A Franciscan Reflection on the State of the Church

Joseph Nangle, OFM Features

This reflection was originally posted on the blog of the Franciscan Action Network. It has been lightly edited for style.

The Franciscan tradition has, from the beginning, challenged the Catholic Church. Now after more than 800 years, we are called to follow the example of Saints Francis and Clare, whose life-style contrasted directly with the prevailing Church culture of their day. They were prophets in the biblical sense of the word, speaking mainly through their way of life, Gospel truth to a powerful institution, which to a great extent had abandoned its Christ-given vocation.

It is not too much to say that for the last several decades at least, significant members of the Catholic clergy and bishops have similarly abandoned their sacred commitments. The evidence for this has increasingly come to light. We are overwhelmed by the extent and horror of the harm done to children and vulnerable adults by acts of unspeakable betrayal by these men. In the face of this modern church crisis, the Franciscan families, whose DNA contains the spiritual heritage of Francis and Clare, have the right and obligation to speak our truth relative to the current state of the Catholic priesthood and episcopacy.

But what to say? Surely we weep and beg God’s forgiveness for this incredibly widespread cancer eating away at the Household of Faith. We make our own the outrage and deep pain which the ongoing revelations of clergy abuse and episcopal cover-ups are causing. We agree with demands for total transparency and accountability on the part of church officialdom related to these ongoing revelations.

In addition, we should speak a uniquely Franciscan word comparable to that of Francis when he confronted the scandal of yet another Crusade. With the permission of the Church itself, he journeyed to the heart of the Muslim world in an attempt to prevent yet another violation of non-violent Gospel ideals.

Should not we modern Franciscans imitate our founder’s courageous example and ask Pope Francis to call an ecumenical council of the whole Church just as Pope John XXIII did a little more than 50 years ago? And in light of our tradition of inclusivity, should we not further specify that this council would consist of lay, vowed religious, clerical and episcopal members of the Church and be held someplace other than the Vatican? This “First Council of the People of God” would take as much time as needed (Vatican II lasted four years) for a comprehensive study of the current reality of the Catholic priesthood and episcopacy, then make the complete reforms – beginning with our current seminary system – needed to assure the selection of pastors, women and men, who will live out their vocations in the image of Jesus.

Fr. Joe is a founding member of the Franciscan Action Network and served as the first board treasurer.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org.

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