Death In The Church: Is New Life Ahead?

The recent disclosure of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the extent of depravity reported in the news is symptomatic of a Church in crisis.  It is no longer acceptable for the Pope simply to issue a public apology nor is it sufficient for any group merely to reflect on what has happened by issuing position statements. The Church has a deep structural problem which is entirely bound to ancient metaphysical and philosophical principles, not to mention imperial politics, that at this point require either a radical decision towards a new ecclesial structure or accept the possibility of a major schism. The rock-solid Church has crushed human souls and twisted authority into deceit. The male-dominated Christ center no longer holds and there is simply no solution or comforting words that can placate the extensive damage to fragile human lives that has taken place over the past decades. The evidence of abuse brought to light in the Catholic Church is simply unfathomable.

There is something profoundly intransigent about the structure of the Church. It is not that Church structures have caused the abuse but they have masked predators hiding as priests in a closed caste system of clerical elitism. The resurgence of abuse points to something deeply amiss if not embedded in Church culture. “Culture” is a complex term that encompasses the set of operative meanings and values.  Church culture is based on operative principles of hierarchy, patriarchy, careerism, and the notorious notion of priestly consecration as becoming “ontologically changed.” The hierarchical pecking order from priest to Pope has entailed obeisance in the quest for a higher position on the ladder of ecclesiastical success. Clericalism is a type of corporate ladder-climbing and no different from the quest for power in the world of major corporations. Corporate power, like ecclesial power, is marked by the dominant male, akin to the evolutionary hunter who is “red in tooth and claw”; the priest-hunter can be cunningly deceptive at achieving his desired goal.

How did we get here?  If the Church is founded on the Good News of Jesus Christ, how did it become so radically disconnected from the itinerant preacher from Nazareth?

Structure concerns relationships and the types of relationships that comprise Church structure are based on outdated philosophical notions of nature, gender, and personhood. Structures do not themselves cause abuse but they can abet and, or, cloak mental illness, predators, and criminals disguised as priests.  The disguise is actually embedded in the dysfunction of the structure itself. Walled in a fortress of ontological superiority bestowed upon by priestly consecration, one could effectively live a dual life insofar as one’s brain can cognitively dissociate between abusive behavior and priestly function.  The dissociative brain is not quite schizophrenic or a split brain but is actually more deceptive because it can capture certain ideas and repeat them (such as abusive behavior is normal) while operating on another level of priestly ministry.

Dissociative behavior can be reinforced by certain philosophical principles and the Church has clung to a number of outdated philosophical principles. Two principles in particular that can create a porous structure of abuse are:

1) The Ontology of Being, that is, the notion that the priest is on a higher level of being and thus closer to God. This misguided notion stems from the way hierarchy developed in the Church. The hierarchical structure that presently defines the Church can be dated back to the fifth century when the mystical writer, Pseudo-Dionysius composed his treatise on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.   Dionysius introduced the term “hierarchy” to connote sacred order among the many different classes of people that comprise the church. The Dionysian notion of hierarchy was meant to reflect the many ways God shines through creation but the term was corrupted in the Middle Ages by William of Saint Amour who used the Dionysian hierarchy to reject Franciscan Friars as teachers at the University of Paris, a role William claimed that duly belonged to clerical priests and not those of religious orders. Hence the notion of hierarchy as a ladder of ontological distinctions (for example, priests are of higher being than laity) was a medieval construct that became entrenched in the mind of the laity.

2) A second philosophical flaw is the platonic notion of the body as inferior to the life of the spirit giving rise to several different outrageously flawed ideas, including the notion that women are intellectually inferior to men and the source of sin; that sex and sexuality are inferior qualities of human personhood and need to be closely monitored, as these can easily lead to sin; that the corruptible body needs to be disciplined and subjugated to the spirit.  David Noble The Religion of Technology and A World Without Women) provides convincing historical evidence to support his thesis that the principal aim of Christianity, like science, is to restore the fallen male Adam to divine likeness.  His thesis is based on the myth that Adam was created before Eve and thus received the breadth of life directly from God; hence Adam is the true image of God and Eve is a weak imitation. Eve is the reason Adam lost his divine likeness along with his immortality, his share in divine knowledge, and his divinely ordained dominion over nature (the “fall”).  Because Eve was the problem, she cannot be part of the solution. John Scotus Erigena in the 9th century claimed that at the resurrection sex will be abolished and nature will be made one–only man–as if he had never sinned.

