A publication of Sacred Heart University


Like many Catholics, a few weeks ago I watched online the funeral mass for L’Arche’s founder, Jean Vanier. Those who know the mission of L’Arche are familiar with Vanier’s commitment to building communities that welcome people with developmental disabilities, not out of conventional charity, but out of a desire to nurture friendships that recognize the gifts of all. At its best, L’Arche models a kind of community that is sorely needed right now in the Catholic Church.

Although L’Arche’s model of community cannot be uncritically duplicated in the Catholic Church, either in the ornate halls of the Vatican or at the poorest parish, there is much to learn from its witness to the Gospel. David Gibson, in a recent column on this blog, pointed out how clericalism has bred a culture that awards “the jockeying for power and position.” He, like Pope Francis and many others, identified it as a root cause that allowed the sex abuse crisis to spiral for so long and, globally, in so many forms, from pedophilia to the sexual harassment of seminarians to the rape of women religious.

Clericalism is the antithesis of the L’Arche model. Imagine, for example, if during formation and throughout their vocation, seminarians and priests were to spend time in communities that are similar to L’Arche’s understanding of community. L’Arche invites the laity and the ordained to come together around a shared recognition that each of us carries weaknesses, each of us harbor our own disabilities, even if they are not classified as “developmental disabilities.” It is a model of hospitality as well as a school in humility. The ostensibly weak are the mentors and friends of the supposedly powerful. The jockeying of power that is the hallmark of clericalism jars irreconcilably with the spirit of L’Arche.

The Catholic hierarchy and institutions, meanwhile, are scarred from the sexual abuse crisis. And how many of our young people would recognize the moral and spiritual authority of our ecclesial leaders? But when my students read a chapter from Henri Nouwen’s beautiful book, Adam, I am struck by how many students respond to Nouwen’s spiritual growth through his encounter with Adam, one of the people of the L’Arche-Daybreak community with the greatest disabilities. Adam, Nouwen insists, served his L’Arche community as a teacher, a counselor and even a kind of missionary in the sense that Nouwen firmly believed that Adam had a unique vocation from God to proclaim the Gospel to others through his disabilities. It was Adam, Nouwen came to realize, who extended hospitality and friendship, Adam who blurred the lines between ordained and lay, Adam who was Nouwen’s center of community and who best exemplified L’Arche’s form of hierarchy, in which people whom society would normally put at the lowest are in fact the center of communal living.

Vanier frequently criticized the typical pyramidal structure of our society in which those at the top are honored with power and wealth, and everyone else must climb the pyramid as far as possible or be left behind. As he writes in Living Gently in a Violent World, “Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money, while those at the bottom are seen as useless.” Vanier observes that just as Paul teaches in the First Letter to the Corinthians that the weakest are the most indispensable to the Body of Christ, so too “the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church.” But, he points out, “I have never seen this as the first line of a book on ecclesiology.” Vanier, of course, is not denying that there needs to be people with specific leadership roles. (Nouwen continued in his vocation as a priest even after joining L’Arche.) But L’Arche demonstrates how leadership can take on different forms, thereby creating a community of mentors and friends. Those supposedly at the top (a director, a chaplain and so forth) are learning and growing in friendships based on mutuality and dignity with those whom society would deem as useless.

L’Arche then provides a spiritual model for Catholics of all stripes to reflect upon ways in which leadership can involve people of all abilities and vocations, be they lay or ordained. It is an inspiration for a kind of Christian community desperately needed in this turbulent and dispiriting time in the Church.

Brent Little is an assistant lecturer in the Department of Catholic Studies at Sacred Heart University.

Notre Dame de Paris: A Meditation on Meaning and Memory for the 21st-Century Church


Thence entered I the recesses of my memory, those manifold  

and spacious chambers, wonderfully furnished with

innumerable stores; and I considered...

­­                        St. Augustine. Confessions, Book XIII

The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer…On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: time is blind, man is stupid.

                        Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Book 3, Ch. 1

On April 15, 2019, the world beheld a mournful spectacle in Paris as the fading light of day was pierced with raging tongues of fire that were consuming the fabled cathedral of Notre Dame: its roofing, its spires, seemingly even the flying buttresses of the great Gothic edifice.

The fire would persist for several more hours as people gathered in the area near the cathedral, and thousands more gathered around different forms of media and watched in vain as a manmade marvel of design and engineering was ravaged by the error of man-made technology.

Those who cared to pay attention to the accident did lament the sad fate of Notre Dame but did so, it seems, for peripheral, insufficient reasons: predictably the reasons were about national pride and cultural chauvinism, secular and personal concerns, and even some academic and aesthetic complaints about lost artifacts and marred beauty. Such grievances are understandable, perhaps allowable, but do seem to obfuscate the true legacy of Notre Dame de Pariss—that is, what should be understood about the original meaning of the Gothic structure and about what such an edifice of stone and glass could offer to the 21st century, to the 21st- century Church, to 21st-century Catholics.

