, reform issues like creative responses to our ministry problems drawn from the Tradition of the Church. This is about healing wounds caused by scandal and sex abuse, and demolishing systems that promoted or allowed such to happen, and build up in their place living adaptations of even more ancient ecclesiological structures.
Pope Francis is willing to name these problems, and at least open them up for discussion. Hopefully that attitude will trickle down, like a bad economic model (or perhaps, like the dewfall), to the rank and file church leadership, and we will have a vibrant discussion on how best to support our priests, bishops and deacons without enabling clericalism; how to support celibacy as a charism without foisting it on anyone with a call to ecclesial ministry and leadership; and how to accept that the bishop of Rome is not a monarch for life by divine right, but a diakonos of the diakonoi of God.
For the next few weeks, I will be perched in a loft suite in what was once the Monastery of St. Andrew, founded by Pope St. Gregory the Great. For its more recent history (a mere millennium or so), it has been under the care of the Camaldolese Benedictine monks.
Working with both US and Roman academic systems once again, several of my jobs have finished for the year – undergrad professor, TA, and residence manager – while others continue for a few weeks: seminary professor, John Paul II Center graduate assistant. With no more undergrads in residence to manage, I have had a week to clean up and vacate myself. For the intervening few weeks while finishing other tasks, this view is mine. Then plans for a little travel in Italy, a three week seminar on Orthodox theology in Thessaloniki, and a few stops in North America before coming back for a new semester in late August.
When I opened my draft file for the blog, I found 15,000 words in notes waiting for me. I should be so inspired on my doctorate! (The oldest is a half written post about the feast of St. Agnes, well known for the blessing of the lambs to be shorn for wool used in the making of the pallium – the unique vestment of metropolitan archbishops everywhere. A friend once asked the sisters responsible for the shearing about their fate, these blessed and cared-for critters, “Que successo?” “Al forno!”)
I will see what I can do about resurrecting a few of the choicer bits, but I really ought to be grading a few last papers anyway. I am keeping a file of funny answers, too, for late publication (along the lines of “Vatican II is the pope’s summer residence, right?”)
What a year it has been, too! I remember a monsignorial staffer under JPII once claiming that the curia were constantly “out of breath” trying to keep up with the then-tireless pontiff. Communications fiascos notwithstanding, one begins to think the Benedict years were something of a breather for them. Now, each week brings something new and interesting for the vaticanisti and the ecclesiology wonks.
Pope Francis is not quite my idea of a perfect pope, but he is the pope I think I have been waiting for, for most of my life. A colleague asked me recently what I thought about him, and opened by suggesting she thought I might be more of a Pope Benedict fan.
It is true, in many ways: my personality is more similar to Ratzinger than either Wojtyła or Bergoglio. I appreciated Ratzinger’s profound theological acumen and ecumenical commitment, his ability to listen, his collaborative style and loyalty to his close collaborators. A lot of pastors and bishops could learn from that example.
He was the first real theologian-pope in a couple of centuries, and in terms of prolificacy, stands among the greats. His sensitive, introverted, and bookish personality made me think that, if I had to choose a kindred spirit from among the three pontiffs which I can remember during my lifetime, it would be Ratzinger. (I was born in the last months of Paul VI, and still in diapers when John Paul I had his brief time on the Chair of Peter).But, the Church is in need of reform. It is always in need of reform, always in need of purification. While John Paul II and Benedict both lead certain areas of reform forward, certain ecclesiological and very practical issues have remained untouched.
