Can Pope Francis make the Church relevant again?

Ecclesial relevance must not be confused with ‘trendiness’ – Professor Richard Gaillardetz reminded participants at his recent seminar on ‘Can Pope Francis make the Church relevant again?’ 

In early August, our diocese was honoured to welcome Professor Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph Chair of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College.  Richard’s visit was timely and built on the challenging and very relevant conversations members of the diocese had with eminent theologians Rev Dr James McEvoy and Rev Dr Richard Lennan, who were also visiting the diocese in July and August.

In his presentations with clergy, parish and diocesan leaders, diocesan staff and parishioners Richard Gaillardetz challenged all members of the church to embrace the invitation of Pope Francis to have the ‘courage and boldness’ to bring the message of Christ through a ‘pedagogy of desire’ to all those who are in our communities – especially those who may be on the margins.  Through his commentary on Vatican II, and through his reflections on the church leadership we have experienced in the 50 years since this great council, Richard linked the teaching of Pope Francis to our contemporary context here in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese and asked how we may be able to effectively meet the greatest crisis facing the Catholic Church since the Reformation.   Again, using the example and teaching of Pope Francis, Richard invited the local church in Newcastle to embrace the enormous wisdom of our doctrine and tradition and to work collaboratively to recover lost credibility. 

As an outsider to our Australian context, Richard praised the decision of the bishops to invite all Australians to participate in a national Plenary Council in 2020.  At every seminar, Richard challenged participants to embrace the call to ‘listen and dialogue’ as together the Australian church defines a blueprint for the future.  Richard spoke about Pope Francis’ constant challenge of creating a more ‘synodal church’.  He stated that a synodal church must be whole and entire, committed to the practice of mutual listening. Richard also remarked on how Pope Francis masterfully linked this listening church to Vatican II’s teaching that all the faithful were given a supernatural instinct, a sensus fidei, for discerning God’s Word, penetrating its meaning and applying that Word more fully in their lives.  Therefore, it will be through this Plenary Council process that the church will be able to engage in an honest and humble engagement with all Australians.

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Brian Lacey

Brian Lacey is a former K-12 Principal, and current Head of RE & Spirituality Services (Catholic Schools Office).

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