We are moved, then, to pause a moment and reflect on Notre Dame, not as a digression into medieval ecclesial culture or as a foray into the nuances of art history, but as a conversation about values and tropes of meaning between past and the present worlds. Like Thomas Merton, who deepened the dimensions of his own life’s path and realized the emergence of his own spiritual journey by delving deeply into an earlier (medieval) age of monastic culture, we also might want to delve a little into the riches of spiritual treasury of our tradition and enrich our own journeys, not simply on our terms (which tend toward a cultish emphasis upon the individual as well as a socio/political and economic presentism) but on terms familiar to the people of that time. In the interests of brevity, I will consider only three values expressed by the great Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame that we might wish to apply to our common cultural (and ecclesial) moment:

  • Walk into a Gothic cathedral and be struck by the vibrant multiplicity of the material world in the surrounding display of carvings and paintings, glass and stone: animals, flora and fauna, the strange (see: misericords) and the fantastic (sea creatures and wondrous beasts), life and death. Then reflect on the Gothic/Scholastic principle that everything—not just the human—is worthy at least of attention and is part of the goodness of creation. All aspects of the physical world are justified as participants in the sacred mystery of the faith: that is to say, all such wonders of creation converge in the same place where the miracle of the Eucharist occurs and the liturgy reenacts the Passion of the Christ. Thus does the created world participate in that salvation, thus does the splendor of creation reveal itself. Though perhaps not so to our modern observation, the Gothic cathedral in its time was regarded as a living organism encapsulating the vibrancy and animation of the living world, its diffuse patterns and expressions indicative of the inherent goodness and progress of creation. As John Ruskin once wrote, “… it was in healthy love of change that Gothic architecture rose,” and while there abides in the Gothic a healthy tension between the divine and human (the human will win out centuries later), it yet insists that the world is a locus of temporal dissolution but also perpetual immanence. It is worth our care and compassion because it is a gift that we have received although we did not earn it, and such a perception of our world is one that we all in the 21st century would do well to remember, much as Pope Francis has suggested not anew but in keeping with the Catholic understanding of creation. The Gothic cathedral, if viewed properly, asks us to celebrate humanity and all other expressions of creation in all their diversity and distinction; we should live in gratitude for the plentitude of life in this world while at the same time recognizing that each living entity, known and unknown, expresses the eternal presence of God in our midst.

  • The prolific display and bountiful imagery of the Gothic cathedral articulate a range of emotions, but certainly in its time it expressed no sentiment more than hope, and a hope that was unabashedly joyful. In the 21st-century aesthetic of clear glass and steel lines, the darkening stone and stained windows of the Gothic cathedral might evoke other reactions, but in its time, the edifice was both inspirational and aspirational. The structure of the cathedral does strain upward to airy heights, and certainly such upward reaches could be read as arrogance and prideful assertion. However, for the generations of workers who toiled by hand to construct the church, it represented hope in the possibilities of human endeavor and the salvific promise and joy in genuine devotion and in the creative process, in the gifts of imagination and inspiration.

There are indeed droll gargoyles overhanging the sides and entrances of the cathedral proper and they do present particular admonition about sinfulness and impiety; nevertheless, they do not impede entry into the sanctuary and the (medieval) congregants were not deterred: the men and women walked under the looming watches of the gargoyles and through the doors into the sanctuary. The hope of/in salvation and for/in the animating progress within the world future pulsed throughout the cathedral and there was space for joy.

We, of course, live in a dark, even dystopian, era and it has been difficult to rest in hope or find joy in much of daily life. However, there surely was much in the 12th and 13th centuries to cause pessimism and no small degree of despondency, and yet there were still public (as well as private) gestures of optimism, faith and trust. We might want to consider opting for the light more than resigning ourselves to the darkness. As Viktor Frankl reminds us, each of us has the freedom to choose how to respond to whatever situation distresses us, and we have that choice. We can choose to ‘dwell in possibility’ and live with joy in the future. Like the medieval bricklayers, stone masons and artisans who toiled at their craft even though they were quite aware that they likely would not live to see the completion of the cathedral, we can choose to trust in each other and in a fellowship greater than any one person, trust in a future of which we are but a small but vital part now, and be joyful for the many blessings that grace our lives.

  • As Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis Abbey in Paris (and one of the first patrons of the Gothic style) once exclaimed: Deus est lux, God is light. The beauty of the stained glass windows in Notre Dame and other Gothic cathedrals was not for mere display. The windows were meant as conduits of light that would cascade into the shadowy spaces of the cathedrals in a symbolic representation of the pouring out of divine illumination into an opaque world, not the word of creation or nature but the world of human design and manufacture, the word of human societies and communities, of human groups and associations, of man-made values and ideas. It is the illumination of reason enhancing faith, of truth prevailing over deceit, of transparency vanquishing opacity. It is the call for clarity, honesty and intelligibility in all our lives and at all times. What could be more pertinent in this age of deconstructed truth and post-postmodern relativism than to shine a light onto the dim confusion of our culture?

Notre Dame de Paris still stands. Some of the building, including the 800-year old original roofing and its 300-ft. iconic spire, has been lost, as well as 10 percent of its works of art, but the high altar and the cathedral’s organ have suffered severe but not irreparable damage, and most of the stained glass windows, including the great Rose Window, remain intact. However, that material inventory should not detain us much. It is the primary structure of the church—its 12th-century footprint on the Ile de la Citie and its original signification that endure. What was fragile or incongruous or wearied has burned away, but what is secure and true and genuine endures. We do well to remember that.

June-Ann Greeley is a medievalist and professor of Catholic studies, theology and religious studies at Sacred Heart University.

Polemic, Patience and Perseverance

The results of the recent Vatican summit on sexual abuse have been published; we await the document on Curial reorganization; and it is reported that the group studying the possibility of female deacons is deadlocked. Where stands the change agenda of the Catholic Church?

