Former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano has underlined the importance of Church reform, stressing that it is not governed by public opinion.
The cardinal has just written a book dedicated to reform of the Church. Published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house, “A Church to Love” is also the fruit of a conference held by the Christian Union of Business Executives which took place in March last year.
The Italian cardinal, in an interview today with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, said the topic of reform had interested him since he studied theology in the 1950s.
He stressed, first of all, that a “clear vision” of the Church’s nature and the limits to ecclesial reform is required, as well as the importance of keeping in mind the Church’s divine origins and her supernatural reality.
“Not for nothing did theologians like to talk about the ‘Church of Christ’ and not just the Church,” Sodano said. “In this way we can better understand that if the Church is of Christ, man cannot change her nature. The Lord’s words are, in fact, very clear: ‘The heavens and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’ (Lk 21, 33).”
But he also pointed out that even the Latin phrase ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ [the Church is always to be reformed] has found a place in Catholicism and “precisely for this reason” it’s necessary to specify well the nature of the concept of reform.
The cardinal distinguishes between reform and transformation or deformation, stressing that the purpose and scope of reform are “clearly defined”, as was seen at the Second Vatican Council and most recently in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which he spoke of renewal “that begins with individuals, reaching out to the whole Church and its human structures.”
Cardinal Sodano explained that internal reforms must be rooted in both the love of Christ and the need to renew structures no longer suited to the times.
The Church “as a divine institution, her Gospel , her Creed, the Sacraments, and its hierarchical structure of course cannot be changed”, he stressed. “Only those ecclesial realities of human origin can be changed, ones that no matter how noble and providential they were in their time, no longer correspond to the needs of today, or may even be a counter-witness for the Church.
“In fact,” the cardinal added, “the history of the Church speaks of several successive reforms that have arisen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
Asked how he felt about current reforms of the Vatican, he said he felt the path being pursued for the Roman Curia at present is “definitely” positive but stressed that popes have always wanted “to adapt their ways of governing to different historical situations.”
He pointed out three major reforms of the Curia: first, by St. Pius X in 1908, the second by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and the last commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II in 1988.
He further stressed that the “first motive” for reforming the Church “doesn’t arise from the mere desire to adapt to the times.” Instead, the first impetus comes from the desire “to respond more fully to the will of Christ, and that is the desire to bring the Church to the ‘form’ that the Lord wanted to give it.”
In summary, the Cardinal said, reforms are “not born out of a desire to satisfy any pressure of public opinion, or just to adapt to the fashions of the moment. Here, too, is the principle of all time, namely, that the good of souls is the supreme law of the Church. Who does not remember the old Latin phrase: ‘Bonum animarum suprema lex’? [The good of souls is the supreme law]
The cardinal went on to say that the Church that “is always in need of purification, is a Church that is always in need of reform.”
But he added there’s also a Church that is “always in need of being loved by her children. She is a mother who gave birth to supernatural life in us; she is the mother who teaches us the words of the Gospel, and feeds us with its sacraments. “
He recalled the many sons the Church has brought to the goal of holiness, and who referred to the Church as mother and mother of the saints.