Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Healthy Perspective on the Roman Church

Fr.Anthony Chadwick has one of the better senses of what is at stake, for the Roman Church at least - I'm not certain how this would apply to the Anglican or Lutheran Churches. There is a clarity in assessing the situation that is, more often than not, lost on most Roman Catholics. You can read the whole entry here. There is a particular portion, however, that I find most relevant (emphasis added):

I would agree that Rome and the Papacy have been made into a personality cult. It is a part of our modern culture and part of human nature. The Church always offered examples to imitate by canonising saints. Some people like mass religion and large numbers of bustling people. I don’t. I would prefer to go and spend a few days in a monastery than go on pilgrimage to Lourdes. I like the Church in its intimate and family-like dimension. 
Perhaps a lesson to be learned is that the Church suffers from the top-heaviness of its bureaucracy and institutional inertia, but those are hardly the fault of Benedict XVI. He tried to improve it, not make it worse. I would like to see the Papacy itself fade into a lower profile and for church life to be based in parishes, monasteries and alternative communities. Orthodoxy cannot be enforced. It has to be embraced lovingly and through enchantment. That is a theme on which Benedict XVI has always insisted, and he is right.
One could argue that, in many respects, the Roman Church's present state of multifaceted crisis is the result of its success, its triumph in becoming largely mass religion. This is not to say one would not find similar issues on a more local scale, nor that smaller structures aid in transparency and accountability - every study of high grid cult groups demonstrates that small communities based upon religion can and due succumb to inviolable authority. However, the character of the crisis facing the Roman Church is, in all respects, one that has emerged from its institutional largess. There ought to be, and could be, a strengthening of the local church, in so far as the local structure of parishes, monasteries and alternative communities should constitute something of a nexus for theological praxis and liturgical observance. I candidly admit the danger in this proposition: we are living in a time in which the connection with the theological, practical and liturgical tradition is tenuous held together by severely frayed string. In other words, it's barely there. Nevertheless, the current model, in which the local church scarcely has a reality of its own, in which its reality is constantly dissolved in favor of a reality defined within curial walls, in which, frankly, the local church is not real, is, in my estimation, coming to its end. This was an issue Cardinal Martini raised during the last pontificate and going into the conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

The Roman Church cannot afford to focus its attention on the Vatican and the magisterium as the matrix of faith. Catholicism, in previous eras, had some degree of autonomy from the papal court, as such, the Roman Church was able to expand by engaging the locality in which a given monastery or parish found itself. There was not a constant reference back to Rome, although there was appeal in controversial matters where the local hierarchy deemed it necessary. Granted, the system was not always harmonious and as fidelity to the pope became a standard mark of identity in the Roman Church after the Reformation, local variance was regarded with suspicion (see Gallicanism and the once successful mission to China). Nevertheless, a model of Roman Catholicism in which the local church was the basis upon which the Christian kergyma was substantiated  exists and, in many respects, pre-dates the more recent model of perpetual reference to the Vatican, particularly to the pontiff himself.

Once again, I candidly admit the danger of trying to wean the Roman Church off of what is essentially an ultramontanist model. The bold face fact we have to accept is that there is a startling if not dangerous lack of serious formation among the local churches. Yet, there are reasons for revisiting what was essentially Martini's proposal for the future of the Roman Church. Plainly, we will never get to a point in which the local church has considerable formation if this present system of dependency is in place. Again, there are risks but, really, what is left to lose?