In his programmatic Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis called for a root and branch reform of the Church. This reform, he argued, was necessary if the Church was to fulfil her mission of bringing Good News to the world based on her faith encounter with Jesus Christ. So far, so radical.

However, Francis made clear from the start that he did not believe in any quick-fix approaches to this reform: his ‘time is greater than space’ aphorism noted the superiority of processes that took time over short-term imposed solutions. This was the then – to Roman Catholic ears- strangely sounding ‘synodal’ approach, now commonly referenced, a radical paradigm shift from the practice of the previous millennium.

Patience and perseverance are not popular notions in a culture saturated by the consumerist drive to instant gratification which, in varying degrees, affects us all. In this context we are more attuned to the call of polemic: in particular we resonate with the notion of ‘speaking truth to power’ and, in a less healthy mode, we revel in an anger at injustice that threatens to become destructive and self and other-devouring. Our political leaders are often in the vanguard of this kind of narcissistic and negative anger.  

Of course, polemic, anger and lamentation have an honorable place in the Christian lexicon. Without them, we would not have had the realization, under Benedict XVI, of how dysfunctional the church had become in these days, nor, in the Scriptural times that we contemplate post-Easter, would the Gentiles have come to enjoy access to the Good News. That access, telescoped in the scriptural accounts into a seemingly short time, was as full of conflict and ‘speaking truth to power’ as any of our modern issues, and its solution (admission to baptism but with certain ‘terms and conditions’) was subject over time to further development.

In a May 17, 2019 posting on the Association of Catholic Priests web-site in Ireland, Phyllis Zagano comments on the recent stalemate with regard to the ordination of women deacons by urging: ‘let the discussion continue!’ and going on to say: ‘…Polemics only go so far.’ This is an impressive response from someone with such a long track record of scholarly advocacy on behalf of admission of women to the diaconate.

Zagano’s response is warranted within the strategic, synodal approach to reform initiated by Francis. At the heart of his proposal is the development of a culture of open debate and discussion, with appropriate structures and institutions to allow this to happen, involving the faithful, women and men, in teaching and governance. This will lead in time to changes in law and even doctrine. In this new environment, as Michele Dillon (Postsecular Catholicism, Oxford University Press, 2018, p164) has pithily observed, “…the cat is out of the bag: once one authorises an effective listening to the ‘sense of the faith/faithful,’ then the integration of tradition, new realities and ideas is processual, a continuing dialogue, not achieved by simple fiat or decree. And so, any lost opportunity, such as the stalemate over ordination or limited progress on the position of gays within the Church is not lost forever; it can be recovered.”

Polemic, anger and lamentation will continue to have honorable roles within this evolving drama. One recalls St Augustine’s observation that hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage. Anger, rooted at its best in love, gives energy to tackle injustice, and it requires a courage that translates into purposeful patience and perseverance when it takes on the considerable task of the ‘long march through the institutions’ involved in church reform. We get the balance right when we submit our efforts at ‘holy impatience’ to discernment, individually and communally, under the guidance of the Spirit.    

There is a crucial role for theology and critical thinking in all this, not least in exploring the notion that change is entirely compatible with respect for tradition, and that development is not simply a pastoral reality, but is also deeply doctrinal.

Francis has proposed a roadmap; it is our job to start and continue walking, conscious that from time to time we will go down cul-de-sacs, ‘make a mess,’ face seemingly insuperable obstacles. Can we keep our nerve, not lose faith?

Gerry O’Hanlon is an Irish Jesuit theologian and author.

Responsibility in Ministry and Vulnerability

In the Middle Ages, the jurist Gratian compiled a compendium of papal decrees and acts of various synods and councils that became the basis for ecclesiastical law, the Condordia discordantium canonum. This influential work fostered an approach to understanding the church and its ministries in terms of power – often to distinguish them from the powers of rival secular authorities. This legalistic approach dominated in Catholic thought into the 20th century when Pope Pius X, borrowing Gratian’s language, described the church as an “unequal society.” He distinguished the hierarchy as those who govern and direct from the “multitude of the faithful” whose only task it was “to allow themselves to be led.”

The Second Vatican Council opted to prioritize a more biblical language, describing the church from the perspective of grace, including the image of the priestly people of God, all of whom share in the divine life through baptism and participate in the Christ’s threefold office as priest, prophet and king. Its teaching underlines the fundamental equality and co-responsibility of all the faithful – lay and ordained – for the life and mission of the church. Vatican II frames the role of ordained ministry as the service of – not power over – the baptized community, emphasizing sacred trust over “sacred power.”

Without losing sight of the equal dignity of all the baptized, the present crisis of the church calls for a deeper understanding of pastoral responsibility. Existing guidelines and canon law have yet to capture the basic inequality and imbalance of power that characterize relationships in the context of pastoral care. Until recently, most efforts to address the crisis of sexual abuse have centered on the abuse of children and “vulnerable persons,” narrowly defined. The cases of Marcial Maciel, Theodore McCarrick and others have brought to light the systemic abuse of young adults within the context of seminaries and religious communities. Pope Francis has admitted publicly the long-supressed reality of the abuse of religious women by priests and bishops. There are surely more cases of the sexual abuse of adults by clergy that have yet to surface.