The Roman curia and its communications stagnated under John Paul II, the quality and confidence of bishops and bishops’ conferences waned, and a centralized ultramontanist ecclesiology crept back in – really, had never quite been rooted out – but both were overshadowed by the sheer volume of his personality. Under Benedict, many of the inherited flaws began to show through, and he unfairly got much of the blame for issues that went without redress under his saintly predecessor. The sex abuse scandal sits at the top of the heap, finances next, but the whole Vatican communications apparatus was not far behind. Pope Benedict got the ball rolling in many cases – on sex abuse, on finances, on Vatican personnel – but these successes were frequently given short shrift compared to the communications and competence fiascoes. The biggest distraction was unfortunately his ecumenical effort at reintegrating traditionalist sects into the Church via a re-introduction of the Tridentine liturgy on a mass scale [pun intended].
I think I understand Ratzinger’s concern with the abrupt changes to the liturgy in the late sixties. One of his main themes has been about a reintegration, an informing of each other, of the old Tridentine Rite (what he called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Mass of Pius VI (1570), Revised in 1962) and the ordinary form of the Roman Rite (the Mass of Paul VI, Missal of 1970, last revised in 2002). Aside from the fact that this seems to make Ratzinger a champion of the hermeneutic of discontinuity that he otherwise preached against, for many people the revival of the baroque bling in liturgy was a distraction at best, and a sign of a return to the disastrous ecclesiolatry of the late 19th and early 20th century at worst. Not without reason, for too many people in the Church, the high baroque trappings, the traditionalist interpretation of liturgy, the lace and the maniple et al. all go hand in hand with precisely the forms of clericalism and institutional navel-gazing that allowed the scourge of pedophilia to fester and actually promoted the kind of bishops who would cover up the worst cases.
This association is not one Ratzinger could make, and it is his papacy that convinced me it is not an entirely fair association, either. To him and to many of his fans, there was a certain kind of reverence lost after 1968 that had to be retrieved, and his own personal piety found its comfort zone, like most of us, in the mode of expression he was familiar with in the innocence of childhood. Indeed, in my first few years in Rome, many curial officials bemoaned the ‘crisis of 1968’ as if everyone should know what it was, and somehow never seemed to understand why I (and many of my peers) found it shocking that someone who lived through 1938 could think that 1968 better represented the downfall of moral society!
The real problem was that he was trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak, forty years too late. It might have been a better way to go immediately after the council, to have a slower, longer transition period, maybe with both forms of the rite for a period of time. But now, given the state of the church he inherited, and indeed had some responsibility for, what the Church needed was, and is, great reform. And it needs to be seen making this reform with urgency and integrity. Pope Benedict started some much needed reform, but more attention was given to the moves that seemed to be contrary to reform – even if that was not entirely his intent. It is Francis who is seen to mean it, without qualification and without pining for a long lost ideal that was not nearly so ideal as it seems now, to some. And he has the energy to engage it full-on. If only he were twenty years younger!
The most commonly spoken fear in Rome, these days, is that Francis will be assassinated (a la Godfather III) before his reforms can take effect. It is mostly said jokingly, in a moment of black humour.
The real fear and the reason that even a year after his election there is only a subdued hope and enthusiasm is this: We had a Council. We had every bishop in the world come together and call for reform; for greater synodality and collegiality; for a renewal of the diaconate and appreciation for the vocational contribution of the laity; for uncompromising commitment to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; and commitment to being in, if not of, the modern world; for a renewed and constantly renewing liturgy that called forth full, conscious, and active participation.
Yet, at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the opening of Vatican II in Rome, one participant quipped ‘it seems as if I have come to a funeral, rather than a celebration. Are we here to honor the Council, or bury it?’ Everyone one of the reforms I mentioned was floundering or at least seemed to be unpopular in the halls of power and in the seminaries. “Ecumenism?” I heard one priest say, “They will never make you bishop doing your license in ecumenism. Try dogma or canon law. Ecumenism is a failed experiment anyway.” Within a couple decades of the largest and most comprehensive ecumenical council the Church has ever seen, some of its central acts were being re-interpreted in ways to make them less like reform and more like reinforcement of the old status-quo.
