The Catholic Church’s Shifting Power

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at Canossa Castle seeking forgiveness from                     Pope Gregory VII.

The Catholic Church, in all of its luminous and lurid history, has become notorious for its inability to “get with the times.” It is the general course of action for the Church that she moves at her own pace: intentional wisdom rather than rash choices. More often than not, wisdom prevails. Yet, the path to wisdom is one crafted over many years. The mere existence of the Catholic faith, its survival over the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the British Empire has proven that slow wisdom is significant, even though it may be frustrating, even maddening. Yesterday (as much of Pope Francis’s papacy has been), was the fruits of some of that maddeningly slow wisdom.

In the motu proprios released today, the Vatican has simplified the annulment process for marriages. An experience that has been often characterized as painful and drawn out, Francis has simplified as much of the process as possible by keeping it within the local diocese in order to expedite the annulment ruling. It may seem like this is simply something to allow divorces more readily available, but it is so much more than that. These rulings allow for justice and mercy to be served as quickly as possible.

Along with Pope Francis’s edict on the forgiveness of abortions, the motu proprios communicate almost as much about
theology as they do the movement of politics within the Church. It seems, based upon these, other speeches, and letters by the current Pontiff, that Francis is calling for a Church more focused on its people, those who are on the ground-level of the faith. In that, the dioceses are becoming more autonomous in decisions that directly relate to their people. Priests and bishops are being encouraged to minister to the needs of their people. It has been Francis’s entire papacy to bring forth a renewed effort by the clergy to take their rightful place as the servants of those in greatest need.

In a Church that often still runs its business on antiquated operations, we are witnessing real change. We are slowly leaving some of the unnecessary, medieval trappings of a highly centralized Vatican, while still maintaining the role and authority of the magisterium. Thankfully though, we don’t have to crawl to the Vatican in order to receive mercy and forgiveness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_to_Canossa). Through the patient wisdom of the Church and the example of Pope Francis, the needs of the faithful are being attended to in new and dynamic ways.

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