The new legislation, Vos estis lux mundi, issued on May 7 by Pope Francis, is an important sign of progress. Acknowledging frankly the “physical, psychological and spiritual damage” done to victims and the “harm” that abusive behaviors inflict upon the whole church, Francis has introduced an obligation for all ordained persons and members of religious communities to report promptly any and all abuse and mandated the establishment of appropriate structures and procedures for investigation. This includes a responsibility to report to appropriate civil authorities. Even critics, who lament a lack of clear penalties or the potential for less than transparent procedures, willingly concede that these measures are important steps toward ending a culture of silence, cover-up and impunity.

Francis moves the dial somewhat on the definition of “vulnerable persons.” Until now, a vulnerable adult has been defined as a person “who lacks an adult mental capacity or who, by reason of advanced age, physical illness, mental disorder or disability at the time the alleged abuse occurred, was or might be unable to protect himself or herself from significant harm or exploitation” – essentially, as the equivalent of a minor (CIC c. 99; CCEO c. 909).  All other “misconduct” between members of the clergy and other adults is generally treated as a consensual relationship between equals. In such cases, bad actors are charged with a “delict” against the sixth commandment, which forbids adultery. This arcane language places the focus on the breaking of a clergyman’s promise of celibacy and completely neglects adult victims of the crime of abuse. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter defines the vulnerable person as “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or to otherwise resist the offense.” It describes the act of abuse more broadly as “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or to submit to sexual acts.” This moves us closer to the dynamic of abuse by clergy of those who depend on their judgment and care. Still, it fails to capture fully the essential inequality between pastoral caregivers and their charges – whatever their age.

Any professional caregiver today knows (or ought to know) that it is entirely unethical to transgress the boundaries of sexual intimacy with those entrusted to their care: doctors, nurses, personal care workers, psychologists, counselors, social workers, professors, teachers coaches ... Most are bound by a code of ethics founded on the basic recognition that those entrusted to their care – including adults – are in a position of vulnerability. Given their position of authority and responsibility of care, they ought never to presume to be in a relationship of equals with their patients, counselees, students, athletes. Any transgression of boundaries is experienced by victims as a profound betrayal of trust – a manipulation and exploitation of one person’s vulnerability to satisfy the other’s selfish need.

Is it too much to hope that the law and practice of the church might be further revised to better reflect the fundamental imbalance of power and the burden of trust implied in the call to ministry? A fuller implementation of an ethic of care must be applied to all those in ecclesial ministry – be they ordained, religious or lay pastoral workers. Until this happens, the church will continue to treat the symptoms of a malady without addressing its root cause.

Catherine E. Clifford, is a professor at Saint Paul University, Ontario.


“Clericalism! Clericalism! Clericalism!”

This is the cry of the People of God, resounding seemingly everywhere in the Catholic Church in the wake of the latest explosion of the clergy abuse scandal as we look for culprits and causes to vanquish in order to finally put an end to this eternal crisis.

Clericalism is certainly an easy target. The scandal is about clerics, after all, and just attach an “ism” to the word and you describe the kind of cultural ideology that would seem to create and justify the “old boys network” – a phrase I myself have often used – that undergirds this self-protection racket. “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today,” as Pope Francis wrote in his “Letter to the People of God” on the abuse crisis last August. “To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

But how well do we understand what “clericalism” really is and how it has infected our ecclesial life? Fed up with the halting progress toward transparency and accountability, we long for speedy and easy solutions – a “magic bullet” to resolve the problems and move ahead.

The difficulty is that there is no single cause, or solution, to the problem of abuse and the greater scandal of episcopal concealment and dissembling. Single-issue advocates naturally like to focus on their favorite hobbyhorse as the cause: It’s gay priests! No, it’s too much celibacy! No, it’s not enough women!

Clericalism is, in fact, a potentially useful category for engaging the wider ecclesial reform that is required, because it is really an umbrella term that encompasses so many of the various fields that feed into the abuse dynamic. Seminary formation, the theology of the priesthood and the sacraments, ecclesiology, the office of the bishop and the role of lay people must all be reviewed and perhaps recast or reinterpreted. Sex abuse is not just about sex, not even mainly about sex, but is always tied, as Francis says, to “the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience.”

“Sacramental power,” as Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, should not become “too closely aligned with power in general,” he said. “Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive and elite group.”

The dysfunctional power dynamic has been the entry point of most of the insightful critiques and examinations of the clericalism phenomenon. I would note in particular a conference organized by the Strasbourg Faculty of Theology in April. One of the main themes to emerge there was the historical contingency of clericalism, which largely grew from the reforms of the Council or Trent and was then intensified by reactions against the challenges of the modern world.

The lesson of history is encouraging: If the Church was able to foster clericalism, then the Church could also be able to root it out. But it’s also worth thinking about the internal social and political dynamics that have grown up around clericalism, and which may not necessarily yield to theological rethinking.

For example, the counterpoint to the standard explanation of clericalism that always stands out to me is that so many of the clerics – bishops and cardinals, really – who have been either accused of abuse or of covering for abusers were not so much co-conspirators as they were deadly rivals who would have done almost anything to destroy a competitor. And they often did so, as well as derailing the promise of many good priests and bishops who declined to take part in the game or just weren’t good at it. Most of this venomous infighting takes place in secret, but it also spills into the public arena on occasion. This isn’t just covering for each other; it is a vicious competition among those who see the church as their playing field and power as a prize to be won.

From that point of view, Archbishop Vigano’s famous j’accuse against Francis last year was really an instance of clericalism on display rather than a brave act of whistleblowing. He told only half-truths, concealing much about his own sins and those of his friends, while trying to bring down his foes.

