A Church in constant need of reform

Although Pope Francis remained silent on abuse during the first year of his pontificate, he accelerated the institutional response to the crisis in 2014. He has been even more determined to do so since 2018 and, in February 2019, held an extraordinary summit in the Vatican.

Jun 12, 2021


By Massimo Faggioli
Although Pope Francis remained silent on abuse  during the first year of his pontificate, he accelerated the institutional response to the crisis in 2014. He  has been even more determined to do so since 2018  and, in February 2019, held an extraordinary summit in the Vatican.

Cardinal Marx played an important role in that crucial meeting, as he has in the overall Vatican strategy  to deal with the abuse crisis since 2010.

Yet, even Francis’ actions always seem to fall short  of what is expected of the Church and the papacy in  terms of the institutional response to the sex abuse  crisis.

Yes, for the Catholic Church, the 21st century is  challenging. It is a Church that continually wants to  profess itself as an Ecclesia semper reformanda — a  Church in constant need of reform.

But it is being forced by external pressure to be an  ecclesia semper penitens — a Church that is constantly repenting.

There is no question that, on some issues, repentance must be the modality of the Catholic Church today. Coming to terms with its dark history is an essential task in moving towards the future. The problem is  that it is not clear what kind of future.

Verbal aesthetics or real structural reform?
The hope for change in Catholicism today is called  synodality. It aims at a less clerical and more co-responsible way of being Church.

But there is an important difference between synodality in the Church in the past and today.

It would be easier to be a synodal Church in a triumphant self-perception — as was the case of the  synodal experiences from the Middle Ages, the postTridentine period and, in some sense, even in the immediate post-Vatican II Church — than in the Church  of today, where public repentance is (constantly) perceived by some as inadequate and insincere. 

This is a major break from just even a few decades  ago. The vision of the Second Vatican Council for the  future of the Church was much more in the footsteps  of the traditional semper reformanda than in the semper penitens of today.

This is why the Church’s situation today is very different from the times of Vatican II, and the invocation of the “hermeneutic of continuity and reform” is  tragically inadequate if continuity gets the better of  reform.

The future will continue to be an elusive idea in the  Church if the elevation of the existential dimension  of the faith becomes just verbal esthetics, and if the  pastoral dimension becomes clerical mannerism and  thus the instrument for an institutional apologetics,  which is merely a defence of the status quo, as Italian  theologian Marcello Neri has noted in his latest book.

But that could very well happen to the synodal process if it is not open to institutional and theological  reforms in response to the abuse crisis.

However, with bold reform, the Church stands a  chance of being renewed. ––LCI (https:// international.la-croix.com/

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