Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholic Church’

Diversity at the Top

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Last week, I attended a luncheon where the speaker was the noted Vatican observer, Austen Ivereigh. Ivereigh has just published his second book on Pope Francis entitled, Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church.

One thing I have learned from the book is that the Pope has a habit of appointing his critics to senior positions in the Vatican. Although himself a liberal reformer, Francis apparently likes to hear arguments for traditionalist points of view. That may explain why turnover in the higher echelons of the church has recently been high–just today, for example, a senior financial official resigned.

Pope Francis’s practice of including diverse points of view at the senior level seems to me a good, if risky, strategy. I don’t see another way the polarized political camps can begin to work together. It would also seem to be a more tolerant and open way to run our own Episcopal Church hierarchies. —J. Douglas Ousley


Unintended Consequences

Monday, October 28th, 2019

A new program of early voting launched in New York City last week. The mayor proclaimed this a great leap forward into the 21st century.

But the hastily-planned initiative wasn’t popular with everyone. One of the mothers in my congregation was horrified to see lines of voters traipsing through her sons’ school. Students were deprived of their lunchroom and had to eat in their classrooms instead. The risk to the children from a sudden and un-policed intrusion of strangers was obvious; parents quickly signed up to perform their own security force.

No doubt, this program will increase voter turnout in the end. But, in this case, the cost of change seems to have been poorly calculated.

As the Roman Catholic Church contemplates changing its policy about married priests, its leaders will want to weigh the consequences. The ending of the Latin Mass was followed by a steep and continuing decline in attendance.

The cause-and-effect relationship isn’t clear; many Christian churches without Latin have also seen their attendance decline in recent years. And my brother–who entered the Catholic church from the Episcopal Church under a special dispensation for married priests–flourishes in a parish outside Philadelphia. As a married Anglican priest myself, I could hardly condemn the practice!

Nevertheless, while the Spirit blows where it wills, we mortals have to be careful when we hoist our sails in the winds of change. —J. Douglas Ousley


Our Lady of Paris

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

When I served as canon pastor of the American Cathedral in Paris, I was invited to worship on several memorable occasions at what will now be known as the “old” Notre Dame Cathedral.

One evening, I was included in a group of French priests who had gathered to hear Pope John Paul II. On two occasions, I participated in joint Anglican-Roman Catholic baptisms of the children of French-American couples. The baptisms took place at the high altar; I’ll never forget the extraordinary view looking outwards down the length of the immense cathedral.

The French Roman Catholic Church of that era was particularly welcoming to Anglicans. If you were in France and there was no Anglican chapel near by, you could receive communion in the local Catholic church. The same “eucharistic courtesy” was extended to French Catholics visiting England.

Parisian Catholics are now extending openness is to all the people of France, and the French are responding in kind–and with amazing financial generosity. Let us hope that the spiritual generosity also abides, especially between French Catholics and Anglicans. —J. Douglas Ousley


Near-Terminal Decline?

Monday, June 11th, 2018

In a recent interview, New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat discussed liberalizing trends in the Roman Catholic Church. (A Catholic himself, Douthat has just published a book on Pope Francis.)

Douthat remarked that, “…a big part of the case for liberalization…is historicist; we’re constantly being told that these changes are what the Holy Spirit wants now, what this age demands, what the signs of the times are pointing toward. And so long as that rhetorical argument is being deployed, it seems pretty reasonable to ask, if this is all the will of the Holy Spirit, etc., why an all but fully liberalized body such as the Episcopal Church isn’t showing all the fruits of the Spirit right now and instead appears to be in near-terminal decline.”

Now I don’t agree that our church is in near-terminal decline. But I would agree that it has been declining in membership for decades, even though it has many gifted clergy and laypeople, and it continues to draw numerous adult converts from diverse backgrounds. The church also faces headwinds that are hard to resist, such as a very low birthrate.

That said, is it too much to ask that the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church make evangelism and church-planting priorities in its work and in its budgetary decisions? —J. Douglas Ousley


A Rock Star

Monday, October 17th, 2016

My favorite picture from my recent trip to Rome is a photo I took of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury as they processed right by me on the way to the altar of the church where they were to make their historic declaration. (See last post.) In the picture, the Archbishop has just begun to clap his hands, as applause breaks out in the congregation as a whole.