It is no secret that even the best theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, held that women do not have fully formed intellects, an idea that can be traced back to the philosophy of Aristotle.  It is unfortunate that Pope Leo XIII in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris wedded the Church to the theology of Thomas Aquinas thus making Thomas’s theology the official theology of the Catholic Church. By doing so, the Church adopted the Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysical framework based on matter and form, substance and essence.  Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant 13th century theologian who contributed to the Church a vast corpus of theological insights; however, by making his doctrine official teaching, the Church turned a deaf ear to modern science and to other theological ideas, such as the Scotistic notion of primacy of Christ.

Although the Catholic Church has supported modern science reflected by the Vatican’s  Pontifical Academy of Sciences, it has not adopted the principle scientific shifts of modern biology, evolution, or quantum physics, despite the fact that these areas are pillars of modern science.  As a result, the official theology of the Church is based on the ancient cosmology of Ptolemy and the medieval Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysical synthesis.  Even the most recent report of the International Theological Commission omits science entirely from the task of theology today. As a result, the foundations of theology remain out of sync with nature; the understanding of the human person is outmoded in many respects; and the core doctrines of creation, salvation, and redemption are based on outdated cosmological principles.

Despite the turn to the historical subject in Vatican II, the cosmological framework for official Catholic theology is the pre-Copernican, geocentric Ptolemaic universe. It is not surprising that the Ptolemaic cosmos blended nicely with Newton’s universe, allowing the Church to maintain a static inert framework of substance and form. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopalian priest, compares the institutional Church to Newton’s world, a vast machine made of parts and obeying fundamental laws, a world, she indicates, that can be easily controlled and manipulated. In her book The Luminous Web, she writes:

“Human beings were so charmed by the illusion of control Newton’s metaphor offered that we began to see ourselves as machines too. Believing that Newton told us the truth about how the world works, we modeled our institutions on atomistic principles. You are you and I am I. If each of us will do our parts, then the big machine should keep on humming. If a part breaks down, it can always be removed, cleaned, fixed, and replaced. There is no mystery to a machine, after all. According to Newton’s instruction manual, it is perfectly predictable. If something stops working, any reasonably competent mechanic should be able to locate the defective part and set things right again. . . . Our “God view” came to resemble our worldview. In this century, even much of our practical theology has also become mechanical and atomistic. Walk into many churches and you will hear God described as a being who behaves almost as predictably as Newton’s universe. Say you believe in God and you will be saved.  Sin against God and you will be condemned. Say you are sorry and you will be forgiven.  Obey the law and you will be blessed.”

Newton’s world was a closed system.  A closed system views organizations as relatively independent of environmental influences; problems are resolved internally with little consideration of the external environment.  Without any new input of energy, a closed system will eventually wear down and dissipate.  Open systems on the other hand can migrate into new patterns of behavior because the system interacts with the environment; closed systems are rigid and largely impenetrable while open systems are chaotic and far from equilibrium.  The Church is a closed system. Rules, fixed order, dogmatic formulas, unyielding laws, patriarchy, authority, and obedience under pain of judgment and death, all have rendered the Church impervious to evolution and to the radical interconnectivity that marks all levels of nature.  A closed institutional system in an evolutionary world is bound to die out unless new energy can be put into the system, or the system itself undergoes radical transformation to an open system.

The turning point for the Church’s retrenchment from science can be marked by the Galileo affair in 1633 when Cardinal Bellarmine rejected Galileo’s confirmation of the Copernican heliocentric system, stating that acceptance of heliocentrism was contrary to Scripture.  Although Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of Galileo in 1984, by mid 20th century the Church had not accepted Big Bang cosmology or evolution as fundamental to doing theology.

While Vatican II is lauded for its progress, this Council is no exception to the Church’s outdated stance with regard to modern science.  Although John XXIII opened the Church doors to the modern world and human history, he did not acknowledge Big History insofar as all history begins with the Big Bang. Alfred North Whitehead wrote in 1925: “When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them” (Whitehead 1925). Ralph Burhoe, the visionary behind the journal Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion, said that the discoveries of twentieth-century science, born from the creative human spirit in search of understanding, have far out-paced the ancient myths of world religions causing “people everywhere to lose credence or faith in the models or myths as formulated in their traditional religions” (Burhoe and Tapp, Zygon 1966: 4-5). He wrote that if religions are to be regenerated, they would have to be credible in terms of this age of science, a point highly consonant with the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Can We Rebuild?

