Will church leaders rise to the challenge of Pope Francis?

Association of Catholic Priests

Tony Flannery rejoices in the difference Pope Francis is making in the Church, but fears that local church leadership may not have the capacity to implement the change the pope wishes for.

Pope Francis has certainly created a new mood in the Church, a mood of optimism and hope. But his latest exhortation goes much further; it shows we have as pope a man who is determined that his period in the Vatican will be a time for more than just talk. It is clear now that there is a determination, almost a degree of impatience about him, like a man who realises that he hasn’t got an endless amount of time, and that the task is urgent and difficult.

It is also clear that his vision of Church is dramatically different from the two men who have gone before him, and that those who are still trying to say that Francis is in the direct line of Benedict and John Paul are becoming less credible. The simple life style, the constant calling for a poor Church, for a simple liturgy, the critique of the Curia, the challenge to the local churches to begin to take responsibility, all amounts to dramatic changes of direction from the papacy. Someone referred to his most recent encyclical as a charter for church reform.

The question that occupies me now is will the local churches rise to the challenge. Reading back over the history of the Second Vatican Council, it is clear that many new ideas and approaches were presented that would, if implemented, amount to a big change in pastoral approach, in governance, and even in interpretation of doctrine. But only a small part of it was ever put into practice because the local churches were not willing to take up the baton and move courageously into the future. John Charles McQuaid’s famous sentence when he came home from the Council that nothing had happened that would disturb the tranquillity of the faith of the people was a good illustration of the mentality that ultimately blocked change.

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