Whether in secret or in public, clerical culture corrupts those who indulge in it and damages the ecclesial body politic in insidious ways that we don’t always see. Think of the good bishops who never gain influence because they won’t play the game, or the good priests who will never become bishops, or the good men who will never become priests because they are turned off by it all – or others who enter the priesthood because they are drawn to ecclesial power. And think of the lay people who can also be tempted by the lure of playing a role in the clerical game – or those who would be disgusted and dissuaded from entering ministry.

I was reflecting on all this a few weeks ago in a conversation with my friend David Cloutier, a theologian at the Catholic University of America, who said he was intrigued by the “village mentality” of clerical culture and how “these relationships were less bureaucratic/impersonal and more personal/reciprocal – in the same ways that relations in small towns are both good and bad because they are ‘small town relations.’” That bears exploring, David said, as we try to “demystify” clericalism and move beyond simple power structure explanations and toward an examination of “informal relationships” that can be the lifeblood of a true community – but also poison in the bloodstream.

The Vatican, certainly, and by extension the 5,000 or so members of the hierarchy, is nothing if not a global village. Clericalism has existed since the beginning, when the Apostles began arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. According to Luke, Jesus didn’t try to pacify them with a power-sharing agreement or throw up his hands and walk away (much as he would have been justified in doing so). Instead, he showed them a child and said: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”

That didn’t end the jockeying for power and position, of course. But it’s a simple precept that should guide us as we rebuild our Church.

David Gibson is a journalist and author and director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University.

A Church of Humility and Hospitality is Our Solution

The Church’s current state is a crisis of our own making. We have allowed a distorted understanding of the Gospel and of God to fester within the body of the Church to the extent that Pope Francis acknowledges the need to “combat the culture of abuse” now so evident. An underlying disease of power dominating Christian (not just Catholic) structures for centuries accounts for the prevalence of this culture.

I write as a member of an Eastern Catholic Church, for most of its history forced to live as a powerless minority under differing regimes. My Church has not been immune to the enticements of power and concomitant corruption. Yet, it has sustained alternate images and voices, such as the passion-bearer saints Borys and Hlib, martyred for refusing to raise their swords against their brother; or Andriy Sheptytsky, who, in the 1940s, in the name of Catholic-Orthodox unity, offered to surrender his title of Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) to the Orthodox claimant of the see, should there be a restoration of the entire Ukrainian Church’s communion with Rome.

Despite suffering caused by foreign regimes as well as fellow Catholics, the UGCC has endured as a Church of hospitality with a vision of serving in humility and openness to others.

As I write we are in the midst of Easter Week—Bright Week, as we call it. A week of intense celebration of the Resurrection: Christ’s descent into Hades raising Adam and Eve and all humanity with Him. God has become one of us so that we may become one with God. God became one of us, in order that we may rise NOT to the power of monarchs, but to the humility of the One who washes the feet of his followers. The time is of welcome: all the doors of the iconostasis (icon screen) are open, symbolically inviting EVERYONE to join the feast. John Chrysostom proclaimed in his Easter homily: “Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; . . .” Humility and hospitality are the hallmarks of the season: they reveal the truth of our God, who humbles Self to invite us into an intimate relationship with divinity and with each other.

This vision of Church cannot be reconciled with the current Church in crisis, but this vision can revive the Church. A Church dominated by structures of power and streamlined for efficacy by canonical strictures does not nurture humility. An ethos of certainty and exclusivity does not make room for those marked by otherness to imagine themselves invited into the divine embrace. Humility means that we all must stand before the Holy Spirit in the hope that together, whether we are progressives or traditionalists, male or female, rich or poor, Divine Wisdom will make herself known to us. Humility entails that those with privilege must listen to those on the margins of mainstream society and actively allow their voices into our souls. Hospitality, rooted in the Divine embrace, calls us to welcome “saints and sinners” alike – remembering that the degree to which I open myself to the other is the only marker by which I will be known as a follower of the One who welcomes all. Building a Church of humility and hospitality is the path out of our current crisis.

A Church of humility and hospitality must renounce structures of power in favor of leaders with spiritual authenticity, venues of heartfelt dialogue and opportunities to experience solidarity. Every community’s mission must make power and efficiency secondary to service and compassion. Local communities should see themselves freed to place their uncertainty, challenges and fears before the Holy Spirit in prayerful expectation of insight, rather than assuming that office holders are the enlightened ones. Office holders must cease to see themselves as divinely ordained to provide all answers or protect the community from a “dangerous” other without recognizing their own fallibility or admitting their own humanity. A Church of humility and hospitality is both the pilgrim Church on the way to the Kingdom and the community aware of its responsibility in ending the desecration of the most precious gift we have been given: divine creation. It is a Church where everyone, especially its leaders, are in a constant process of metanoia: conversion to a fuller living out of the Gospel.

Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.

The Church Is Not Western Civilization

Two recent events have, in different ways, called to mind an influential yet deeply problematic strand of thinking – the equation of the church with a civilizational strand sometimes described as Western civilization, sometimes expanded to include “Judeo-Christian civilization” to avoid the appearance of Christian chauvinism. The first of these events, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter concerning the sexual abuse crisis, described a civilizational decline of morals beginning in the 1960s that bore terrible fruit in the sexual abuse crisis. The second, the terrible fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris that damaged but, thankfully, did not destroy that great edifice inspired a number of Internet “hot takes” ruminating on the confluence of the cathedral’s fire with civilizational decline. Both of these perspectives, I would like to argue, overdramatize and yet undersell the challenge of the present moment, and both play into dangerous political narratives.

