Maradiaga on the state of the church

This past weekend, I attended the annual University of Dallas Ministry Conference. I was there because Liturgical Press, for which I work, was an exhibitor, offering our wares at a booth in the exhibition hall. One thing that made me glad to be present was the chance to sit in on the keynote address that was offered by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. The announced title of his talk was “The State of the Church: The Importance of the New Evangelization.”

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga is the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras. He is also the coordinator of the group of eight cardinals appointed by Pope Francis to advise him on the reform of the Roman Curia. (That’s them in the photo, gathered for the first time with the Pope. Maradiaga is directly to the Pope’s right.) Given that latter role, what he has to say on the state of the church is well worth paying attention to.

And the Cardinal did not disappoint. He offered a thoroughly engaging talk, delivered with gusto, even though English is not his first language. What he had to say was also somewhat surprising at times. I think it’s fair to say that several of his main points were ideas that we have not heard proclaimed very loudly in the church in recent decades.

I offer here just a few snippets, which I transcribed from a recording I purchased at the conference. (I actually was not able to sit in on the event in person, as the room was filled to capacity and doors were closed before I arrived.) I emphasize that there is much more from the Cardinal’s talk that’s well worth quoting, but I don’t have permission to reprint the whole thing, so I look forward with hope to the publication of the full talk.

Within the people [of the church] there is not a dual classification of Christians — laity and clergy, essentially different. No! The church as a society of unequals disappears. There is therefore in Christ and in the church no inequality. No ministry can be placed above this dignity common to all. 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. All the baptized are consecrated as a spiritual house and as a holy priesthood, as we read in Lumen Gentium 10. Therefore, not only we clergymen are priests, but also side by side with the ordained ministry, there is the common priesthood of the faithful. This change in the concept of priesthood is a fundamental one. In Christ, the priesthood is changed, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews. Indeed, the first trait of the priesthood of Jesus is that he had to be made like his brothers in every respect. The original priesthood of Jesus is the one that has to be continued in history, and it is the basis of understanding the presbyterium and of course the common priesthood. Thus, the whole church, the people of God, continues the priesthood of Jesus without losing their lay character.


The calling of the Church in the likeness of Jesus is to proclaim the kingdom of God…. Her calling is to serve, not to rule…. She must do this service living in the world, herself a part of the world and in solidarity with it, because the world is the only subject that interests God. And there the church, in humble company, helps make life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals without castes or classes, without rich or poor, without imposition or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate — hunger, housing, clothing, [shoes?], health, education — to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work, our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil. The answer the church gives to the penultimate will entitle her to speak about the ultimate.


The globalization of the exchange of services, capital, and patents has led over the past ten years to establish a world dictatorship of financial capital. The small transcontinental oligarchies that hold the financial capital that dominates the planet. The lords of the financial world, of financial capital, wield over billions of human beings the power of life and death. Through their investment strategies, their market speculations, their alliances, they decide day to day who has the right to live on this planet and who is doomed to die. The effects and consequences of the neo-liberal dictatorship that rule democacries are not hard to uncover. They invade us with the industry of entertainment, they make us forget about human rights, they convince us that nothing can be done, that there is no possible alternative. To change the system, it would be necessary to destroy the power of the new feudal lords. You mean that this is [chimerical?], utopia? The church decidely bets on living the globalization of mercy and solidarity. How can the church aim to counteract the deleterious effect of the preponderance of economism and its fundamental postulates? Return to the church of the poor!


To go into the new evangelization, we need, all of us, a heart test, because many times we are ill. We are ill of cardiac insufficiency. One day, Saint Paul didn’t feel well and went to the cardiologist. And when the cardiologist was listening to the heart of Saint Paul, do you know what he heard?  He was not listening like, “Boom boom, boom boom, boom boom.” No. The heart of Saint Paul beat like this: “Woe on me if I don’t preach the Gospel. Woe on me if I don’t preach the Gospel! Woe on me if I don’t preach the Gospel!” You mean that that’s the way our hearts are beating now? Do we have that heart? That is why I have said, each of us are ill of cardiac unsufficiency, missionary insufficiency. What happens to a person who has cardiac insufficiency? He gets a very small device, a little one, a pacemaker, and after that the heart is powerful again. We have to ask the Holy Spirit to give us a spiritual pacemaker, that our hearts will beat like Saint Paul’s and go forth to evangelize! “Woe on me if I don’t preach the Gospel!”

