by Father Anthony, STL
I had asked Father Anthony to comment on these situations, time permitting. This is the response.
As you can imagine each of these questions could take a book-length answer, but here are a few thoughts. I can only offer a few rather random thoughts on all this.
In many ways all these issues go back to how we understand the significance of the 2nd Vatican Council (1962 -65). One of the central questions is about how the Council relates to the long history of the Church, and whether it should be seen as a rupture with the past, a kind of “Ecclesiastical Ground Zero”, or rather in continuity with the Previous councils and the History of the Church. In reality, I think, few would argue for the extreme views that “Everything changed with the Council” or that “Nothing important changed”, but you can see two distinct tendencies operative in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI speaks of a “hermeneutic of reform” in continuity with the Church’s past.
Most observers would recognize an attempt by the Roman Curia in the years since the Council to “claw back” a degree of central control, which it saw as threatened by the Council and its implications. The translation of the Roman Missal and the controversy over the new English texts perfectly illustrates this issue. The responsibility for translating the Liturgical texts was given to the Bishops’ Conferences around the world. Rome was merely to oversee the process and give its official “Confirmation” of the work done. In fact the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship rejected the work done by the ‘International Commission for English in the Liturgy‘ (ICEL) and imposed a new set of rules for translation, and in effect “changed the goalposts”. When the final texts were submitted to Rome thousands more modifications were imposed without consultation before the Missal was published. This example of “Roman micro-management” illustrates what many see as a major problem. The resultant texts have had a very mixed review, and many consider them to be a pastoral problem rather than a pastoral opportunity. Much more could be said, but you can see what a huge issue this is. Many English speaking bishops are less than happy, I would say.
With regard to the situation in Austria, I would imagine that the Pope puts considerable trust in Cardinal Schonborn who, it seems to me, is trying to negotiate a difficult path between loyalty to the Holy See and the demands of a considerable number of clergy and laity. The problem is complicated by the fact that some of the demands of the “reformers” are matters of discipline and must be open to debate, whilst others such as the ordination of women touch on questions of doctrine which the Holy See regards as settled and unalterable. There would be a lot of sympathy among the bishops for a number of the other demands, not least the need for much more decentralization in the day to day administration of the Church. The same “micro-management” that has affected the English Mass translation creates problems in many other areas of Church life.
A similar issue is at play with regard to the American Sisters. There are some real concerns about the degree to which some American Sisters, including prominent leaders among them sit lightly to Catholic doctrine and Catholic Moral teaching. This cannot truthfully be reduced simply to “power politics”, although there is much of that involved. There is also a clear difference of approach in Rome between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Religious. The latter takes a much more diplomatic and conciliatory approach. This represents, in part at least, a Roman “turf war”. This in turn illustrates the extent to which the Roman Curia is seen as dysfunctional. Many believe that a “root and branch” reform is needed to create a curia which actually serves the Pope and the Bishops in the administration of the Church. This will, one hopes, be an important issue for the Cardinals at the next conclave.
The situation in Ireland is very sad, and I think it requires a drastic response. I suspect that the Holy See will in the hear future,appoint a coadjutor to assist and take over from Cardinal Brady. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these individual cases I cannot see how the Cardinal and most of other bishops can exercise any kind of moral authority in Ireland after all that has happened. One has to ask the question “Why are they staying in post? And to what end?” Only a new generation of leaders with a very different outlook, marked by humility and openness will be able to begin to task of healing and re-building. It is not clear whether the Holy See truly understand this.
These are a few reflections, for what they are worth, but they point to a Church at a difficult time of transition and crisis. It is one thing to point out the problems, but quite another to chart a way forward.