The take-away from Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil is that the efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to reverse the course of the Second Vatican Council have come to an end. Francis’s papacy, it is now clear, will be about the Restoration of the Reform.
The key evidence for this can be found in his two addresses to church leaders, the first to the bishops of Brazil (BB) on Saturday, the second yesterday to the leadership of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM). The message to the bishops was engage the world, open up the church, and listen to the laity — all central themes of Vatican II.
Francis insisted that the church adapt to dealing with the world in all its diversity.
The scenarios and the areopagi involved are quite varied. For example, a single city can contain various collective imaginations which create “different cities.” 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.” (BB)
For that reason, he sharply criticized the “Pelagian” temptation to restore that traditional culture.
In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful.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.” Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past. (CELAM)
Against such an impulse to turn back the clock, Francis warned, “Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community.” (BB)
Just as the church needs to recognize diversity in the world, so it should embrace diversity within itself: “The Church in Brazil needs more than a national leader; it needs a network of regional ‘testimonies’ which speak the same language and in every place ensure not unanimity, but true unity in the richness of diversity.” (BB)
Rather than pumping up the authority of the episcopal magisterium, Francis extolled the laity as a source of spiritual power and insight.
In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the Mission? Do we offer them the word of God and the sacraments with a clear awareness and conviction that the Holy Spirit makes himself manifest in them? (BB)
The Bishop has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths. (CELAM)
Francis expressed his world view in a striking slap at a man beatified by Benedict three years ago, telling the Brazilian bishops, “Before all else, we must not yield to the fear once expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman: “… the Christian world is gradually becoming barren and effete, as land which has been worked out and is become sand.” The Latin American pope wants no part of this 19th-century anxiety, widely shared today by contemporary Catholic traditionalists of the northern hemisphere.
To be sure, Francis did not omit to offer some conventional warnings about temptations at the progressive end of the Catholic spectrum — of Marxist categorization, of turning the church into another NGO, of psychologizing the faith. But nothing in what he told the bishops suggested anything like his predecessors’ fear of leftist barbarians within the gates.
In an interview with NCR’s John Allen last week, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia allowed as how “the right wing of the church…generally have not been really happy about his election.” After Rio, they’ve got to be even less happy. The Spirit of Vatican II is back.