Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Roman dicastery that assists the pope in all matters concerning the contributions the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church, attended the installation of Archbishop O’Malley, July 30, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
While in Boston, he spoke with The Piloton the crisis in the Church and the path to renewal.
Q. You work very closely with the Holy Father at the Vatican. Can you tell us how aware the Holy Father is of the crisis in the Church in Boston and in the United States in general?
Cardinal Stafford: The Holy Father, himself, initiated the meeting in April of 2002 between the American cardinals, himself and members of the Roman Curia. He was present for each of those meetings and heard it first-hand. Cardinal [Bernard] Law frequently brought the Holy Father up-to-date, together with other members of the Roman Curia. Bishop Lennon did the same, especially through Cardinal [Giovanni Battista] Re, and through the apostolic nuncio here in the United States.
My sense is that the Holy Father and the membership of the curia, the leaders of the various Roman dicasteries, are very aware of what has been happening in the United States and, more specifically, in Boston.
Q. You are the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery that assists the Pope in all matters concerning the contributions the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church. How do you see the role of the laity in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis?
Cardinal Stafford: The most significant positive development since the Second Vatican Council has been the flourishing of lay movements within the Church. That doesn’t mean that there were not lay movements before. We obviously have analogous groups such as the Knights of Columbus and the confraternities which go back to the Middle Ages, but the unique expression of that, through the various associations of the lay faithful, has only developed since World War II and after the Second Vatican Council.
They have arisen to meet very specific needs of the laity —the need for a deeper spirituality which, in many ways, they do not feel the parish has been able to meet. And secondly, the need of the laity to give greater evidence of their own desire for evangelizing the world— the world of economics, the world of politics, the world of the university, the world of unions. These new lay movements illustrate the desire of the laity for a greater commitment to the discipleship of Jesus, in the world and in the Church.
More specifically, these lay movements assist the lay people especially in living out their sacramental commitment to Christ in Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage. Of course, that means through the ongoing living of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through the Eucharist. They do that within a commitment to community, to community life.
Those communities really live the vision that Jesus expressed in Matthew 18, where He speaks of the challenge of forgiveness within the Christian community. Peter asked, “How often are disciples to forgive one another? Seven times? And Jesus responded, “Seventy times seven times.” I sense that living forgiveness, that love, which is a tough love, to be very present in the ecclesial movements in a way that I don’t sense them as strongly in the parishes. Also, the vision of the early communities after the Ascension of Jesus, as expressed in Acts 2 and 4, are better expressed, better realized, in the new lay movements than I sense in most parishes.
So, the new lay movements are, as a matter of fact, a commitment to a deeper koinonia, [communion]a living out of community with one another and with the presbyterate in a way that assists them in living and experiencing the meaning of the beatitudes in their lives, especially as married men and women. Secondly, they experience great tension in living out the commitment of the Gospel in their daily life, as in work. These new lay movements assist them again to live out the poverty of spirit that is the beginning of all discipleship, which is, of course, the first of the great beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew as expressed by Jesus.
So the new lay movements have many things to offer the Church: a deeper sense of community in the Holy Spirit, of fellowship in the Holy Spirit, of communion in the Holy Spirit and a deeper sense of commitment to Christ in the workplace. They also experience a great reinforcement of their life as married men and women.
Q. Your dicastery has been studying the sacraments of initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist — and highlighting their importance in everyday Christian life. In an interview last November, you said it was important for modern parishes to become centres of post-baptismal religious instruction, so that Catholics can better experience the connection between the sacraments and their daily lives. Moving forward, could you describe how parishes should address the challenge of adult faith formation and the new evangelization?
Cardinal Stafford: One of the greatest gifts the Spirit has given to us from the Second Vatican Council is the renewal of the catechumenate. The catechumenate has various stages. I would say that the most important aspect for parish renewal is to look at a post-baptismal catechesis, that is, a catechesis or an instruction in the mysteries of Christ and of the Church for all of the baptized, the part of the steps in the RCIA which is called the mystagogia — that is post-baptismal catechesis.
These steps [of the RCIA] attempt to deepen the understanding of the baptized in the mysteries of the faith, especially the sacraments, and to call them into a deeper sense of community within the Catholic Church, especially in the parish, and to call them to a faithful witness to Christ in the marketplace.
In order to meet that challenge of a renewed mystagogia — post-baptismal catechesis in the parish — requires that vision of the community which I have already briefly cited, that Jesus had in Matthew 18, that is, that the community life in the parish is lived as a community of love, as a community that is willing to forgive others, even when those others are perceived as sinners. The parish is to be a community that calls others to a deeper conversion of life from sin to the light of Jesus. That, in my judgment, should lead us to a further exploration of a restoration of the Ordo Poenitentium — the Order of Penitents that was present in the patristic Church.
Many of the problems that we are experiencing in the priesthood, I think, especially the sexual abuse, are due to a crisis, not just an acute crisis, but a long -term crisis in the parish and in the community of the parishes that is lived out. Part of it is rooted in the fact that people do not really experience love within the parish; it is a place in which they really do not trust one another enough to be able to experience the forgiving love of Jesus as that is mediated by the community.
A restructuring, a renewal, a rediscovery of the Ordo Poenitentium, for example, as in the early Church, would be an opportunity in which priests and people would recognize their sinfulness, would be willing to surrender in their vulnerability to the tough love of the community in making known their weakness, their sinfulness, and asking for a public penance. But this would not be true just of the priests; this would be true of lay men and lay women in their own experience of fidelity or infidelity within marriage, or as parents, or their lack of witness, or their sinfulness in their work, in their business, in their unions, in their university setting, so that their parish really is a community in which people experience the forgiveness of Jesus. That, I think, is key to the renewal of the parish, that the parish becomes again a sacrament, a sign of God’s forgiving love for the sinner, of God’s mercy for those who perceive themselves as sinners. That includes us all — priests, deacons, laity, bishops.
So, how do I see the parish renewal taking place? I see it as taking place through the renewal of the mystagogia, the post-baptismal catechesis within community, calling the people to a rediscovery of the love of Jesus, that is, that forgiving love that speaks of reconciliation with the Father in Christ. That’s not going to be an easy task.