Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Kairos Moment for Reformation and Celebration

We cannot know how long we will have Pope Francis with us (I fear for his life) but we can be sure that this moment in Church history is a kairos, a time of grace.

He has embraced the mandate given him by the cardinals who elected him, namely to reform the Church, especially its bureaucracy.

The so-called Vatileak documents verify the serious problems present in the offices, departments, and dicasteries which form the management structures of the Vatican. The turf wars, the manipulation of funds, the misappropriation of revenues, the incompetent (some say “corrupt”) book-keeping practices, the failure to follow accounting regulations, the secrecy, the resistance to reform measures –all characterize the institution Francis is working to reform.

He put it bluntly to cardinals in the Curia on July 3, 2013: “We have to better clarify the finances of the Holy See and make them more transparent…It is no exaggeration to say that most of our costs are out of control…Our books are not in order; we have to clean them up.”

Earlier, a report from two auditors alerted the pope: “There is a complete absence of transparency in the book-keeping of the Holy See and the Governorate. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to provide a clear estimate of the actual financial status of the Vatican as a whole and of the single entities of which it consists.”

Both of the above quotes come from top secret documents which were shared with Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, confidential information now disclosed in Nuzzi’s book Merchants In The Temple (Henry Holt and Company, 2015). Msgr Lucio Vallejo Balda, a member of the now-disbanded Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, was arrested and charged with leaking the documents.

Francis’ reform efforts, however, are not confined to finances or bureaucracy. He reminded a meeting of the national conference of the Italian Church, some 2200 people from 220 dioceses, in November of 2015 that the Church is always in need of reform (“semper reformanda”). And he clarified that reform of the Church does not end in plans to change structures but necessarily includes “grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, letting yourself be guided by the Spirit.”

He warned the prelates and laity against putting undue trust in structures, organizations and plans, thereby stifling the movement of the Spirit. He pointed to the danger of relying on reason and clear thinking at the expense of losing the tenderness of the flesh of your brother.

He urged the assembly to embrace the church teaching on the preferential option for the poor, to build not walls or borders but meeting squares and field hospitals. :I would like, he said, “an Italian church that is unsettled, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I desire a happy church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses.”

In his press conference during the flight back from Africa, Francis acknowledged that some, perhaps many, Catholics believe they have the absolute truth and as a consequence dirty others with calumny, disinformation and evil acts.”Religious fundamentalism,” he said, “is not religion –it’s idolatry."

When on December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened the holy door marking the beginning of the Year of Mercy, he asked us to think of it as opening ourselves to express the mercy of the Good Samaritan. “Wherever there are people, ”he said, “the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.”

The Holy Year of Mercy is clearly a time of grace. The ministry of Pope Francis is also a kairos moment in Church history.  The Francis effect and the Year of Mercy are reasons to celebrate and give thanks. May both give life, excitement, conversion and joy to the Church and the world!

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