Many reforms remain half-executed. Just by way of example, take the restoration of the diaconate as a full and equal order – while we now have permanent deacons, we still have transitional ones as well. The cursus honorem of the seminaries, in the minor orders, though officially abolished, has since the early 80’s has been effectively revived with nothing more than different names and rites. Most people think the major difference between deacons and presbyters is marriage and celibacy, meaning there is no shortage of men called to the diaconate being ordained priests, and men called to priesthood being ordained deacons. And nobody agrees on just what a deacon IS, though too many people assume they are subordinate to priests. Yet there has been very little official movement, and not even the possibility of discussing ordination and marriage in the same sentence, in fifty years. It has even become en vogue to revive the befuddled medieval thought that deacons are not really clergy anyway, since they are not ordained to the priesthood, as such.
If the Council could not achieve a comprehensive lasting reform in all of the intended areas, the thought goes, how can one pope? Especially one who may serve for a decade or less? Will he not so disturb some of the powers-that-be, that when his successor is elected, they will seek to balance the ‘fast-moving’ years of Francis with another caretaker pope? People talk of pendulum swings as if John Paul II and Benedict were conservative and Francis liberal, when in fact Francis is just the middle ground where the pendulum should come to stop and rest.
If we have a century of popes in the mode of Francis (and John Paul I, I suspect), we might be able to fully receive the Council without the continued polarization of the Church in the last five decades. We might be able to fully live out the reforms called for, without undue excess or burdensome reticence, and collectively take joy in being the Church again.
As one of my students recently said, “Pope Francis made it cool to be Catholic.” For her, it was the first time in a lifetime of faith that this was the case; when I shared this with an older student later, he simply smiled and added, “…again.”
John Allen’s article commemorating the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation this week points out that for all the attention Pope Francis has received this year as a ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reformer’, the single most revolutionary act by the bishop of Rome in the last year was Benedict’s humble and courageous decision to retire.
Even here in Rome, studying at the heart of the Church, I found out first through Facebook.
It is a great example of something that should not have been surprising, or all that revolutionary. Certainly, it was, given the climate and context of the Church in recent decades. Following on the heels of the soon-to-be saint John Paul II, who lingered in office several years longer than was probably good for himself or for the Church, one might have thought it was blasphemous to suggest something of the sort. In a sense, Benedict, being the excellent ecclesiologist that he is, had to resign, to disabuse the papacy from the personality cult, and remind us that every office in the Church is one of service and ministry; not power, prestige, or persona.
The impact on the conclave was obvious, as many commentators have already noted. Rather than an overwhelming outpouring of grief at the death of the towering figure of John Paul II that got his right-hand man elected, the cardinals were able to take better stock of the real situation in the Church and especially in the curia, and set about doing something about it.
It never ceases to amaze me how strong the current is that was in favor of the retreat from reform (sometimes called a ‘reform of the reform’) in a Church that has declared, a the highest level of authority, ecclesia semper purificanda. The truth is that there is no purification without reform; there is no reform without action. We must act to change the Church, so that the Church can change the world.
For the last generation, we have been told repeatedly that ‘tinkering with Church structures’ is not what is needed; instead, greater personal holiness is the all-encompassing solution. There is both wisdom and naivety in such statements. The wisdom is that prayer is paramount, and holiness is indeed a necessary virtue in all Christians; the naivety is that tinkering is not what is needed not because it is ineffective, but because some structures have been so badly neglected for so long that any ‘tinkering’ is just putting lipstick on a pig. Anything short of a radical and all-encompassing overhaul is complicity, or at least complacency.
But in a sacramental reality, we cannot underappreciate the real value of a change in tone; we cannot dismiss it as superficial. Which is not at all to buy into the oversimplified dichotomies we see, both in secular media (e.g.Rolling Stone) and in the reactionary wing of the fold that contrast Benedict and Francis, putting one or the other in a completely unfavorable light.
