People in St. Peter’s Square watch the Angelus led by Pope Francis from his studio window overlooking Vatican Square on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. (CNS / Vatican Media)
What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? And now ? : an institutional and personal memory
By Gabriel Moran
274 pages; BookBaby
Gabriel Moran, who has always been brave, curious and respectful in posing new ideas with a slightly playful glint in his eyes, wrote What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? And now? at the very end of its long life. He died on October 15, 2021 and was buried with his Christian brothers in Rhode Island.
As others struggled with the liturgical changes mandated by the work of Vatican Council II (1962-65), my sense of the Divine in reality changed dramatically during my theological studies at Manhattan College under Moran’s tutelage in the 1960s. and 70.
Moran’s classic and best-known publication was his Theology of Revelation, published in 1966, just one year after the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, was promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Originally, the question Moran asked in his doctoral work was, “Is it scripture or tradition or both that reveal God to us?” In the process, he focused on “What is divine revelation? In doing so, he fell into a centuries-old controversy.
Gabriel Moran gives a talk on Religious Education and Interfaith Harmony in February 2013. (NCR / YouTube / Won Dharma Center screenshot)
His now classic book based on his thesis work challenged the church’s narrower description of revelation, as it broadened the concept of divine revelation and, for me, opened up a new approach to how God can be experienced. .
This process is evident in What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? And now?.
This book is complex, well studied and very readable if we want to take a critical look at the reality of our church today. If you grew up in the 1950s or 1960s, when earthquake changes were occurring within the Roman Catholic Church and society itself, or if you are curious about these changes, this book would be a good way to ‘examine what happened.
The author states on page 7 that this book is “for Catholic readers who wish to understand what is going on in their church”. It might also be good read for those outside the church who want to understand some of the dynamics that have led to the current evolution of our church.
In many ways, this latest book by Moran invites us to consider new aspects of problems that we may have assumed to have grasped. The book raises provocative questions and offers insight into many issues that many of us ponder in our hearts.
Some call this book radical, and in the truest sense of the word it is, because it attacks the roots of the current situation in our church. However, in the sensational use of the word, it is not. This is a scholarly work in an accessible style. Historical summaries are useful and accessible.
Reading Vatican II and other key moments in Church history provides good platforms for seeing possible paths, with particular emphasis on 1945 until the end of Vatican II in 1965 and the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968.
The period when I grew up (1945-60) is entitled “The calm”. Rightly, Moran describes that “the stillness” had rumblings beneath the surface. After all, this was the time of vibrant lay movements within the Catholic Church – Young Catholic Students, Young Christian Workers, and the Christian Families Movement, to name a few that touched my own life.
During this time, figures like Thomas Merton and Daniel Berrigan called on everyone to act beyond what was expected and to remain faithful to the church. This period, according to the author, also brought out “the sacramental and mystical nature of Catholicism at its best.”
Going far beyond the polarization that often blocks discussion, Moran raises questions such as church structure, abortion, sexuality, the role of women, the clerical imprint, war, the laity and the priesthood itself. During his lifetime, Moran was a brilliant, in-depth thinker and prolific writer on topics ranging from the theology of revelation to the experience of death. Even Pope Francis’ popularity and value to the world, recognized as powerful, is here criticized in the context of his limitations in a hierarchical structure led by men.
This work is an intriguing combination of scholarly polls on controversial topics and sensitive, almost tender, sharing of personal experiences.
Another important aspect of this book is its masterful foray into the role of language in the evolution of the Roman Catholic Church. This caught my attention as a former English teacher sensitive to the limits of a certain liturgical and theological language. Having studied Latin for three years in high school and faithfully prayed to the Divine Office in Latin for about six years, I just loved it when we started worshiping in English. Language is important.
Moran asks, “Can the Church survive translation from Latin?” This book offers an overview of this question.
The heart of this book for me was in Chapter 10 where Moran explores “Presence” and follows with two chapters on community. In chapter 10, he weaves the notion of real presence in a complex way into the phenomenon of presence in our human relationships.
Moran introduced the writings of Richard Rohr, Ilia Delio, Diarmuid O’Murchu and others that I have yet to read, and distinguishes between the historical Jesus and the Christ from the book of Revelation. His work challenges us to understand that unless we recognize that the resurrection really made a difference in the way God is present to us and in our very lives, we can simply remember what happened. about 2000 years ago.
The parishioners react during the dedication of Sts. Peter & Paul Church in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York on June 29, 2021, Sts. Peter and Paul. The mass marked the first time since 2008 that the Diocese of Brooklyn has opened a new church. (CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)
The historical reality of Vatican II is also at the heart of this work, as the reaction to it reverberates in the life of the Church today. At a time when Francis promotes deep listening at all levels of the church, the relevance of this work is clear. Opening the reality of divine revelation as a continuous testifies to this current ecclesial effort to listen well throughout the world.
The meaning of Vatican II is explored here in a new way for me and so is the hope for our Church. This book imagines the church as a community of communities (described as between eight and 11 people each) with a 10-15 year priesthood that rotates and includes both men and women.
“Imagine” is the key word here. At a time when Francis is calling all of us, as Catholics, to synodality in our Church, this latest book by Moran is a good springboard for imagining new ways of being Church.
Opening up to the reality of divine revelation could allow us to gradually become, as a Church, a community of communities. The challenge of this is evident, even in these days of instant communication, higher education, and the relative ease of traveling the world. According to Moran, an organization whose goal is community must follow the best lights of its tradition and “listen to the truth in the hearts and minds of its members.”
Clearly our Church is in transition as the importance of visible structures is supplanted by an invitation to listen to one another and by a dynamic and open process to understand the reality of the presence of the Risen Christ today.
What Happened to the Roman Catholic Church? And now? by Gabriel Moran touches on my experience of the church and leaves me a little confused, it is true. Nonetheless, I look forward to continuing the discussion about the church using this book as a springboard.
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