Sunday, October 05, 2008

Religious Czar Blasts "Pseudo-Aggorniamento," Communities Gone Overboard

On a recent trip to the States, the top Vatican official on consecrated life -- the prefect of the "Congregation for Religious" Cardinal Franc Rodé CM -- lamented the effects of the "hermenutic of discontinuity and rupture" in religious communities, observing along the way the presence of orders which "have opted for ways that take them outside communion with Christ in the Catholic church, although they themselves may have opted to 'stay' in the Church physically."

After a stop at DC's Catholic University of America (where he marked his 74th birthday), the Slovenian Vincentian -- who opened the Jesuit General Congregation in January with a call to enhanced obedience -- offered his overview of US religious life during a late September seminar at Massachusetts' Stonehill College, an apostolate of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Titled "Reclaiming the Treasure," the Stonehill symposium was held in honor of the bicentennial of the archdiocese of Boston's erection as a diocese.

In the last forty years, the Church has undergone one of her greatest crises of all times. We all know that the dramatic situation of consecrated life has not been marginal in this state of affairs. In practically all Western countries, observers note that most religious communities are entering the end-game of a prolonged crisis whose outcome, they say, is already determined by the statistics.

In many of these Western countries, religious have lost hope....

Under the umbrella of “consecrated life” and behind the statistics there lies a variety of situations.

First, there are many new communities, some better known than others, many of which are thriving and whose individual statistics are the reverse of the general trends.

Second, we have older communities that have taken action to preserve and reform genuine religious life in their own charism; they are also in a growth mode, contrary to the general trend, and their median age is lower than the overall average for religious.

Neither of these two groups sees “the writing on the wall” in the sense that observers of the general trends use it; on the contrary, the future looks promising if they continue to be what they are and as they are.

Third, there are those who accept the present situation of decline as, in their words, the sign of the Spirit on the Church, a sign of a new direction to be followed. Among this group there those who have simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life or at least of their community, and seek to do so in the most peaceful manner possible, thanking God for past benefits.

Then, we must admit too, that there are those who have opted for ways that take them outside communion with Christ in the Catholic Church, although they themselves may have opted to “stay” in the Church physically. These may be individuals or groups in institutes that have a different view, or they may be entire communities.

Finally, I would distinguish those who fervently believe in their own personal vocation and the charism of their community, and are seeking ways to reverse the trend. In other words, how to achieve authentic renewal. These may be whole institutes, or individuals, pockets of individuals or even communities within institutes....

Operating at the root of this “pseudo-aggiornamento” was what can best be described as “naturalism”. It supposed the radical centering of man on himself, the rejection of the supernatural, and operated in a climate of radical subjectivism.

It showed itself in multiple ways: In talk about holiness that is totally divorced from fulfillment of Christ’s law and the concept of grace. In minimizing sin. In the acceptance of the world as it is, with no need of conversion. In taking the world as the criterion according to which the Church ought to be reformed. In a notion of apostolate or ministry that consists in being at ease in the world rather than changing it. In rejection of authority, and especially divinely constituted authority, hence the rejection of the magisterium and all canonical and disciplinary ordering in the Church....

Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, I was in Paris finishing my doctoral thesis on “miracles of the modernist controversy.” At that time in France there was a pervasive atmosphere of enthusiasm for the Council as the press and other media presented it, which was a partial image of the Council as a “victory of the liberals over the conservatives.”

When I returned to Slovenia I found that the communist regime was isolating the Catholic faithful, suffocating public expression of the faith and reducing it to a merely private affair. I found a faithful people within a society shaped by the ideology of materialism. I soon realized that what I brought with me from my studies in Paris was of very little use for my pastoral work. I needed to be close to the people and to respect the traditional ways of expressing of their faith. I learned so much from the Christian faithful! They taught me to love the Church, to respect the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.

The great lesson I learned from that experience was this: The religious who secularized consecrated life were not doing so for the sake of the faith of the people of God. It was not the good of God’s people that they were seeking. Rather than God’s will, what they were seeking was their own.

Religious life, being a gift from the Holy Spirit to the individual religious and the Church, depends especially on fidelity to its origins, fidelity to the founder, fidelity to the particular charism. Fidelity to that charism is essential, for God blesses fidelity while he “opposes the proud.” The complete rupture of some with the past, then, goes against the nature of a religious congregation, and essentially it provokes God’s rejection.
Fulltext of Rodé's talk is stashed in the archives.

Other interventions of note at the Stonehill program came from Missionary Sister of the Blessed Trinity Sara Butler -- currently in Rome for the Synod on the Word -- and Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison; both are likewise available at the links.