It has always seemed to me that Benedict’s biggest liability was not (just) a hostile secular media who never let go of the image of God’s Rottweiler – because in truth, his biggest fans never did either, still hoping for the hammer of heresy to drop. It was about image, though: His apparent penchant for baroque bling distracted from his genuine reform efforts.
For too many in the church, these trappings of power and privilege – whether imperial, renaissance, or baroque in origin – go hand in hand with clericalism and the sex abuse scandal. Who can forget that it was the church of lace surplices, brocaded maniples and mumbled latin anaphorae – with its concomitant failure at human formation in seminaries and warped ecclesiology – that brought us the greatest wave of scandal the Church has faced in the modern age? It does not matter that there is little or no direct causal relationship, but the correlation is too widely fixed: “traditionalism” = clericalism = abuse of power = a climate of permission for child sex abuse.
Joseph Ratzinger had long been trying to redeem that, to separate out the legitimate traditions from their accrued associations. He may have a point that the transition from the Missal of Pius V to that of Paul VI was too abrupt, but his solution came forty years too late. Add that to his well-established reputation and the series of administrative and communications fiascos, and there was only so much he could do.
So he did what he could: he set the stage for someone without the same baggage to come along and continue the good work he had started. I can imagine that he realized the cost of trying to restore some place in the mainstream for the older form of the liturgy came at too high a cost, or that the cause of reunion with the SSPX was lost. Or perhaps he saw his work done already: he brought the tridentine liturgy out from the periphery and into the center of the Church, in whatever small way. He left no more excuses for “traditionalism” to be a code word for dissent, and planted the seeds that may redeem that part of our liturgical patrimony from its oft-associated failures in ecclesiology, pastoral formation, and leadership.
Thanks to Pope Benedict, contemplation and action could again meet in the endless effort of Church reform. There is much to be done, since, in some respects, the Church stopped being interested in self-purification and reform sometime around the time I entered adolescence, as if the whole idea had been a failed experiment of the 70s and 80s rather than a movement of the Holy Spirit.
Enter Pope Francis, who genuinely seems to be setting about to reform the Church, perhaps (we can hope) on as grand a scale as Gregory I or VII, Pius V, or John XXIII. Some will call anything he accomplishes too little, too late; others will denounce it as too much, too fast. I would instinctively err on the side of the former, considering how many centuries it often takes to resolve problems in this institution, but in the last year it has been hard even to keep up with the constant flow of good news. I continue to pray for deep, genuine, and theological reform of the Church, and I have hope that it is coming. The Church is, after all, called to be holy, too, not just the people in it!
With the success of the Year of the Priest under Pope Benedict, I humbly suggest to Pope Francis (or whomever is reading) that we should have a Year of the Deacon. If anything, the diaconate is suffering from under-attention far more than the presbyterate, so the same motives that made the first so successful and timely apply at least double for this suggestion!
Plus, given that Francis of Assisi is often said to have been a deacon (though this is apparently in some dispute, whether he was ordained at all), it seems all the more appropriate that a bishop of Rome with that name initiate a year to honor and build up these Icons of Christ, Diakonos.
Naturally, it should be done ecumenically, rather than unilaterally. Especially as the discernment of the nature of the diaconate is a shared ecumenical challenge and opportunity. Invite all the heads of communion to declare the same, and have an ecumenical gathering of deacons as part of the celebrations.
I propose that the Year of the Deacon start on the feast of Deacon St. Lawrence of Rome, 10 August 2014 and conclude on the feast of Deacon St. Stephen of Jerusalem, Protomartyr, on 26 December 2015. The highlight events of the year could take place on 30 October 2014 to recognize the 50th anniversary of the vote on Lumen Gentium, which included the call for the restoration of the diaconate to its full and proper place in the Catholic Church. These were the two saints invoked as patrons for the restored diaconate by Pope Paul VI in Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.
