As I begin this reflection in the wake of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I am discouraged by the negative messages surrounding the announcement—media references to the continuing effects of the clerical sexual abuse scandals and the unconscionable response of the Church leaders, Popes as well as local Bishops; the announcement of the resignation of a Cardinal in light of his alleged violations of celibacy as well as his call for a re-examination of optional clerical celibacy; new rumors of improprieties in the management of the Vatican Bank; reports of rivalries and power struggles within the Curia; allegations of illicit sexual activity involving some of the Vatican clergy—even as the Vatican criticisms of women religious and the silencing of “dissenting” theologians continue.
In response to all of this, the continuing drift of the laity away from the Church–a response and its roots that seem to be of little interest to the hierarchy.
Considering all of this, it is difficult to look forward to the rebirth and renewal reflected in the promise of Easter.
However, I have taken heart from a recent op-ed article in the New York Times in which Father Hans Kung suggested the possibility of a “Vatican Spring,” as he raised the question: “Might we get a cardinal or bishop who doesn’t simply want to continue in the same old rut? Someone who, first, knows how deep the church’s crisis goes and, second, knows paths that lead out of it?” After noting that he and Benedict are the only two active theologians who participated in Vatican II, Kung asks if “there might not be, at the beginning of the conclave, as there was at the beginning of the council, a group of brave cardinals who could tackle the Roman Catholic hard-liners head-on and demand a candidate who is ready to venture in new directions.”
As I conclude this reflection, hearing the news of the selection of Pope Francis I, whose simplicity and embrace of the poor are so refreshing, I am cautiously optimistic. His early actions as Pope seem to signal that the Holy Spirit has called forth a new type of church leader—a leader reminiscent of Blessed John XXIII who might revive the spirit of Vatican II and truly implement its reforms. I am hopeful that he will use the language of the council: people of God, dialogue, vernacular liturgy, ecumenism, collegiality, collaboration, renewal, opening the windows, engagement with the modern world, aggiornamento—and realize its potential.
As I look forward to Easter, I pray that Francis may inaugurate a time of renewal—in the words of Father Kung, a “Vatican Spring”—during which a new Church will come into being, a Church in which “all are welcome.”