Pope Benedict’s personal assessment comes to the fore here, as one might expect when the references are his own homilies. Let’s read:
2. Ever since the start of my ministry as Successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ. During the homily at the Mass marking the inauguration of my pontificate I said: “The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.”[Homily for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome (24 April 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 710.] It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.[Homily at Holy Mass in Lisbon’s “Terreiro do Paço” (11 May 2010): Insegnamenti VI:1 (2010), 673] Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.
First off, I would agree that the Christian ideal is presented well here: “Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society.” This is a basic responsibility of the believer, that our human interactions in friendship, arts, politics, sports, school, work, and all loci in our culture, are to be infused with our orientation to Christ and to the Gospel. I don’t think any serious Christian would disagree.
The Holy Father writes, “In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied.” I’m not convinced that this presupposition could ever be taken for granted, at least not outside committed religious communities. And from the viewpoint of a lay person who has been very critical of the hierarchy, I think we’ve had periods of time in which the curia and Rome have been steeped in scandal. The blundering of administering sex predators is so widespread in the Church that it touches upon church administration in other matters. I don’t think the laity, either liberals or conservatives, presume a lived-out faith among some members of the hierarchy. Some of this breaks along ideological lines. But some of it is “bipartisan” in the sense of the outrage over the grave errors in reassigning sex predators.
I would agree with Pope Benedict’s assessment that we cannot perceive a “unitary cultural matrix.” It might be said we never really could. Perhaps some element of church governance rely on that “unitariness”–some might say uniformity. Perhaps that time is gone and never to return. We shouldn’t then waste energy trying to reimpose or recover some golden memory of uniformity. We can instead take advantage of the opportunities of engaging human culture in all its richness. And be prepared for anything.
What I need to hear more from the institution is a frank admission of their culpability in the crisis of faith confronting not only Catholicism, but other Christian traditions. If there is a crisis of faith, or as I hear often, a sense of sin adrift, then its time for pope and bishops to man up, and to demonstrate by example–not preaching–the optimal approach to recovering a sense of sin, contrition, and remedy.