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In new exhortation, Pope Francis suggests ‘concrete…change’ in Church needed to appease youth

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ANALYSIS

April 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In his new April 2 document on the youth, Christus vivit [Christ is Alive], Pope Francis says the Church "concretely" needs to change and calls for a Church that "sets aside narrow preconceptions and listens carefully to the young" lest it risk becoming a "museum."

In what will be seen by many as a shot at those in the Church who value her beautiful rich traditions, he states: “Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill.” 

A Church that reflects Jesus Christ, he says, means "humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, she needs to appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people."

In his 67-page Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (read full document below or at the Vatican website here), the Pope envisions an “open Church” that puts a personal encounter with Jesus Christ first and any doctrinal instruction second. He insists that youth ministries should be open to all worldviews, and many of his words incline toward religious indifferentism and universal salvation. The Pope's ideas in the document have many parallels with former St. Gallen “mafia” leader Cardinal Carlo Martini, now deceased, whom the Pope once called “a father for the whole Church.”

While the Vatican released the Exhortation this morning, it was signed by the Pope on March 25 – the Feast of the Annunciation – while he visited the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto. Organized in nine chapters, the Pope put together his own thoughts while heavily relying on the final document of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.

Pope Francis repeatedly makes it clear that he wishes to have a “Church open to renewal.” The "love of the Lord," he says has to do with "offering new changes" rather than "condemning." He hopes for the youth to be "protagonists of change", and for this, the Church needs “humbly” to listen.

There are Catholic young people, however, who believe that it's backward for the Church to "listen" to them.

“What really matters is if I listen to the Church and learn from its wisdom,” Catholic college student Isaac Cross told National Catholic Register in an October interview about the Youth Synod. “The Church is built upon thousands of years of tradition and doctrine, and I have especially found at college how striving to understand that doctrine of the Church is a vital means of strengthening [one’s] faith,” he added.

Cross related how Saint John Paul II called upon the youth to "lead the charge of evangelization, but many bishops and priests misinterpreted that idea and started to look toward the youth for guidance in forming the traditions and liturgy of the Church.” 

“Young Catholics have vitality, which is what St. John Paul saw as so important for spreading the faith, but being young myself, I can tell you we do not have wisdom,” he said. 

In his Exhortation, the Pope said that instead of “communicating a great deal of doctrine” the Church should "first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life.”

“A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” he adds. 

The Pope rejects a “pure and perfect youth ministry, marked by abstract ideas” and points, rather, to a “popular” youth ministry which is less doctrinally oriented and more focused on an inclusive approach, also inviting all those youths that are either from other religions, atheists, or not in agreement with all of the Church's teachings. He says that one does not have to "accept fully all the teachings of the Church.” Thus, the Pope envisions a “youth ministry capable of being inclusive, with room for all kinds of young people, to show that we are a Church with open doors.”

Pope Francis criticizes the traditional forms of educating the youth. He says, for example: “Yet schools are in urgent need of self-criticism, if we consider the results of their pastoral outreach, which in many cases focuses on a kind of religious instruction that proves often incapable of nurturing lasting experiences of faith.

The fundamental change that Pope Francis seems to hope for is a certain removal of the Catholic identity for the sake of greater openness and dialogue. For this purpose, he insists that Catholic educational institutions should “'seek to welcome all young people, regardless of their religious choices, cultural origins and personal, family or social situations.'"

"'In this way, the Church makes a fundamental contribution to the integral education of the young in various parts of the world'. They would curtail this role unduly were they to lay down rigid criteria for students to enter and remain in them, since they would deprive many young people of an accompaniment that could help enrich their lives,” he added.

Such a statement gains importance in light of the recent conflict in Kansas, where a Catholic school decided to disallow the attendance of a child of a non-Catholic same-sex couple. Pope Francis' words seem to imply that the school’s decision which was backed by the local bishop was incorrect. 

While Pope Francis does not use certain controversial expressions such as "LGBT" in his new document – as was introduced during the 2018 youth synod – he does quote the final document's rejection of “all discrimination and violence on sexual grounds.”

