Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Repair My Church

It’s troubling (but not really surprising) to read that there is opposition in the old Curia to Pope Francis’ efforts to reform it.

The National  Catholic Reporter’s reports Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez’s remarks that despite the pope’s popularity, his way of thinking and governing the Church has awakened “deaf opposition not only in the Curia, but in some who are sorry to lose privileges in treatment and in comforts.”

The cardinal was in Florida on April 8, 2014, to lead a day of reflection for the Franciscan provincials of the English speaking conference of the Order of Friars Minor who had gathered in St. Joseph Church in St. Petersburg.

Cardinal Rodriguez, archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, is recognized as an adviser to Pope Francis and one of the “group of eight” cardinals that the Holy Father called together to initiate Vatican reforms.

NCR  explained that Pope Francis is trying to respond to the same commission that St. Francis of Assisi heard  in 1206: “Go, repair my Church.” Cardinal Rodriguez reminded the friars that St. Francis’ efforts "caused great scandal" from church leaders who wanted “to maintain their privileges.”

The cardinal went on to point out Pope Francis’ assessment of how the Church should be: 1) at the service of the world by being faithful to Christ and the Gospel; 2) to be free of mundane spirituality; 3) to avoid closing in on itself and being a clerical church; 4) to be open to dialog and diversity; and 5) to pay attention to and give importance to women in society and in the church.

In 2012 the Capuchin Franciscan Michael H. Crosby published a book titled Repair My House (Orbis Books) in which he explains that there is an imbalance in church governance (hierarchical over communal) because Church leaders have focused on Matthew 16:17-19 and neglected Matthew 18:17-20.

In Matthew 16 Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

In Matthew 18 Jesus advises, “If another member of the community sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone…but if you are not listened to, take one or two others along…if the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.”

And then Jesus adds, “Again, truly, I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Crosby insists, “Both texts must be considered as equal in their power to bind and loose.”

In other words, there is a Petrine way of exercising the power to bind and loose, and there is a communal way.  Crosby notes Scripture scholar Donald Senior’s observation that Peter has “the discretion of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing,’ Jewish legal terms that referred either to the power of interpreting the obligations of the Law or to the power of excommunicating from the synagogue. It is not clear which of these is being conferred on Peter (note that similar powers are given to the community in 18:18).”

Crosby reiterates that “the two entities of receiving power to bind and loose must be balanced,” recognizing both the unique role of the keys in Peter’s office and the power given to the local church. “Rather than either/or,” Crosby concludes, “power and governance in the church should be a matter of both/and.”

The consequences of Crosby’s contention are serious. If we have been determining power and governance in the Church based solely on one passage of Scripture to the neglect of the other, then we do indeed have an imbalance.

Crosby quotes a theologian who served as peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council: “Criticism of papal declarations will be possible and necessary to the degree that they do not correspond with Scripture and the Creed, that is, with the belief of the church. Where there is neither unanimity in the church nor clear testimony of the sources, then no binding decision is possible; if one is formally made, then its preconditions are lacking, and therefore the question of its legitimacy must be raised” (Joseph Ratzinger, 1969).

Later, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in the June 3 issue of L’Osservatore Romano about the role of lay people in the Church, recognizing the need to move from collaboration to co-responsibility. Pointing to our communion with one another in the Church, Pope Benedict said that lay people “must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action.”

Pope Francis’ decision to call upon lay as well as clerical input for the upcoming Synod on the Family suggests that the current holder of the Petrine Office is seeking to right the imbalance.

Several tough issues were addressed in the laity’s response to Pope Francis’ appeal, especially the disconnect between the Church’s stand on birth control and the widespread use of contraceptives by Catholic lay men and women.

Crosby raises an important question when he asks why there is such polarization surrounding the theological difference regarding full equality of women in the church and birth control. This, he says, becomes especially troublesome when there is much debate concerning the question of ‘reception” of papal declarations about these two issues.

“Only when the churches of Matthew 16 and 18 agree on such matters of faith,” Crosby insists, “can they be considered binding.”

President John Kennedy once observed that “May you live in interesting times” was a Chinese curse. Like it or not, we do live in interesting times, as the Church continues to struggle to be faithful to Christ and the Gospel, to be free of mundane spirituality, to avoid closing in on itself and being clerical, to be open to dialog and diversity, and to give importance to women in the Church.

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