Friday, January 30, 2015

Sabotaging the Consultation and Sensus Fidei

Pope Francis has called for widespread consultation of the faithful in preparation for the 14th Ordinary Synod scheduled for October 4-25, 2015, which is called to discuss and develop a response to the challenges facing families and marriage in today’s world.

Bishops who will gather for the meeting have been given the results of last year’s preparatory synod. This document of guidelines (lineamenta) will serve as a basis for discussions.

In a letter to Bishops around the world, Cardinal  Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, urged the dissemination of the document and widespread consultation with the Faithful. Included with the Lineamenta were a series of questions to help with the study of the document and the consultation.

In my humble opinion the committee which formulated the 46 questions attached to the Lineamenta has undermined the consultation process.

The questions are academic, esoteric, and sometimes downright enigmatic. What, for example, are we  to understand by question #5: “How do Christian families bear witness, for succeeding generations, to the development and growth of a life of sentiment?” Even put in the context of sections 9-10 of the Lineamenta, the question lacks definition.

Question #9 (in reference to section 13 of the document) is at best torturous: “What human pedagogy needs to be taken into account –in keeping with divine pedagogy—so as better to understand what is required in the Church’s pastoral activity in light of the maturation of a couple’s life together which would lead to marriage in the future?”

Dioceses around the country will post these survey questions and ask Catholics to offer their observations. I suspect many who want to respond will lose interest by the time they get to question #10.

As I see it, Pope Francis’ desire for widespread consultation with all segments of the People of God is an exercise in tapping the so-called sensus fidei, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as “A supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium" (92).

Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) acknowledged this concept in section 12: “The whole body of the faithful who have received an anointing which comes from the holy one (see 1 John 2:20, 27) cannot be mistaken in belief. It shows this characteristic through the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ it manifests a universal consensus in matters of faith and morals.”

Pope Francis and the Synod are asking, “What do we believe? How should we apply the Gospel to the conditions found in our world? How do we best minister to the people in the light of Christ’s mercy and love?”

Sensus fidei (sensus fidelium) is an elusive but nonetheless orthodox concept. It does not imply that the voice of the majority is therefore sound doctrine, but it does recognize that the experience of the faithful is a source for theology. It is why we are called "catholic." Some in the Church, however, are afraid of an application of  the concept, skeptical that consultation with the faithful can bring acceptable (orthodox) replies.

Pope Francis recognizes the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in all levels or increments of the Church. His desire for a consultation with laity as well as clergy is an appeal for the Holy Spirit to speak and an opportunity for all the Church to take ownership of the Church’s message, mission and ministry.

While I am personally disappointed with the formulation of questions posed for the consultation I do recall the manifestation of the Spirit on Pentecost and that the crowds who gathered heard the message each in his own language.

Though the synodal questions have been composed in one language, it can be our prayer that all who participate in the consultation will hear them in his own tongue and be inspired to answer those questions accordingly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Church Gets On My Nerves

I’ve had a number of conversations with Catholics who are upset with one thing or another about the Church. My usual response is to congratulate them. I’ve come to believe that if a Catholic is never troubled by what the Church says or is doing, then he or she doesn’t take the Church seriously enough.

The Church’s witness to the Gospel is bound to be a challenge to our pride, greed, envy, lust, and more. The Church’s failure to live up to the Gospel is bound to be unsettling and put our faith to the test.

The revered priest and spiritual writer Romano Guardini noted in his book The Church of the Lord  that “everything in the Church is so full of the human  elements: commonplace, ordinary, even wicked human elements.”

Social activist and convert to Catholicism Dorothy Day was fond of saying, “The Church is the cross on which Christ is always crucified” --a quote she attributed to Guardini.

Both of them recognized that "the Church as lived” is not a perfect society, the same idea which prompted Pope Benedict XVI to acknowledge that the Church has a “disfigured face.”

Catholics confess that they believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” but experience on a daily basis a Church divided and sinful.

They are told “Even in the liturgy the church does not wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not affect the faith or well-being of the entire community” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 37) and yet an awkward English translation of the Roman Missal is imposed for the sake of uniformity.