Would it not be a grand sight, to see St. Peter’s filled with deacons and their wives from around the world, celebrating the liturgy with the bishop of Rome? Dioceses offering catechesis on the ancient office of the deacon, its institution, and the symbolism of the Last Supper as iconic for the diaconal office; a surge in vocational promotions efforts for the diaconate; a special synod on the identity of the deacon, including the question of women as deaconesses (or just as deacons)?
He could even take the opportunity to introduce his new archdeacon…
What else could be done during such a Year of the Deacon? Ideas?
When the Council of Cardinals met with Pope Francis at the beginning of the month to discuss reform of the Roman Curia and the governance of the Church, one of the topics that came up was the role of the Secretariat of State.
Since the initial reforms of Paul VI in Regimi Ecclesiae Universae, the Secretariat has enjoyed prominence in the Curia, and a dual role: it not only exercised the ministry appropriate to the office, that of foreign relations with states, but also in fact as the lead congregation in the curia, coordinating (theoretically at least) the work of the other dicasteries, and managing the relationship of the bishop of Rome to his brother bishops around the world.
For example, when a new officer in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is needed, they get vetted not only by that Council, but also by the Secretariat of State. Or consider the elaborate and secretive process for the nomination of bishops, managed by each nation’s apostolic nuncio – a diplomatic post.
As I suggested in my wish list, these responsibilities should probably be separated from the foreign relations dicastery. In canon law there is a title for the ecclesiastical officer responsible for managing the bishop’s staff, which is “moderator of the curia”. This person is is often a priest or auxiliary bishop, and is frequently also the vicar general. There is some concern about creating a kind of “vice-pope”, though this is a term sometimes used of the Secretary of State already, unofficially of course.
What the bishop of Rome needs is an archdeacon. This ancient ecclesiastical office has fallen into disuse in the Latin Church, and fallen into confused use in other churches (such as the Anglican Communion).
The archdeacon is normally the senior cleric of a diocese after a bishop. Originally, the archdeacon was in fact a deacon, not a presbyter, the reason being that deacons are called to serve as assistants to the bishop with responsibility for administration and governance, representation of the bishop to the rural clergy (ie, the pastors) and to other bishops, managing the financial and human resources of the diocese for the sake of the mission, etc. This kind of vicarious authority was not originally granted to the presbyterate, whose primary functions were advisory, sacramental, and pastoral.
The offices of vicar general and moderator of the curia derive from the office of archdeacon. You can still find this usage in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, where a “Grand” Archdeacon fulfills part of this function.
In the Anglican Communion, the title archdeacon has been attached to the vicars forane, responsible for a subdivision of the diocesan territory. In the Catholic Church these are generally called deans, in English, and is originally a diaconal role, but not that of the archdeacon. The Anglicans have also kept the late medieval practice of having ordained presbyters fill this role, but this should be avoided (do we have deacons serving as archpriests?)
The offices of vicar forane and episcopal vicar (deans and heads of dicasteries/diocesan offices, respectively) derive from the other early diaconal roles. Perhaps revivifying these ancient offices, restoring the diaconate to its full calling, will help in the reform of the curia.
If Pope Francis were to make use of this ancient and venerable office for contemporary needs, one could see it as something of a Chief of Staff for the Roman Curia, rather than as a kind of vice-pope. (Though, realistically, it would be better having an official ‘vice pope’ than having a personal secretary, master of ceremonies, or Secretary of State assume the role in the vacuum!) The role of the Archdeacon and his office would be to manage the internal organization of the curia, increase coordination and communication among the various dicasteries, and leave the diplomatic foreign relations work to the Secretariat of State.
Maybe the Archdeacon’s office could work to coordinate areas of joint concern, so we never have another Anglicanorum Coetibus or Dominus Iesus faux pas, wherein we find ecumenical or interreligious issues being announced without involvement of the offices responsible for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.
