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Personal Note Theology Today Pastoral Implications Forty Years in the Desert Digesting Vatican II Preparing for Vatican III Eucharistic Starvation


"Can the church become more people friendly?"

Ignatius Desmond Sullivan (Oxford, England)


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Forty Years in the Desert

It will soon be forty years since the opening of the Council.

But where is the joy and vision of Pope John?

In 1962, the world was listening, was full of expectation. Pope John was pointing, like his namesake, to Christ the light of all nations, with the message to shed His radiance on all man and to brighten the countenance of the Church. Then we had our chance: like teenagers, bursting our of maturity: vital, powerful, restless to break out into the New Pentecost. We had hoped.

One of the main problems is the "struggling for the mastery". Some of the more agitated of the laity are thwarted because nobody seems to be listening to them, the lively among the clergy are smarting under the burden of the slowness of growth, and even those bishops who were at the Council are saddened and weary at the loss of that sparkle which they breathed shortly for a time while they were in Rome.

What ever happened to the Spirit so hoped for by Pope John and the crowd of Bishops who so enthusiastically rebelled in the first session in St Peters against the paternalism of the then Roman curia?

Authority in Peril

To the willing and discerning eye, one can trace a deeper and more searching unease within the words of the Popes themselves. Pope Paul VI himself was completely shattered at the exuberant and mature reaction of many of the faithful to his famous encyclical - the whole concept of Papal authority, power and loyalty which he had inherited from generation of Popes since Trent was put on the rack. How could good Catholics clergy and even bishops challenge a Pope's decision so openly?

This na´ve paternalism so deeply embedded in Rome shows itself more glaringly in Pope John Paul. He seems at home with the lively secularity of the young but when it comes to theology he can be equally hopelessly inflexible demanding strict obedience even to non-fallible statements and rules of the magisterium. On the one hand he seems committed to the "transcendental dignity of the human person" and even to the "excellence of human liberty". On the other hand he seems to feel he is bound by the concept of Papal authority, power and the demands of loyalty.

Is it that Romanism, and authoritarianism, part of the baggage of Reformation history that we in Britain have grown out of and have left behind in our political maturity?

Pope Paul tried to reform the Roman Curia and its power. He failed. Pope John Paul II tried too but they proved stronger than him. He failed the bishops by not granting to the Synods and the Episcopal Conferences any collegiate authority. He also impoverished the growth of the diversity of church practise and liturgy in accordance with the diversity of cultures throughout the world even though this was recommended by the Council.

But what about the local church? Our Bishops and priests are traditionally in a conflict situation. They are, most of them, busy looking over their shoulders to the power of Rome instead of acting in accordance with the real needs of the local church.

There is also among the laity, sometimes organised, sometimes not, who claim for the pope, the Roman Curia and often themselves, a kind of power and authority which contradicts the teaching of Jesus on the role of authority in his church "Let it not be so among you".

Perhaps new life beings at forty

This may be true of the church today, but we will have to work at it!