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March 6, 2013 · 


By Fr. Shay Cullen

There is a crisis in the Roman Catholic Church, not a crisis of faith, but crises of leadership, of moral authority, a crisis of institutional management and good governance and administration. The conclave of Cardinals has a tough task ahead of them as they gather to choose a successor to recently resigned Pope Benedict XVI.

Firstly, it is not a crisis of faith. The truly faithful Catholics are knowledgeable in their faith and the Gospel; they live and practice, as best they can, discipleship as taught by Jesus of Nazareth. They follow their conscience faithfully, work for social justice and help the poor. Their faith is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ not only in the institution or vessel that carries the message. If the Barque of Peter appears to be sinking, fear not, do not be afraid, for Jesus will come walking on the water for each of us. For many true Catholics, their faith is a profound personal relationship with him as their friend, guide, and support through life and strengthened by their commitment to the Kingdom of Justice and the Eucharist.

True Christians, Catholics or any other denomination, who meditate on his words, deeds, personality and character learn from him and follow his example and inspire others. They look to Jesus of Nazareth as a personal force in their lives, and with due respect, their faith and inspiration comes from Him, not necessarily from the Pope, the Magisterium or the Curia of scarlet robed cardinals. It would be great if the institutional church model could inspire personal faith experience in Jesus as the New Evangelism movement tries to promote.

But alas it falls short due to scandals by pedophile priests, Bishops covering up child abuse and even silent and secretive Cardinals. So a church management and leadership crises is not a spiritual crises for true Catholics. Unless for those whose faith is rooted in church authority and dogma alone, then they have cause to be troubled.

Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals are the top managers of the Institutional Church who rarely know what is going on in the lives of the poor. The poverty, confusion, the HIV-AIDS epidemic, the isolation of the laity and women in the church decision making process is generally glossed over.  The Community of the Faithful or the Gathering of Believers is the Church, as Vatican II declared. The Church is a Faith Community guided by the Bishops united in collegiality and with the participation of the laity. Sadly, those Vatican Council II decrees have fallen by the wayside and a centralized command structure has taken hold once again. The decrees of Vatican II must be revived and put into vigorous practice to enliven and reform the church.

The concentration of church power in the Vatican elite where intrigue and the same arguments over who is the greatest and most influential goes on as it did among the Apostles themselves. Jesus scolded the Apostles and taught them to learn from his example when he knelt down and washed their feet as would a slave. With all due respect, some of the Cardinals playing pious politics in the Church need to return to the spirituality of Gospel values and bring about structural and institutional reform and return to the simplicity of life of Jesus himself.

He welcomed everybody, especially the poor and the outcasts, the abused, and women and children, the sick and the nobodies of His day. He said they were his brothers and sisters, children of God, the most important members of his Kingdom of love and friendship.

But today, there is a shocking failure of some church leaders to help and protect the women and child victims of clerical sexual abuse. The inaction by church leaders to prevent further abuse has damaged the credibility of the institutional leadership of the church so much so that hundreds of thousands have left the Church in the past decade. They were a generation taught to have unquestioning belief in the institutional Church as the depository of all holiness and grace .That has been undermined by scandals and they feel lost and bewildered without a personal faith experience of Jesus Christ himself.

The Cardinals in Conclave hopefully guided by the Spirit of Truth will choose a leader who is independently minded and strong enough to resist and dissolve the elite groups that rule within the Vatican. They must elect a leader who is able to reform the Curia, restore collegiality and include the laity.  Such a leader needs to be empowered by the spirit, steeped in scriptural faith and social justice and be a Pope that has wide pastoral and administrative experience together with compassion, love, and meaningful action for the poorest of the poor. In other words, be “Christ-like”; a tall order, even for the Holy Spirit. [end]

 Email: (Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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