They could also have a central office for ecclesiastical human resources in the curia, working to ensure that the most qualified candidates in the world – lay, religious, or clerical – get into the offices here, rather than some cardinal’s nephew (figuratively speaking, of course). He could work on keeping the curia on mission, and at service to the universal church – especially as the relationship to the Synod of Bishops and the episcopal conferences is expected to change.
But most of all it would seem as something new – not getting confused with the ideas that have arisen around the moderator of the curia title – which in itself should be fine, but because it is often attached to the vicar general or vicar for clergy, could be confused with other offices already in place (such as the two vicars general, one each for the Vatican and the Diocese of Rome; or the prefect of the congregation for clergy which is the Roman curial equivalent of a diocesan vicar for clergy).
Plus, it would be encouragement to dioceses around the world to start looking further back into our tradition for ideas of how to meet the ministry and governance needs of the Church today. If the successor of Peter the Rock can restore the office of Archdeacon, so can the diocese of Little Rock, or anywhere else. This would not only free up a presbyter to get out into the parishes where they are most in need, but restore to the diaconate a stronger sense of its original mission – to extend the ministry of the bishop in matters of governance, administration, and service-leadership.
I was privileged to spend yesterday, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, in Assisi with Pope Francis. With him came the Council of Cardinals, or group of eight, which held their first meeting this week. It was an overcast, pleasant day, the predicted thunderstorms holding off until last night.
The last papal event I attended in Assisi was the 25th anniversary of the first interreligious day of prayer for peace with Pope Benedict XVI, which was dubbed ”Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.” Two cornerstone pieces of the original event were missing however – prayer, and the Sant’Egidio community who organize the annual prayers for peace in the spirit of Assisi. Subsequently, perhaps, attendance was surprisingly low.
Yesterday was a different story. The Eucharistic celebration in the lower piazza of San Francesco was witnessed not only by a full piazza there, but also in the upper piazza, all the side streets, and in the other major piazzas of Assisi (Santa Chiara, San Rufino, Piazza del Commune) where jumbotron screens were set up. It was an almost all-Italian gathering, and there is no question of the broad appeal of this reforming pontiff.
It came at the end of an amazing week in terms of Church news – especially with regard to Church reform. I commented already on some of them, but there has been so much, it has been hard to keep up. Thankfully, there are professionals to do that for us: John Allen summarizes this week in Vatican and Church news, in what he contends to be the biggest week outside of a conclave in his nearly 20 years of Vatican reporting.
The biggest news is probably the meeting this week of the Council of Cardinals, dubbed in some circles the G-8. They have discussed the ecclesiology of Vatican II, the reform of the Synod of Bishops into a more permanent exercise of synodality and collegiality, the reform of the Roman curia to such an extent as to require a new constitution emphasizing decentralization and service to the local churches, changes to the Secretariat of State that might remove it from its current role as über-dicastery, and serious questions on the role of the laity in the church, including the role of the laity inside the curia itself. Their second meeting is set for just two months from now. They seem to really be addressing the half-finished business of Vatican II, or at least getting started on it.
When my students asked me last week why no pope or bishop has ever talked about the Church in the way that Francis has, and why there’s never been so much energy in the church, I was reminded of my own experience as a university sophomore, in my own 200-level theology class (on Vatican II) asking a similar question, “why are we still waiting for the changes promised by the Council? How can 35 years have passed and we are still waiting [on things like decentralization, synodality and collegiality, the role of the laity, the full restoration of the diaconate, overcoming clericalism, etc]?” – I had no idea 15 years later I would be the one trying to answer these questions, and under what different circumstances!
Two highlights of John Allen’s highlights, aside from the meeting of the Council of Cardinals, worth particular notice:
Allen reports that
“Von Freyberg told me recently it’s his ambition to put gossipy newspaper reports out of business by making it so easy to get information directly from him that journalists don’t have to rely on whispers in Roman bars.”
