A reform that can no longer be postponed 


Bishop Brian Farrell is the Secretary to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. He and Fr Tony Currer, the Anglican and Methodist desk officer at the PCPCU, are the people we work with most closely in Rome and are our closest friends in the Roman Curia. We were blessed to have Bishop Brian speak at the dinner in Lambeth Palace last month which celebrated the Anglican Centre's fiftieth anniversary and he has just sent me the text of his speech, which I would like to share with you.

Bishop Brian was very generous about the Anglican Centre:

Farrell 3bOn the ecumenical map of Rome the Anglican Centre is a significant landmark. A place of encounter and the exchange of ideas through its courses and colloquiums, and above all through its regular life of prayer and worship. The ever gracious hospitality of the Anglican Centre means that it is a place where honest conversation occurs and is expected, where we can admit our weaknesses and our faults. Because of this, because our defences are down, so to speak, it is a place where much can be learnt and where the insights of another Christian tradition can be received as a gift.

The most interesting part of his speech, however, was his analysis of Pope Francis' thoughts and hopes for ecumenical relations:

This seems to be exactly what Pope Francis has in mind:   a renewal of the papacy: 

"I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization" (Evangelii Gaudium 32).

As he said recently (at the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, on 17 October 2015),

"The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church; but within it as one of the baptized, and within the College of Bishops as a Bishop among Bishops, called at the same time — as Successor of Peter — to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the churches.”

Pope Francis is in search of a different, broader, sharing of authority and responsibility and accountability - a genuine practice of the collegial and synodical nature of the episcopate. Consequently, a profound renewal of Bishops’ Conferences:

“since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated” (EG 32).

In short, fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, some core aspects of the Council’s vision of the Church are being re-presented as a reform that can no longer be postponed.
Still, in some circles Pope Francis’ intentions are looked upon with suspicion. He is accused of not sufficiently defending “doctrine” because he also looks at every issue as a “pastoral” challenge. He is suspected of undermining the value of the law, when he recognizes the ultimate priority of conscience: not putting ‘conscience’ in opposition to ‘law’ but making them relational: a relationship of mutual support and control. He is accused of not continuing the Church’s fight against “modernity” - because, even as he protests against the indefensible cruelty of evil social structures, he admits that the Church has been slow and unprepared to recognize the evangelical nature of many characteristics of modern society: the emergence, for example, of the awareness of human rights as the foundation of social justice and solidarity.
In this light it is important to say: Pope Francis is not pressing for some revolutionary novelty, but for the re-appropriation of certain dynamic values that belong diachronically to the essence of the Church, to the Church as communion and community -- these are: synodality and collegiality, pastoral discernment and respect for intermediate structures.

There is much in this speech which is worthy of serious reading - I commend it to you here.

David Moxon, 08/07/2016