He also includes the synod's final document's tone when he states that “sexual morality often tends to be a source of 'incomprehension and alienation from the Church, inasmuch as she is viewed as a place of judgment and condemnation.'” This statement seems to back up a claim made in December of 2018 by Cardinal Reinhard Marx – the President of the German Bishops' Conference – according to which he said that Pope Francis is open to such a discussion about Catholic sexual morality. “I see that he is not so fixed here [in this matter],” said Marx of the Pope.  

Continues the Pope: "Nonetheless, young people also express 'an explicit desire to discuss questions concerning the difference between male and female identity, reciprocity between men and women, and homosexuality'." It's alarming to see the pope list the ordered realities created by God of male/female dualism and reciprocity along with what the Catechism calls the "objective disorder" of homosexuality.  

Many of the arguments found in the new papal document resonate with the dissident views of the late Cardinal Carlo Martini, who died in 2012, but who is still greatly cherished by Pope Francis. He was also the head of the Sankt Gallen Group, which is said to have helped with Pope Francis' election. Pope Francis, shortly after his election, praised Martini in public, calling him “prophetic,” “a father for the whole Church,” and a “man of discernment and of peace.” Cardinal Walter Kasper, another member of the Sankt Gallen Group, once revealed: “What Francis now tries to implement corresponds to a high degree to the thoughts that we had at the time.”

LifeSiteNews recently presented a detailed comparison between Pope Francis' and Martini's statements and a list of excerpts from Martini's own 2012 book Night Conversations with Cardinal Martini. Martini, too, wanted a “listening” Church that teaches less and listens more. He is the one who claimed that “we can't teach young people anything. We can only help them to listen to their inner master.” The Italian cardinal also dreamed “of a Church giving space to people who think outside the box,” and he lamented those prelates who “are still sitting behind walls that are too thick, either in new offices or in old palaces.” And like Francis in his new document, Martini, too, was often demeaning of moral instruction: “The Church has talked a lot about sin, too much.” 

Martini was in favor of more female leadership in the Church, and so is Pope Francis who now promotes in his new document “the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose.”

With both prelates, there is to be found a view of a Jesus Christ who accepts and welcomes all, independent of their religious views and (perhaps unrepented) personal sins. As Pope Francis puts it in his document: “We are saved by Jesus because he loves us and cannot go against his nature. We can do any number of things against him, yet he loves us and he saves us.” Says Martini: “I hope that sooner or later, God will redeem everyone.”

As the Catholic writer Julia Meloni commented on last year's youth synod and its possible outcome: “October's youth synod is about finishing the old business of the St. Gallen mafia.” Meloni was able to show the influence of several close collaborators of Martini – such as Archbishop Bruno Forte and Fr. Giacomo Costa, S.J.  – upon the youth synod, and, along with it, now also Pope Francis' own post-synodal exhortation Christus vivit.

***

The following is a list of  excerpts from Christus vivit: 

For Change: Consequently, the Church should not be excessively caught up in herself but instead, and above all, reflect Jesus Christ. This means humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, she needs to appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people. (35)

For a listening Church: Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues. To be credible to young people, there are times when she needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel. A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure. (41)

For the rights of women: For example, a Church that is overly fearful and tied to its structures can be invariably critical of efforts to defend the rights of women, and constantly point out the risks and the potential errors of those demands. Instead, a living Church can react by being attentive to the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality. A living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence. With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose. Along these lines, the Synod sought to renew the Church’s commitment “against all discrimination and violence on sexual grounds”. That is the response of a Church that stays young and lets herself be challenged and spurred by the sensitivities of young people. (42)

Church sets aside narrow preconceptions: "The Synod recognized that the members of the Church do not always take the approach of Jesus. Rather than listening to young people attentively, 'all too often, there is a tendency to provide prepackaged answers and ready-made solutions, without allowing their real questions to emerge and facing the challenges they pose'. Yet once the Church sets aside narrow preconceptions and listens carefully to the young, this empathy enriches her, for 'it allows young people to make their own contribution to the community, helping it to appreciate new sensitivities and to consider new questions'." (65)

