2. The Future Roman Catholic Church. Global Tales from the 21st Century

Rome, 18th November 2010

What will the Roman Catholic (RC) Church be like at the end of the 21st century? How will this institution be able to handle the multiple challenges that she is confronted with? More radically, will this church still be still around in a hundred years? And if yes, how different will she be compared with her present-day outlook?

These intriguing questions get some ever more intriguing answers by the CNN Vatican correspondent John L. Allen in his recent book The Future Church. How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 2009). Allen writes as a journalist and sociologist of religion who looks at what is happening in the RC universe within the context of a fast moving globalization. His immediate readership is North-American but what he writes is gathered from years of international journalism and aimed at painting global scenarios.

Asking readers to stretch their “imagination” (1), Allen argues that there are at least ten trends that are impacting the RC Church and that will increasingly be on the agenda. Here is his list:

  1. A World Church
  2. Evangelical Catholicism
  3. Islam
  4. The New Demography
  5. Expanding Lay Roles
  6. The Biotech Revolution
  7. Globalization
  8. Ecology
  9. Multipolarism
  10. Pentecostalism

Suffice it to briefly comment on each trend while pausing a little bit more on those which resonate more closely with Evangelicalism (i.e. Evangelical Catholicism and Pentecostalism).

  1. The center of gravity is shifting from North to South. In 2050 the largest majority RC nations will be Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, USA, Congo, and Uganda. The global story of Catholicism today is growth, not decline (19). Its most pressing need is managing expansion, not contraction. Generally speaking, Southern Catholicism is youthful, morally conservative and politically liberal, open to the supernatural, more interested in ad extra missional challenges than in ad intra traditional issues (like doctrinal disputes and canon law debates), and bringing a new set of issues (e.g. polygamy, witchcraft, women empowerment). If RC “will become steadily more non-Western, nonwhite, and nonaffluent” (432), then the time for a Southern pope has come.
  2. The “identity issue” is what is at stake with Evangelical Catholicism. For Alles, the meaning of the word Evangelical here has little to do with the Biblical-Protestant understanding of the same word. It is rather “an underlying religious psychology” (57) that embodies a “hunger for identity” in a rootless secular culture. Evangelical Catholicism strives for liturgical conservativism, catholic education, priestly-laity distinction of order, and theological clarity both in Christology and ecclesiology. Champion of this type of Evangelical Catholicism is the 2000 document Dominus Iesus which stressed the traditional understanding of the RC Church as being the only rightly ordered agency which enjoys divine grace in its fullest measure. In the same vein, for Allen, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI are Evangelical Catholics, as well as ecclesiastical figures like Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris (57), writers like Geoge Weigel who urges Christians to have “the courage to be Catholic” (453), ecclesial movements like Communion and Liberation (entrepreneurial, yet strongly papist and marian), and events like the World Youth Day. Allen exegetes the word Evangelical as meaning a re-affirmation of RC identity in its basic, uncompromising markers, not as implying an openness to renewal according to the Gospel. For him Evangelical is a sociological category expressing a search for identity rather than a theological one based on Gospel transformation.
  3. Islam is another global player of the 21st century and RC will attempt to develop cordial relationships while trying to avoid the clash of civilization mentality, refraining from outspoken missionary endeavors, and building a moral alliance based on natural law and basic religious sentiment.
  4. Global demographic trends encourage the RC Church to support pro-life and fertility policies and also global migration movements. From the ecumenical point of view, the Eastern Orthodox churches will be less appealing than Pentecostals due to the declining demography of most Eastern Orthodox majority countries.
  5. The last hundred years have seen the emergence of more than 120 lay movements (e.g. L’Arche, Focolare, etc.). They are a powerful force which has stirred a “democratization of catholic conversation” (209). Both lay and female ministries will expand their borders, yet not at the expense of overcoming the traditional understanding and practice of the (male) priestly ministry.
  6. The biotech revolution has seen the RC Church on the defensive side. Confronted with the new challenges, there has been a revival of natural law which will allow the RC Church to build bridges with world religions which will regard her to be the global spokesperson for nature-based conservative bioethics. Here Allen seems to underestimate the potential of this trend for future inter-religious developments and future RC claims about the RC Church representing the whole of humanity.
  7. Globalization has pushed the RC Church to expand her social teachings about solidarity, common good, subsidiarity, and integral humanism. She will become the only diplomatic global player which can embrace both the rich and poor, North and South, support for capital and labour, and concerns for social justice and economic development.
  8. Global warming and climate change, along with water scarcity and deforestation will encourage the trend toward natural theology giving the RC Church the opportunity to shape her distinct “both-and” eco-theology.
  9. The 21st century will see “the interaction of multiple points of influence” (340) with the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) raising their profile. In this new global setting, the RC Church is the only religious institution which is already multipolar and has the diplomatic structure and culture to deal with it.
  10. Harvie Cox has dubbed Pentecostalism “Catholicism without priests” meaning an expression of folk spirituality without the Roman juridical system or complicated scholastic theology (382). After Vatican II the RC Church has found room for Pentecostal spirituality within the borders of her theological structure. In some regions (e.g. Latin America) the Pentecostal explosion has given rise to an anti-Pentecostal attitude by RC officials. Yet Pentecostalism is winning the day, both inside and outside the RC Church. “Pentecostalism, not Orthodoxy, will be the primary Christian “other” for much of the Catholic Church of the twenty-first century” (361). New forms of “horizontal ecumenism” and bottom-up initiatives will develop (401). They will be less concerned with theological precision and more interested in exchanging spiritual experiences. Allen goes as far as arguing that the internal fault line of the 21st century will be between Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal Catholicism.

