Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Toward a New Catholic Church: The Promise of Reform

  1. Review

    Constantine’s Sword, The Church and The Jews by James Carroll was published in January 2001. As a result of his historical research for the book, he was driven to conclude his work with "A Call for Vatican III. He wrote, "The time has come for a gathering more broadly defined than any in Church history. Generally Catholic, it will also include Jews and Protestants, people of other faiths and of no faith, clergy and laity and emphatically women." He suggested that "it may be that the Vatican is the last place where such a gathering should occur. Perhaps, again for symbolic but grave reasons the next council of the Catholic Church should take place in Boston." He then proposed five items for the Council agenda and devoted a chapter to each.

    This book is an adaptation of these chapters from Constantine’s Sword written with a renewed urgency occasioned by the horrendous day of September 11, 2001. Carroll believes that day transformed the meaning of politics and religion and marked the beginning of an era, which requires an "new examination of the relationship between variously held beliefs and their effects on those who do not share them." The war in Afghanistan, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the dispute between India and Pakistan, the outbreak of anti-semitism in Europe and the Arab world and the challenge of fundamentalist extremists to mainstream religions, all raise the issue of religious belief. Moreover, the Catholic Church, of which Carroll is a member, has been staggered by the scandal of pedophile priests.

    As a background for his proposed agenda, Carroll devotes a chapter to "The Broad Relevance of Catholic Reform." He reminds us that with the election of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) and the meeting of the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), there was an attempt to "deal more honestly with the contradiction between a religious culture still firmly rooted in the Middle Ages and a Catholic people who had come of age in the modern world." But Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) slowed and even reversed the reform that looked so promising and the present Pope John Paul II is content with the status quo. In the light of this background, Carroll believes "the time has come to reenvision this religion and the way it relates to the world." It is this belief that sets his agenda of five reform proposals for Vatican III.

    Reform Proposal 1: A New Biblical Literacy. Carroll writes, that the ‘first task facing a new Catholic Church is to foster a broad biblical literacy among the Catholic people."

    2. . The foundation of biblical literacy is the recognition that although God’s Word is inspired, it is human. Carroll declares that it is a sin to be resisted and repented of to believe otherwise. Vatican III must make the work of contemporary biblical scholarship available so that the Church may be liberated from "the deadly prison of scriptural fundamentalism which still has a lock on Catholic attitudes regarding everything from women’s ordination to priestly celibacy to the sacred integrity of other religions, beginning with Judaism."

    Reform Proposal 2: The Church and Power. Vatican II defined the Church as the people of God. If this definition were to be realized, Vatican III would have to come to terms with the paradigm of power the Church embraced during its relationship with the Roman imperium under Constantine. The Church as institution has, since the fourth century, been patriarchal and hierarchical in its structure of authority. If the institution is to be reformed, Carroll contends, the conciliar principle must be reestablished, "the bishop of Rome exercising authority within a college of bishops, and now extended to include the laity." The doctrine of papal infallibility would have to be repealed.

    Reform Proposal 3: A New Christology. Carroll writes that Vatican III "must initiate a Church-wide reimagination of sacrosanct theologies, or rather sponsor the Church-wide dissemination of the inventive work that theologians have already been doing." The main theological issue which he believes need to be addressed is the mission of Jesus. A New Christology will emphasize that the coming of Jesus was for the purpose of revelation, the disclosure of the divine love for all people, and not for the salvation of those who believe in him. Carroll believes that this new focus, rooted in Christian tradition, will enable the Church to embrace religious pluralism and by so doing honor God "by defining God as beyond every human effort to express God."

    Reform Proposal 4: The Holiness of Democracy: Carroll writes that Vatican III must "turn the Church away from autocracy and toward democracy, which the Catholic lay people have in fact done with increased grass roots participation." Autocracy is founded upon the Church’s self-understanding of itself as the depository and bearer of absolute truth and it is the duty of people to conform to the truth. Democracy is based upon the understanding that truth is available to human beings only in partial ways and therefore all people can tribute to the search for truth in "creative mutuality."

    Reform Proposal 5: Repentance. Carroll maintains that Vatican III can deal with repentance as an agenda item only after having confronted the previous agenda items, "all of which point to attitudes and structures of triumphalism that must be uprooted if the Church is truly going to turn toward other believers and its own people with a new face." For he stresses that "Without reform, repentance is impossible and so is recovery." Working to make the promise of reform a reality and hoping to be forgiven is the way of repentance. This is a hopeful book for all who are the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

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