Jesus forgives us unconditionally: We are saved by Jesus because he loves us and cannot go against his nature. We can do any number of things against him, yet he loves us and he saves us. (120)

We do not need to work out our salvation: His forgiveness and salvation are not something we can buy, or that we have to acquire by our own works or efforts. He forgives us and sets us free without cost. (121)

Not to emphasize doctrine: Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at. [….] Rather than being too concerned with communicating a great deal of doctrine, let us first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life. In the words of Romano Guardini, “when we experience a great love… everything else becomes part of it.” (212)

Against the school as a “bunker”: Yet schools are in urgent need of self-criticism, if we consider the results of their pastoral outreach, which in many cases focuses on a kind of religious instruction that proves often incapable of nurturing lasting experiences of faith. Some Catholic schools seem to be structured only for the sake of self-preservation. Fear of change makes them entrenched and defensive before the dangers, real or imagined, that any change might bring. A school that becomes a “bunker”, protecting its students from errors “from without” is a caricature of this tendency. … The way they were instructed in religious and moral values did not prepare them to uphold those values in a world that holds them up to ridicule, nor did they learn ways of praying and practicing the faith that can be easily sustained amid the fast pace of today’s society. (221)

For a “fresh” liturgy: When it comes to worship and prayer, “in many settings, young Catholics are asking for prayer opportunities and sacramental celebrations capable of speaking to their daily lives through a fresh, authentic and joyful liturgy”  (224)

Against an “elite Christian youth”: Such a youth ministry ends up completely removed from the world of young people and suited only to an elite Christian youth that sees itself as different, while living in an empty and unproductive isolation.  In rejecting the weeds, we also uproot or choke any number of shoots trying to spring up in spite of their limitations (232)

Against “moralistic” rules: Instead of “overwhelming young people with a body of rules that make Christianity seem reductive and moralistic, we are called to invest in their fearlessness and to train them to take up their responsibilities, in the sure knowledge that error, failure and crisis are experiences that can strengthen their humanity.” (233)

For “inclusive” youth groups: “The Synod called for the development of a youth ministry capable of being inclusive, with room for all kinds of young people, to show that we are a Church with open doors. Nor does one have to accept fully all the teachings of the Church to take part in certain of our activities for young people. It is enough to have an open mind towards all those who have the desire and willingness to be encountered by God’s revealed truth. Some of our pastoral activities can assume that a journey of faith has already begun, but we need a “popular” youth ministry that can open doors and make room for everyone, with their doubts and frustrations, their problems and their efforts to find themselves, their past errors, their experiences of sin and all their difficulties.” (234)

To welcome atheists and other religions in youth groups: Room should also be made for “all those who have other visions of life, who belong to other religions or who distance themselves from religion altogether. All the young, without exception, are in God’s heart and thus in the Church’s heart [...] often we remain closed in our environments [….] The Gospel also asks us to be daring, and we want to be so, without presumption and without proselytizing, testifying to the love of the Lord and stretching out our hands to all the young people in the world.” (235)

Catholic educational institutions welcoming everybody: The Church’s educational institutions are undoubtedly a communal setting for accompaniment; they can offer guidance to many young people, especially when they “seek to welcome all young people, regardless of their religious choices, cultural origins and personal, family or social situations. In this way, the Church makes a fundamental contribution to the integral education of the young in various parts of the world.” They would curtail this role unduly were they to lay down rigid criteria for students to enter and remain in them, since they would deprive many young people of an accompaniment that could help enrich their lives. (247)

 

Editor's note: John-Henry Westen and Pete Baklinski contributed to this report. 

(N.B. LifeSite apologizes for having inadvertently broken the embargo on this report due to a mix up about the time of the embargo. We respect embargoes and have apologized to the Vatican for the error.)

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