In Florence, Italy, in November Pope Francis staggered the JPll/Ratzinger clerics who oppose integral change in the Catholic church:
“Before the problems of the church, it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally.”
At another point, he said, “Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened. It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: It is called Jesus Christ.”
The National Catholic Reporter which has finally got its legs after decades of the Catholic ice age and the harassment of top down bishops pointed out these salient fact:
It was one more item in a persistent litany of invitations that Francis has offered the entire church — but most specifically his bishops — to a freedom that presumes a willingness to wrestle both with the demands of the law and human realities that expose the law as inadequate to many circumstances at hand.
Less than a week later, the U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore, and it seems the invitation was overlooked by many, perhaps ignored, and even, among some, feared and rejected. During three days of deliberations, the leaders of the American church considered priorities and plans for the future and a political document intended to guide Catholic voters.
“What the American church received for the effort was a stale offering of old documents, largely ineffective in their previous iterations and sounding today, in parts, embarrassingly tone-deaf to current realities.”
Tone deaf is an understatement. One only has to look at the bishops in major North American sees who show no leadership on the biggest moral issue in history: climate justice.
The NCR went on:
The conference is quite evidently stuck in a long transition between differing papal priorities and styles. Those who are enthusiastic about the transformation Francis is leading realize that institutional change takes time. On many of the most compelling issues, they simply do not yet have the votes to move beyond the rigid formulations of past decades.
It is understandable. The conference is still top-heavy with bishops formed by or conforming to the expectations of Pope John Paul II, whose ecclesiological preferences were largely unchanged during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI.
John Paul favored loyalty of the sort that raises no questions or challenges. The church under John Paul became a highly juridical exercise with strictly drawn lines, a tick list of orthodoxies and “non-negotiables.” Under that regime, it was easy to detect who was inside or outside the institution, and that distinction was held as highly important. John Paul had no tolerance for questions that he alone deemed out of bounds.
The rigidity of that neat and tidy church, a high-employment zone for canon lawyers, was its undoing. It cracked under the force of tremors emanating from the corruption of the clergy culture and the devastating sex abuse and money scandals. It cracked because it could not withstand the pressures that derived from everyday existence, where the life of faith is not lived in constant consultation with the law.
The rigidly drawn borders, merciless in their judgment of the unworthy, kept people out. They couldn’t, however, hold in those who became disgusted with the corruption or those who became disenchanted with faith by fiat. The model was unable to hold so many young who viewed the church as irrelevant to their lives. Little in the way of invitation was offered to the alienated.
And so North American churches emptied. The most theologically sophisticated, best educated Catholics in history departed. Between 2000-2010, 30 million Catholics said goodbye to a church which had turned its back on the sensus fidelium, the wisdom deep inside.
Pope Francis with his commitment to Vatican ll has once again stirred the embers. The vast majority of Catholics however are trapped in the dioceses of the gray men of the past 2 pontificates…and they aren’t following Pope Francis.