The Modern Era's Central Tensions In The Roman Catholic Church

1375 words - 6 pages

The Modern Era's Central Tensions in the Roman Catholic Church

In his narrative of the time from the French Revolution to the present in Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity of the Roman Catholic Church, John C. Dwyer makes it apparent that he has several goals in mind for where the church ought to end up, and his account gives us a sense that it is all leading up to these goals. They are largely accomplished by the time he gets to the Second Vatican Council, though in some ways they are left undone even at the end. One of these goals is that the Church must forget about holding on to the Papal States, and more importantly, that the Pope should not waste his efforts in trying to hang on to them. Another is for the Church to become truly catholic by losing it's Latin focus, and accept that it is the church of many cultures around the world, not just of the Italians. Dwyer also seeks a general modernization of the conduct of Church business and decision-making, such as a more open and democratic process, and one that seeks input from all concerned parties and arrives at its decrees more by consensus than by fiat. In his descriptions of each of the Popes that he covers in this history, they are judged on how well or poorly they succeed in working towards these goals for the growth and improvement of the Church in the two centuries leading up to our time.

On the eve of the French Revolution, "the Papal States had become an obstacle to the independence and universality of the papacy, but the Popes of the time were utterly unaware of this". The problem of with the Papal States was that they involved the Popes "incessantly in internal Italian political squabbles" and made their relationship to the Catholic powers "purely political" (Dwyer, 303). While the Church was a stalwart opponent of revolution in France, and of exporting its ideals, sympathy for the it grew among the populace of the Papal States, so that by the time Napoleon invaded and took part of the States, he was "greeted by many as a liberator" (309). When the Italians revolted later, the remainder of the Papal States were occupied, and the Pope deported to France. The new Pope, Pius VII agreed to the Concordat, a treaty favorable to Napoleon's interest, though it left the Church in a somewhat better position in France. Pius VII is lauded for his intelligence a and awareness of the world at large, and his "deliberate policy of strengthening the ties which bound the local churches to Rome" (317) showed the alternative to being obsessed with the possession of a state by the Pope. After the short reigns of Leo XIII and Pius VIII, the next Pope Gregory XVI was again embroiled in the problem of the Papal States after the Congress of Vienna. Sentiment for national union placed the people at odds with the existence of the States, which were "not only undemocratic, but backward in the extreme" (317). After another revolt in 1831, pressure from the great powers built to...

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