From Antonio Celso de Queirós, bishop emeritus of Catanduva, Sao Paulo, Brazil, via Mirada Global:
Those who lived the ecclesial atmosphere of the mid 20th century (prior to the Second Vatican Council) closely, can’t prevent feeling the current situation as similar. Then, as now, a mixture of perplexity and hope was a concern for many Christians. Only those who lived completely in another world didn’t sense that something big was about to happen. The announcement of the Ecumenical Council was received with a combination of surprise and fear. Surprise because of the announcement of something the Church wasn’t used to. Fear that an authoritarian gesture of the hierarchy could lead to the end of reflection and search. In time, the fear was overcome, all the more so facing the conciliar texts, especially the four big constitutions and the contemporary papal encyclicals: John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, and the subsequent election of Paul VI. The Council was greeted positively and it developed a process of reflection in Latin America, which was facilitated by the Episcopal Conferences of Medellin, Puebla, somehow less in Santo Domingo and positively once more in Aparecida.
As from the ‘80s, the theological and pastoral thermometers started to show a decline in temperature, and the approach of an ecclesial winter was feared. Indeed, some theologians were showing some serious problems that hadn’t been addressed in depth by the Council. There are clear signs of compromise solutions in more than one document. However, few could forecast to what extent they would called upon to live and face processes. Summoning the Council did take far too long. A century and a half passed between Vatican Council I and II, a historical period of serious problems that made the Church fall out of the habit of acting according to its communitarian and synodal nature. To this we must add the fact that the Council gave the Roman Curia the responsibility of creating the roads to implement the conciliar dispositions. The Curia, as a bureaucratic institution, was not capable of rethinking the ecclesial organizations applying the innovative reflections of the Council. Any bureaucratic institution is more interested in its own survival and in increasing its own power than in reaching the objectives it was created for. This power increases tremendously when it is exerted as “pontifical secret”, and in the name of an authority that cannot be appealed and is infallible. Ecclesiastic centralism returned, leaving the bishops with very little power in their dioceses and the role of the Episcopal conferences. The power of the nuncios grew considerably and they practically became the mediator between the bishops and the pope. The concept of fidelity to the pope and to the ecclesial unity was understood within the tightness of passive submission. Prohibitions once more created mistrust; the atmosphere of pressure returned due to the silence imposed or assumed because of fear.
In Brazil, this difficult atmosphere severely affected the Episcopal Conference that had a tradition of fostering a liberating evangelization; of a struggle in favor of the poor, the indigenous people, the black population, a struggle that had even been recognized by society; of denouncing arbitrary arrests and tortures carried out by the military dictatorship. An important demonstration of that difficult atmosphere is the clear preference of the Curia for the spiritualist even fundamentalist movements. The new bishops were mostly chosen among those ranks, to the detriment of a complete generation of bishops who had proved their capacities, and were dedicated to overall pastoral programme. The participants –even lay ones- to international ecclesial events were picked from these movements. While there is conciliar opening, there are clear signs of regression in the liturgy, in a return to clericalism, in looking towards the inside of the ecclesial structure instead of the primacy of the announcement of the Kingdom.
The Church nowadays is living problems that were not addressed during the Council, or weren’t so clear, such as:
- Christians have abandoned the practice of faith and don’t refer to it in their lives;
- the permanent growth of new Christian religious faiths; the absence or scarce number of young people in ecclesial communities;
- the need for the practical recognition of the mission of the particular churches in the inculturation of faith and in the ecclesial organization and the evangelization of large urban populations;
- the decrease in the number of applicants for priesthood and religious life in countries that had a long-standing Catholic tradition as well as in other countries, and the concomitant population increase;
- the need to redefine the ministries and their fields; the widening of the field of the ministry of permanent deaconship; the opening of ministries to priests that have abandoned ordained ministry;
- the reality of ecclesial communities that lack Eucharist because of the shortage of ordained ministers;
- the issue of a new kind of priests who are not necessarily celibate, alongside others that assume celibacy;
- feminine priesthood;
- the relativization, or the simple practical ignorance of certain rules of the teachings (Sunday mass, keeping Sunday as a day of worship, abstinence and fast…, individual and numerical confession of one’s sins as the only form of the sacrament of penance);
- the “quiet” disagreement of married couples that participate in the Church of the orientations of its teachings in relation to certain rules regarding conjugal morale, second marriages, responsible paternity, the use of condoms as a means of preventing AIDS.
Also available in Spanish.