THE past 40 years have brought enormous changes in the world and most institutions are struggling to cope, especially one with such a long and distinguished tradition as the Church.
It remains an open question whether the Catholic Church itself has grasped the significance of the long reign of Pope John Paul II.
Elected at a time when the Church was in turmoil towards the end of Pope Paul VI’s reign, John Paul II promised to be an active Pope.
He has had many firsts as a Pope – the journeys, the encyclicals, theological and secular writings, and addresses to various groups throughout the world.
He has seen himself as a man imbued with the spirit of Vatican II since he was a party to the discussions. He has spoken to more bishops than any of his predecessors. He has consorted with philosophers, theologians and periti of all kinds. He is highly intellectual, but has he put any structures in place that will serve the Church now or in the future?
Has he made any changes to the way the Curia operates? Has the concept of collegiality made any progress?
Cardinal Walter Kasper, on a visit to this country earlier in the year, declared, ‘While there have been some forward steps, it will not be very easy for the next pope … it is also very important to be in contact with the living and lived faith of the people … No one has the whole truth; truth is only found all together’.
The Church is very conscious of its image and often has recourse to silence and denial when a straight answer is needed.
Cardinal Ratzinger couldn’t bring himself to condemn the Inquisition when asked a question only a few months ago, though John Paul II, following Paul VI, apologised for past behaviours of the Church.
Pope John XXIII called for greater openness and had to fight hard with the Curia to have Vatican II.
While no one can accuse John Paul II of not being friendly and ready to consult, little changes have resulted. The Synod of Bishops is one example.
Some have argued that his inclination to ‘run the Church like a seminar’ is responsible for the sluggish response of the Roman bureaucracy and many of the world’s bishops to his initiatives. Everything has to come from the top.
According to George Weigel, one of his many biographers, ‘he has been authoritarian, a centraliser of power, who has blocked the implementation of Vatican II’s call for a recovery of collegial responsibility in the Church. More often than not, this alleged authoritarianism is attributed to the Pope’s Polish roots’.
I believe that he and Cardinal Ratzinger find it hard to cope with a multicultural world. Traditional Catholicism and Communism had much in common. Both were over governed and the people remained a silent majority.
‘The world is becoming more and more united and more and more diversified, and the primacy of the Pope should not be centralisation, but the unity of a very diversified Church’ – words spoken by Cardinal Martini on his visit to Australia.
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