What is happening to our Church?
Sunday, 9th September 2018
Much is being written about the sickness of our church not just in Ireland but all over the world. In Ireland mass attendance is falling, schools are dropping religious education, vocations are drying up and lay people are not being prepared to take more responsibility for the maintenance of parishes. Fr. Bernard Cotter, a parish priest in Cork, in a recent Tablet article, says, “To say priests in Ireland are disillusioned would be a dramatic understatement”
It is said that Pope St. John XX111 was never alarmed by changing times in church or state because he had a sense of history and it had all happened many times before. And many years ago, I wrote down (from where I can’t remember) this description of a former time of change, which I think has some similarity to ours. “The world of the middle ages was coming to an end. There were economic, institutional, intellectual and religious collapses and transformations. The church – state synthesis that had held Europe together for a thousand years was crumbling. There was decreasing respect for church representatives. At the highest level, the papacy and the hierarchy were infamous for their corruption, decadence and secular greed. The sumptuous palace and finery of the Avignon Papacy, which existed from 1309 onwards was an infamous mark of its slide away from spiritual values towards secular and political interests. To fill the vacuum of meaning, a quest for some new systems naturally arises which are independent of the collapsed ecclesiastical and institutional structures.” And it seems the focus on mysticism developed from that. Maybe that’s why Karl Rahner, foreseeing our times, said, “In the days ahead, Christians will be either mystics (those who have experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”
We certainly need faith and hope that good can come from our time of crisis too. So often it takes crisis to open our eyes to the need for change and a new way of doing things. In fact, this crisis could help Pope Francis because he sees this clearly. He has stated that the Church needs “to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, one that is more appropriate to a world and a culture that has radically changed.” We need a change of culture in the church as well, in which clericalism is banished and in which full and open debate can flourish.
It’s probably foolish to talk about such complex issues on one page. The change that is needed cannot happen overnight. And you’ve seen already how much opposition there is to Pope Francis, even within the Church. He certainly needs our prayers.