The Pope and the Church:
No quick fix.
by Marcel Gervais, Archbishop of Ottawa
used with permission.
(first published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 22, 1998)
The Pope is a strong leader (The iron-fisted Pope, Ottawa Citizen, Oct.15). Yes, he has an iron fist, and I am greatly consoled.
I can sleep at night without worrying that what I have been taught, what I believe, the principles on which my life is based, all of these will be the same when I awake.
John Paul II has spent hundreds and thousands of hours listening to synod delegates, who are free to say anything that is on their minds. I was present when one of our native Canadian delegates spoke in favour of the ordination of married elders The Pope listened and applauded when the delegate was finished. The Pope does listen.
No other Pope has ever written so much on the question of women in society and the Church. At synods, the Canadian delegates have been known for their interventions on the question of women and we have never been reproved. In fact, we have been praised for our careful work.
The Church and its leader will listen, but they will not be hurried into anything.
Moving the Church in one direction or another is a delicate art that takes deft handling. In 1989, after the fall of communism, millions of our Church members suddenly entered history without knowing about Vatican II. This had to be taken into account.
I remember being at one synod when Eastern Europeans first were able to speak freely. A bishop from a different branch of the Church, when his time came to address the synod, spoke disparagingly of the Pope, who was present.
Some of the newly free Eastern bishops were ready to jump to the attack. They were prevented from speaking for a few days to allow for a cooling-off period. They had no idea that it was acceptable, though brazenly impolite, to speak against the Pope to his face.
We are into a new age. In his letter That they may be one (No. 96), this Pope has publicly invited church leaders and theologians to examine his ministry and to make recommendations on how it could be improved. This is absolutely extraordinary.
He exercises his leadership in a great variety of ways; not only by exercising authority, but by setting examples (the way he deals with young people at World Youth Days), by acting out ideals (Assisi prayer meeting with world religious leaders), by promoting values (inculturation of indigenous cultures) and by redirecting the movement of the Church when he senses it is heading in the wrong direction (his letter The splendour of the truth).
He can look at the excesses of communism and of capitalism with a steady eye and oblige us to rethink our stands (such as his letter "On social concerns"). He can challenge us with unthinkable possibilities such as the cancellation of debts of the poorest nations and defy us to find ways of preventing these horrors from happening again (such as his letter "On preparing for the year 2000".)
Through John Paul II, the Lord has worked wonders; when there could have been a schism, he found ways of averting the worst of it by allowing the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated again. This was a positive step in keeping the Church united.
The strong do not like this seeming admission of weakness, but we are now in a Church united, and more glorious in her diversity.
When he noticed that compassion was running wild, he reaffirmed the importance of letting truth guide us. When he saw that we were going too fast for many millions of people, he slowed us down.
He is a Pope that the world will never forget, if only for the number of times he has asked for forgiveness. And he has not finished with that yet. If we in the rich countries of America and Europe are impatient about what we consider to be progress, those who were in darkness see him as a: champion. ("Democracy's holy autocrat" Ottawa Citizen May 22.)
There is no "instant" cure for all the ills of the world. There is no quick fix on the inadequacies of the Church. We are invited to great patience. If we were perfect, we would have the right to expect perfection from our leader, but we are not, and he is not. He has a firm hand, and this is great.
Compassion means "to suffer with." If we want our leader to feel with us, we should at least try to feel with him. He is charged with keeping over a billion people together in one fold - united in one faith. He is doing a great job. I would much rather be led by his strong hand, than be stroked by a limp one.
Marcel Gervais, Archbishop of Ottawa