The Personalist Project

An honest, thoughtful column by Ross Douthat in the NYT today.  The task in front of the Church at the moment is to restore her own moral authority.

If Catholicism has a future in the Western world as something more than a foil, an Other and a symbol of the Benighted Past We Have Safely Left Behind, it needs its leaders to set an example that proves these voices wrong. Before anything else, that requires a generation of priests and bishops who hold themselves to a higher standard — higher than their immediate predecessors, and higher than the world.

It also requires more from the new pope than an evocative name and a humble posture. Catholicism needs someone like Pius V, the 16th-century pontiff at whose tomb Francis prayed on the day after his elevation — a disciplinarian whose housecleaning helped further the Counter-Reformation. The Vatican needs purgation at the top, to enable real renewal from below. And the church as a whole needs to offer and embody proof — in Rome, the local parish and everywhere in between — that the alternative Catholicism preaches can actually be lived.

I don't disagree with him.  And in Pope Francis we have good reason for hoping that the reform Douthat is calling for is already underway.  I would only want to add that the task of showing that "the alternative Catholicism preaches can actually be lived" belongs to the laity as well as to the hierarchy.  We are responsible to live the gospel, even if our pastors fail.  The truth and the "livableness" of the Church's teaching on sexuality, for instance, even now, is constantly witnessed by the Catholic families who have embraced it—who live it and love it.

We can hope and expect that the Pope is on the job of cleaning house in the Vatican, but we can't do anything to make it happen, except pray for it, and attend to our own task of conversion and renewal.

Comments (2)

Peter Brown

#1, Mar 17, 2013 7:43pm

While I'm very far from disagreeing with Douthat on the necessity of reform, I think he's missed the point in locating the urgency of reform as primarily an apologetic task.  (This may be a result of trying to write in a language accessible to readers of _The New York Times_.)

Reform isn't primarily an apologetic task, though; it's primarily an existential task.  Douthat says (quite possibly correctly) that, if the task of reform is not successful, the Catholic Church will become a symbol of the Benighted Past We Have Safely Left Behind.  But it's hardly guaranteed that a world addicted to sacrifice-free satisfaction will see even a successfully reformed Church as anything else.

The basic task of reform, therefore, is not to keep the Church from losing a perceived moral authority that we may never recover anyway.  The basic task of reform is for us--and I'm thinking even more of lay Catholics than of clerics--to *live more truly as Catholics*, because it is in that life, only in that life, that we find the promises of Christ.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Mar 18, 2013 9:49am

I think you're right, Peter, that he has the NYT readership primarily in mind. He is talking about what the Church needs to do to appeal to secularized elites, or, if not appeal to them, at least be a true reproach to them.  

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