Anniversaries in 2019 to better understand the Church

There will be a number of im- portant appointments for Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in 2019, beginning with more pa- pal journeys to the perip

Jan 12, 2019

By Massimo Faggioli
There will be a number of im- portant appointments for Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in 2019, beginning with more pa- pal journeys to the peripheries of our world.

The 82-year-old Pope will travel to Panama for World Youth Day in Janu- ary before heading to the mostly Mus- lim-populated United Arab Emirates and Morocco in February and March. He will then go to the predominantly Orthodox countries of Bulgaria and Macedonia in May.

Also on the papal agenda in the ear- ly part of this year is the unprecedent- ed Feb 21-24 meeting in Rome of the presidents of all the world’s episcopal conferences to discuss the sex abuse crisis. Then in October, the Pope will convene a special session of the Synod of Bishops to focus on issues facing the Amazon region.

Francis is also expected to issue a new apostolic constitution in the first half of 2019 that will codify what has been a five-year process of reforming the Roman Curia. And there will likely be some sur- prises, given the turbulent state of the Catholic community. Tension became evident in 2018 in the United States when two dozen bishops showed un- precedented and unimaginable support for Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò when he called on Francis to resign.

The former papal nuncio to Wash- ington did so last August by issuing a “testimony” while the Pope was visit- ing Ireland. But now should we look to the fu- ture by pondering the milestones of the recent past and not so recent past. As William Faulkner famously wrote, anniversaries can help us remember that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And this is particularly true for the Catholic Church.

The First Vatican Council
One of the historic events the Church will be celebrating in 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the First Vatican Council. The commemoration will like- ly be marked by newly published books and various conferences and other ec- clesial events — often ways to signal a policy change under the guise of talk- ing about past events.

Pius IX opened Vatican I in Decem- ber 1869, but the assembly was sus- pended (not formally concluded) in September 1870. It was the last council held under a pope who was also a king. Vatican I is known mostly for the dogma of papal infallibility. The bish- ops at the council voted along “party lines” — infallibilists versus anti-infal- libilists. There was no real effort at cre- ating unanimity, especially from Pope Pius, who made decisive interventions at the council’s most important mo- ments. But Vatican I was about more than just papal infallibility.

The Catholic Church today should remember two other important aspects from this coun- cil. First, Vatican I’s contribution to the growth of the papacy in the contempo- rary world was due more to its empha- sis on papal primacy rather than infal- libility, which was quickly revealed to be a highly impractical weapon in the hands of the papacy. It is because of the primacy that the Catholic Church is today much more papalist than ever before.

This is both due to Vatican I and Vatican II (the Second Vatican Coun- cil). On the other hand, as John O’Malley, SJ, notes in his latest book on Vatican I, the victory for the infallibilist majority at the council was also a posthumous victory for the minority in the non-ex- tremist way in which the definition of papal infallibility has been interpreted in the Church and by the magisterium since 1870. Second, Vatican I officially sanc- tioned and endorsed a theological-polit- ical movement in reaction to liberalism, which had started in the first half of the 19th century.

The Ultramontane Move- ment (represented by intellectuals such as de Maistre, Lamennais, and Veuil- lot in France, Cortes in Spain, Görres in Germany and Manning in England) recentred Catholicism around the pope and Rome. It was against not only Gal- licanism but also liberalism in general. There are interesting parallels be- tween the Ultramontane Movement that began 150 years ago and the neo- traditionalist movement in the early 21st century (that is, contemporary Catholicism), evidenced through the role played by certain recent converts to Catholicism and the Catholic media. The year 2019 will say something about the force and cohesion of this assault on the papacy from the small neo-traditionalist fringes in the Catho- lic Church, after the “shoot and miss” that was the clumsy coup d’eglise en- gineered by Archbishop Viganò and his network of visible and invisible sup- porters in the summer of 2018.

Catholics and politics
Another anniversary in 2019 from which today’s Church can gain insight is the centenary of the founda- tion of Italy’s Catholic-inspired politi- cal party, the Partito Popolare Italiano (PPI). It marks the first time in more than four decades that the papacy formally allowed Italian Catholics to actively engage in politics, after Pope Benedict XV lifted the 1874 ban im- posed by Pius IX.

The PPI founder, Fr Luigi Sturzo, was sent into exile by the fascists only a few years later, but not without en- couragement from the papacy. The priest’s exile preceded an agreement between Mussolini and the Holy See to find a solution to the “Roman ques- tion” and fight against communism and socialism.

The centenary is an interesting an- niversary because the foundation of the PPI marked the most important ex- periment of a political party inspired by the Church’s social doctrine. It also recalls the uneasiness of Vatican authorities, who saw Fr Sturzo as too independent from their control. And it illustrates how the pope chose to deal with the overarching issue of the time — the threat of totalitarianism — and what kind of compromises the Church was willing to make in order to sur- vive.

The cause of beatification of Father Sturzo is now underway and the 100th anniversary of the PPI could give a boost to the process.

However, the centenary is also a reminder of how much has changed since the days of Luigi Sturzo. A cen- tury ago Catholics were experiencing a brief period of freedom from the grip of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Though Sturzo went into exile in 1924 and the party was disbanded, at least for a time Catholics in Italy were given the au- tonomy to explore the complexities of dealing with the earthly city.

But after 20 years of his exile and with the conclusion of the Second World War, many of Sturzo’s intui- tions about the Church and modern politics came back and contributed to the building of a new Italy and a new Europe. Catholics were able to dia- logue and work together with demo- cratic socialists and liberals. It was the beginning of the European social model, which is now in peril. And there could be even more peril after the election of the new European Par- liament in May 2019.

It is a battle in which some Catho- lics — such as Steve Bannon and his allies in North America and in Europe — are trying to impose a new Euro- pean political order. They are doing this through a network of intellectuals and influential figures, including some Catholic prelates, who are opposed to Pope Francis. Probably not even ‘St Luigi Sturzo’ could save the legacy of the international order created by Christian-democratic parties in the ongoing battle for Europe’s political future. --LCI (

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