The wide picture emerging from Allen‚Äôs book is complex and multifaceted. The ecclesiological notes of the Church (“one, holy, catholic and apostolic”) will translate into four sociological notes: “global, uncompromising, Pentecostal and extroverted” (432).

Many sociological trends he highlights could be easily applied to global Evangelicalism and they would fit quite naturally. Yet there is a catholic difference that gives RC an extra input in confronting new phases and challenges: “he historical spirit of Catholicism is its passion for synthesis, for “both/and’ solutions” (449). The future will bring tension and conflict, yet the institution that is most suited to balance and accommodate different claims, interests, and concerns is the one that was able to survive the modernity project without selling its soul to it and will be able to navigate the waters of a thicker globalization. This is the RC theological genius that has been displayed for centuries. This is an essential part of the RC system and will be the primary tool to face the future. The RC Church will continue to claim and to act as if she were the sacrament of unity of the human family. This is her mission and it will continue to be so.

Leonardo De Chirico

1. Vatican efforts towards New Evangelization?

Rome, 18th October 2010

Setting up a new Pontifical Council is not something that happens often in the Vatican, given the conservative nature of the institution. Yet Pope Benedict XVI has just released the motu proprio document (entitled Ubicumque et semper, “everywhere and always”) that establishes the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. One of the reasons why this recent move deserves careful consideration is that it is going to be a long term initiative. The central concern that gives name to the Council is also of great significance, especially for Evangelicals who like to think that they “own” everything that is related to evangelism-evangelization. Here is a Vatican office devoted to foster the new evangelization of the West. Another feature that would ring some Evangelical bells is a long quote from Evangelii nuntiandi, a 1975 Vatican document on mission that many observers have seen as the Roman Catholic counterpart of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant. So mission to the Western world is right at the heart of the Vatican agenda.

Facing the challenge of the secular West is a typical concern of Pope Ratzinger. In many ways, his first years of being Pope can be read as an attempt to deal with this issue. The newly established Council is the “institutional” way to confront it. The letter contains reference to some themes which are dear to Benedict XVI: he points to the progressive loss of Christian practice in the First World as well as the on-going abandonment of Christian values in Western society leading to indifference if not harshly anti-Christian attitudes. In one word, the Pope thinks that “secularism” is the big spiritual enemy of the Church. He calls the Church to a phase of re-vitalization of its inner life to respond to secular trends.
The Ubicumque et semper papal letter does not contain a full-orbed theology on the new evangelization. Yet there are hints that perhaps deserve a comment and that puts this Vatican move in perspective.

1. The rhetoric of the progressive de-christianization of Europe has been a persistent feature of papal pronouncements since the French Revolution. “There is good reason to fear lest this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days; and that there may be already in the world the “Son of Perdition” of whom the Apostle speaks (II. Thess. ii., 3). Such, in truth, is the audacity and the wrath employed everywhere in persecuting religion, in combating the dogmas of the faith, in brazen effort to uproot and destroy all relations between man and the Divinity”. These words seem Ratzinger’s but were written by Pius X in 1903 in his encyclical E supremi apostolatus (n. 5). In a sense, there is nothing new under the sun. Churches have been engaging forms of secularism for at least the last three centuries. What is perhaps new is the danger that the institutional churches may lose their privileged status in a pluralist society. It seems that present-day secularism cannot cope with pre-Revolution settlements between church and state. Is this what Ratzinger fears most?

