Sunday, July 28, 2013

Francis message: bishops and priests should not 'infantilize' lay faithful

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
July 28, 2013

In his speech to the Coordinating Committee of CELAM, the Pope talked about the temptation of clericalism and asked pastors to be poor and merciful

Francis concluded his trip to Brazil with another wide-ranging speech to the coordinating committee of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM). But Francis’ words will most certainly resonate beyond the Latin American continent.

The Pope asked bishops to give a missionary slant to the daily activities of local Churches, explaining that the “change of structures” (from obsolete ones to new ones) will not be the result of reviewing an organizational flow chart” but will “result from the very dynamics of mission.” Francis recalled that the general assembly of Latin American bishops at Aparecida in 2007 had presented “pastoral conversion” as a “necessity”. The Pope then asked bishops to reflect on some questions with regard to the current state of the Church: “Do we see to it that our work, and that of our priests, is more pastoral than administrative? Who primarily benefits from our efforts, the Church as an organization or the People of God as a whole?”

The questions then focused specifically on the laity and their role in the Church: “In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the Mission?” As pastors, bishops and priests are we conscious and convinced of the mission of the lay faithful and do we give them the freedom to continue discerning, in a way befitting their growth as disciples, the mission which the Lord has entrusted to them? Do we support them and accompany them, overcoming the temptation to manipulate them or infantilize them?” His words portray the picture of the Church’s current situation in a number of countries, European ones too.

Speaking of the importance of the Church engaging in dialogue with the world around it, Francis referred to what was said at the Second Vatican Council to explain the basis of dialogue with contemporary society: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” The Church needs to be aware of the varied “scenarios and the areopagi involved.” “If we remain within the parameters of our “traditional culture” which was essentially rural, we will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit. God is everywhere: we have to know how to find him in order to be able to proclaim him in the language of each and every culture; every reality, every language, has its own rhythm.”

Francis then spoke of the “temptations” that steer people away from being missionaries. The first is making the message of the Gospel an ideology. The Pope listed four ways of doing this: “sociological reductionism” which “involves an interpretative claim based on a hermeneutics drawn from the social sciences … from market liberalism to Marxist categorization”; psychologising “based on an elitist hermeneutics which ultimately reduces the “encounter with Jesus Christ” and its development to a process of growing self-awareness”; the Gnostic solution “ordinarily found in elite groups offering a higher spirituality, generally disembodied. Its adherents are generally known as “enlightened Catholics”. Finally the Pope mentioned the Pelagian solution which “appears as a form of restorationism.” “In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”.”

Francis referred to two more temptations: “functionalism” and “clericalism”. The “functionalist approach has no room for mystery; it aims at efficiency” “It reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO. What counts are quantifiable results and statistics. The Church ends up being run like any other business organization. Clericalism, on the other hand, “has to do with a sinful complicity: the priest clericalizes the lay person and the lay person kindly asks to be clericalized, because deep down it is easier ... Clericalism explains, in great part, the lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity.” Francis pointed to the autonomy of the laity as “on the whole is a healthy thing, basically expressed through popular piety.” Clericalism is being overcome thanks to bible study groups and ecclesial basic communities.

After warning against a “utopian” vision of the future or a “restorationist” vision of the past, the Pope explained that “God is real and he shows himself in the “today”.” When the Church “makes herself a “centre”, she becomes merely functional, and slowly but surely turns into a kind of NGO. The Church then claims to have a light of her own … She becomes increasingly self-referential and loses her need to be missionary.” She “ends up being an administrator; from being a servant, she becomes an “inspector”.” “There are pastoral plans designed with such a dose of distance that they are incapable of sparking an encounter ... [They] give priority to principles, forms of conduct, organizational procedures … and clearly lack nearness, tenderness, a warm touch. They do not take into account the “revolution of tenderness” brought by the incarnation of the Word.” The Pope sees homilies as a “touchstone for measuring whether a pastoral plan embodies nearness and a capacity for encounter.” “Do we imitate the example of our Lord, who spoke “as one with authority”, or are they simply moralizing, detached, abstract?” the Pope asked.

The Pope ended his speech to CELAM’s coordinating committee, with a reference to his speech to Nuncios last June. He stressed that “bishops must be pastors, close to the people.” They must be “patient and merciful.” They must “love poverty, both interior poverty and exterior poverty, as simplicity and austerity of life” and must be “men who do not think and behave like “princes”” or that are “ambitious."

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