Monday, 5 April 2010

A Church in Crisis

In his epilogue to his 1976 edition of 'A Concise History of the Catholic Church' author Thomas Bokenkotter concludes "Ten years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church remains in the grip of a crisis that appears to have no end in sight. And now (1990 rev. edition) twenty-five years after the Council, the end is still not in sight". A further twenty years along these writings remain eerily prophetic reading the problems Bokenkotter identified so long ago i.e., "the increasingly sharp polarization between liberals and conservatives as they wrestle over their conflicting views of the relation of freedom to authority; the difficulty of settling such disputes by reference to Vatican Council II, the frightening erosion of the priesthood, the alienation of many baptized Catholics – especially the youth, the loss of the Church's credibility in moral and sexual matters, the difficulty of updating Catholic doctrine, the near desperate financial straits of many diocese, etc., etc.

Today these same problems remain unanswered, but the crisis has escalated to a point that is almost unprecedented in Roman Catholic Church history. Many people are calling for Pope's resignation about his handling of the sexual abuse cases both as Pontiff and his years as head of the CDF. I will leave it to the experts and history as to the question of his involvement. However, there is little doubt that Benedict XVI's autocratic rule together with his desire to reverse the reforms of Vatican II has been a major factor contributing to the lack of resolve of this ongoing crisis.

Attempts to establish any form of middle ground have been unsuccessful. Collegiality has become almost totally ineffective since the majority of Bishops among the Roman Curia were selected on the basis of their conservative views. Considering that more than one-hundred liberal theologians were silenced since Cardinal Ratzinger came into power, under Pope John Paul II, speaks volumes for those who have tried to introduce change.

The question many people ask today is what led to a culture within the Church that resulted in so many cases of sexual abuse? While the Catholic Institution remains secretive and defensive about their role in this ugly matter experts tell us that the problem is systemic and endemic.

Could a particular style of administration really have been responsible for creating the current crisis? Readers will have to judge for themselves. (While a number of high ranking officials of the Church have come to the defense of the Pope many can be easily identified for their well-known conservative views).

Here follows a quick summary of the elements in the change in style of the Church promoted by the fathers of Vatican II as seen by John W. O'Malley S.J.:

From commands to invitations

from laws to ideals

from threats to persuasion

from coercion to conscience

from monologue to conversation

from ruling to serving

from withdrawn to integrated

from vertical and top-down to horizontal

from exclusion to inclusion

from hostility to friendship

from static to changing

from passive acceptance to active engagement

from prescriptive to principled

from defined to open-ended

from behavior-modification to conversion of heart

from the dictates of law to the dictates of conscience

from external conformity to the joyful pursuit of holiness

O'Malley goes on to say: "When those elements are taken in the aggregate, they indicate a model of spirituality. This, they say, is what good Catholics should look like and this is how they should behave. That means the elements indicate what the Church should look like and how it should behave. This is a significant model-shift. This is a teaching of the council. Moreover, those elements taken in the aggregate seem to express something that can be called "the spirit of the council." By examining "the letter" in this way we are able to arrive at "the spirit." The medium in its genre and vocabulary conveys a remarkably coherent message that transcends the particularities of the documents. The form conveys content".

It should be noted that Fr. O'Malley at no time ever suggests in his book 'Vatican II Did Anything Happen? that had the style of Vatican II been fully adopted the current crisis would have been avoided. At the same time O'malley never used this criteria for making the judgment and weight I have given it.

In conclusion, I take full responsibility for these views and want to express my sincere desire to bring a more balanced understanding to this crisis

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