How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?  Change?

Posted August 14th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

youth group 051By Robert Fontana

Of course, change certainly does happen in the Catholic Church.  However, it is usually excruciatingly slow.  There is a fight for change going on these days, and two dominant forces in this fight are Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Burke wants the church to return to the glory days of Catholicism in the 1950’s.  For him the Church is a monarchy established by God through Jesus to the Pope/Bishop.  Authority flows from the top down, and obedience to truth through the Church is the clearest sign of holiness.  Burke has history on his side, but not Scripture.  The biblical model of Church is a community of disciples with leaders who work together to preserve the unity of the Church (see Galatians 1).  The Church as “Monarchy” has been the dominant model at least since the time of Charlemagne (747-814 AD) and the Holy Roman Empire.  The councils of Trent (1600’s) and Vatican I (1870), which Burke embraces, reaffirmed the structure of the Church as a monarchy.

Pope Francis advocates for changes which are inspired by the example of Jesus, as interpreted by the Second Vatican Council, and by his own experience of living and working among the poor in Buenos Aires.  Pope Francis rejects the notion that the Church is a monarchy.  He sees the Church as a missionary community of Disciples of Jesus, with ordained ministers who are servants within the Church rather than an aristocracy.  He wants love and mercy, not rigid adherence to rules and regulations, to be the defining characteristics of the Catholic people.

Historian Garry Wills argues in his book, The Future of the Church with Pope Francis, that change is the great story of Catholicism.  It is change, states Wills, which has permitted the Church to survive for two thousand years when empires of one kind or another have come and gone.  Change, however, has not necessarily made Catholics closer followers of Jesus.  Here are two significant changes that have happened in the Church.

jesus and childrenJesus practiced and taught non-violence:  Jesus was a pacifist, and, for at least the first three centuries of Christianity, so were his followers.  Yet, for the past 1,700 years, the Church has taught that war waged for a just cause is moral and consistent with Christian faith under certain conditions.  Eventually this led to popes having armies which they used to wage war against heretics, the Christian kings in Europe, and the Muslim nations.  Was this change from pacifism to a just war theory good or bad for the Church?

Catholic/Christian oppression of Jews:   Anti-Jewish sentiments fill the pages of early Christian writings, beginning with the Scriptures – the Gospel of John, and including church councils, and writings of great saints and popes.  Here’s one example from Pope Eugenius IV in 1442:

“We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews…shall not allow Jews to hold civil honors over Christians, or to exercise public offices in the State… All and every single Jew, of whatever sex and age, must everywhere wear the distinct dress and known marks by which they can be evidently distinguished from Christians. They cannot live among Christians, but in a certain street, separated and segregated from Christians…”    (see  )

This vicious anti-Semitism did not formally end until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 when the Bishops declared Jews to be our elder brothers and affirmed the teachings of St. Paul, that the covenant between God and the Jews still holds true today (see Documents of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate).  Was reaffirming God’s covenant to the Jews after almost 2,000 years of denying it, good or bad for the Church?


  1. mary magdalenLay people fund the church but have no effective voice. The laity pay for clergy recruitment, training, salaries, housing, vacations, retirement, the purchase of all properties, construction of buildings, materials for ministry, and salaries/benefits for lay employees. Yet, every board of lay people, from the parish pastoral and finance councils, to diocesan councils, to the pope’s council on clergy sex abuse, the laity role is advisory.  The laity have no legal rights in canon law and exercise no power over how money is spent, though we provide all the funding.  This needs to end.  Lay members of boards and committees ought to have decision-making authority regarding how money is spent in the Church.  What do you think?
  2. The Mass reinforces the notion that the priest is “king.” Pope Francis has complained that too many bishops and priests act like aristocrats.  I think the structure of the Mass supports this clericalism.  When Mass begins, the priest processes into the church with ministers of different ranks, much like royalty at court in a 17th-century European monarchy.  Only the ordained are permitted to preach.  This needs to end.  Let the priest presider welcome all to Sunday worship at the beginning of Mass from the pulpit and then invite the community to stand to welcome the Scriptures, the Word of God, as it is brought into the assembly for the proclamation of the Gospel.  And let the priest presider welcome gifted lay people, men and women as preachers of the Gospel.  What do you think?

pope francisChange today.   Just because Catholics have taught something and acted in a certain way for 1,800 years is not enough reason to continue doing so.  Pope Francis is trying to inspire Catholics, clergy and laity, to change how we see ourselves – Missionary Disciples of Jesus– which will effect a change in our behavior.  He urges us to become a field hospital for a suffering world.  This will eventually effect change in Church structure and worship.  My guess is that Cardinal Raymond Burke thinks this is a mistake; I don’t.

2 Responses to “How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?  Change?”

  1. Danny Thibault says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. The church is missing out on the many talents of the laity by excluding them in decision-making. Because of this lack of input the church has little effect on society as a whole. We need to inspire each other to be a community that takes care of each other and also takes care of the larger community. Our voices are not being heard and therefore we have little influence on society.

  2. Joan Steichen says:

    Robert, your perspective is interesting but confusing to me in a few different ways. While I agree that Jesus set up His church in such a way that the leaders would be the “servants of all” my perhaps limited understanding of Cardinal Burke and the other dubia writers’ defense of the faith is contrary to yours and doesn’t seem to suggest a monarchical structure desire but a faithful adherence to Church teachings through the millennia.
    From what I can gather from trusted Catholic media is that there is lingering confusion since Pope Francis’ Amoris Laeticia came out concerning whether he was advocating divorced and civilly remarried

    Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion before a church annulment has been granted. Since the Church has sought to protect the faithful from grave sin by receiving communion while not in a state of grace, and since Pope Francis’ writing — unless clarified — seems to attempt to change that teaching, the request for clarification through the dubia questions were necessary, believed these cardinals in place to

    deal with this type of confusion. I hear many bishops and priests in other countries, and perhaps our own, have begun approving of Catholics of the above category receiving communion. Now there appears to also be confusion about giving communion to those not in a state of grace — those living together as unmarried partners and those in same-sex
    unions. As one of my parish priests made clear to his flock a while back,
    “Receiving the Holy Eucharist while not in a state of grace hastens your road to hell” it seems the merciful and loving thing for pastors and bishops toward their sheep would be to protect them from this grave sin and spiritual damage. Here is a link to an NC Register article about Cardinal Burke:
    As far as the just war theory and the reference to the Crusades, didn’t the pope’s army crusade to protect the Catholics from continuing to be converted “by the sword” by the Muslims after centuries of it happening in Europe?
    I may not be the learned student of history you are either, so I will stand
    corrected if proven wrong.