While the reconciliation of science and religion may seem pedantic and marginal to the abuse crisis, it is perhaps the most fundamental work that lies before the Church and world today.  Without bringing science and religion into a new integrative relationship, there is no real basis on which to construct a new philosophical understanding of theological truths or of human personhood.  All the apologies in the world and all the position papers carefully written will not make an iota of a difference to the “substance abuse” that marks the Church.  Unless fundamental levels of consciousness change, we cannot attract a new reality.

In this respect, academic theology is as much to blame for the abuse crisis as the hierarchy itself, insofar as the academy of Catholic theology perpetuates a substance ontology and remains essentially entrenched in ancient philosophies and cosmologies.  In theology departments, one can teach a course on Science and Religion as a particular area of interest but “yoking” Science and Religion is not necessary to doing theology in the 21st century, nor has the academic field of Science and Religion impacted the pedagogies of either science or religion. Teilhard de Chardin was adamant that the philosophical shifts brought about by modern physics and biology demand conceptual and pedagogical shifts in science and religion. “Evolution is a general condition,” he wrote, “to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must submit and satisfy from now on in order to be conceivable and true” The Human Phenomenon, Teilhard de Chardin 1999, 152, emphasis added).

Science has greatly shifted our understanding of nature including human nature, biological nature, and physical nature so that every aspect of theological doctrine must be reevaluated in light of evolution and modern physics. Every seminary curriculum should include Big Bang cosmology, evolution, quantum physics, neuroscience, depth psychology, and systems thinking.  Incorporating science into seminary education will not preclude abusers but over time the formation of new structural systems that are more consonant with nature as cooperative interdependent systems might allow for greater transparency, interdependency, and accountability.

To accept modern science as part of theological education and development of church doctrine is to recognize the full inclusion of women in the community of biological life.  The inability to accept women as fully capable intellectual beings has been a real stumbling block for the Church and, in our postmodern age, the exclusion of women from all forms of leadership and service is no longer acceptable.  Systemic reorganization as well as scientifically-literate theological education must include women at all levels of formation.  There is no adequate theological argument for excluding women from Holy Orders except the well-worn “image of God” argument which, in light of modern science, is incredible.  Ordaining women priests might help save the Church from implosion.

Towards a New Future?

The Church needs a new direction, one pointing not upwards but forward, not towards “heaven above” but a new future of healthy relationships.  Beatrice Bruteau describes a shift in consciousness from a domination paradigm to what she calls a “Holy Thursday” paradigm, marked by mutuality, service, and Christian love.  To be “in Christ,” she writes, “is to enter into Holy Thursday by experiencing some death and resurrection, letting an old modality of consciousness die, and seeing a new one rise to life.  It is to abandon thinking of oneself only terms of categories and abstractions and seeing oneself as a transcendent center of energy that lives in God and in one’s neighbors–because this is where Christ lives, in God and in us.” We need to come to terms with the fact that Christianity is less an historical religion than a religion of the future.  In Jesus God’s self-communication to creation explodes into history.  God evolves the universe and brings it to its completion through the instrumentality of human beings.  Jesus is the climax of that long development whereby the world becomes aware of itself and comes into the direct presence of God.  What we see in Jesus is that the future of the material universe is linked to the future of the human community insofar as human agency affects biocentric life in its relation to ultimate fulfillment in God.

We fragile, vulnerable humans are “cooperative co-creators” and it does make a difference how we live our lives. Our participation in the mystery of Divine Love, incarnate and hidden in the brokenness of our world, lies at the basis of a healing world.   The shocking news of the abuse crisis crushes our hearts, but know too that God’s heart is broken; that the body of Christ is crucified over and over again, for when one member is abused the whole Body is abused.  But our faith must remain unshaken.  Christ is risen from the dead; the final word is not death but Life.  We will rise from these ashes but we cannot stand still nor can we turn back.  Our hands are now put to the plow and we must forge a new path ahead. The Church will be born anew, for God is doing new things.

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  1. Reed Saunders on August 28, 2018 at 6:26 am

    Thank you for a new and important perspective on the church in crisis, denial and separated from God’s love through its institutional sinfulness. Revolution will be the only path to transformation and regeneration.