Catholics are invited to give their observations for a synod about the challenges facing family life in today’s world, and yet the questions posed for their consideration (“What analytical tools are currently being used in these times of anthropological and cultural change?” or “How do Christian families bear witness, for succeeding generations, to the development and growth of a life of sentiment?”) are more abstruse than the challenges they are supposed to probe.

Parishioners are subject to the ideologies of their pastors concerning the physical arrangements of their parish church. One pastor persuades (convinces?) the congregation that the tabernacle should not be in the sanctuary (behind the altar), but the next pastor insists there are good reasons to restore the tabernacle to that very position.

Catholics are encouraged to pray for “more vocations,” which generally means the hope that more young, unmarried men will come forward for ordination to the priesthood, when in fact they believe there would be plenty of priests if the discipline of celibacy were made optional. Parishioners see family men in their own parish who could easily and with dignity preside at the Eucharist.

They hear about Church leaders who complain that the Church has been “feminized,” and at the same time see  these same prelates dressed and parading about in satin and lace and fur.

Ecclesia reformans et reformanda  is a time-honored principle which acknowledges that the Church is always in need of reform, a work in process. Each generation of believers must translate that observation into the Church of its own time—a difficult and painful process.

The New Testament bears to witness to many quarrels and disputes: conflicts among Jesus’ apostles, disagreements about how Gentiles should be received into the community, squabbles among Christians in the Churches of Galatia and Corinth and Thessalonica. 

In some ways it is the human element of the Church that is harder to accept than the divine. Our frustration that things are not the way they should be makes us question whether God is really present after all. And yet the Incarnation is where we meet the deep, puzzling mystery of the human and divine met in the one person of Jesus Christ, who chose not to shy away from but to enter into the brokenness of the human condition. God’s patience and providence continue to surprise.

When he was asked about the newly formulated Constitution for the United States, Benjamin Franklin replied, “I consent, sir, to this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.” He did have some misgivings, but he proposed its acceptance. I sometimes wonder if Jesus feels the same about his Church. If he accepts it in its brokenness, who am I to reject it?

I can pray for its growth, work for its betterment, but to abandon what Jesus purchased at so great a price is hardly thinkable. It may not be what he had in mind, but he has not given up on it and neither should we.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Report, A Review, An Address

As 2014 came to an end, three significant Vatican documents captured Church and world attention:

1)  The Relatio Synodi for the upcoming Synod of Bishops which is dedicated to “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”;
2)  The Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States;
3)  Pope Francis’ Christmas Address to the Curia.

A Report

An October, 2014, meeting of a select number of bishops and laity discussed issues surrounding family problems in today’s world in the light of the Church’s mission to reflect Gospel values.

This extraordinary synod produced a document  known as a relatio synodi, a summary of the  issues and theology proposed and debated by the participants. In his closing remarks Pope Francis described the meeting as a journey with moments of enthusiasm and ardor, moments of fatigue, moments of consolation and grace, moments of desolation, tension and temptation.

The summary or outline (aka lineamenta) will be discussed by Bishops worldwide in preparation for an October, 2015, synod, which is expected to draw conclusions and encourage a plan of action.
Prior to the meeting the bishops are asked to consult with Catholics at all levels to surface observations, insights and  recommendations about how to respond to family life problems around the globe.

The Vatican (read: Pope Francis) encourages responses that are compassionate and pastoral. The document recognizes that there are no easy answers to the multiplicity of problems threatening family life: violence against women, sexual exploitation of children, divorce and broken families, hard economic times, rising numbers of  “street-children,” pornography, etc. The Church’s response must be merciful, truthful, and consistent with the will of Christ.

Bishops will be provided with more than 40 questions to pass on to their people in this worldwide consultation in preparation for the three-week synod in October of 2015.

Basing our expectations on the relatio, we can conclude that the results of the synod will not overturn the constant teaching of the Church that marriage is between a man and a woman, nor will there be a change regarding the indissolubility of marriage.

But it is quite possible that a great deal more attention will be given on the diocesan and parochial levels to people in hurting marriage, to the divorced, to the divorced-and-remarried, to accompanying newly married couples in the first years of their conjugal life, to simplification of the Church’s process for declaration of marriage nullity, to welcoming people with homosexual orientation, etc.

