Much needed reform for US Church

The clergy sex abuse mess has prompted more heat than light in the year just past, but we will see a clear rejection of faux and foolish reform effort

Jan 12, 2019

By Michael Sean Wintes
What will 2019 bring in the life of the Church? Will Pope Francis be able to lead the way to a new era of episco- pal accountability? If so, how will that cohere with others of his objectives such as increased synodality?

The clergy sex abuse mess has prompted more heat than light in the year just past, but we will see a clear rejection of faux and foolish reform efforts and an embrace of some real ones.

Nothing will come of the efforts of conservative zillion- aire Tim Busch, who organised a conference on “authentic reform” of the Church in which laypeople like himself, well- heeled in the wallet and a little light in theological depth, have tried to make the Church in the US into their own im- age, an image according to their understanding of the church. Instead of these faux reforms, we have what could happen.

“Pope Francis is going to find a way to make the February meeting of the presidents of all the episcopal conferences in the world work. [This] meeting will yield some concrete pro- posals for adoption, with some variation, by local episcopal conferences and that in the course of the year, some clearer methods of holding bishops accountable at the Vatican will emerge.

2019 will be a year in which the Pope doubles down on the reform efforts he has been calling for since his election. The thing about the sex abuse crisis is this: We did not learn any- thing in 2018 that we did not know before. What the 2018 iteration of the crisis exposed was that there is still some- thing sick in the clerical culture, and it is most manifest in the inability to create any means of episcopal accountability.

In short, there is not a sex abuse crisis so much as there is an ecclesiological crisis. Pope Francis understands the need for a deeper kind of reform. Writing to the US bishops as they began their retreat, he observed, “This requires not only a new approach to man- agement, but also a change in our mind-set (metanoia), our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exer- cise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us.

Changes in the Church are always aimed at encouraging a constant state of missionary and pas- toral conversion capable of opening up new ecclesial paths ever more in keeping with the Gospel and, as such, respect- ful of human dignity.” He said the Church needs “bishops who can teach others how to discern God’s presence in the history of his people, not mere administrators”. Part of the reform, then, and a large part, must come from breaking with the extant means of, and Vatican connections for, selecting bishops. It is not only that some bishops have ceased to know their flock, and have warmed to the high life of a few wealthy donors.

Some think of themselves as princes, true, but the bigger problem is that so few of them have the courage to confront situations when a confronta- tion is demanded. They behave as yes men to those above and expect to be treated the same way by those below. They have minutante to turn the pages of their Sacramentary and take the zucchetto off their heads. Is this princely behaviour? Perhaps. This is a kind of infantilisation.
Too many were selected as bishops because they have been promoted by a powerful patron. For example, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo became a cardinal because he had Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re as his patron, as did Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. The Congregation for Bishops needs to find candidates whose tenure as a pastor and/or missionary is central, not their experience as an apparatchik in the curia. A good first step was the drawing up of a new questionnaire for those who are evaluating candidates. More needs to be done. --NCR

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