  2. John Ferro on August 28, 2018 at 6:52 am

    I am currently 64 years old. I grew up with parents who believed blindly in the sanctity of the Catholic Church. If I was ever sexually abused by a priest, my parents would not have believed me. They held the priesthood synonomous to being gods. Fortunately for me I was never abused. I was once told by a priest that I had a nice male body and would I ever consider shaving my pubic hair. I walked away and stopped going to church. I have tried other religions but have seen organized religion as big business more then relationships based on Love. As a neurologist I have treated priests as patients and such dealings have reinforced the idea that the church is a human institution where ordinary men run the business. I have treated nuns also and have found many of them, not all but many, holding onto concepts of the importance of relationships. I remember speaking at the wake of one sister who was very loving and kind. I said that if the Catholic Church was run by this religious order, it would not be in the awful hierarchical shape that it was in. It produced a moment of laughter and clapping. It also reflected the intelligence and love of the sister I knew who had died. For me, the bottom line is that the Catholic Church is a human business built on the shoulders of men who do not recognize the equality of women. I welcome the intelligence and addition of science that Sr Ilia provides to us who believe in the power of Christianity and not the “Church”. I do acknowledge that there are many “good” men involved in the church who help and love their parishioners. But it is still a “human” institution with all the psychological weight which humanity carries.

    John Ferro

    • Edwina Gateley on August 28, 2018 at 11:40 am

      This crisis was inevitable . I have been waiting many years for the institution to fall through its abusive clericalism, inequality and power structure.
      It is time for the great mansion to fall under its own weight and for new and just ways to surface. Those who have been most oppressed and excluded – women- will feature prominently in the new structure which will emerge from the Spirit of God. New life is always waiting and , ironically, almost always emerges from chaos. God, indeed, is doing something new.

  3. Marion Tarallo on August 28, 2018 at 6:54 am

    Thank You for this message. I am not sure if the current structure of the Church can change without a return to a simple early Church. Yes men and women sharing ministry in all areas of the sacraments including the Consecration of the Eucharist. I do not believe that Jesus wanted this Hierarchical structure which reflects everything you said.
    structure. I look forward to hearing from you on Thursday evening. God Bless!

  4. Marion Tarallo on August 28, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Thank You for this message. I am not sure if the current structure of the Church can change without a return to a simple early Church. Yes men and women sharing ministry in all areas of the sacraments including the Consecration of the Eucharist. I do not believe that Jesus wanted this Hierarchical structure which reflects everything you said.

  5. Eric O Rogers on August 28, 2018 at 7:26 am

    Thank you for expressing so clearly what I have been fumbling around with the inherent structural issues in the Roman Catholic Church. After 70 years, my path forward has been to worship with the local Episcopal community.

  6. Joe Delaney on August 28, 2018 at 8:11 am

    Teilhard de Chardin nailed it when he observed in 1929:-“It sometimes seems to me that there are three weak stones sitting dangerously in the foundations of the modern Church:
    First a government that excludes democracy;
    Second, a priesthood that excludes and minimises women;
    And third, a revelation that excludes prophecy.”
    Extract from Ursula King Christ in all Things Revised Edition (Orbis Books Maryknoll 2016) p 196

  7. Susan Bridgforth on August 28, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Simply Brilliant.
    Simply Poignant.
    Simply the Best Solution.

  8. Joan Tarbell Plato on August 28, 2018 at 9:37 am

    These are amazing, well researched writings! Thank you! In summary I believe true religion and true science are both awesome and God created, and can and must be intertwined to optimize and support our true “humanness” and our environments’ preservation.

  9. Alan Sage on August 28, 2018 at 11:24 am

    A very apt comment on our present situations . The church is securely locked into an essentialist mind set which underlies every aspect of its life and organisation- hierarchy, sacraments and morality/spirituality. Aligned to this is the concept of tradition which is used as the basis for intractability in theological thinking and church practice which thus precludes changes in sacramental and pastoral practice including closure of priesthood to women and married men . What is needed is a new vision which embraces an evolutionary world view context and an openness to a more integrative and developmental/dynamic ecclesial model together with a willingness to let the Spirit guide us towards a new future, especially on the part of those with leadership positions in the church. Despite Teilhard’s theological vision offering the starting point for such a new vision , he has been sidelined as a (scientific) outsider , largely by those who have either never read his works or were unable to step out of the constraints of a moribund Aristotelian Thomist theology. Despite belonging to a different world to our own, Teilhard still has much to offer and we must bring his insights to bear on our present situation. Alan Sage. ( A Welshman living in Scotland and long term advocate of the Frenchman’s vision, but with a hopefully universalist aspiration !!)