2. In assessing the danger of secularism, Benedict XVI charges it with all kinds of evil. In many ways, his evaluation is accurate. Yet, something of importance is missing. There is not a single word on the responsibility of the Church for the poor state of Western Christianity. Has the Church really worked hard to proclaim the Gospel with integrity to the observing modern world? Has the Church been faithful to the Word of God? Is the Church somewhat responsible for causing, at least in part, the disturbing secular trends? Does the Church need to look at her own sins before pointing the finger at the world? The document does not address this. It does not even ask the question!

3. The encouragement given to the Church is to promote the new evangelization and to re-ignite her mission to shape society. The document does not hope for conversion to the Gospel, as the Lausanne Covenant would say. It rather points to the recovery of a Christian society where Christian values are honored and practiced and where the Church is recognized for being a shaper and upholder of society. What does evangelization hope for? Does it foster a nostalgia for the “Christian society” of the European past? But were these societies Christian in the Gospel sense? Should we not accept the challenge of evangelizing the West without wanting it to simply go backwards?

4. A final comment on the tools that Pope Benedict XVI sees as crucial for the task. Prominent is “the use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as the essential and complete formulation of the content of the faith”. It is perfectly legitimate for the Head of the Roman Catholic Church to support the use of the Catechism. Yet, Gospel people would have expected the Pope to encourage people the read, study and share the Bible. Evidently, for him the Catechism contains the Bible, not vice versa.

Leonardo De Chirico

Dosarele Vatican Nr.1

 Organizarea unui nou Conciliu Pontifical nu este un lucru ce are loc des la Vatican, dată fiind natura conservatoare a instituţiei. Totuşi, Benedict al XVI-lea tocmai a lansat (articolul a apărut pentru prima dată în februarie 2011 – n.tr.) documentul motu proprio (intitulat Ubicumque et semper, „Oriunde şi întotdeauna”) care fundamentează Conciliul pontifical pentru promovarea Noii Evanghelizări. Unul dintre motivele pentru care această mutare recentă merită o atenţie deosebită este faptul că ea urmează să fie o iniţiativă pe termen lung. Preocuparea centrală care dă nume Conciliului are de asemenea o semnificaţie majoră, în special pentru evanghelicii cărora le place să creadă că ei „deţin” tot ce este legat de evanghelism-evanghelizare. Iată aici un oficiu al Vaticanului dedicat încurajării noii evanghelizări a Vestului. O altă chestiune care va atinge nişte corzi sensibile ale evanghelicilor este un lung citat din Evangelii nutiandi, un document despre misiune emis de Vatican în 1975 pe care mulţi observatori l-au văzut drept echivalentul Legămîntului de la Lausanne din 1974. Aşadar, misiunea în lumea occidentală se află în chiar centrul agendei Vaticanului.

Confruntarea cu provocarea Vestului secularizat este o preocupare tipică a Papei Ratzinger. În multe feluri, primii săi ani ca Papă pot fi văzuţi ca o încercare de a se ocupa de această problemă. Nou înfiinţatul Conciliu este calea „instituţională” de a o înfrunta. Documentul conţine referinţe la cîteva teme dragi lui Benedict al XVI-lea: indică pierderea progresivă a practicii creştine în ţările civilizate, precum şi abandonarea continuă a valorilor creştine în societatea occidentală, care conduce la indiferenţă, dacă nu la atitudini rigide anti-creştine. Într-un cuvînt, Papa consideră că „secularismul” este marele duşman spiritual al Bisericii. El cheamă Biserica la o etapă de re-vitalizare a vieţii sale interioare pentru a răspunde orientărilor seculare.

Documentul papal Ubicumque et semper nu conţine o teologie perfect închegată a noii evanghelizări. Totuşi, există indicii ce probabil merită cîteva comentarii, care pun această mutare a Vaticanului în perspectivă.

1. Retorica de-creştinării progresive a Europei a fost o caracteristică permanentă a declaraţiilor papale începînd cu revoluţia franceză. „Există motive întemeiate să ne temem că această mare perversitate ar putea fi, cum s-ar spune, o anticipare şi, probabil, începutul acelor rele care sînt rezervate zilelor din urmă; şi că s-ar putea afla deja în lume „Fiul pierzării” despre care vorbeşte Apostolul (2 Tesaloniceni 2.3). Aşa sînt într-adevăr îndrăzneala şi mînia folosite peste tot în persecutarea religiei, în combaterea dogmelor credinţei, în efortul neobrăzat de a desfiinţa şi distruge toate relaţiile între om şi divinitate!” Aceste cuvinte par a-i aparţine lui Ratzinger, dar au fost scrise de către Pius al X-lea în 1903 în enciclica sa E supremi apostolatus (n. 5). Într-un sens, nu există nimic nou sub soare. Bisericile s-au angajat în forme de secularism de cel puţin trei secole. Ceea ce este probabil nou e pericolul ca bisericile instituţionale să-şi piardă statutul privilegiat într-o societatea pluralistă. Se pare că secularismul actual nu poate coopera cu aranjamentele dintre biserică şi stat anterioare revoluţiei franceze. Este acesta lucrul de care se teme cel mai mult Ratzinger?

