Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Will It Take Another Luther?

St Francis, model
for inernal reform
of the Church
There is no doubt that the Church today stands in desperate need of a new Reformation.  When we speak of “Reformation” we usually think of Martin Luther, but his was only one of several Reformations in the history of the Church.  Luther’s Reformation had the unfortunate consequence of splitting the Church—as did the subsequent Reformation of John Calvin as well as the English, Scottish, and Scandinavian Reformations.  There were other Reformations that did not divide the Church.  Previous entries on this blog have spoken of the Carolingian and Ottonian Reformations of the 9th and 10th centuries respectively. (See entries for May 9, June 4, 5, 18, 20, 23, 28, 29,  July 1, 16, 18,  28, August 6, 7, 11, 26, 2011, Feb 21, 2012. )  These Reformations were imposed on the Church by the political authority of the Holy Roman Emperors.   Then there was the Gregorian Reform from within the Church, led by a series of Popes and assisted by various saints.  (See July 19, 28, August 6, 7, 25, 27, 28, 2011 and February 21, 2012.)  I hadn’t gotten to the Spanish Reformation of Ferdinand and Isabella or the Tridentine Reformation yet in my postings, but the former of these was, like the Carolingian and Ottonian, imposed by king-protectors of the Church; the latter was the internal Reform mandated by the Council of Trent.  My favorite Reformation is that of Innocent III at the beginning of the thirteenth century.  It was sheer grace.  A wise and good pope empowered a generation of saints—John of Matha, Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Clare, Albert of Vercelli, Jordan of Saxony, Philip Benizi, Anthony of Padua, Edmund Rich, Bonaventure and countless others who founded new and enthused religious orders, stirred up the laity to deeper faith, preached the gospel, called people to live a gospel life, provided good pastoral service to the faithful and gave new life to the Church.  All this was under the guidance of a Pope, Innocent III, who understood that the Institution of the Church was there to advance the Gospel and foster holiness in Church’s members. 
      That the Church today stands in need of a serious Reformation—in head and members—is very clear.  The reforms of Vatican II have been a disaster—not because they weren’t sound and good ideas, holy ideas, but because they have not been properly implemented.  The Council was no sooner over and the last busload of bishops had hardly left for the airport, when curial officials began dismantling the Council, giving it its “authentic interpretation” which steadily and surely has reconsolidated all power in the Roman Curia leaving the Roman bureaucracy unmanageable to the Pope and unaccountable to anyone.  The result is the chaos and scandal we now endure with the Holy See sheltering prelates from prosecution for protecting abusive priests, with money laundering being the business of the Vatican Bank, with cronyism being the chief criterion for the nomination of bishops, and with vicious infighting involving Cardinals and butlers in stabling one another in the back. 
        The monarchial and bureaucratic structure by which the Church is administered cannot be relied upon for honest and transparent leadership needed in a community that professes its mission is to spread the Gospel.  There is a need to change the basic constitution of the Church, not to do away with the papacy or the episcopal structure which we Catholics believe was instituted by Christ (though that needs some historical nuancing), but to integrate leadership into the Church rather than place it above the Church. By this I do not mean introducing democracy into the Church, but I do mean creating structures of accountability.  If the leadership of the Church does not realize that the faithful do already in fact hold them accountable and create structures of administration that “give some teeth” to that accountability, the faithful will continue to drift away from the leadership in ever greater numbers. Right now the choice—Luther or Innocent—can still be made, but if the Church leadership does not opt for an Innocentian Reform from within, then they will find themselves the victims of a Luther style Reform that will lead the faithful away from the leadership.  

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