Change and Continuity

Author: ZENIT


Change and Continuity

Interview With Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue

By Dominic Baster

LANCASTER, England, 29 OCT. 2008 (ZENIT)

A diocesan document on balancing authentic renewal with fidelity to the teachings of the Church is receiving praise from some high places in the Vatican.

The praise is in response to the publication of "Fit for Mission? Church" by Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue of Lancaster, England. The text is the latest in a series of documents written as part of an extensive pastoral review project.

In the publication, the bishop argues that only by balancing change with continuity will the life of Catholic parishes be energized with the renewal offered to the Church at the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the document was "well put together" and recommended it for the entire Church.

Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Clergy, also praised the text as "an effective, practical instrument for advancing the much-heralded New Evangelization."

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop O'Donoghue explains what led him to write the document, why he thinks Vatican II has been misinterpreted, and how authentic Catholic renewal can be achieved.

Q: Why did you feel it was necessary to produce such a comprehensive critique on the Church in England and Wales now?

Bishop O'Donoghue: Similar to the rest of the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Lancaster has had successes in its implementation of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, but also a variety of problems. These I frankly lay out in my document so we can at last talk about them openly and honestly.

For too long, bishops and people have been inhibited about openly admitting the sickness in the Church, and wider society, caused by misinterpretations of the Council, and the corresponding widespread dissent. If we fail in our duty of presenting the truths of the faith, it is not only the Church that suffers, but also wider society.

However, I can see signs that this reticence to speak out about the misinterpretation of the Council is changing under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, with more bishops — particularly in the United States — going public about the need to heal the wounds in the Church.

Q: Why do you think Vatican II has been misinterpreted by so many?

Bishop O'Donoghue: What we have witnessed in Western societies since the end of the Second World War is the development of mass education on a scale unprecedented in human history — resulting in economic growth, scientific and technological advances, and the cultural and social enrichment of billions of people's lives.

However, every human endeavor has a dark side, due to original sin and concupiscence. In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical skepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism. Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.

One of the great truths recognized by the Second Vatican Council is that the Church is part of human history and culture. Therefore, it shouldn't surprise us that the shadows cast by the distortion of education, and corresponding societal changes, have also touched members of the Church. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, even in the Church we find hedonism, selfishness and egocentric behavior.

The Second Vatican Council tends to be misinterpreted most by Catholics who have had a university education — that is, by those most exposed to the intellectual and moral spirit of the age. These well-educated Catholics have gone on to occupy influential positions in education, the media, politics, and even the Church, where they have been able to spread their so-called loyal dissent, causing confusion and discord in the whole church.

This failure of leadership has exacerbated the even greater problem of the mass departure from the Church of the working-class and poor. For example, the relentless diatribe in the popular media against Christianity has undermined the confidence of the ordinary faithful in the Church.

I strongly support Catholics receiving a university education, but we have to ensure that they also have a firm grounding in the fullness of the faith from an early age in our homes, schools and parishes, and that they are equipped to challenge the erroneous thinking of their contemporaries.

Q: One of the questions you address is whether we have forgotten what it is to be Catholic. What do you say to those whose response to this crisis in Catholic identity is to reject change altogether?

Bishop O'Donoghue: The Jewish Christians in the early Church didn't want to embrace the dietary and ritual changes that were implicit in Jesus' Gospel. If they had succeeded in their opposition to Sts. Peter and Paul, the Church would not have spread like wildfire throughout the Roman world, and beyond.

The strength and vitality of Catholicism — which is a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit — is that it can change and adapt to its surrounding culture, while at the same time maintaining what is essential and definitive about its identity, that originates from the will of God. As Cardinal Henri de Lubac passionately believed, the Catholic genius is to balance necessary change with eternal continuity.

Q: You describe the liturgy as "the wellspring of the life of the Church" and "the authentic starting point of all renewal." How should we balance continuity and change in the liturgy in ordinary Catholic parishes?

Bishop O'Donoghue: "Sacrosanctum Concilium" [The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] remains a sound, measured guide to how we cultivate an authentic liturgical life in our parishes. Paragraph 23 deals with the challenge of balancing the retention of "sound tradition" with openness to "legitimate progress."

Applying this principle to the Mass, the Council fathers directed that the use of Latin must be preserved in the Latin-rite Church, balanced with the use of the vernacular.

