Church in the modern world
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2020 - 12:00am

I have just finished reading the book The Irony Of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself & Challenged the Modern World to Reform. One reviewer wrote: “...Weigel’s sweeping account of 150 years of  Catholic history challenges the long held assumptions that secular modernity has always been the prime mover, forcing the Church to either resist or accommodate it. In reframing the narrative with the Church as a creative protagonist in this drama, Weigel describes how the encounter with modernity led to the renewal of Catholicism’s mission in its third millennium, and suggests that the Church might redirect – indeed redeem – the modern project itself.”

Throughout much of the last two centuries, secular and Church leaders assumed that the Church was locked in a battle. The modern world was confronted by new moral trends like same sex marriage, divorce, abortion and homosexuality. The triumph of these new personal values would not only “finish Catholicism as  a force in world history; it would also lead to the death of religious convictions.

“But today the Catholic Church is far more vital than it was 200 years ago. Ironically, in its sometimes bruising encounter with modernity Catholicism rediscovered its evangelical essence and developed intellectual tools capable of rescuing the imperilled modern project.”

The sexual abuse by Catholic clergy exposed a deeper problem which was the manifestations of “clericalism”. This term referred to “malevolent distortion of the powerful influence priests enjoy by virtue of their office. “Clericalism“ also meant some bishops acting as if they were members of a privileged caste taking care of their own “rather than as shepherds protecting the flocks entrusted to their care.” Clericalism is the root malady that allowed sexually dysfunctional clergy to prey on young men. 

There are other ways that clericalism has distorted Church teaching that we, including the ordinary Catholic, are part of the same “mystical body of Christ.” But there are parish priests and diocesan bishops who believe that they are the Supreme Authority” in their jurisdictions. 

There is a parish in Paranaque where the majority of parishioners have been campaigning to replace the parish priest. The contention is that this is the sole prerogative of the bishop. It should be noted that the bishop did not even call for a dialogue with the parishioners. The fact that attendance at masses and collections are down do not concern the powers in the Church in Paranaque. One of the greatest challenges of the Church today is how to ensure that the lessons and policies it wants will permeate to the level of the parish.

Continuity between the pontificate of Pope Francis and the previous two popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI – seemed assured. Their common papal theme was the dynamic development of Evangelical Catholicism that would position the Church as a  vital force in the modern world.

Weigel writes that there are two issues in particular to the Church mission of New Evangelization. The issue centered around the core belief of sacramental discipline: “Could the Church legitimately admit to Holy Communion men and women living in marriages that had not been blessed by the Church? Given the widespread incidence of divorce in the West, this was an issue with serious pastoral implications.

At the theological root was the main contention “...that history judges divine revelation such that contemporary circumstances permit and may even require the Church to modify or radically change what had long seemed to be clear instructions from Christ himself on the nature of marriage.”

The second largest issue confronting the papacy of Francis is “...the emergence of a new 21st century Gallicanism that imagined Catholicism as a federation of national churches rather than a universal Church with distinctive local expressions. 

The Catholic Church in Germany, in German speaking Austria and German speaking parts of Switzerland was living a different ecclesiastical reality than much of the rest of the world and saw nothing wrong with that de facto state of schism; indeed it eagerly sought to export its scepticism about settled Catholic truths throughout the world. 

The Catholic Church must now face a new challenge.  A century ago, the principles of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state seemed to have been widely accepted. Today, this divide between spiritual and temporal realms is disappearing. The rise of Islam and evangelical Protestantism has turned religious issues into social and political issues. 

The Church is no stranger to politics. There was a time when it used to support Christian Democratic Parties and Social Democratic parties in Latin  America and Europe, This was meant to battle the influence of Communism among the working class. 

The ideological basis for these groups were the Catholic Social Teachings, “...the body of social principles and moral teachings articulated in the papal, conciliar and other official documents issued since the late 19th century dealing with economic, political and social order.

Deep reaching reform, particularly of the Catholic priesthood and the Catholic episcopate is essential if the Church of the future is to live its commitment  by serving the world, setting a firmer foundation for the future.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Feb. 22 on the Hero’s Journey with Neni Sta. Romana Cruz  (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email

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