by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace

This may seem to be a curious way to begin reflections on the Season of Creation, which started on September 1, Creation Day. However, a news report in the Washington Post on August 30 points to a looming challenge both to the Season — which ends on October 4 — and to the Synod of Synods which begins that same day. The challenge comes principally from the U.S. Catholic Church.

Entitled “Pope calls out conservative critics in U.S. Catholic Church,” the article speaks about the Holy Father’s increasing frustration with what he calls the “strong reactionary attitude” among U.S. Catholics. His frustration is evident, as the story cites the pope’s words to describe it.

Francis uses a neologism to identify this attitude: “indietristi” (backwardists) and says, “Those American groups … are isolating themselves … Instead of living by true doctrine, by the true doctrine that always develops and bears fruit they live by ideologies.” He added: “If you don’t change upward, you go backward … and the effects on morality are devastating.” (Quotes from La Civilta Cattolica, previously reviewed by the Vatican.) In the same context the pope says about such backwardist groups: “What I don’t like at all, in general, is that we look at the so-called ‘sin of the flesh’ with a magnifying glass.”

Given this public opposition to the Francis papacy even at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church, these strong words from our universal pastor put one in mind of the condemnations Jesus leveled one after the other in Matthew 23 against the religious leadership of his time: “Hypocrites, blind guides.” Those words relate directly to this new phenomenon in our ecclesial world.

In this ominous context the People of God in this country and beyond are being called by Pope Francis to take seriously this Season of Creation and prepare wholeheartedly for the Synod which follows it. He uses beautiful imagery to inspire our thoughts and prayers. For example: “During this Season of Creation let us dwell on those heartbeats of our own, of our Mothers and Grandmothers, the heartbeat of Creation and the heartbeat of God.”

 Francis lays out three immediate tasks:

  • transforming our hearts in an ecological conversion – renewing our relationship to Creation.
  • transforming our lifestyles, marked less by waste and unnecessary consumption.
  • transforming public policies … that promote scandalous wealth for a privileged few and degrading conditions for many others.

Finally, the Holy Father concludes his message: “In this Season of Creation, as followers of Christ on this shared synodal journey, let us live, work and pray that our common home will teem with life once again. May the Holy Spirit once more hover over the waters and guide our efforts to ‘renew the face of the earth’ (Psalm 104).”

The backwardist threats to the current Kairos moments — a liturgical time dedicated to care for Creation and consultation with the entire People of God — offer Pax Christi and similar Catholic movements both a momentous challenge and an incalculable opportunity.

Like religious orders and congregations, Pax Christi represents an “alternative” pathway in the institutional Catholic Church. They and we are explicitly ecclesial – Roman Catholic. However, providentially we enjoy a certain independence viz a viz the institution. We are in many ways a “loyal opposition,” a prophetic presence that announces and denounces what is and is not of the reign of God in this organized body.

This vocation is not new. Throughout Christian history religious institutions have stood as proclaimers of what is good in the Church and what is evil. Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits, numberless congregations of women, and in our own time lay movements like ours have responded to this Spirit-filled prophetic role in our Church.

There is no doubt that Pax Christi USA will take seriously this crisis moment. The stakes could not be higher: life on planet Earth; a genuine catholic church.

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

One thought on “As the loyal opposition, our work is to highlight Pope Francis’ criticism of reactionary forces in the US Church

  1. Thank you for your beautiful commentary. Pope Francis continues to lead as Jesus /Spirit calls us to do and be. I pray others will also follow who presently call for the opposite!

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