In the light of this, I have recommended to my parishes that Latin should play a regular part in the celebration of the Mass, such as the Gloria, the Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. If only this sense of balance had been observed over the past 40 years, we would have avoided the banality, trivialization and secularization of the liturgy that has been all too common in the modern Church.

I think it true to say that in our almost frantic search to create meaningful liturgy that speaks to modern men and women, we fell into the trap on occasions of superficiality and novelty. What we need to do now is to understand more deeply man's search for meaning, which will include the need for the sacred, and the apprehension of the transcendent.

Q: While urging Catholics to remain committed to the work of ecumenism, you acknowledge that it sometimes leads to an "urge to gloss over significant differences" between Christians. What should be the practical goal of authentic ecumenism?

Bishop O'Donoghue: It's time we admitted that a wrong type of ecumenism has put a brake on the Catholic Church's freedom to engage in evangelization and mission in society. It's as if our fear of offending other Christians has inhibited us from confidently proclaiming the distinctive and defining truths of Catholicism.

However, the Council father's insight that Christian communities outside the Catholic Church contain elements of sanctification and truth — see "Lumen Gentium," No. 15, and "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 3 — provides us with the agenda for authentic ecumenism.

Those elements of the Catholic Church that we have in common with non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities should be the focus of our dialogue, to the mutual enrichment and deeper understanding of both parties. In this way we will be able to explain the full Catholic understanding of doctrine, highlight any distortions that have occurred, and come to a deeper appreciation of the truth ourselves.

Our goal should always be to strengthen the imperfect communion that already exists in the hope that non-Catholics will come to see and come to seek the fullness of truth.

Q: Have you been surprised at the level of response to your document, and how do you explain the criticism you have received, even privately from fellow bishops?

Bishop O'Donoghue: Yes, I have been surprised both by the approval and the hostility that "Fit for Mission? Schools" and "Fit for Mission? Church" have caused in my diocese, nationally and internationally. All I have done is reiterate and explain the teachings of the Church as expressed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Many read the documents as my attempt to turn the clock back. This is not my intention at all. What this dismissive response reveals is my critic's rejection of a fundamental component of Catholicism — a living and creative engagement with the Tradition of the Church. One of the obstacles to the New Evangelization that we must challenge is this "poverty of imagination" regarding the communication of the fullness of the faith.

One of the purposes of both of my documents is to encourage an open debate among clergy and catechists about the nature and methodology of catechesis and theology. For the past 40 years we have witnessed a tendency toward Church doctrine being reduced to a secondary source, with primacy given to personal experience and secular methodologies.

Like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I want to make the case for re-asserting the primacy of the Deposit of Faith. Challenging established practice always results in argument and controversy, but such free and open discussion is healthy for the Church.

Also, one of the strengths of collegiality is that the Church benefits from a rich multiplicity of insights from the bishops. I, personally, have always appreciated the open and frank discussions in which I have participated with my brother bishops of England and Wales and elsewhere. We are not like the British Cabinet [in government] that insists that ministers don’t express different points of view in public.

We grow as a Church when we have an open exchange of insights and experiences as bishops that involves all the people of God. Sometimes this involves criticism and challenge, but we should never be afraid of genuine criticism, as it's a sign of mature friendship.

Q: How hopeful are you for a Catholic renewal in England and Wales, and what is the key condition for this to come about?

Bishop O'Donoghue: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once advised, "Don't let anything make you so sad that you forget the resurrection of the Lord." Yes, it is easy sometimes to become despondent about the state of the Church in England and Wales, but if, during these times of temptation, we remember the Resurrection we soon realize that anything is possible if we are open to the grace of our Risen Lord.

The principle challenge, from which many of the other challenges spring, is the rejection of obedience in the Church, due to the modern emergence of a secularist-minded people. The idea of obedience and humility toward God's truth are totally alien to many in this age of assertive individualism.

During this time of relativism we need all Catholics to be enthusiasts for the beauty, goodness and truth of the deposit of faith. To avail ourselves of the riches of God's doctrine we must not approach it with the attitude of consumers, who pick and choose according to taste and personal comfort. We must allow the word of God to judge and challenge us, and sometimes this is hard and uncomfortable.

I am convinced that we will only have a Catholic renewal in this country if clergy and laity, including the bishops, wholeheartedly accept obedience to the fullness of doctrinal, moral and liturgical truth as entrusted to, and protected by, the Successor of St. Peter.

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On the Net:

The Catholic Truth Society's expanded edition of "Fit for Mission? Church":

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