by Sister Nuala Kenny
The 2020 Chapter call to “…embrace our own vulnerability, trust the presence of the Spirit …and commit ourselves to …care for one another…” had special meaning for me because it came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic as I was completing my third book on healing the Church from the wounds of the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
A Post-Pandemic Church: Prophetic Possibilities (Novalis, In Press) continues my thirty five year commitment to this painful and often soul-crushing work. My first two books diagnosed pathology in need of healing including devastating physical, emotional and spiritual harm to children and youth; silence, secrecy and denial to avoid scandal; abuse of power and position; sin-centred moral theology; leadership failure to address underlying systemic and cultural factors; and polarizing divisions regarding the cause of the crisis and its treatment.
COVID-19 has brought us a universal experience of vulnerability which is inherent in our being embodied in flesh and bone and embedded in families, communities and cultures. It is a condition of the moral life trusting others in the fragility of relationships. The experience of vulnerability has re-enforced many of my identified pathologies. The shutdown of Churches has seen thousands leave the practice of the faith, never to return. Pandemic has unmasked global political and religious dissension, as most tragically demonstrated in our own dis-United States, increasing health and social inequity worldwide and issues of systemic sexism, ageism, racism and white privilege in the Church and the world. The Church itself is responding to COVID-19 from vulnerability as a wounded healer.
So, the scope of this book goes far beyond sexual abuse. My goals are to assist Catholics in finding meaning and hope in this time of loss and risk; to describe key beliefs and practices in need of transformation to the “mind of Christ”; and to empower clergy and laity to work together for personal and ecclesial conversion through reclaiming our prophetic call.
Prophetic criticism is about anguish that comes from recognizing our failure to be the people God has called us to be. It assesses the ways its beliefs and practices contradict our call to be a sign and source of the justice, compassion and mercy of our loving God.
Prophetic imagination frees us to enter into the story of God’s love for us and imagine new life emerging from even the darkest of times.
This work asks all in the Church if they can imagine:
A revitalization of faith and prayer leading renewed commitment to discipleship in the post COVID-19 Church?
Breaking silence and denial with a new culture and practice of meaningful dialogue and respectful listening at all levels of the Church?
Atonement for harm to all victims of abuse through practices of safeguarding and restorative justice?
The renewal of moral theology focused on conscience formation and virtue?
Full, active participation in the renewed Eucharist as the Lord’s Supper and a flourishing of parish and liturgical life characterized by hospitality, inclusion and the ministry of care?
A new culture of vulnerability and servant leadership replacing a culture of power?
A restoration of relationships and the faith formation of clergy and laity recognizing the gifts of all and our “mutual need.”
Theological renewal and practical change to the role of women in the Church?
Revitalization of the principles of Catholic social teaching in advocacy for the common good, the preferential option for the poor and rejection of sexism, racism and white supremacy?
Practical commitment to the environmental crisis?
A renewed theology of sexuality, written by clergy and laity, married and celibate, which celebrates dignity, relationships and gift?
A rejection of polarizing divisions fracturing the Body of Christ?
Pope Francis reminds us that there are obstacles to the prophetic:
Narcissism makes you look at yourself constantly in a mirror; discouragement leads to complaining and pessimism to thinking everything is dark and bleak. These three attitudes close the door to the Holy Spirit. (Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, June 29, 2020)
Chapter calls us to commit to care for others and trust the Spirit who can make “all things new.” I pray that this work contributes to renewal and healing.
Book Forthcoming, Spring 2021