  10. Oliver Oviedo on August 28, 2018 at 11:56 am

    Thank you for the article, you do a good job of clarifying the issue and citing supporting literature to make your excellent points. That being said, I believe that the raw materials to address this problem have always existed in our orthodox Catholic spiritual tradition, and that if we can see this clearly, we can open the door to new perspectives which can enable an evolution of consciousness – no schism required. From my vantage point, the theological problem is possibly a simple one, with a solution informed by the two great commandments: a) love God with all your being, and b) love your neighbor as yourself.

    1. Love God with all your being – for this statement to be meaningful or relevant, a person must have both a concept of God, and a concept of being, or of self. Modern science is enriching our sense of self and of being, and this includes updating ancient notions of gender differences and illuminating various biological and cognitive phenomena. Science also is enriching our understanding of the cosmos, and illuminating many aspects previously unknown, with each new vantage point presenting an expanding vista of mystery and wonder for the open-minded observer. The point being that if we accept God as the creator of the cosmos, both the visible and invisible, and if we accept that science is essentially an endeavor to measure and analyze the visible (in terms of perceivable phenomenon), we quickly realize that a growth in theological understanding must always correspond to a growth in scientific understanding, as each new foray into the unknown increases the overall surface area of our contact with the unknown. The two human efforts (science and theology) either evolve together, or atrophy and become meaningless together. As our concept of God expands and evolves, so does our concept of being, or self, and so does the meaning of the first great commandment. The question of whether an ontology of being-hood should discern based upon gender, race, sexual identity, politics, etc. etc, is a remnant of toxic tribal group-think and represents a force of entropy rather than of evolution. The nature of life is to evolve.

    1.5 – Definition of God, & of Love – The gospel of John suggests that the best way for humans to understand what God is, is to believe that God is love. The five-year-old inside me would then ask, “well then, what is love?” One definition that I have found works for me is this: love is the sincere wish an entity has toward a perceived phenomena such that they desire to continue experiencing that phenomena in present and future moments, so as to affect a continued and shared existence. This desire informs and entity’s behavior in such a way that the continued existence and well being of the loved phenomena is a goal actively worked toward. When viewed from this perspective, we can see God as love in terms of a omniscient and omnipresent divine will inspiring behaviors and driving events that preserve humanity and guide us to evolve into the best possible future. By the Grace of God was the solar system formed, the earth shaped, and life arose from the primordial ooze and evolved so that you could sit here and not only read, but understand this text. What could the force guiding these occurrences be if not a pure motivation to see you (and your ancestors, neighbors, fellow non-human life forms, etc., etc.) through to your highest potential? What is love if not this? Using this definition, we can translate the first commandment as follows: with all your being strive to preserve, promote and experience that which preserves, promotes and experiences the entire cosmos, this should be the priority of your existence as a being or self. The curious thing about this perspective is that it bears a striking resemblance to, or is composed of, the second commandment:

    2. Love your Neighbor as Yourself – This commandment is deceptively simple, but has some very deep implications if you take a moment to consider it seriously. For starters, how can you love your neighbor if you hate yourself? Self love is prerequisite for loving any other entity. And I don’t mean the “Anton LaVey/Ayn Rand solipsistic, id run wild” sort of pridefully exclusive self love, but healthy self love as an aware and compassionate entity within an aware and compassionate cosmos. There is no act of loathing or hatred that doesn’t carry with it a degree of self-loathing or self-hatred, and I fear that these sorts of conditions are a part of any mental, emotional, or spiritual pathology – including that of abusers, sexual offenders, sociopaths, and misanthropic egoists in general. The next thing to consider is the radical nature of how this statement challenges what we think of as self, so as to confront our tendency to “other” our neighbors, to form tribes and groups, and to fracture the cosmic unity with our misguided need to create artificial belonging in a universe to which we **already belong**. If we truly believe that this commandment is an expression of some eternal and spiritual truth, it is easy to see how it turns the entire concept of hierarchy on its head. This commandment is saying that in our truest sense of self, that is to say our fundamental spiritual essence, each of us is an equal and hierarchy is a lie. In Christ’s eyes, we are equal, therefore any concept of human hierarchy is not only an artifact of human cultural structure, but contradictory to the divine plan and nature of the cosmos. That is to say that if we are to embrace our evolution as a species, our notions of self, other and hierarchy must move away from baboon-like savagery and toward something more sublime, angelic and balanced. It is hard to imagine being a real friend to someone if you sincerely believe they are either better than you or inferior to you – such friendships are usually motivated by some kind of self-interest, which cheapens the relationship. Therefore the very notion of hierarchy should present a degree of cognitive dissonance to anyone who has really integrated what “love your neighbor as yourself” means. Yes, we all have specific functions within society and trying to treat everyone as a vast sea of clones misses the point. We are in a sense integral components of an open system – just as your heart and brain and lungs are components of your body, we are aspects of the Body of Christ. This state of being requires a degree of organization, coordination and cooperation, just as higher complexity eukaryotes require more nuanced orchestration of their genomes compared to prokaryotic organisms. Complexification is axiomatic to evolution, per T. de Chardin, and as a molecular geneticist I tend to agree. But organization, coordination and cooperation do not require any sort of “ontology of being” or privilege of the strong attained by marginalizing the weak. This sort of prioritization tends to affect catabolism via entropy, breaking down complexity, and retarding evolution. How can you say your heart is more important than your brain? Or your lungs more important than your stomach? Wholeness of being, completeness, and the peace of Christ imply the well being of each and every part equally.

  11. Gail W on August 28, 2018 at 11:59 am

    Since hearing the news of the PA report, I have again asked myself, “What in the culture of seminaries and priesthood enables some men to choose to exercise such power as to abuse a person?” Thank you, Ilia, for your clarity in writing of the principles of Being and the Body. Having walked with your writings and your presence for more than five years, I found this blog very helpful in giving me tools for discussion and action. I realize, gratefully, that I have been prepared for this crisis in a way I could not have known. I agree that the letters of my local bishop and the statement of Pope Francis fall far short of a commitment to transform the church which is God’s call to us. I am grateful for your courage, for mentoring me and I continue to pray that your wisdom can spread. I will continue to participate!

  12. Benjamin Hoch on August 28, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    Thank you, Ilia, for succinctly and firmly putting into words what more and more are awakening to in their hearts. We are evolving forward despite how hard we might cling to current and past structures. Jesus, the Christ, revealed fundamental principles of reality (as others in other traditions have as well). In a somewhat analogous fashion, science, particularly over the last 100 years, has revealed fundamental aspects of reality that surpass historial scientific knowledge and even scientists’ own ability to comprehend what they study. Both the revelation of Christ in Jesus and the revelations of science have not been integrated into how we live. Our current structures of reality need to be broken (and they are breaking) and pass away before new structures and new life can emerge. We see this happening in the realms of thought and spirituality (as evidenced by the Omega Center) and in transformation of individuals as part of the leading edge of evolution, transformation of socio-economic structures and cultural dynamics will take time. At least for now, we must prepare the foundation for what is to come. It is also worth noting that the institutional structure of science is prone to similar structural flaws as the institutional church reflecting the same level of consciousness (examples include scientism and the desire for power and control/patriarchy dominating over true scientific inquiry). Peace.

  13. Thomas T on August 28, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Sr. Ilia, thank you for this welcome abrasive and honest challenge which, for me, cuts to the core of the current climate of not only the “church,” but indeed the world environment. The idea of “substance abuse” in the church that most recently has been horrifically disclosed in the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church strikes me as a hauntingly truthful diagnosis of where we find ourselves right now. My time in a seminary did not result in personal sexual abuse; however, I do know that others did suffer from this. Notwithstanding, the closed environment/system of the formation wreaked if nothing else emotional havoc among all of the seminarians, whether or not they went on to become ordained or left the seminary as I did. That experience itself is part of the bigger picture that you are describing here and I so agree that the rigid historical philosophical underpinnings of the academic and theological stances within the church has not only failed and indeed violently harmed all, it is at this time entirely unworkable. My hope is, as you have clearly described, we will “attract a new reality” by embracing an open system of evolutionary personhood and the undeniable dignity of relationship between religion and science.

  14. Martha Hicks Pofit on August 28, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Radical Reform
    -parishioners take back your parish
    – Invest in women religious and turn the hierarchy on its head
    Quick !