Pope Benedict’s letter situates the sexual abuse crisis within a broader narrative of excess and decline beginning in the 1960s. The details he uses are sometimes lurid, such as pandemonium on airplanes resulting from the showing of sexually explicit films, but they point to a civilizational uprooting that bore bad fruit in the crisis, and the damage it has wrought to the church. Much has been said about this letter, rightly pointing out Benedict’s own blind spots on this set of issues, but the concern about civilizational decline and particularly Christianity’s deep connections to Western civilization more broadly, have been through-lines of Ratzinger’s work going back at least to the 1980s. Most famously, in his Regensburg lecture that became better known for its discussion of Islam, Benedict argued that Christianity is tied up inextricably with Greek philosophical concepts so that attempting to adapt it to another philosophical apparatus – such as Indian or other Eastern philosophies – is a fool’s (or a heretic’s) errand. This worldview has influenced other decisions and positions, such as support for the exclusion of Turkey from the European Union.

Less than a week after the release of Benedict’s letter, the fire that broke out at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris inspired its own slew of commentaries – pro and con – about the church as an icon of “Western Civilization.” Many of these takes, in my opinion, were overwrought, both in terms of policing grief (for example, pointing out the religious significance of the church to those commenting on its art – as if these two were really separable) and in terms of putting metaphorical weight on the disaster. The focus on “Western Civilization,” however, follows a trajectory laid out by the “alt-right” – led by Stephen Bannon – of weaponizing Christianity for secular cultural ends in ways redolent of Charles Maurras and Action Française a century ago. On this reading, traditional Christianity – including Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and various forms of Protestantism – provides grist for resistance and bigotry against Islam, immigration and various real and perceived ills of late Western modernity. While seemingly a protest against the excesses and decadence of a secularized West, the “Catholicism without Christianity” of such an approach is, in fact, a product of that very secularization. 

As the title of this forum indicates, the Church, particularly in the “Western” world of Europe and North America, is in need of rebuilding because of largely self-inflicted wounds.   The cultural and artistic treasury built up by the Church in Europe is certainly an important part of that task, reminding us of the Church – and indeed of humanity – at its best. At the same time, however, they must not become an idol.  Even as we embrace the repository of our heritage, we cannot mistake it for the ultimate good but rather as a pointer toward the Gospel values that inspired its authors.  We must also be attentive to new stirrings of the Spirit and culture in places whose voices (including many Christian voices) have been stifled or forgotten by Western hegemony.

The Church has given much to, and received much from, Western Civilization. But one of the lessons from that intellectual heritage is also its very openness, derived precisely from the focus of the Greeks on questioning and inquiry, and the openness of Second Temple Jews and early Christians to engagement with Greek philosophies. It is our task to continue modelling that openness, avoiding the dichotomy of, on the one hand, reducing our beliefs to supposedly universal ethical concepts as some tried in the 20th century or, on the other hand, raging against secularization and styling ourselves as victims (an insult to real victims such as those died in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday). The church cannot be any one civilization or philosophy, but a pilgrim people seeking to live the Kingdom in whatever land and with whatever philosophy they have available to them.

Daniel A. Rober is a systematic theologian and Catholic studies professor at Sacred Heart University.

European Women Gathering in Faith

I am writing this from a beautiful Carmelite monastery in Snagov in Romania, where I am speaking at a gathering of Andante – the European Alliance of Catholic Women’s Organiations. I travelled here by train from London, because minor eye surgery prevents me from flying. My mobile phone provider tells me that my three-day journey took me through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania – each time with a text reminding me that calls and data roaming are free because my contract covers travel in other EU countries. Last year, driving from Croatia into Bosnia, which is not in the EU, my internet connection suddenly cut out and I started having to pay for data roaming. It was one small reminder of how dramatic Brexit might be for us Brits and the freedoms we take for granted in Europe.

The European Union has many failings, not least is the extent to which it has become a driving force behind neo-liberal economics and corporate power, and its bureaucracies are undoubtedly cumbersome and expensive. But it has also served its members well in sustaining at least a partial peace in this troubled continent since the Second World War. My journey through Europe has reminded me of how fragile and threatened that peace is. Europe’s bloody history has left its mark on its landscapes and cities, with Romania being one of the more recent manifestations of that as it recovers from years of communist dictatorship and the brutal tyranny of Nicolae Ceaușescu. As the train trundled through this country’s rolling countryside and dramatic mountains, there was evidence everywhere of the ruins of the past and the gradual rebuilding of homes and communities.

The founders of the EU were inspired by the principles of Catholic social teaching – solidarity, subsidiarity and participation, rooted in a belief in the transcendent dignity of the human person. These principles may be frayed round the edges, but they have enduring significance and are vital for the creation of any just and free society. Sadly, some of their greatest enemies today are Catholic power brokers seeking to drive Europe down the dark road of far right politics rooted in violent racial and religious ideologies. The divisions that were fermenting in the Church under the last two papacies have exploded, and America’s culture warriors are seeking to establish a foothold in European politics through their promotion of a militant form of Catholicism that draws on deeply rooted historical conflicts and rivalries, including the language of the crusades. Steve Bannon’s organization, The Movement, is making inroads and exploiting the fractures currently opening up all over Europe. On the taxi drive from Bucharest station to the monastery, I saw a large banner promoting The Movement draped from a building.

