The Church—Changes and Confusion
“Many believers are disturbed by the changes imposed upon them.” —L’Histoire, July/August 1987.
“Let one link be broken . . . and the building loses all intelligibility. . . . Place the host [‘the consecrated wafer’ used in the Mass] in the hand instead of upon the lips, and you ‘destroy the faith of many French people.’”—Voyage à l’intérieur de l’Église Catholique.
“In rejuvenating the liturgy and adopting the local language, the church evidently lost the great majority of churchgoers [who were] attached to certain traditions considered to be inflexible. . . . Suddenly, the sense of obligation snapped, and faith was shaken.” —Nord Eclair, April 24-25, 1983.
THE preceding quotations clearly show the confusion that exists in many Catholic minds. A question keeps coming up: “Our parents and grandparents attended Mass said in Latin and prayed in a particular way. How could this way of doing things become invalid overnight?”
The church’s new approach toward other religions is also a source of problems. Explains the French daily Le Monde: “Many believers feel swindled. They had been told too many times that their religion was the only true one, or at least the best.” True, a great number of Catholics favor the idea of discussions with their “separated brothers,” whether Orthodox or Protestant. But this reversal of opinion is not understood by many who were formerly taught that ‘outside the church there is no salvation.’ This new attitude of the church is largely responsible for the schism between the Vatican and the traditionalists, whose spiritual leader, the late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
Catholics often express their bewilderment by questioning church authority. Even if John Paul II is appreciated for his stand in favor of world justice, many Catholics refuse to follow the moral precepts he advocates in his public speeches. Thus, a large proportion of Catholic couples use methods of contraception condemned by the church. Others practice abortion.
Church authority is being called into question at all levels. The fact that the pope and other high prelates have taken a particular stand on a subject has not prevented the laity, the priests, and even the bishops from contradicting them. The book La Réception de Vatican II explains: “From this point of view, the situation created by the council has extended into church life. The Roman Catholic Church is now the seat of permanent, heated arguments. Even the pope’s recommendations are debated and very often criticized. The number of Roman Catholics saying that they are unable to make certain pontifical statements their own—in part or in full—is increasing.”
Some Catholics have accepted the changes out of faithfulness to the church and continue to practice its rites. Others feel disturbed about the situation and are content to live as fringe members of the church. According to present statistics, there is also a substantial third group of nominal Catholics who fail to support the church any longer.
Religious confusion is not confined to the Catholic Church in France. In the Netherlands too, crises have arisen for Catholics and Protestants alike, as our next article will explain.
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Civil War in the Church of England?
By Awake! correspondent in Britain
AN UNLIKELY event? Not according to The Sunday Times of London. “The Church of England Is Rent Asunder,” it proclaimed. “Divided Church Moves to Civil War.” What has brought England’s established church to such a sorry state? The proposed ordination of women.
In a historic decision last November, the synod of the Church of England voted by a two-thirds majority to ordain women as priests. Some 3,500 clergymen, a third of the church’s total number, are said to be opposed to the measure, and some have already left the church in dismay. Others, under the leadership of the former bishop of London, wish to retain their Anglican identity while seeking “communion with the See of Peter,” at Rome.
The Archbishop of Canterbury led the campaign in favor of the change. “The ordination of women to the priesthood,” he said, “alters not a word in the creeds, the scriptures or the faith of our Church.” He added: “It may actually help the credibility of the church in the face of the rest of the world. It is actually practising what it preaches when it talks about equality.”
But not all agree. A layman, labeling the synod’s judgment “apostasy,” immediately left the church to become a Roman Catholic when the verdict became known. “The decision to ordain women has come as a shock. There is spiritual turmoil. Most people don’t know what to do,” lamented one London cleric. Meantime, the Vatican, while giving a cautious welcome to defectors, sees the ruling as “a new and grave obstacle to the entire process of reconciliation.”
An estimated 1,400 women are waiting to be ordained, but the British Parliament has yet to approve the measure, which must then receive the Queen’s Royal Assent. All of this could take up to two years. It will be interesting to see what condition the Church of England is in by then.
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Camerique/H. Armstrong Roberts