  15. Alice MacDonald on August 28, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    When the sex abuse crisis first broke almost 20 yrs. ago Richard McBrien, in an interview on 60 Minutes said that the sex abuse crisis isn’t about a few bad apples spoiling the barrel, but rather the barrel itself is contaminated. Thank you Ilia for not reducing this crisis to a “few bad apples” as so many would do and for exposing the “contaminants” that have been threads running through our Catholic Christian tradition. While a few might be guilty we are all responsible to addressing this crisis through educating ourselves, taking a critical look at our history, speaking out in a compassionate and courageous way, and working towards new structures that will reflect the sacred nature of all matter. I wish the Pope would read this response of yours and gather all the Bishops to discuss it along with lay leaders. That would be a step towards accountability.

  16. James Anderson Murphy on August 28, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Thank you for writing this “cri de coeur.” We must move beyond faith IN Jesus to the faith OF Jesus. In the words of Gandhi, we must be the change we wish to see in the Church. If we don’t do it, it won’t happen.

  17. Donal on August 28, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Perhaps we need a simpler church. Without the hierarchy, where we employ or
    God given gifts to truly discern the needs of community and apply them without politics, without selfishness. Where the community finds a priest. If God goes before us, do we need the the old structures. Perhaps society and human knowledge have evolved. The real issue is that these scandals have taken away people’s beliefs, people’s faith and left people under doubt and uncertainty.There is an urgent need to distinguish between the failings and God. God will never stop trying to bring us to Him.
    Perhaps we are like those that stood at the foot of the cross, I wonder did any of them know what was to happen, what Christ had done, had achieved, what Christ would do for humanity… for without him would we be where we are 2,000 years later…
    Have we developed the capability to ..

  18. Lynne Tolk on August 28, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Wonderful post! I honor your integrity and courage. I am not Catholic, but I struggle with my own fears around “authority” as a woman in a man’s world (even as I see so many men being wounded by this system as well). The archaic structure in the Roman church is, indeed, the same structure in our culture at large. When I see glimpses of what could be possible, I want to cry over the unnecessary pain and damage we cause each other! The realization that Jesus emphatically does not support this unholy mindset made it possible for me to return and recommit to the Christian path. I am working to develop a class for my church (Episcopal) on “What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st Century?” I have the blessing of our new Canon, waiting for the Dean to return from sabbatical to get his response.

    Grateful to have found you!

  19. Mary Ann Yeats AM on August 28, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you Ilia Delio. This is the only response to the child sex abuse by Catholic Bishops and Priests that makes any real sense. Your understanding and ability to share your thinking is your greatest gift. I am a 77 year old retired Judge in Australia. My learning about child sex abuse came through the prosecution of child sex offenders over many years beginning in the early ’90’s. As a prosecutor the first step was to persuade jurors to believe the testimony of young children. At first people simply didn’t believe such things could have happened. Later, that changed. As a judge for 18 years, my duty was to ensure the accused had a fair trial for crimes that the community began to accept really did happen – crimes that were so abhorrent that juries might too readily be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of guilt. Australia held a Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sex abuse. The worst institution by far was the Catholic Church although the Anglican Church as well as numerous groups such as the Boy Scouts also failed to protect children under their control.

    I totally accept your well reasoned position that the male hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church needs to change if the Church is to emerge from this with any credibility. Thank you for your inspiring work. May God bless you.

  20. Kathleen O'Connell Sauline on August 29, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Dear Ilia:
    I am grateful for your hopefulness and honesty. I have shared this with some priests whom I respect deeply. I will share it with the inclusive Catholic Community in Cleveland (St. Bridget) and my daughters as well.
    Keep moving forward,

  21. Cindy on August 29, 2018 at 1:12 pm

    “But our faith must remain unshaken. Christ is risen from the dead; the final word is not death but Life. We will rise from these ashes but we cannot stand still nor can we turn back. Our hands are now put to the plow and we must forge a new path ahead.”

    True, but Faith is not intrinsically tied to the church as so many of us have been indoctrinated to believe. This introjected belief that the Catholic Church is the be all end all is, in this moment, being soundly rejected the world over. From inside by moral implosion and from outside by an awakened understanding of who we are and who God is and what we both desire from our relationship.

    It is too early to tell, imho, whether or not God desires the church to continue in a reconstituted form that is inclusive of women and open to scientific Truth, which cannot be in conflict with religious Truth because Truth is Truth. The Holy Spirit may have something entirely different in mind; something the world has yet to anticipate or even imagine.

