Cardinal Oscar’s Vision of the Church

Rocco Palma reports here on a speech given by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga–a member of Pope Francis’ “Gang of Eight” –the cardinals who he has tasked to help him reform the church. Palma calls him Francis’ “Vice Pope”

Cardinal Maradiaga gave a speech at a conference in Texas on October 25 on the New Evangelization which can be found here. (scroll down to the bottom of the post)

The first read through sounds like the old “Spirit of Vatican II” stuff warmed up. It’s all about reaching out in mercy and no condemnation to show people what the love of Christ really looks like. Okay, but as many commentators have observed, in the American Church the liberal mainstream have been doing that steadily for the last fifty years and all we have to show for it are plummeting vocations, religious evacuating their orders en masse, churches built in a brutal modernist style, a wholesale abandonment of the rich teachings and traditions of the faith, widespread disregard for the moral teachings of Catholicism, the priest sex abuse scandal, financial abuse and a church in crisis.

So we want more of the same? This is the definition of insanity isn’t it? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

I understand that in Central and South America many Catholics associated with “the right” were also associated with right wing political figures. Those who loved the Latin Mass and church traditions and disciplines were also at the table with the moneyed aristocracy and the right wing dictators. I can understand the egalitarian talk of Cardinal Maradiaga therefore, and I acknowledge the truth of what he says about the church being “the pilgrim people of God” and the need to “get back to Jesus” and the need for the compassionate face of Christ to be seen in the church. I accept and agree with his proposal that the new evangelization is ultimately about meeting Christ through the shining examples of authentic Christians.

I don’t have much of a problem with what he affirms, but I am concerned about what he denies. Maybe the Cardinal needs to remember the life changing aphorism by F.D.Maurice that  a man is right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies. Whenever I hear a pastor say “The truth is X but not Y” I’m suspicious because usually the truth is both-and.

So Cardinal Maradiaga says,

 The function of the hierarchy is redefined in reference to Jesus as Suffering Servant, not as “Pantocrator” (lord and emperor of this world); only from the perspective of someone crucified by the powers of this world it is possible to found, and to explain, the authority of the Church.

Surely the Lord is both Suffering Servant AND Pantocrator. Why does the Cardinal feel obliged to deny what has always been part of the teaching of the Church that Christ is King?

I am not so much worried about what Cardinal Maradiaga said, but what he left unsaid.

And there the Church, in humble company, helps making life intelligible and dignified, making it a community of equals, without castes or classes; without rich or poor; without impositions or anathemas. Her foremost goal is to care for the penultimate (hunger, housing, clothing, shoes, health, education…) to be then able to care for the ultimate, those problems that rob us of sleep after work (our finiteness, our solitude before death, the meaning of life, pain, and evil…). The answer the Church gives to the “penultimate” will entitle her to speak about the “ultimate.” For that reason, the Church must show herself as a Samaritan on earth –so she can some day partake of the eternal goods.

Really? The Church’s foremost goal is to provide housing, shoes, health and education? Surely the church’s foremost goal is the salvation of souls. To be sure we must be engaged in feeding the poor, but in his talk on the New Evangelization the Cardinal does not mention the salvation of souls or the spiritual work of the church or the sacraments at all.

We must be Good Samaritans indeed, but to read that parable as simply a call to help poor suffering people is to be shallow and simplistic. The deeper message of Christ’s parable has always been that, like him, we are there to “seek and to save that which is lost”. When the Samaritan takes the wounded man, washes his wounds and heals him with wine and oil we see the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and anointing-forgiveness. When the man is taken to the inn–the inn has always been a sign of the church, wherein true healing and rescue is found. Has the Cardinal never seen this deeper meaning to the parable? Why doesn’t he take us from simple social work to the spiritual works of mercy?

Cardinal Maradiaga continues:

For this task of mission and testimony, the Church should always come equipped with faith and a spirit of service to humanity. Too many times she gives the impression of having too much certitude and too little doubt, freedom, dissension or dialogue. No more excommunicating the world, then, or trying to solve the world’s problems by returning to authoritarianism, rigidity and moralism, but instead keeping always the message of Jesus as her sole source of inspiration.

Uh huh. A clear proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Catholic faith is not always authoritarian, rigid and moralistic. A Cardinal who encourages doubt and dissent does the church no favors.

Next the Cardinal attacks the idea of hierarchy.

The communion of the Church is vital for her to be able to acquire credibility in today’s society. But this is not mere democratization; it is working to achieve an authentic coexistence as brothers and equals. And this goal certainly cannot be attained through a hierarchic mindset, understanding the Ministerial Order as a superior presbyterium, privileged and exclusive, in the way that it appeared to be configured, with absolute power concentrated at the apex and delegated down to the rest of the tiers of the hierarchy.

This is a straw man. The church has never taught that idea of hierarchy (even though some members of the hierarchy have behaved that way.) The ideal of hierarchy is that the higher one goes the more one is called to serve those below. The Pope is therefore the ultimate “servant of the servants of God”. To reject hierarchy is to reject one of the basic principles of the church. The hierarchical principle balances the egalitarian principle. We need both. To reject the egalitarian truths is to slip into autocratic rule. To reject the hierarchical principle is to slip into crude mob rule and crass individualism.

Then he gets political:

Putting first the needs of the last means to create a collective will capable of doing so, as well as of stipulating policies and social behaviors based on solidarity, subsequently adopting common efforts and sacrifices. If a passion for the last becomes a mobilizing idea and moral force, we will then have the possibility of creating international politics of solidarity, of economic democracy, the assumption of evangelical poverty, attaining the creation of new social subjects, with a new set of anthropological values and a new purpose for both collective and personal life, all inspired in Christ and His Beatitudes.

For “collective will” shall we read “big government”? Notice the emphasis (like most left wing Catholics) on the Catholic principle of solidarity while neglecting its balancing principle of subsidiarity. Solidarity emphasizes corporate responsibility while subsidiarity emphasizes individual and local responsibility. Again, what the Cardinal said was only a half truth.

Finally on the New Evangelization–Cardinal Maradiaga says,

The Christian identity should be built on a par with what is truly human, as a ferment as well as a service, and that requires being present where the great human causes are being ventilated, even without publicity, without renown, with the barest visibility, but bearing the strength of testimony, of the commitment to action, of unconditional love. A hidden presence, like that of a fermenting agent.

This presence would be shared with all those who in one way or another carry inside their chests the fire of love, justice, and charity, and of the construction of human rights. We could call this presence political sainthood, as an anticipatory taste of eschatological plenitude

This means that the Church will convert the world not by argument, but by example. There is no doubt that doctrinal argument is important, but people will be attracted by the humanity of Christians, those who live by the faith, who live in a human way, who irradiate the joy of living, the consistency in their behavior.

I want to understand the Cardinal’s teachings, but it comes across to me as “get involved in changing things politically. Live together in peace and feed the poor. Then people will see how happy you are and want to become Catholics.”

What seems absent in his vision is the call to authentic personal holiness, sacrifice and being transformed into the image of Christ. In fact Jesus doesn’t get much of a mention at all except in his example as a humble carpenter, an outsider and a friend of the poor. There is no mention here of Jesus Christ as Son of God, the savior of the world. There is no mention of mankind’s  bondage in sin and his need of forgiveness. No mention of the cross as a redemptive act or of the need for individual repentance and conversion.

By “evangelize” it sounds like the Cardinal means “We can make a difference, yes we can!”


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