Catholic author talks about change in the church
By Enedelia J. Obregón
Change in the Catholic Church and the fear of change were among the many topics addressed by Pulitzer-winning writer and historian Garry Wills at a lecture at the LBJ Library at the University of Texas of Austin.
The Dominican-educated professor emeritus at Northwestern University also autographed copies of his just-released book “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis.”
Betty Sue Flowers, former director of the LBJ Library and Museum, moderated the lecture. It ended with questions from the audience and ranged from the role of women in the church to the sex abuse scandal.
The first issue Wills addressed was the call from some U.S. politicians to wage a “holy war” against Islam, which has 1.5 billion followers worldwide. He noted the pope is not just the pontiff for Catholics but for all people. He pointed out the pontiff has called the Qu’ran “a great spiritual classic.”
“One of the most significant things the pope can do is head off a ‘holy war,’” he said. “If he can help us avoid the absurdity of fighting another of God’s people, that can be his greatest contribution.”
Flowers asked if Pope Francis is not amenable to changing his own church, how can he be expected to influence another religion?
“I don’t want him to change his own church,” Wills said. “That would mean it’s a monarchy or he’s a dictator and change comes only from the top. Change comes from the bottom. It has constantly done that and is doing it now.”
When the hierarchy of the church takes “an outlandish position,” he said, the people ignore it. Pope Francis has changed the hierarchy’s focus and now there is more emphasis on “being more like Jesus.” For example, Pope Francis has said the Eucharist should not be used as punishment.
Wills said most people think of church as the hierarchy; however, the church “is the people of God, not the rulers. It’s like our America. I and many people are clearly critical of the American government. That doesn’t mean we don’t love our country. It’s one of the reasons we are critical. The same thing is true about the church’s hierarchy.”
He said the church government has lived down many errors throughout history: the pope denying sacraments to enemies, selling indulgences, anti-Semitism.
Wills said he has greater faith in the people who make up the body of Christ than in the hierarchy. He said the point of his latest book is for people not to fear change.
“The church is constantly changing” he said. That change has allowed it to survive.
Wills said Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal and walks a fine line between the different factions in the Vatican in order to keep the church together.
Pope Francis is a radical like his namesake, Wills said.
“He reminds me of another radical: Jesus.”