All this lends added significance to this group of Catholic women meeting here, representing organizations from across eastern and western Europe. There is, I believe, a growing sense of resistance and solidarity among women in the Church – and a determination to create a better future for ourselves and our children.

My paper is titled “The Future Church: A Home to Hope For?” In it, I reflect on what it means for women to build the church of tomorrow, as an inclusive and welcoming home for all. I also ask what this means in the context of Pope Francis’s call to care for Mother Earth, ‘our common home’ in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

This work of building a shared future cannot happen without respect for cultural and historical differences. Francis’s papacy has been marked by a new respect for the principle of inculturation, and he repeatedly reminds us of the importance of local communities, cultures and traditions for creating an incarnational sense of a faith rooted in history and shaped by different contexts. The women gathering in this beautiful monastery are evidence of both the necessity and the challenge of accommodating these diverse realities. For those from eastern Europe, memories of persecution under communist regimes mean that the Church is still often seen as the custodian of a vital truth embedded in her teachings and sacraments that must not be questioned. For those of us accustomed to a more critical and challenging approach, this calls for attentive and patient listening and learning as we explore together what it means to build the church of tomorrow.

Recent events in the news have rekindled an awareness of just how deeply Catholicism is embedded in our shared human story. The response to the fire at Notre Dame revealed the vast symbolic significance of Catholicism for European identity and culture. The suicide bombings of churches in Sri Lanka that killed hundreds attending Easter Masses remind us that for many in our world today, Catholicism is not about aesthetics and culture but about a faithful commitment to follow the crucified Christ wherever He leads – even to death and beyond.

Here in this quiet place, women come from across this Catholic spectrum. Some bring memories of persecuted and martyred loved ones; others bring what can seem like relatively insignificant concerns about the role of women in the Church and our exclusion from positions of leadership and sacramental representation. Yet as we stand at this critical moment in Europe’s history, I do not believe that these are separate issues. The Church faces a choice – to plough on along its old androcentric path where time and again it has ended up colluding with war, fascism and violence, or to truly become a maternal presence of peace and healing in the world by embracing the wisdom, experience and insight that women can bring to its pilgrim journey through time. That is why I dare to hope that this small group meeting in a quiet place of prayer and contemplation is not insignificant. Beneath the hubris and clamour of men who claim to speak for and sometimes as God, it is always the still, small voices that speak God’s redeeming word to humankind.

Tina Beattie is professor of Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton, London.

Notre-Dame de Paris, Pope Francis and Living Stones

Many of us, in various parts of the world, watched in horror and disbelief when Notre-Dame de Paris went up in flames. It was especially gut-wrenching to witness an infernal beast consume the roof and topple the steeple of one of the world’s great Christian cathedrals at the very beginning of Holy Week. Like other televised tragedies, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the horrific spectacle in Paris commanded global attention and received blanket coverage from both mainstream and social media. And as with other history-making events, some journalists and pundits saw this as an opportunity to offer grave and poetic commentary. There was a lot of deliberating and moralizing. What did this distressing scene say about the current state of the scandal-plagued and ideologically divided Catholic Church? What was its message for secularized France? What fierce warning did it hold for a Western civilization that has become unhinged from its Christian moorings? In the end, Notre-Dame was not destroyed. And not a single life was lost, thanks be to God.

But the fire of this magnificent cathedral was a truly shocking thing to watch as I spent several hours switching back and forth through some of the channels available on my satellite dish: Italian State TV (RAI), Sky Italia, France24, Fox News… At CNN there was Chris Cuomo speaking about the symbolic importance of Notre-Dame for Catholicism and even the Vatican, wondering if the pope would actually go to Paris for Easter. “Imagine the image of Pope Francis in front of Notre-Dame saying Mass on Sunday. You know, with smoke still rising up from it as an idea of rebirth and renewal. How powerful that would be.” After briefly conceding the “concept from Catholicism (that) the Church is the people, not the places… and the people matter most”, Cuomo continued speculating. “It will be so interesting to see what pope does with this Holy Week, given this loss. Is there a chance that you see the pope not in Rome celebrating Easter Sunday, but here? What an important image that would be.” CNN’s correspondent in Rome, Delia Gallagher, said she “wouldn’t rule it out” because, “of course, we know that he’s a pope of surprises”. Jim Bittermann, an old hand with CNN who has been in Paris, off and on, for many years, said “it would be quite a remarkable symbol if this pope decided to come visit for the Easter Mass”. But he then cautioned, “It’s hard to believe that that could be organized so quickly, especially with the church still burning at this hour.”  

Oh my, I thought. What to make of this sort of suggestive speculation? These are all top-notch reporters and news analysts. Is it possible that they have not really understood Pope Francis’s priorities or the change of mentality he’s tried to bring about these past six years? The 82-year-old Jesuit pope is, by no means, anti-cultural. He is not anti-European. But, at the same time, and despite the affection he would win back from the people of France, it would be out of character for him to drop everything and rush to Paris because a cathedral has been badly damaged by fire – even considering the artistic masterpiece and historically important religious symbol that it is. The pope of Laudato Si’ is more concerned about our own human destruction of God’s masterpiece – the created universe and the human person. Francis is more alarmed that we are killing ourselves from the earliest stages of life in the womb up to natural death; through wars, torture and human trafficking. He’s disquieted by our careless destruction of our “common home," through the pollution of the air we breathe and the water we drink; through the wars we wage and the greed that consumes us to the detriment of the poor, the week, the immigrant and refugee and all other outcasts of society.

