Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reforming the Catholic Church Today: Three Perspectives

By William D. Lindsey

Note: This article was first published May 14, 2013 on William's blogsite Bilgrimage.

[Following are] some articles I've run across lately, or have been sent by friends or have read on Facebook. These all have to do with reform of the Catholic church and with the role Pope Francis may or may not play in reforming the church:

In The Tablet, theologian Hans Küng sees the papacy of Pope Francis as a window of opportunity for continued reform of the Catholic church along the lines of Vatican II, after Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI sought to restore things to the pre-conciliar norms. If Francis fails to reform the church, Küng proposes that reform continue from the bottom of the church upwards, without the approval of the hierarchy and even in direct contradiction to hierarchical commands. Failure to move in the direction of reform will produce an ice age in the Catholic church, Küng believes, in which Catholicism "will run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect."

Küng sees a template for reform in the life and spirituality of the saint whose name the new pope took as his papal name--Francis lived poverty, humility, and simplicity:

Paupertas, or poverty: The Church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a Church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a Church in the spirit of Francis means a Church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A Church which concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak, the marginalised. A Church which does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and which offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.

Humilitas, or humility: The Church in the spirit of Pope Innocent means a Church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a Church in the spirit of Francis means a Church of humanity, dialogue, brother and sisterhood, and hospitality for non-conformists too; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community which does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the Church but rather allows them to flourish.

Simplicitas, or simplicity: The Church in the spirit of Pope Innocent means a Church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a Church of canon law regulating everything, a Church of all-knowing scholastic and of fear. In contrast, a Church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a Church of Good News and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a Church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from on high, a Church that does not only teach but constantly learns anew.

In the Portland Press Herald (Maine), Paul Kendrick sees how Francis will choose (or not) to address the abuse crisis in the Catholic church as the measure of whether the new pope is serious about reform. Kendrick was educated by the Jesuits, the community to which Francis belongs. The leitmotiv of Jesuit spirituality, taught to students in Jesuit institutions, is concern for social justice with a pronounced concern for the poor and vulnerable.

But the Jesuits themselves have betrayed their own spirituality, Kendrick maintains, in the abusive, unjust, demeaning way in which Jesuit institutions and communities have dealt with survivors of abuse suffered at the hands of Jesuits. The Jesuits have, Kendrick concludes, "failed to embrace those who were abused with love, compassion, care and understanding."

And so he will judge the new pope's commitment to the poor by whether Francis recognizes that the least among us include survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic religious authority figures. Kendrick says he'll believe in Francis's commitment to reform and to serving the poor when he sees the following:

The day must come quickly when the new Jesuit pope has assured himself that, among other things:

• Bullying and manipulating hardball legal tactics against abuse victims have ceased.

• Professional, long-term medical and mental health treatment is available to all victims at no cost.

• Databases are published in every diocese in which the names, photos and other information about priests and church workers who abused children are listed.

• Church documents detailing trails of abuse and cover-up are made public.

• Measurable reparations and amends are made to compensate victims for their harms and injuries.

• Priests, bishops and other church leaders who cover up or conceal child sexual abuse will immediately be removed from office; i.e., they will be fired.

And in Religión Digital (by way of Iglesia Descalza), Benedictine sister Teresa Forcades maintains that the real basis for reform within contemporary Catholicism is not so much the arrival of a "Pope Messiah," but the continued vital presence of grass-roots communities, base communities, working for liturgical, theological, and structural reform of the Catholic church from the bottom up. These include communities working out of both feminist and liberationist theological insights, both of which have been challenging the "involution" of the Vatican II church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Forcades's interviewer asks her what she'd tell Pope Francis if she met him. Her response:

I would ask him to go ahead with this commitment to poverty, not just through symbolic gestures like those he's been making up to now, but also through structural changes. And that he would dare to alleviate that clericalism and that structural misogynism that I spoke of as the main problems.

Forcades's reference to a point she had made earlier in the interview is this: she argues several times and forcefully that "institutional clericalism and structural misogyny are palpable" in the Catholic church. There is no avenue to real reform of the church which does not address how clericalism has been institutionalized in the Catholic church, and how misogyny is woven into the governing structures of the church.

Three different viewpoints, each coming from a different position in the church, with different prescriptions for the type of reform so critically needed in the Catholic church today--but united in their insistence that reform is imperative and, in the case of Forcades and Küng, united, too, in their judgment that the previous two papacies set the church on a path of "involution" that has threatened to make the reforms begun by the second Vatican Council null and void.

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