I began writing about the church in 1993 when I was based as a missionary in Mangango in the Western Province of Zambia. These articles arose out of my anger at the direction in which the church was being led, from soon after the end of Vatican II in 1965 up until 1993. I believe that direction intensified under Pope John Paul II and still more under Pope Benedict XVI. I saw them as factional leaders rather than bridge-builders.
There was a turning inwards, a narcissistic self-centredness, which to me was unfaithful to the vision of the gospel – ‘If anyone seeks to save his life he will lose it; if anyone loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel he will find it,’ said Jesus. (Mark 8.35) Neither was it faithful to the vision of Vatican II: ‘The church exists to preach the Gospel…’ (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n.14.) I saw the church becoming frightened, self-protective, concerned mainly for its institutional self-interest.
If a reader suspects frustration in these pages, it is there. I saw – and see – the church as not having the spirit or structures of dialogue, accountability or transparency. This disables instead of enabling those outside the chosen circle, infantilizing them, and reducing them to passivity.
Saint Augustine wrote, ‘Hope has two beautiful daughters – anger and courage.’ With the coming to the papacy of Francis I, I dare to feel hope again.