Saturday, 17 September 2011

Times: A challenge for the Church

Tuesday, September 13, 2011, by Mgr Joseph Farrugia

The letter by a member of the newly founded group Not In Our Name (September 8) sadly provoked intolerant reactions from fellow Catholics in In these reactions I read impatience, annoyance and exasperation.

Ingram Bondin, a cradle Catholic, wrote to “spell out” why he wanted to take formal and public leave of the Catholic Church. He said that thereby he wanted to diminish its numerical importance in Malta, let it be known to state officials who act as if the entire population of Malta were Catholic that it was not so, and challenge the political institutions into guiding the nation towards secularity.

I am a priest and I say that he is within his rights to want and strive for all this. After all, Catholics are not anonymous adherents to a mystery cult but people with the public commitment to build the kingdom of God. Mr Bondin is declaring that he is renouncing to this commitment and in so doing refuses to listen to, let alone speak with, any official of the Catholic Church who would dissuade him from carrying out his resolve.

Where he may have erred was in his demand that the Curia act out her part his – and only his — way. I believe that a signed note from him to the effect that he no longer belonged to the Church with the request that his name be deleted from the cura animarum parish registers, should have sufficed. But of course this would not have given him the visibility that he has every right to seek, though not necessarily get.
On the bright side there is that he “harbours no ill feeling towards people endorsing the Catholic faith” and, I believe, nor should we, Catholics. This, of course, is not enough. Believers who leave the Church to embrace other beliefs or none deserve utter respect. Like us they need to face up to the fundamental questions of human existence, long for a happy life, struggle to overcome devastating experiences and like us they have the right to a political community based on reason, justice and peace.

Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI, says as much regarding the grounds and ideals common to Catholics and secular society in the construction of the human community.

Unfortunately the widening circle of would-be debapatised to which Mr Bondin seems to now belong, are much less sanguine than the Pope about their former social group. Too often what they see in and say about the Catholic Church hardly corresponds to objective, factual truth. The Church is not perfect, however much the seed of perfection lies in it and however much this emerges in the saints and especially in Christ himself, our God. The Church in this world is made up of sinners.

One symptom of this sinfulness may be a curial chancellor buried in bulky files and exasperated with an “upstart” who demands a certificate of “debaptisation”, a blueprint of which his office did not have and he could not create. Other symptoms are less trivial and stain some Catholics with terrible acts and horrific crime.
Ex Catholic secularists, who often become so for reasons of gender issues, tend to confine their talk regarding the Catholic Church to these failings. But in so doing they transmit of the Church only a caricature, and this attitude, in the long run, undermines their credibility. I think that mutual respect should take the place of mutual exasperation and intolerance. The Catholic Church wants dialogue and not the opposite.

The new evangelisation that the Catholic Church is embarking on is urgent and it cannot skip a reality check concerning the state of Christianity in Malta. This reality check will probably show that Malta remains substantially Catholic, even if not in the manner it was 50, even only five, years ago. Today, for example, we have NION but there are also other groupings that reject Catholicism. I consider the vehemence with which they do a good sign. It not only manifests its persistence as a substratum of Maltese society but also a deep desire for respect and eventually dialogue.

The secularists and anti-religious humanists of Malta may be few but numbers of the kind tend to grow and our Church would be mistaken to ignore them. Mr Bondin’s tongue-in-cheek declaration that the doctrine on baptism belongs to “a metaphysical framework in which he no longer believed” sounds pompous, but there is in it a challenge to be taken up in “the Courtyard of the Gentiles”.

Pope Benedict XVI’s idea of the “Courtyard of the Gentiles” is great. This “courtyard” proposes intellectual intercourse. Alongside it the Pope has also launched the “new evangelisation” of Europe; this supposes divine mission. Both are becoming ever more necessary across the old world, including these islands – to be carried out… OK, Ingram, maybe not in your name.

Mgr Farrugia is president, Kummissjoni Malta fl-Ewropa and a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology, University of Malta and at the Gozo Major Seminary.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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