Pope Francis (or is it “Francis, Bishop of Rome”?) on the renewal of church structures at Mass last Saturday:

“In the Christian life, even in the life of the Church, there are old structures, passing structures: it is necessary to renew them! And the Church has always been attentive to this, with dialogue with cultures . . . It always allows itself to be renewed according to places, times, and persons. The Church has always done this! From the very first moment, we remember the first theological battle: was it necessary to carry out all of the Jewish practices in order to be Christian? No! They said no! The gentiles could enter as they are: gentiles . . . Entering into the Church and receiving Baptism. A first renewal of the structures. . . . And so the Church always goes forward, giving space to the Holy Spirit that renews these structures, structures of the churches. Don’t be afraid of that! Don’t be afraid of the newness of the Gospel! Don’t be afraid of the newness that the Holy Spirit works in us! Don’t be afraid of the renewal of structures!”

News.va reports further:

The Church, he [Francis] said, “is free: the Holy Spirit carries her forward.” The Gospel teaches this: “the liberty to always find the newness of the Gospel in us, in our life, and even in our structures.” The Pope then re-iterated the importance of the “freedom to choose new wineskins for this newness.”

Der Speigel (via ABC) reports that Francis is “circumventing the old guard wherever he can. The establishment is up in arms.” Time reports that he is “shaking things up.” E.J. Dionne at WaPo sees Francis as a “genuinely holy man, a brilliant politician” in his decision to canonize J23 as well as JP2; he has “pointed the way for a more open, less divided church that examines the present and looks to the future with hope, not fear.”

Lest we forget, not long ago Benedict XVI, by contrast, was pushing his “reform ourselves, not church structures” thing. In Germany in September 2011 he posed the rhetorical question,

Should the Church not change? Must she  not adapt her offices and structures to the present day?

Only to answer:

Blessed Mother Teresa was once asked what in her opinion was the first thing  that would have to change in the Church. Her answer was: you and I.

Benedict went on to speak powerfully and convincingly about our need for conversion. But his analysis of “worldliness” in the Church seems to mean that too much concern about structures and how to change them is precisely the problem.

It seems clear that Francis stands in broad continuity with Benedict when it comes to the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. But when it comes to structural reform, I think we have a new hermeneutic at work – call it the “New Wine, New Wineskins” hermeneutic. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.



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