Letter: Catholic Church must change to survive

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The Independent Online
The problem for the Roman Catholic Church in England is simply one of any organisation that must undergo a radical reorientation to survive, but which has not had the courage to do so ("Editor to quit as furore rocks Catholic Church", 12 May).

The reason for such fundamental change is that its core self-understanding - which originated in the mid-19th century with a restored hierarchy committed to attaining the "conversion of England" and its return to Rome - has now been tried and found wanting.

This "restorationist" vision, once common in many European countries that experienced the Protestant Reformation, was based on a medieval model in which Catholicism was seen as a structural principle of society. So different is the cultural pluralism of modern liberal democracy that such a model has been found impossible to transplant: this incompatibility can also be seen in Islamic states. Though many still hanker after the past the only viable contemporary position for the church, indeed any religion, is that of a catalyst to critical reflection on society and as a vehicle for ethical ideals. In other words a prophetic church.

The implied degree of change and reassessment is comparable to that necessary in Russia after the collapse of Communism. Though demanding extraordinary courage such a change was decisively opted for at Vatican II as being the only viable future for the church. Those who cannot or will not grasp this and the reasons for it will only contribute to failure and embarrassment of the church however pious or well-intentioned they may be.

Fr Dominic Kirkham

Canons Regular of Premontre, Manchester

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