The Review of  the Sisters

In December of 2008 Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, announced an “apostolic visitation” (a Vatican investigation) of religious sisters in the United States. Religious congregations of women were caught by surprise, even though “visitations” of one or more religious orders are not uncommon. That this visitation was directed to all the religious sisters in the US raised red flags and resentment.

Pressed for an explanation, Rodé admitted that he had decided to act because of complaints his office had received, charging some of the religious orders with having a secularist mentality, “perhaps even a ‘feminist’ spirit.” Rodé intimated that someone on a high level in the US Church had been critical of sisters and their attitudes.

An American sister, Mother Mary Claire Millea, was appointed to conduct the visitation, part of which would be done by mail and part by personal, on-site meetings with certain religious orders. Over a period of two years, at an estimated cost of one million dollars, the data was collected and preparations for a report were begun.

The final review is dated December 12, 2014. Cardinal Rodé is no longer head of the congregation on religious, His Holiness Benedict XVI is no longer pope. While couched in Church language and Vaticanese, the conclusion does not address with any specificity the charges which prompted the visitation and is more hortatory in tone than directive.

The report is probably more telling in what it does not say than in what it does. The sisters may well suspect that something of the “Francis effect” is present in the final analysis of the institutions of women religious in the United States. Some Catholics think the investigation and its report to be “much ado about nothing.”

Although there may have been a collective sigh of relief from the sisters when the report was first generated, the conflict between the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not resolved.

An Address

   On December 22, 2014, Pope Francis held an annual pre-Christmas meeting with the Roman Curia and its staff. (The Curia is the collection of departments that are formed to help the pope lead the Church; it is the Church’s main bureaucracy.)

The Holy Father offered his Christmas and New Year greetings, thanked them for their service, and read to them an examination of conscience to encourage their improvement!

His address listed 15 weaknesses, temptations, or “diseases” which Curia members must strive to overcome and avoid.

He encouraged  them to be self-critical and to avoid the temptation to think of themselves as beyond updating; he also said that the disease of thinking oneself to be indispensable stems from a pathology of power and narcissism.

He urged them to avoid “Marthaism” (excessive busy-ness) and to spend quality time with family and to enjoy the holidays.

He cautioned them not to become hard-hearted but to recall the feelings and mindset of Christ.

He suggested that they be cooperative and to work as a team. He warned them about “spiritual Alzheimer’s” which forgets the history of salvation. He listed other “diseases” which need attention: the disease of rivalry and vainglory (as in excessive concern about appearance and robes and  honors); the disease of schizophrenia (as in hypocrisy and losing touch with reality); the disease of gossip and grumbling; the disease of courting superiors in the interest of advancing careers.

He warned about indifference, about wearing what he called “a funeral face,” about accumulating more things than needed, about forming cliques, and about turning service or ministry into worldly  power.

Pope Francis ended the examination of conscience by encouraging healing, noting that “these diseases and such temptations are of course a danger to every Christian and every curia, community, congregation, parish, and church movement.”

Most observers of Papa Francesco’s papacy agree that he has taken seriously the call from brother bishops to effect a reform of the Curia. Dissatisfaction with the Curia was obvious at the Second Vatican Council, but the power of the Curia waylaid most proposals for reform.

Fifty years later the conclave of cardinals who elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio discussed again the need for curial reform. In fact one may conclude that reform of the Curia was a kind of mandate given to the man the electors selected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. By establishing his Group of Nine to study and advise such reform, Pope Francis has shown his willingness to pursue that reform. The reform of the Vatican Bank is well underway.

It was said by some at Vatican II that the Curia was impervious to efforts of reform. Even though the bureaucracy exists to assist the pope in the worldwide governance of the Church, the Curia has established policies, procedures, and protections to ensure its “supremacy.”

It was said: “Popes die, Councils come to an end, but the Curia goes on!”

At the very least Pope Francis has demonstrated his willingness to climb the walls of the citadel and confront the temptations which undermine the health of this important Church body.

Three documents (a report, a review and an address) shine light on the unfolding of a new year in the Church and its mission and ministry. Let one with eyes, see. Let one with ears, hear. Pray for the safety of Pope Francis.