Posted on September 27, 2011 by Peter Smith
When people speak of the “crisis” in the Roman Catholic Church, it has often referred to one thing.
Pope Benedict XVI himself acknowledged in his recent trip to his German homeland that sexual-abuse by priests is so horrifying that it can prompt people to say, “This is no longer my Church.” In fact it has — by the thousands per year in Germany according to official counts reported by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
“I would say it is important to know that being in the Church is not like being in some association, but it is being in the net of the Lord, with which he draws good fish and bad fish from the waters of death to the land of life. It is possible that I might be alongside bad fish in this net and I sense this, but it remains true that I am in it neither for the former nor for the latter but because it is the Lord’s net- We should renew our awareness of the special nature of ‘being Church’, of being the people made up of all peoples, which is the People of God, and thereby learn to tolerate even scandals and work against these scandals from within, precisely by being present within the Lord’s great net.”
But elsewhere on his trip, Benedict spoke of what he sees as the deepest crisis for Catholics. He said the country is rich in many ways — from its well-organized Catholic Church to its economy (however much that may be literally going south in the EU crisis).
But he said Germany and the West are impoverished spiritually, which he ties in to his goal of “New Evangelization,” or trying to reach people with the Christian gospel who have heard it all and aren’t buying it anymore, if they ever did:
“We see that in our affluent western world much is lacking. Many people lack experience of God’s goodness. They no longer find any point of contact with the mainstream churches and their traditional structures. But why is this? – The Church in Germany is superbly organized. But behind the structures, is there also a corresponding spiritual strength, the strength of faith in a living God? We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit. I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith. If we do not find a way of genuinely renewing our faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.
“Let us return to the people who lack experience of God’s goodness. They need places where they can give voice to their inner longing. Here we are called to seek new paths of evangelization. Small communities could be one such path, where friendships are lived and deepened in regular communal adoration before God.”
“Small communities” seems to refer to effective religious base communities and other groups that have formed in Africa and Latin America in recent decades, Allen writes.
For those who see the sex-abuse cover-up scandals as a symptom of too much clericalism in the church, it’s also worth noting that the pope was delivering this message to a well-organized association of lay Catholics.
And in yet another address, he called for loyalty to his office and suggested that Germans with their historic roots in Christianity are lacking something of the zeal of more recent converts:
“The Church in Germany will continue to be a blessing for the entire Catholic world: if she remains faithfully united with the Successors of Saint Peter and the Apostles, if she fosters cooperation in various ways with mission countries and allows herself to be ‘infected’ by the joy that marks the faith of these young Churches.