Pope Francis, springtime is on the way…

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by Fr. Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R.

(from the Alphonsian Academy blog)

Ten years after Pope Bergoglio’s election as bishop of Rome and universal shepherd of the pilgrim people, it can be said that the hopes raised from the moment of his appearance at the balcony of St. Peter’s have come to fruition, not without difficulties, contrasts and, one might say, even a certain dissatisfaction. With the expectation of a spring, as a reappropriation of that initiated by Vatican II, much more could perhaps have been achieved. But to this spring, it seems, the same thing happens as to other social springs: they are launched with great openness, and then, when least expected, desperate winters appear, blocking and slowing down the blooming processes of new alternatives for life and hope.

Francis, like his predecessors, has not ceased to announce, with gestures and words, the joy of the Gospel and mercy, the need for peace and justice, the care and safeguarding of human and integral ecology, the attention to the existential peripheries, the urgency to include and not exclude and discard, the urgency of a Church free from the lust for power, from clericalism, to be more free, transparent and authentic in a constant outgoing to be the servant of humanity; etc. Francis has put his own particular accents, no doubt, with gestures and words that have marked the collective consciousness of a large part of humanity. His contribution was the close and insistent presence of a God who does not abandon; and, above all, who is close to us and calls us to follow his own options and actions.

Ten years is a reasonable period of time, especially when measured against the age of Francis. Gathering the best insights and impulses of Vatican II within this time was a great success. But with the passage of time, there have been significant epochal changes and new challenges in the world and, therefore, in the Church itself. We need to go further with humility and boldness; we need a new springtime. These ten years could at least be seen as a beginning: it is a lot, but there is still much to be done. We take the liberty of pointing out a few ecclesiological places where we perceive a certain resistance, slowness if you like, to make way for a genuine new springtime.

The outgoing Church. Yes, there is a new impulse to go out, but in ecclesiastical attitudes and structures everything remains the same; there is too much structural and systemic inertia that not only does not convey the freshness and depth of the Christian proposal but, at this point in history is dehumanising and even anti-Christian. All this can be seen in the liturgy, in the pastoral, in sacramental practices, and in so many spheres of the Church that are a reflection of a Church turned in on itself, on the defensive and with no intention of truly updating itself, something that is demanded by the principle of incarnation and attentive listening to the Spirit through the signs of the times. This pope is very critical of clericalism; something we applaud. But the whole structure and system is clerical, patriarchal and largely macho, all founded and oriented so that it continues to be. “New wine needs new wineskins!“.

The welcoming Church that includes and does not exclude. Yes, certain phrases and gestures in reference to the marginalised, the elderly, immigrants, women, homosexuals, etc., are welcome. But statements continue to be made on the subject of gender, homosexuality and women, which are untenable or at least out of place, both from the point of view of the Gospel (a place that Francis places as the first constant point of reference) and from the point of view of a deep and scientifically founded human conscience. The scope of the entire vision of sexuality, of human identity, of inclusion, demands a profound revision that knows how to go beyond the classic clichés: women continue to be sublimated and valorised, but not really and fully included, even with all the appointments of women in the Vatican curia. Women theologians are many, but in the faculties, their presence is minimal – sometimes null -; in the web pages of the faculties, it is difficult to find a link with the multiple platforms of women’s reflection; there remains closure and resistance towards women’s ministry; the same happens with the possibility of opening the presbyteral ministry for married people; etc. To continue to say that a homosexual orientation can be accepted, but not its experience, is almost like accepting that cubism exists but not allowing its works to be realised or exhibited; to assume that a person can have an identity, but cannot develop it and/or manifest it, sounds like a lack of respect for human dignity, like saying that it is not a crime, but it is a sin. Continuing to accuse gender as the culprit of every destabilisation of the family and the (‘natural’) identity of human sexuality without making the necessary differentiations and critical examinations between the theoretical proposals, the real people who live said identities. The possible and real exaggerations of partisanship is not only a sign of a lack of in-depth examination of the positions of others but continue to be a reflection of closure and resistance to the voice of the signs of the times. Even the fact of systematically using the concept of ‘ideology’ in a pejorative sense does not help to establish a critical dialogue when perhaps it would be more correct to speak of ideological drifts, i.e. absolutisations and/radicalisations of intellectually legitimate positions. One accuses others of supporting and wanting a ‘single thought’ but at least implicitly hopes that the proposal of a certain Christian/Catholic reading would be accepted by all as ‘the only’ true one, or at least as the one that should prevail over the others. 

The Church that always is on the way, synodal. Yes, we appreciate the Synods held and that the current Synod process is a great success, as it has given rise to many good perspectives. But, sometimes, we arrive at excellent, suitable and necessary formulations without them materialising in the realisation of communities. And when a synod process tries to go beyond mere reformism, voices and resistant barriers are raised, accusing it of damaging sound doctrine and betraying perennial tradition. The road to change is thus barred right from the start, and preventing the real problems from being tackled with courage risks producing a new disappointment; there may have been an announcement of spring, but in the end, there will only be icy winters again and spring without a truly blossoming Easter of new alternatives.

Let us hope that the processes initiated by the current Bishop of Rome can continue to flourish and, as Francis says, the Church can be an authentic evangeliser following the example of ‘Mary [who] knows how to transform a cave for animals into the house of Jesus, with a few poor swaddling clothes and a mountain of tenderness’ (EG, no. 286).

(Original text in Italian)

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