“History teaches us that there has never been a perfect redemption, but that in Jesus there is a divine promise for us all and that this is anticipated in any definitely valid act of doing good to our fellow men in a finite and conditioned world in which love is always doomed to failure and yet, nevertheless, refuses to choose any other way than that of loving service… Christian belief in salvation from God in Jesus as the Christ is the down fall of any doctrine of salvation, understood in human terms, in the sense of an identity, which is within our control and therefore can be manipulated”. (Edward Schillebeeckx, ‘Human Fulfilment in Christ’).
I refer to the stinging attack reputed to have been made by Pope Benedict XVI on the media as reported in ‘The Telegraph’ that was attached as a supplement to ‘The Island’ of February 19, 2013. It is true that the Pope and the Vatican have been going through a trying time coping with many issues which have ultimately led to the resignation of the former. Yet, the Pope’s statement is not one that Christians would expect from a leader, whose mission is based on Jesus’ address to Peter: “And I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock you shall build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”. (Matthew 16: 18).
The easiest way out of any problem is to blame the media. As long as the media is not engaged in rollicking in the scurrilous and telling blatant lies, it has a vital role to play in society. The short passage from Schillebeeckx quoted above means that the Catholic faith and the institutional Catholic Church are not a perfectly congruent identity. A Venn diagram will illustrate this fact with clarity. As Walter Bagehot, a former editor of the Economist has stated, we need to realise that each unit of the media will have a stance of its own: from conservative to progressive and from encrusted traditionalism to a broadly liberal outlook. One should not expect its neutrality to descend to the level of the jejune.
In the same statement published by the Telegraph, Pope Benedict says that the media has twisted and misrepresented the Second Vatican Council as representing (1) a shift of power from the Vatican to individual bishops and their congregations and (2) and as a “political struggle for power” “between different currents within the Church”.
This is not true. Fr. Aloysius Peiris in his book ‘Give Vatican II a Chance’ regards the Vatican Council II as the only true pastoral and oecumenical council. So that Vatican II has given birth to an oecumenical Church in which the Pope as a ‘primus inter pares’ must work collegially with his brother bishops in transmitting the voice of the Holy Spirit across the world. The supervening near-divine primacy of the Pope would in his view interfere with that transmission. This Church must be contrasted with the oedematous Church that is bloated with pomp, pageantry, condemnations, excommunications, inquisitions and dogmas”.
Fr. Aloysius explains the difference between the old hide-bound deference to legalism and censure and the new dispensation of loving service in the following words. In the pre-conciliar period (prior to Vatican II), “The Law determined the morality of our actions;
The Rite determined the validity of our actions; The dogma guaranteed the correctness of our faith;
Vatican II saw an element of slavery, in this arrangement and wished to recapture the original, that is to say, the authentically traditional approach to a Life is beyond the Law a Worship is beyond the Rite a Faith is beyond Dogma.” (Give Vatican II A Chance, Chapter 1)
As a young man, at the time the Vatican Council started its deliberations, Ratzinger was of the view that the Roman Curia was neurotic about anything new. He put on this same neurotic mantle, when he exercised the role of the Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (the former Office of the Inquisition), by considering all opinions on theology and ecclesiology other than his own, as being relativist and secularist. He cultured the development of his career in the Church, by faithfully serving the arch conservative, Pope John Paul II. This business of harping on the descent to relativism and secularism needs to be explained. Fr. Aloysius Peiris, who is an acknowledged authority on matters of theology and ecclesiology, says, “I have picked up two categories of persons representing two major trends in the church – trends that continue to polarize the church to this day … (a) the self-assertive apologetical trend”, which believes that the institutional church as presided over by the Pope and the Roman Curia is intrinsically sacred, and inviolable and vested with a monopoly of the truth and therefore totally immune to the machinations of the media. Pope Benedict XVI’s ecclesiology conforms to this trend even though he has now made the mistake of saying that the church is not immune to the threat of the media. “(b) the frontier-less oecumenical trend… where the church has to be seed that has to die and lose its identity in order to be fruitful from the point of view of God’s reign (John 12: 24) to apply a Jesus saying ecclesiologically”.
Pope John XXIII and Vatican II influenced Bishop Leo Nanayakkara and Fr. Michael Rodrigo to follow this trend of renewal and not superficial reform. This approach should not be mistaken for a theology based on an eclectic amalgam of various religious beliefs. It is based on the sound foundation of the Catholic faith as professed by the People of God. Thousands of Catholics the world over and in Sri Lanka are passionately devoted to the Catholic Faith. Yet, if one examines public life in Sri Lanka one will encounter many chameleon Catholics, who will barter their faith for personal gain and public office.