The Italian theologian said that the plan to re-Christianise society through the New Evangelisation simply papered over the ever-larger holes in Christian memory. Like in the early days of Christianity, faith is passed on from person to person
Gianni Valente taken from Vatican Insider
During last week’s General Audience, Francis added a new species to his bestiary: the “peacock bishop”. This kind of man will do anything to become a bishop but “when he gets it does not serve” because all he does is “[go] around like a peacock” “[living] only for his vanity”. According to 80-year-old theologian Fr. Severino Dianich, the bishop question became a key testing ground in modern times. In his opinion, any reflection on nature and the task of the Church needs to move away from old static mind-sets. Starting with worn-out slogans such as the “New Evangelisation”.
There are more than 5000 bishops in the world today. From a purely logistical point of view as well, it would be impossible to convene a Council.
“But there are fewer than 2700 bishops in charge of each ecclesiastical district. A bishop without a diocese would have been inconceivable in the first Millennium of Church’s history. Until absurdities such as this are not put right, episcopal nominations will continue to be seen as a professional attainment.”
What can be done to change this image?
“First of all, limits need to be placed on bishop transfers. The idea that it is inconceivable for bishops from big dioceses to be moved to smaller ones, needs to go. This is a rejection of one’s episcopal service. In the first millennium bishops wore a ring because it was a sign of their marriage to the Church.”
What about the selection process? Should this be revised as well?
“The Western Church needs to reintroduce the old custom according bishops are seen as being born from the womb of local Churches, as is the case in Eastern Churches, including the Catholic ones. I am not saying it would solve everything. But the Church would definitely have bishops who were more spiritually and culturally in tune with their people. We would not get bishops parachuting in from outside with the aim of gaining power, boasting about the fact that they have contacts in the Roman Curia, as if they were local officials within an the Empire.
The focus is returning to the question of Church reform. But the criteria upon which it should be based, are usually unclear.
“Any new perspective is welcome, the first question we need to ask ourselves is whether this is in tune with the purpose of the Church, which is to get the experience of faith in Christ across. This needs to be our starting point.”
“In so many parts of the world, the faith has been passed on from parents to children, down through the family, for 1500 years. Missionaries passed the faith on in lands where the Gospel had not yet been proclaimed. But the “normal” life of the Church had been conceived without the missionaries. This mental picture acted as a blueprint for the entire structure of the Church and Canon Law, right up until today. But Christian society as it once was, a society in which the evangelisation process happened through parents and children, no longer exists. It simply does not exist any more. Even in Italy, which is considered a “stronghold” of the Catholic faith, child baptisms have dropped to under 70%. Only three or four out of 10 families are built on the Christian sacrament of marriage. It is easy to deduce that the number of baptised children is going to continue to drop.”
But this is precisely why the Church has been talking about the “New Evangelisation” for decades. A new dicastery has even been created specifically for it.
“Despite the adjective, the New Evangelisation largely corresponds to the idea of being able to go back. A repeat, though a more up to date one, of the great culture of the Restoration, after the French Revolution. The main idea behind this was to r-Christianise societies. The ideas and plans that lay behind the New Evangelisation focused more on the Church’s relationship with society, culture and nations rather than with people. The priority was to give renewed vigour to the influence the Church could still have on certain social and cultural contexts, so that people can once again absorb the faith from the contexts in which they live, as used to be the case. But I don’t think we can go back. So evangelisation poses a new problem. And it even affects Church structures which have undergone a renewal. Because all ecclesiastical institutions function according to the old system and they risk hindering evangelisation rather than facilitating it.”
What do you suggest?
“We need to look at the original dynamics of the communication of the faith. How it was communicated at the start, when believers transmitted their own experience of faith to neighbours and relatives who did not believe, during day-to-day life. But there is a certain part of the Church body which is not prepared to recognise this simple dynamic and to serve it. And yet the communication of the faith from person to person as witnessed in the early days of the Church, is more appropriate for the times we live in.”
“In the deep secularisation processes, the focus of the dominant culture has been on individuals and their freedom, thereby leading them toward isolation and solipsism. There is now a weaker sense of the “collective”. It is easy to see that the best way to transmit the faith is through direct, person-to-person contact. You cannot get around this. It also emphasises the fact that faith is transmitted through the sacraments, not through pedagogical means or through propaganda. The life of grace is transmitted through the sacraments. And the sacraments are not celebrated at a distance, nor by proxy, but only through contact among people.”
In your essay La Chiesa verso la sua riforma (The Church, toward reform), you show that the way the Church’s teaching is practiced today, often makes it hard to see the original sacramental source of Church life.
“The relevance of the Church’s teaching is still measured more on the basis of solemnly declared principles than the extent to which it reflects the sacramental dynamics of the Church. I have always wondered how a papal encyclical that is often drafted by the Pope’s collaborators and signed by the Pope himself could be considered to be more important as a papal document, than a homily pronounced as part of a Eucharistic celebration. This is where the sacramental source of life finds its highest expression. Pope Francis seems to have grasped this and put it into practice with his daily homilies in St. Martha’s House, the content of which is then published. His style of government is one of authority inspired by pastoral charity. A simple choice like this also highlights the sacramental essence of the ordained ministry.”