By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 January, 2018
Some powerful traditionalists in the Church are “dedicated to obstruction of all reform” and could force “a severe division” within the Church, even setting up “a schismatic Church”, a leading theologian has warned.
In an address titled ‘Difference, division, and the acceptance of diversity’, Augustinian Fr Gabriel Daly said there were “cardinals, archbishops and other senior clergy who are trying to discredit Pope Francis at every turn”.
The 90-year-old former lecturer said that while this cohort was “a disturbingly large body of men”, their numbers were gradually reducing as Pope Francis made new appointments.
Bodies like ‘We Are Church’ and the ‘Association of Catholic Priests’, who are holding out for a reformed church, tend to be thought of by bishops as “trouble-makers”, he noted.
He called on church leaders to engage in dialogue with these groups in “an age of extensive unbelief”.
Describing the Second Vatican Council as a “liberal” council, Fr Daly said that was why many traditionalists disliked it so much.
Though traditionalists like to say that the “Church never changes”, Fr Daly observed, “Of course it changes, as Vatican II made abundantly clear.”
He added, “Catholic liberals are simply those who seek freedom from so many of the rules and regulations that marked the pre-conciliar Church, and which today mark the devotion which traditionalists bestow on authority, regulations and punishments.”
On the subject of the acceptance of diversity within unity, he said this should be the aim of every Christian society.
The clear aim of ecumenism is the pursuit of unity between two churches whose theologians meet to find what theological points they can agree on.
“Great progress”, he said, had been achieved and enshrined in their agreed statements, which critically examine doctrinal differences, and in theory produce a document that sometimes reaches startling agreement on beliefs of every kind.
“All seems set for the achievement of unity between two churches, one of which is Roman Catholic. Yet, nothing seems to happen on the Catholic side! Why is this?” he questioned.
Of the role of the Roman Curia in stymieing reform, Fr Daly stated, “The way in which the Catholic Church has been organised for centuries allows a group of bureaucrats in Rome to express their disagreement with an agreed statement by doing nothing, in other words, in an act of passive aggression.
“They offer no convincing theological reasons for their opposition. Their theology is pre-Vatican II, except that they are in rebellion against the present Pope. They are exercising their power as they were able to do in former times, and even under recent popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
But, he said, Pope Francis has very different ideas about how his Curia should work, and he has been quite clear in his speeches to them about it. “He is aware of how many of his Curia are working against him – and getting away with it.”
Acknowledging that in every church there are conservative and progressive elements, the theologian said they must, in accordance with the Gospel, learn to live together in harmony in spite of their differences and disagreements.
However, he added, “I find myself in real difficulties in my attitude to today’s high-ranking traditionalists. I believe they must be opposed for the sake of preserving Gospel values.
“I am convinced that they are doing serious harm to the Catholic Church by their emphasis on rules and regulations and sacramental punishments; but can they be tolerated because their views are legitimate, though wrong-headed?
“The answer is that as long as their views are held without any attempt to use power structures to produce uniformity, as the Roman Curia have so often done, they have a right to hold and argue for them; and progressives have a right to argue against them – but always ‘with gentleness and respect’, as 1 Peter prescribes.”