It is, of course, a pipe dream – but something we can indulge in from time to time.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Humbled by the decision of the Conclave to have elected me as Pope, I face the daunting responsibility for our Church. This Church has gone through a serious crisis of faith, spirituality and of its very credibility, which led to my predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, having to abdicate from his charge.
Jesus commanded us to bring the Word to the whole world and to all peoples, but we have failed in this responsibility for too long. It will be a priority in my pontificate to examine what is most essential in terms of Christian commitment and the authenticity of our liturgical and personal prayer. We have to return to the foundations of our beliefs and the reasons why the Church exists. This is not the time to go into details, but rather for a few thoughts to guide our work over the coming years.
The mission of the Church is to seek the truth that belongs to God alone. We seek enlightenment about the purpose of our lives and the grace to convey these truths to the world. Absolute truth is only communicated to humanity progressively and through both faith and scientific research in nature and spiritual realities. We will never possess the wholeness of truth before the end of time for each of us and all God’s creation. In our pursuit of happiness, freedom and truth, we need to educate and stimulate the Christian conscience of persons in every stage of life.
If the Church is ever again to be a respected and credible institution in the midst of human society, we need to be seen to be pushing back ignorance, bigotry and obscurantism and filling the darkness with the light of Christ and all forms of human creativeness, discovery and learning. This progress in life and virtue must be manifest in art, science, sociology, economics, history, politics, ethics, law, medicine, psychology, genetics and biology, sports and leisure. As a Church, we seek to become open to the marvels of man’s co-creativity and participation in the love of God.
The Church must again become truly universal and welcoming to all conditions and social classes, from the poorest and those labouring under handicap and illness, to those in hard, underpaid and dangerous labour and to artists and the talented, the ruling classes, professional people and the aristocracy. We are called to encourage everyone in their search for truth and meaning in their own life pilgrimages. Christ rebuked the Scribes and the Pharisees to render freedom to God’s people. The Church must venerate the gift of this God-given freedom and never seek to annihilate it under pretext of “correcting” the work of Christ. The Pope and the Bishops are to be seen to be guiding, not punishing, encouraging instead of oppressing.
There are specific issues to be addressed, and we need to develop ways to respond in complete honesty and transparency. We may be seriously challenged by some issues in the same way that Christ took on the self-serving attitudes and hypocrisy of much of the Jewish establishment of his day. He challenged excessive certitude and the dangers of institutionalisation.
The first issue is that of the primacy of the spiritual and the quality of our liturgical prayer. My predecessor, Benedict XVI, issued a document to remove restrictions from the use of older forms of liturgy for the Mass, the Divine Office and the Sacraments, attempting to fit everything into a single Roman rite by the terms “extraordinary form” and “ordinary form”. I would like to go much further in a multiplicity of traditions, uses and forms, without any pretence of fostering a single rite. The Church is too diverse culturally to impose excessive uniformity. Therefore, parishes and religious communities will be free to use any traditional liturgy of their choice or they may adopt more modern forms. This freedom is a condition for the development of a healthy liturgical and sacramental life in cultural and spiritual diversity. Any abuses involving sacrilegious treatment of the Sacraments or scandals to the faithful would be dealt with by diocesan bishops as and when they occur.
Next, we need to address the issue of infallibility. I do not claim to be infallible or above any other bishop, priest or lay person. We all struggle in our uncertainties, temptations and sins. None of us is infallible, and we need to re-examine the extravagant formulations of the late nineteenth century. The mystery of God or universal consciousness is beyond the understanding of us all, and Wisdom speaks through all mankind, including those of all the great religious traditions of the world and those who struggle with belief itself. We are here both to discover and guide through love and respect of freedom. Thus, the Roman Curia will be reformed and adapted to present-day needs; its finances will be entrusted to mainstream merchant bankers reputed for their integrity and conformity to international banking standards and accountability.
The next essential item is that of human sexuality in the light of modern medicine, psychology and anthropology. Sexuality is an aspect of the whole person and human relationships. Modern western society has accepted equality between the sexes and respect between men and women. The subject of relationship and love expressed in friendship needs to be developed and explored so that it may be separated from political manipulation. Human sexuality and the notion of the family are more complex than Church teaching has often portrayed, and progress has to be made.
Alongside these burning issues, the Church needs to work its way out of political agendas defined by notions of conservatism, liberalism, progressivism and traditionalism. It is manifest that these political agendas based on dialectic either / or thinking are as intolerant and disrespectful of freedom as each other. I am determined, like my predecessor, to revive the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, Plato in particular, and a paradigm of life based on reality, universality, harmony, goodness, truth and beauty. Our agenda is not limited to promoting general councils, be they Vatican II, Vatican I, Trent or any other since the second Council of Nicea.
I intend to create commissions of scholars, contemplative souls and pastors to study these questions and explore possibilities for pastoral guidelines in parishes and alternative Christian communities of all kinds.
A word needs to be said about the Ordinariates founded by my predecessor, Benedict XVI, for communities of Anglicans leaving the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Churches. Whilst we shall maintain relations of dialogue with all Christian communities, these alternative non-geographical dioceses will be fostered and should become examples for other communities defined by their cultural sensitivities and charismas. In the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus, goalposts were moved as Pope Benedict XVI was manipulated by elements in the Roman Curia and this left many Anglicans confused and disappointed. Whilst I call on the Anglican bishops to do everything to avoid alienating their own faithful, I also set out to correct and expand certain aspects of this pastoral provision for Anglicans to include certain priests and bishops excluded by an unpastoral and rigorist interpretation of canon law.
Most importantly, the question of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests and bishops needs to be addressed once and for all. I first, as Pope, extend my humblest apologies to the whole of humanity for the way we bishops have placed the reputation of the clergy and the institutional Church before the care of victims and the punishment of offenders. Individual persons and families have been as devastated both by perverted priests and cover-ups by means of institutional secrecy. I apologise for the cover ups and accept the lessons taught us by secular society, and by civil and police authorities implementing law and justice. A number of practical steps will be taken to eliminate this cancerous scourge of corruption from the Church.
After the permanent removal of offending clergy, solutions are to be explored, ranging from the abolition of compulsory clerical celibacy to the empowerment of lay men and women in the Church at every level of its pastoral and teaching ministry. Methods of training the clergy will have to be radically revised, through the abolition of seminaries and their replacement by a combination of apprenticeship in a parish and a university education. These will be radical measures that many will find hard to accept, but which are essential for the future of the Christian ideal.
In God’s name, I bless you all.
Celestine pp VI, 28th March 2013, Maundy Thursday