November 22, 2013


Church is facing a profound change

He has been called the closest thing the Church has to a vice pope. He was personally selected by Pope Francis to be the chairman of the Council of Cardinals, the eight cardinals Pope Francis chose to help him govern the Church.

So people listen when Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, speaks. Therefore, it’s not surprising that more than 3,000 people turned out to listen to his 5,500-word address at the University of Dallas Ministry Council on Oct. 25. He spoke about the new atmosphere we are experiencing within the Church.

“Pope Francis has arrived,” the cardinal said. “I do not find it naively optimistic to say that we are in the beginning of a new and dynamic period in the history of Catholicism.”

He spoke about the necessity of a reform of the Church, saying, “There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus,” and, “To discern what constitutes abuse or infidelity within the Church we have no other measure but the Gospel.”

The Church, the cardinal said, is rising and is facing “the most profound change in her history since primeval times.” It’s changing from a European Church, culturally uniform, to a universal Church, culturally polycentric.

The Latin American cardinal said that it’s symbolic that the last three popes have not been Italians. “The temptation of Europeanizing and Italianizing the Church has always been one tied to pretenses to power. Fortunately, things have changed.”

He gave notice that Pope Francis is going to follow the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, “which emphasized truths such as these: The Church is not the hierarchy, but the people of God,” and, “Within the people, there is not a dual classification of Christians—laity and clergy, essentially different.”

As for the first truth, he said, “The hierarchy has no purpose in itself and for itself, but only in reference and subordination to the community. … The hierarchy is a ministry that requires lowering ourselves to the condition of servants.”

For the second truth, he said, “Neither the clergy are ‘the men of God,’ nor are the laity ‘the men of the world.’ That is a false dichotomy. To speak correctly, we should not speak of clergy and laity, but instead of community and ministry.”

Vatican II, he said, didn’t make the foundations of the Church into a polarizing outline of two extremes, clergy-laity. He said that a presbyter is, above all, a minister of the Word “who must communicate to all the life that emanates from Christ, and for that reason devotes himself primarily to the altar and to the celebration of the sacraments. No one can replace him in this regard.”

However, he said, “The field of the laity offers plenty of spaces, alternatives and scenarios where he still does not make his presence felt in an incisive, decisive and courageous manner.”

Making equality among the members of the Church a reality, he said, we must go back to the life of Jesus, “who, despite being a layman, caused ‘a change in the priesthood’ (Heb 7:12). Jesus’ entire life was a priestly life, in the sense that he became a man, was poor, fought for justice, criticized the vices of power, identified himself with the most oppressed and defended them, treated women without discrimination, clashed with the ones who had a different image of God and of religion, and was forced by his own faithfulness to be prosecuted and to die crucified outside the city.”

Cardinal Rodriguez emphasized that the Church must follow Jesus. “If the Church has a mission at all, it is to manifest the deeds of Jesus. The Church has never been her own goal. Salvation comes from Jesus, not the Church. The Church is mediation.”

In the past, he said, the Church gave the impression of “having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue.” No more, he said. “No more excommunicating the world, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.”

We believe that Cardinal Rodriguez’s address was a significant one.

—John F. Fink

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