If that is not argument enough for getting more lay people in positions of responsibility of the Roman Curia, i do not know what is. When was the last time you heard any cleric tackle communication and transparency issues so directly? Well, before this one…
The second point is less about this week in particular, but about Allen’s comments about his own book on religious persecution around the world, after talking about the killing of about 500 Christians in India during 2008 riots:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s what a real “war on religion” looks like. One aim of the book is to reframe the conversation over religious freedom among Western Christians so we don’t allow our metaphorical battles at home to obscure the literal, and often lethal, war on Christians being waged in other parts of the world.
In the view from Rome, there was a bit of discomfiture last year with the whole tone and tenor of the ‘fortnight for freedom’ in the U.S., because it seemed to ignore the real problems of religious freedom. Officially, of course, the Vatican backs its bishops, but, unofficially (and remember this was still under Pope Benedict) there seemed to be a current of thought around the Vatican and in Rome that there was a little too much partisan politicking, and not enough focus on the fact that there are more Christian martyrs around the world today than at any point in history. It is hard to be quite so concerned about contraceptive funding when there are Christians dying at the hands of radical elements in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and secular Atheism – especially when it is part of a universal health care plan that the Church supports in principle, if not in every detail.
This is, of course, not to say to ignore the small problems before they become big ones, but to keep everything in perspective. That is something we Americans have a hard enough time doing when it comes to global events, but for which membership in a Church so universally oriented that it is called Catholic ought to be a corrective.
For the full run-down of the week, read Allen’s article here.
In brief, what happened this week:
- Canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II set for April 27
- Discussion of regional tribunals to adjudicate clerical sex abuse cases
- G-8 formal established as a permanent Council of Cardinals
- A “stunning Q&A with the pope” published in La Repubblica
- The Vatican Bank (IOR) released its first-ever annual report and its lay president demonstrates the kind of transparency attitude needed all over the Church
- The Vatican Bank announced the closure of 900 accounts for dubious activity
- The Council of Cardinals began its first meeting, as mentioned above
- Feast of Francis of Assisi . Francis took aim at the ‘right’ by calling on the Church to “strip itself of the cancer of worldliness”, and took aim at the ‘left’ by asserting that the peace of Francis is not a ‘kind of pantheistic harmony with the forces of the cosmos’, but a Christ-centered peace.
Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa;
Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, governor of Vatican City;
Francisco Javier Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa of Santiago;
Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Mumbai;
Reinhard Cardinal Marx of Munich;
Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa;
Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston;
George Cardinal Pell of Sydney.
Know that the Church is with you in prayer during these first days of dialogue, discussion and deliberation on how the people of God can be best served by the college of Bishops and its structures of universal governance, including those particular to the bishop of Rome.
[Know also that the Beards for Bishops Campaign applauds Pope Francis for including two of our most beloved members, Cardinals Marx and O’Malley, in your number. Clearly, His Holiness knows bearded men are wise men!]
It seems that you have consulted broadly among your episcopal peers in your respective regions. It is not clear to what extent, if any, consultation was extended to deacons, presbyters, lay ecclesial ministers, theologians, religious and the lay faithful. Perhaps you devoted a day to reading Catholic blogs from around the world – and if you did, you simultaneously have my gratitude and my pity.
It seems as if everyone is working on their reform wishlist! Some that I found interesting including John Allen, and the interview with Cardinal Maradiaga on Salt and Light was encouraging. I found Tom Reese to be a little skeptical when he warns that
if the press release says that [you] had a wonderful discussion with the pope and [you] agreed that collegiality and subsidiarity should be the guiding principles for curial reform, you can be assured no one has a plan and they wasted six months.
Personally, I expect your work to take some time. However, after a generation of waiting on some questions, it would be reassuring to see some indication of movement. I trust in the Holy Spirit and in your good will, but as a theologian, a minister, and a member of Christ’s church, have the duty to share my hopes and concerns (cf. CIC 212).
