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Posted May 19, 2003

Thoughts on Church Reform to Ponder

from an April 23rd lecture given by Cardinal Avery Dulles at Fordham University

The church in the United States "stands in urgent need of far-reaching intellectual, spiritual and moral regeneration."

Dulles cites as the major problems facing the Church:

1. The problems of religious illiteracy
2. Rampant dissent
3. Flouting of liturgical laws
4. A general decline in religious practice.

He contends that: "The call for a new evangelization strongly issued by Paul VI and John Paul II has fallen, it would seem, on deaf ears . . . The majority of Catholics have little appreciation of their mission to spread the faith as a precious gift intended for all."

Cardinal Dulles concludes his list of needed reforms by referring to "the immoral behavior of Catholics, both lay and clergy" that he said was "a cause of scandal and defections. Such behavior includes:

1. Not only sexual abuse of children, BUT
2. Sex outside marriage
3. Abortion
4. Divorce
5. Alcoholism
6. Drug abuse
7. Character defamation
8. Scandals such as falsification of records and embezzlement

"The morality of Catholics all too often sinks below the standards commonly observed by Protestants and unbelievers."

In regard to strengthening the relationship between priests and bishops, Dulles says that part of the problem can be traced back to the Second Vatican Council, which "exalted the episcopacy to an unprecedented peak of power and responsibility, . . . No normal individual could measure up to the official ‘job description' for bishops. No wonder that there are failures in the handling of certain assignments of priests and other personnel."

In regard to true reform, Dulles drew upon the works of Cardinal Yves Congar to give the guidelines for this reform. Among other things:

1. Follow Catholic principles derived from revelation
2. Respect the church's styles of worship and pastoral life
3. Adhere to the fullness of Catholic doctrine
4. Respect the divinely given structures of the church
5. Maintain communion with the whole body of the church.

He cautions:

1. Resist tendencies to promote as reform "what flatters our pride and feeds our self-interest."

2. Guard against "purported reforms that are aligned with the prevailing tendencies in secular society." Relativism and subjectivism are among secular society's unacceptable features.

3. Energetically oppose reformers who contend that the church must abandon her claims to absolute truth, must allow dissent from her own doctrines and must be governed according to the principles of liberal democracy.

4. Efforts on the left to "dissolve the church's hierarchical structure and transform her into an egalitarian democracy", and efforts on right to "reform the reforms" of Vatican II and undo the work of the council itself must be fought.