2. În evaluarea pericolului secularizării, Benedict al XVI-lea îl acuză de toate felurile de rău. În multe moduri, evaluarea sa este exactă. Totuşi, lipseşte ceva important. Nu există niciun singur cuvînt cu privire la responsabilitatea Bisericii pentru starea jalnică a creştinismului occidental. A muncit cu adevărat din greu Biserica pentru a proclama Evanghelia cu integritate pentru lumea modernă? A fost credincioasă Biserica Cuvîntului lui Dumnezeu? Este Biserica într-o anumită măsură responsabilă pentru apariţia îngrijorătoarelor orientări seculare? Are nevoie Biserica să se uite la propriile păcate înainte de a arăta lumea cu degetul? Documentul nu se ocupă de aceste chestiuni. Nici măcar nu îşi pune vreo întrebare cu privire la ele!

3. Încurajarea dată Bisericii este de a promova noua evanghelizare şi de a reaprinde misiunea sa de a modela societatea. Documentul nu speră la convertirea la Evanghelie, aşa cum ar spune Legămîntul de la Lausanne. Mai degrabă arată spre recuperarea unei societăţi creştine în care valorile creştine sînt onorate şi practicate şi unde Biserica este recunoscută ca modelator şi susţinător al societăţii. La ce speră evanghelizarea? Hrăneşte ea o nostalgie pentru „societatea creştină” a trecutului european? Însă erau aceste societăţi creştine, într-un sens dat de Evanghelie? Nu ar trebui să acceptăm provocarea de a evangheliza Vestul fără a dori pur şi simplu să meargă înapoi?

4. Un comentariu final asupra instrumentelor pe care Papa Benedict al XVI-lea le vede cruciale pentru această sarcină. Proeminent este „uzul Catehismului Bisericii Catolice, ca formulare esenţială şi completă a conţinutului credinţei”. Este perfect legitim pentru Capul Bisericii Romano-Catolice să susţină folosirea Catehismului. Totuşi, cei care preţuiesc Evanghelia s-ar fi aşteptat ca Papa să încurajeze oamenii să citească, să studieze şi să împărtăşească Scriptura. În mod evident, pentru el Catehismul conţine Biblia, nu invers.

Leonardo De Chirico

Leonardo De Chirico este unul dintre cei mai importanţi şi activi teologi evanghelici din Italia, director adjunct al Istituto di Formazione Evangelica e Documentazione din Padova şi director al Centrului de studii de etică şi bioetică al aceluiaşi institut. Este doctor în teologie al King’s College din Londra, cu o teză publicată sub titlul „Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism”, Frankfurt-Oxford, Peter Lang 2003. În acelaşi timp, este vice-preşedintele Alianţei Evanghelice Italiene şi membru în Comisia socio-politică a Alianţei Evanghelice Europene.

Traducere: Otniel-Laurean Vereş
Text tradus și publicat cu permisiunea autorului.

1. L’engagement du Vatican dans la Nouvelle Evangélisation ?

18 Octobre 2010

Il n’est pas courant qu’un nouveau Conseil Pontifical soit mis en place au Vatican, étant donné le caractère conservateur de cette institution. Le pape Benoît XVI vient pourtant de rendre public le motu proprio (intitulé Ubicumque et semper, “partout et toujours”) qui établit un Conseil pontifical pour la promotion de la nouvelle évangélisation.

L’une des raisons pour lesquelles cette mesure mérite que l’on y prête une attention toute particulière est qu’il s’agit d’une initiative sur du long terme. La préoccupation qui est au cœur de l’appellation du Conseil a également une importance capitale, en particulier pour des évangéliques qui se complairaient dans l’idée qu’ils ont un « monopole » sur tout ce qui touche à l’évangélisation. Nous avons là affaire à un bureau du Vatican dont l’objectif est de favoriser la nouvelle évangélisation de l’Occident. Les évangéliques devraient également prêter attention à la longue citation d’Evangelii nuntiandi, un document du Vatican relatif à la mission, datant de 1975, et que beaucoup d’observateurs ont considéré comme l’équivalent catholique romain de la Déclaration de Lausanne de 1974. La mission au sein des pays occidentaux est donc l’une des priorités du Vatican.