Applause in church? Very rare, I know–but this pope is a religious rock star. When he’s around, people get inspired and the rules are bent. (Photos in church? I disapprove in principle–but everyone around me was snapping away, so I joined in.)

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From Canterbury to Rome

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

I’m just back from an extraordinary visit to Rome.

My wife and I were in Italy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome–an ecumenical outpost representing the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. There was to be a grand dinner at the art gallery in a private Roman palazzo, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.

As it turned out, we were also witnesses to what may prove to be an historic encounter between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. At a stately private service of vespers, each gave a forward-looking, hopeful homily to inspire their respective churches to work together for evangelism and service to the poor. They exchanged personal gifts: the Archbishop received a replica of the staff or crozier given to the first Archbishop of Canterbury, while he he gave the pope his own, very simple pectoral cross.

The service concluded with the commissioning of 19 pairs of Anglican/Roman Catholic bishops or archbishops from all over the world. Their duty now is to carry out ecumenical work in their respective countries.

All in all, it was an impressive demonstration that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the ecumenical movement. —J. Douglas Ousley


Mobile Pope

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Earlier in my career, I spent four years in Rome. As the one of the few non-Catholic clergy on speaking terms with the Catholic Church (most Italian Protestants were either very left-wing Methodists or right-wing Evangelicals), I was invited once or twice a year to ecumenical events with the Pope. My wife and I would sometimes meet John Paul II at a “private” audience for the few visiting clergy.

Pope John Paul ranks for me among the three most charismatic people I have ever met in my life. More than a celebrity, he was truly magnetic–instantly likable.

By all accounts, Pope Francis shares the instant attractiveness of his predecessor-minus-one. While even those of us in the religious field are amazed at all the attention being paid to his U.S. visit, it is perhaps not so surprising. People are fascinated by someone who is not rich or beautiful or probably even extraordinarily bright or talented–but has the charism or gift of helping people to believe. May God bless his visit. —J. Douglas Ousley


I Met a Saint

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

During the 1980’s, when I was serving the Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within-the-Walls in Rome, I had several occasions to meet Pope John Paul II. At that time, what few Italian Protestants there were declined to meet with the Bishop of Rome, so whenever the Vatican wanted to have an ecumenical service, foreign Protestant clergy would be invited. I must say that I found the Pope even more charismatic than his reputation attested. He was one of the most attractive and engaging people I have ever met.

Now that he has been canonized, I realize that I can claim to have met a saint–a claim that would have been rare in most of Christian history. Normally, the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church takes many years, and those who knew the saint personally are long gone by the time he or she is officially pronounced a holy example for the Church.

This rapid canonization may be a sign of things to come. Our speed-obsessed age may be impatient with the old process. As people cried out in St. Peter’s Square after John Paul died, “Santo subito!” “Make him an official saint instantly!”

Whether or not this is a good idea–whether we will end up with hastily-chosen saints that later generations will regret–there’s no question that the Church and the world needs examples of extraordinary holiness.–J. Douglas Ousley


Clothes Make the Man

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

The Romans had a saying, Vestis virum facit: “Clothes make the man.”

Clergy have long been known for their distinctive dress, but rarely has so much attention has been devoted to our sartorial choices as in the case of Pope Francis. His disinclination to wear the papal “pallium” and satin shoes is not surprising, given that Francis was disinclined to wear the purple shirt of a bishop. This accords with the Pope’s simplicity that was noted in the previous post.

This practice also contrasts with the specially designed garments worn by the Archbishop of Canterbury at his enthronement, featuring three blue pastel fish biting each other’s tails. I suppose there is a reference to the Holy Trinity here, but one might find another message of clerical self-importance. —J. Douglas Ousley


Papabili–Cast Your Vote Here

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Do you have a pick for the new Bishop of Rome? If you’re not a cardinal, you can still vote. Just comment on this post.

You can either vote for someone you think will win–or for someone you want to win.

My own guess of who will win would be Cardinal Scola of Milan. —J. Douglas Ousley