On that last passage, you should hear the tone in the Cardinal’s voice as he repeats that line, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Full of passion and intensity — there’s is no question the idea beats strong in his own heart.

UPDATE: Rocco Palmo has the full text of the Cardinal’s Dallas address.

I did notice a few differences, sometimes significant, between the prepared text and what the Cardinal actually said, though. The final passage I quote above, for example, about Saint Paul’s visit to the cardiologist, is not present at all the version Rocco received.

“People think the Church now approves of sin”: Francis, sin, and “the new confusion of grace and mercy”

The first few lines of this new column by religion writer Michael O’Loughlin had me just a bit wary of what was coming:

Alison Donohue teaches college writing in Hawaii, but her preference is to be back in a Catholic school, an environment where she spent more than 15 years of her career. “Once I got engaged to my wife,” Donohue said, “I was faced with the reality that being openly married and teaching in a Catholic school were incompatible.” She recalled scanning job posts that sought, “Catholics in good standing,” and thinking to herself, “I am married to a woman, which probably means I’m not.” But today, because of something that happened in Rome seven months ago, she is “hopeful” for her professional, and religious, future.

Given the headline — “With a New Pope, a More Open Catholic Church?” — it looked like O’Loughlin might, in the paragraphs ahead, tell us that thanks to Pope Francis, it will soon be okay to enter into a gay marriage or that gay marriage would soon be sanctioned by the Church. I think either conclusion would be a serious mistake.

But the more I read, the more I realized that O’Loughlin not only was not screwing up what Francis is up to; he was really capturing what’s so new and important about our Pope quite effectively. There are a lot of insightful passages in the piece — so check out the whole thing — but two especially fine comments come from people that O’Loughlin quotes:

“Francis’s main theme is mercy, and that’s mercy that Catholics direct outwards,” said the Rev. James Martin, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and contributing editor at America magazine. He said that the pope is focused on encountering the world as it is. “Jesus took people where they were. If you’re a tax collector, he comes to you at your tax booth. If you’re a fisherman, he comes to you on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. If you’re a woman who’s about to be stoned, he kneels down in the dust with you. We need to take people where they are, and that’s exactly what the pope is doing.”


Today, when Donohue, the writing teacher in Hawaii, looks for jobs at Catholic schools, she’s encouraged. “I feel like ‘Catholic in good standing’ means a Catholic who doesn’t judge others, who cares for the poor, who has a deep, humble spirituality. Finally, the good people are in ‘good standing.’ Thank God—and Francis—for that.”

Good as all this is, the finest comment had nothing to do with O’Loughlin or his sources; rather, it came in the comment box. What prompted it was a one-sentence comment that reflected the same wariness I’d initially felt when I began reading the article (though maybe not worded in the way I’d have chosen). A woman wrote, “Sad, that people think the Church now approves of sin.”

But then came a beautiful response, and this is the one that made the whole read worthwhile, and the one that sums up Francis better than even O’Loughlin and his quotes from others were able to do. A man named Patrick Gilmore wrote in reply to the previous comment:

I recall that it was assumed that another religious leader “approved of sin” because he “ate with sinners and tax collectors”.  I think the Pope is just trying sincerely to be more like him.  If people get confused then so be it.  People have been confused by previous Popes, and assumed that they “disapprove of sinners”.  If people are going to be confused anyway, I prefer the new confusion of grace and mercy!

Those previous popes that the commenter refers to here were fine men, excellent teachers, strong leaders, and in some cases even saints — I thank God for them. But they were not perfect, and neither, of course, is Francis. But I think Francis brings something to the papacy, to the Church, that has been lacking. You nailed it, Mr. Gilmore.

Being American and Catholic in a “competitive-democratic context”

Having had the chance, following the publication of Faith Meets World, to speak to several Catholic audiences in parish settings and radio interviews, I have found myself returning in those talks & discussions to one idea often. That is how very troubling I find the tendency of us American Catholics to allow ourselves to be formed far more dominantly by our politics than by our faith.

Too many of us docilely, even hungrily, take our instructions on how we should understand the world, how we should live in society, from whatever political party we affiliate ourselves with, and then we make careful and cautious judgments about what the Church and indeed the Gospel have to say in light of that — when it fact the process should work the other way around!