Pope Francis has not focused his worldwide ministry on preserving the cultural and artistic heritage of Christianity, at least not the way that has been manifested over the centuries through structures built of precious stones. Instead, he tried to show us how to take care of so many “living stones” that we have long ignored or scorned. He has gone to places like Lampedusa and Lesbos to comfort refugees; he has spent every Holy Thursday in prisons, washing the feet of criminals, some who are not even Christians. Like his patron, St. Francis of Assisi, the pope has seen the call to rebuild the Lord’s house as a summons to repair God’s crumbling household – all of humanity made in God’s image and likeness– rather than a building made of wood and stone.  As Richard Rohr has said, “Creation itself – not ritual or spaces constructed by human hands – was St. Francis’ primary cathedral.” And so it is for Pope Francis.

Robert Mickens is the English editor for La Croix International website.

How to Have a Younger Church

It was thought-provoking to read Bishop Frank Caggiano’s wise words at Fordham on March 12, when he said that “young people are leaving the Catholic Church not because they are angry—but because they are indifferent.” Their lack of interest, he continued, was because “there are questions unresolved, and young people simply don’t have the mental energy or desire to figure it out.” There is much to agree with here, especially the implied distinction between the attitudes of older church-going Catholics to our currently dysfunctional church and those of the younger generation who, in most cases, are not regularly practicing. In my own experience of almost 40 years teaching undergraduates, I can concur with Bishop Caggiano that anger is not a common late-adolescent response to church matters. Perhaps “indifference” is a bit soft. I would probably want to say that they aren’t angry, because they don’t care. The church doesn’t matter to so many of them, so why would they be angry? The bishop is also correct that meeting questioners where they are in a respectful and nonjudgmental posture of listening is of paramount importance. Good pastors and educators understand that, while the less successful ones trot out pat answers to questions that may not actually have been asked. To borrow from the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola, he is so insistent in his advice to spiritual directors that they get out of the way and allow the spirit to work on the minds and hearts of the searcher. Which means, of course, that a mentor’s patience must approximate the patience of God which, as we know, is endless. Listening, as the bishops says, can be more important than talking.

However, if young people are drifting away from the church because they don’t care rather than because they are angry, let me suggest that they don’t care because what they encounter in the church is too often something that does not speak to their hearts or inflame their souls. Young people, in my experience, are patient with imperfection but intolerant of hypocrisy. They can sure spot a phony a hundred miles away. If you don’t believe me, browse sometime on the dishonest educator’s nemesis, www.ratemyprofessors.com. Whether for good or ill, there is no parallel reviewing system for pastors and bishops. Perhaps we ought to have one? And if we did, we would see a lot of understanding of the average guy doing his best, real appreciation for the one whose openness and honesty shines through and profound distaste for pretentiousness and false pride.

What really causes young people not to care rather than be angry is that they have written the church off, too often perhaps before they have given it a real chance. I think Bishop Caggiano is onto something when he writes about the beauty of the liturgy, but you have to be in the building to appreciate it. On the whole, they are not there for several reasons. First, the liturgy is as often as not pretty routine, and while that might be fine for those of us who have the ritual deep in our psyches, it doesn’t work to entice someone in. Second, the ethical values of the young, as opposed to their occasionally amoral practices (and how different are they here than the rest of us?) are not respected within the confines of the institutional church. A particular pastor may be receptive to an individual who comes to him. But the church itself is simply inconceivably unrealistic to the majority of young Catholics on same-sex relationships, on cohabitation before marriage and on the use of birth control. Most adult Catholics shrug their shoulders at the anachronistic approach of the church on these issues and carry on worshipping, perhaps because they understand deep down that the Lord is not always in agreement with the teaching of the church. But the young don’t have that patience. It’s not so much that they are not in the church, as that the church is not in the world they live in.

All that Bishop Caggiano suggested as ways to attract the young is wise and compassionate. But I would add a few things. Most importantly, weed out hypocrisy, whether it is bishops who hide abusers or senior church leaders who manage to be simultaneously closeted gays and homophobic. Then, our ethical teaching needs to be expressed in the knowledge of human frailty and imperfection, and with the honest acceptance of difference. Do not tell people that birth control for the unmarried is always self-indulgence and not sometimes responsible. Do not assume that cohabitation is always the road to future marital ruin, since it often isn’t. And do not assume that same-sex relationships can never be as loving and fulfilling as straight ones. All this would just be more fake news, and the church does not need to go that way. Maybe, even, encourage gay clergy to be open about their sexual orientation. The sky will not fall in, and there could be no better way to signal to gay Catholics that the church welcomes them. There used to be, years ago and happily long-gone, a column in the Fairfield County Catholic entitled “The Narrow Gate.” Nothing could be less Catholic. As James Joyce so famously described our church, “Here Comes Everybody.” Every one of our parishes should put out that big banner you see often adorning the church buildings of the U.C.C.—“All Are Welcome.” When this is what the Catholic Church proclaims, and when it really means it, and when it has done it for a while, the young will be back. It’s not doctrine or ethics or liturgy that they find most distasteful. They know, and they want the church to know, that love has no boundaries.

Paul Lakeland is a teacher, scholar and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.