Le pape Ratzinger a toujours été préoccupé par le fait de chercher à se confronter aux défis de l’Occident sécularisé. De bien des manières ses premières années en tant que pape peuvent être analysées comme une tentative de faire face à ce problème. La mise en place de ce nouveau Conseil en est le versant « institutionnel ». La lettre fait référence à des thèmes qui sont chers à Benoît XVI : il souligne  la diminution progressive de la pratique du christianisme dans les pays industrialisés ainsi que l’abandon continuel des valeurs chrétiennes dans les sociétés occidentales, qui conduisent au mieux à de l’indifférence, au pire à des attitudes antichrétiennes. Pour faire simple, le pape pense que la « sécularisation » est le principal ennemi spirituel de l’Église. Il appelle l’Église à se lancer dans une phase de revitalisation de sa vie intérieure pour faire face aux tendances séculières. La lettre pontificale Ubicumque et semper n’inclut pas une théologie bien définie de la nouvelle évangélisation. Cependant, il y a des pistes qui méritent peut-être que l’on s’y arrête et qui mettent en perspective cette nouvelle mesure du Vatican.

La rhétorique de la déchristianisation progressive de l’Europe est une constante dans les allocutions papales depuis la Révolution française. « Qui pèse ces choses a droit de craindre qu’une telle perversion des esprits ne soit le commencement des maux annoncés pour la fin des temps, et comme leur prise de contact avec la terre, et que véritablement “le fils de perdition” dont parle l’Apôtre” (II Thessaloniciens. II, 3) n’ait déjà fait son avènement parmi nous ». Si grande est l’audace et si grande la rage avec lesquelles on se rue partout à l’attaque de la religion, on bat en brêche les dogmes de la foi, on tend d’un effort obstiné à anéantir tout rapport de l’homme avec la Divinité ! » Ces mots pourraient être ceux de Ratzinger, mais ils furent écrits par Pie X en 1903 dans son encyclique E supremi apostolatus (n. 5).

D’une certaine manière, il n’y a rien de nouveau sous le soleil. Les Eglises se sont retrouvées à croiser le fer avec différentes formes de sécularisation depuis au moins trois siècles. La nouveauté, c’est peut-être que les Eglises institutionnelles risquent de perdre leur statut privilégié dans une société pluraliste. Il semblerait que la sécularisation actuelle ne s’accommode guère des arrangements entre l’Eglise et l’Etat antérieurs à la Révolution.

Est-ce de cela dont Ratzinger a le plus peur ?

Dans son évaluation des dangers de la sécularisation, Benoît XVI accuse cette dernière de toutes sortes de maux. Son analyse est correcte de bien des manières. Mais il manque quelque chose d’important. Il ne fait aucune mention de la responsabilité de l’Église dans la situation misérable de la chrétienté occidentale. L’Église a-t-elle vraiment travaillé d’arrache-pied pour proclamer avec intégrité l’Évangile au monde moderne qui l’observait ? L’Église a-t-elle été fidèle à la Parole de Dieu ? L’Eglise est-elle dans une certaine mesure responsable d’avoir au moins en partie provoqué ces inquiétantes tendances sécularistes ? L’Église devrait-elle examiner ses propres péchés avant de pointer le monde du doigt ?

Ce document ne s’occupe pas de cela. Il ne pose même pas la question !

L’Église est encouragée à promouvoir la nouvelle évangélisation et à raviver son ardeur pour la mission et son influence sur la société. Ce document n’exprime pas d’espoir de conversion à l’Évangile, comme l’exprimait la Déclaration de Lausanne. Il espère plutôt la restauration d’une société chrétienne au sein de laquelle les valeurs chrétiennes seraient honorées, mises en pratique, et l’Église reconnue comme influençant et défendant la société. Que vise l’évangélisation ? Veut-elle favoriser la nostalgie d’une « société chrétienne » telle qu’elle a pu exister en Europe dans le passé ? Mais ces sociétés étaient-elles chrétiennes au sens de l’Évangile ? Ne devrions-nous pas accepter le défi d’évangéliser l’Occident sans chercher à simplement revenir en arrière ?

Pour finir, un commentaire sur les outils que le pape Benoît XVI considère comme cruciaux pour réaliser cette tâche. En première ligne se trouve « l’utilisation du Catéchisme de l’Église catholique, comme formulation essentielle et complète du contenu de la foi ». Que le chef de l’Eglise catholique romaine fasse la promotion de l’utilisation du Catéchisme est parfaitement légitime. Cependant, le peuple de l’Evangile se serait attendu à ce que le pape encourage la lecture, l’étude et le partage de la Bible. De toute évidence, pour lui le Catéchisme contient la Bible, et non l’inverse.