So I was pleased to see this commentary recently by historian and theologian Massimo Faggioli at the Italian incarnation of the Huffington Post. Faggioli is an Italian by birth and nationality, but has lived and worked in the United States for several years. He’s professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas here in Minnesota and the author of the book True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (full disclosure: that book is published by Liturgical Press, where I work).

Faggioli’s HP piece provides an interesting and instructive view of us American Catholics and the church we’re building here from the perspective of an “outsider.” Here is my translation of his comments, which he has approved. (Note for context that it was written and published before the resolution of the federal government shutdown.)

“Conservative American Catholics and Pope Francis”

Pope Francis has, up to now, received almost universal approval, but if there is one country where Catholics are divided over Bergoglio, it is the church of the stars and stripes. An article published on October 15 by the Washington Post makes the divisions clear, offering a journalistically credible platform to a group of Catholics who usually speak only among themselves and to their own followers, in their own circles, magazines, and blogs.

But the problem is real, and it is typical of the American church and its unique nature. On the one hand, there is the question of the relationship between American Catholics and non-Catholics, or, if you will, a problem of “market share”: a pope who is too ecumenical and too welcoming, one who refuses to use exclusion as a tool to strengthen religious identity, risks, in the eyes of some American Catholics, weakening the Catholic “brand.”

But there is a more pressing problem within American Catholicism: the church in the United States is highly polarized and divided within itself. It lives in close contact with the ambient democracy, a democracy that is not “consensual,” as are the European democracies based on multi-partisan alliances, but “concurrent,” composed of only two competing political parties. The Catholic Church in the United States has absorbed the mechanisms and the ethos of this competitive-democratic context, including what it means to belong to and participate in the Church.

Participation in the church of the United States is guided often by a “competitive,” alternative vision, more than by a “consensual” instinct. One clear result of this is that “non-negotiable” values have become a dominant element of the American Catholic landscape: not only because of the proverbial puritanism of the Americans (Catholics included), but also because of the American political culture. The democratic ethos has become part of the culture of the church, but in the church of the United States this has created more “concurrence” than “consensus.”

Pope Francis has begun his pontificate by systematically re-opening the doors to a long series of exclusions that had been closed within the church by some neo-exclusivist tendencies. It is obvious that conservative Catholics are those who are most skeptical about these new accents of the Bergoglio pontificate. That these skeptical voices are loudest in the United States has to do not only with the American religious culture, but also with its political culture. Indeed, the very mindset that is now bringing the country to default, to bankruptcy, is what Pope Francis is trying to avoid within the Catholic Church.

More on Gutierrez: CDF head is “naive”?

Gustavo Gutierrez has been on my radar lately, so recent comments of Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani are of interest. Vatican Insider reports:

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani has criticized the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller for opening up to Liberation Theology. Müller, whom Benedict XVI nominated leader of the Congregation in 2012, is the co-author – alongside liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez – of the book “Dalla parte dei poveri. Teologia della liberazione, teologia della Chiesa(“On the Side of the Poor: Liberation Theology, Theology of the Church”), a recent Italian edition of a book they wrote in German in 2004. A great deal was written about the book in the columns of Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano. Gutiérrez met with Pope Francis last September.

Complete article is here. I do hope someone will publish the Müller/Gutierrez book in English. (Friends at Orbis, take note.)

Pramuk on Gutierrez

9780814682104In a recent blog post, theologian Christopher Pramuk offers a keen reflection on Jesus’s parable about Lazarus and the rich man. What especially caught my attention, though, was Pramuk’s lovely personal reflections on theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, whom I’ve mentioned a few times here recently. A snippet:

When I was a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame I had the enormous privilege of studying in the orbit of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. I took several classes with him, including an independent study involving one-on-one meetings with him every month, usually over lunch, and once even with my newborn daughter in tow — whom Gustavo greeted with childlike joy. I watched him teach from note cards, his mind as razor sharp as his sense of humor, and patiently respond to the questions of twenty year old undergraduates, children of privilege at one of the nation’s wealthiest universities. My oldest son still remembers him as Fr. Gustavo, “the little priest with the accent” who came over to our house to celebrate “house church” with my family and fellow graduate students gathered around a coffee table in our living room. Of course like many others I revered the ground he walked on. Not so much from the cult of celebrity but rather from the sense that the “ground he walked on” was (and is) the same ground trod by Jesus, the prophet and carpenter of Nazareth.

Read the whole post, especially if you’ve never checked out Pramuk’s Hope Sings, So Beautiful blog (related to his book of the same title). It’s well worth a look.