I admit, it does seem a little like sending a Christmas wish list to Santa Claus. I would need a book to spell out the rationale behind each of these suggestions. In many cases there are incompatible alternatives, but either choice would be an improvement. Most of these are small things, tinkering with structures even, that need only to reflect the more important principles and ought to serve the conversion of heart and change of mind. Some are obvious to me based on my study, that i forget they are not so obvious to the public, or even to theologians not studied in ecclesiology or ecumenism. These are, in fact, some of the effects of change, the signs that reform in the more important areas is trickling down to the practical, nitty-gritty. It is also just a list! But before i get to it, I can assert that this list intends to adhere to the following ideals and principles, and is not exhaustive:
Each change is rooted in the tradition of the church – historically, and/or ecumenically (or, apostolic and catholic tradition). We do not really need brand new structures, so much as looking to our past and to the current practice of other apostolic and catholic churches, and adapting those practices for our current needs.
Neither I nor most people I know are much interested in reforms of dogma and doctrine, though the development of doctrine, of the articulation and understanding of unchangeable truth, is always welcome; the focus is on discipline, custom, culture, and administrative practice.
Ecumenically, we should formally commit to the Lund Principle: “churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately.” In other words, that which can be done together should be done together. Too often we only seem to do the minimum, not all that is allowed or encouraged, but only what is required.
Let him be anathema who says, “Tinkering with structures is not sufficient, all we need is prayer, or holier priests.” Whatever virtue there may have once been present in such pietism is usually overshadowed by this being used as a cop out by people afraid of change, transparency, and the light of day. I agree it is not enough to merely tinker with some structures; they must be overhauled from the ground up. However, prayer without action is merely words, like the letter without the spirit, or the dead kind of faith James warns us about. Pray and Act, rather than Pray not Act, should be your watchword.
Any changes which have been approved in principle, or recommended by various authorities in the church, including official ecumenical dialogues, should be enacted – most have been delayed too long already (e.g., Paul VI and married Eastern presbyters in the US; or the Synod of Bishops on women as instituted readers).
Likewise, some policies already on the books should be more clearly enforced (e.g., only clerics should wear clerical clothing – not seminarians; or the requirement that everyone engaged in formation for pastoral work take a required course in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue).
A healing of memories should take place, perhaps the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission at various levels. There have been many wrongs, some lesser and some greater, committed because of the wrong attitudes of clericalism, careerism, triumphalism. this has happened at the parish level and at the highest levels of the curia. I know pastoral associates and former presidents of pontifical councils treated poorly or fired just for being ‘too pastoral’ and not buying in to the system of clericalism.
Finally, take to heart Pope Francis’ admonishment that all of these are secondary to the need for a conversion of heart, a change of attitude – always the first step in both ecclesial reform and ecumenical reconciliation, two goals which are inseparable from the Gospel.
His Holiness is right, of course, “the people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.” Presbyters especially have a vocation to parish ministry and to advising the bishop in the care of the diocese; it is deacons who have a particular vocation to assisting the bishop in his ministry of governance and administration at the deanery, diocesan, and supra-diocesan levels.
Thank you for your prayer, your humility, your leadership, and your dedication to the Church. Accept these suggestions from a loyal son of the Church in the spirit in which they are given, out of love for the Church and frustration in its failings and imperfections. And of course, out of humility: this is a work in progress, and the work of many is better than that of one, so I hope friends and colleagues will add their voices to mine, even in disagreement.
I am, as ever, your servant…
- Church Reform Wishlist: Open Letter and Introduction
- Church Reform Wishlist: The Eastern Catholic Churches
- Church Reform Wishlist: The College of Bishops
- Church Reform Wishlist: The College of Cardinals
- Church Reform Wishlist: The Roman Curia
- Church Reform Wishlist: Ministry and Holy Orders
- Church Reform Wishlist: Precedence and Papal Honors
- Church Reform Wishlist: Catholic Education
- Church Reform Wishlist: Liturgy