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Newman on St. Philip Neri as a Model of Reform

In these troubled days of crisis and scandal, the Catholic Church is populated by many a “bruised reed” and many a “smoldering wick.” The wounded faithful are all around us.

At its root, the word “crisis” indicates a moment of decision, a moment of critical importance. All Catholics today face a life-shaping decision about how to respond to the seemingly endless stream of reports of sexual abuse and failed handling of sexual abuse cases by Church leaders that we have encountered these past several months.

The decision is a stark one, between hope and despair, persevering fidelity and betrayal, between remaining with Christ and abandoning him. But even among those who choose to remain with Christ, there is another decision to be made, between the pursuit of ecclesial revolution or reform.

Most Catholics have a visceral reaction against the word “revolution.” We know that revolutionary change is foreign to the Church’s constitution and lived tradition. And yet there is a kind of revolutionary spirit that can take hold of any zealous Catholic who faces highly destructive forms of evil such as we are currently witnessing. To seek to effect dramatic and immediate change is a natural instinct for those who wish to protect the Church they love. It is easy to cross the line between reform and revolution.

Keeping in mind the supreme priority of the salvation of souls—a priority articulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, among other sources—those who seek to help the Church must give first consideration to what will help those people most threatened to avoid hell and go to heaven. This consideration means, among other things, that reed-breaking and wick-quenching must be avoided. While reform heals and edifies not only ecclesial structures, but also people, revolution tends to do a great deal of damage along with achieving some measure of good.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 


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