    What if the future we are being invited into requires those still clinging to the life raft that is their religion, their tribal home, to let go into a new way of being “church?” One rooted in orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. Orthopraxy requires no complex structure, dogmas or creeds. It requires “only” our willingness to clarify our perceptual lens that we might increase our ability to see clearly so that we may respond accurately to what is before us. This is the Love that will transform the world.

  22. Sara Harris on August 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    I think this piece is spot on, brilliant, evocative, and actually exciting. Ilia, you name so much I feel and have not had the wonderful articulation for!!! Thank you, profoundly and deeply!!

  23. kevin lynch on August 29, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    Thank you so much, Sr. Ilia, for your customary, insightful summary of the necessary shifts we must make in our faith community. You help to clarify so much.
    Love and prayers,
    Kevin Lynch, O.F.M.

  24. James H Brown on August 29, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    I find much to agree with in your post but would like to point out your point of view is almost entirely from the philosophical / scientific perspective and has little if any of the Biblical perspective in it. God has been shaping a broken church back to the days of Abraham; we need to keep this in mind when we consider the horrific scandal of abuse and worse, hiding it. As a theologian you need to present the entire picture.

  25. Louise Fitzgerald on August 30, 2018 at 3:25 am

    Sr. Ilia. Brilliant and beautiful in its simplicity. Jesus was challenging the “priests” of His time on earth constantly. The hierarchy is absurdly outdated to our evolutionary experience as human beings. If jesus said it once, He said it a thousand times, “man’s ways are NOT God’s way.” The early followers didn’t get it then in many respects and still don’t get it now. I was particularly moved by your sound thought process and appreciated your not pointing fingers at anyone but rather addressing the need to restructure what it means to be a follower of Christ. His message was clear and consistent: God is love. Mercy, understanding and compassionate. Jesus spent His time with the so- called outcasts of society. The Roman church has turned that notion on its head. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit and move forward at the Spirit’s promptings

  26. Sheila Power Lynch on August 30, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for your article. It is wonderful to read and understand what you shared. As a woman I am aware of the churches exclusion of women. Your article gives me hope for the future. Women are here, being educated, taking up positions within the church having nurturing discussions and growing in awareness. We are working within the church and ready to go forward. Let us continue this journey together.

  27. Sophie Mervoyer on August 30, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    “Structure concerns relationships.” “The rock-solid Church”. Haven’t we again, forgotten who the real “rock” is? I sometimes imagine what the world would look like without the Vatican as we know it today. The relationship between God and his Church surely wouldn’t disappear from the world. It would just be different.
    I like the notion of open-source. The Trinity God being the source, accessible to all. Opening ourselves to new relationships to give space to the Spirit to transform us through them. Too often it seems, we are stuck in front of the empty tomb of our old relationships. A friend was telling me, the old wine taste so much better than the new wine. The problem is that we can run out of old wine, and if we don’t make new wine as we drink the old one, we simply run out of wine at one point. And to make new wine, we need new relationships!
    You mention chaos. It made me wonder. What kind of chaos? Who really likes chaos? But doesn’t life have this strange sense of humor of bringing chaos to us anyways? Isn’t the chaos just the process of creating empty space by dying to our old relationships and creating/renewing new ones, accepting that the timing of these death/new birth can be different for each one of us, not always triggered/controlled by us, hence creating chaos?
    Becoming and seeing each-other as an open-source of relationships (women as men equally, clergy as lay equally, believers and non believers equaly) … To become open-sourced also means to be more exposed, to take more risks. Exposing ourselves to sometimes being pigeonholed sometimes pigeonholing others, to sometimes being first, sometimes last. But if we are convinced that we are in a process of evolution, discovery, and that we are all never just one relationship, why don’t we do it more?
    A question I had for a long time was: an evolution towards what? It took me a while to understand that it was towards the Devine Love of God and the consciousness of my brokenness (or vice versa)? Does our poverty reside in us denying our own brokenness or denying the Devine Love of God? To break, isn’t it just to open up to our own poverty and therefore putting us back in the hands of God’s love? When the Pope is telling us that he wants a poor church for the poor, isn’t it what he is talking about? And how can we dare open up to our own poverty if we don’t meet and love the poor who have already opened up to it and showing us the way of how to accept, love, and move beyond it? And it seems that if we don’t go meet “the poor”, “the poor” comes to meet us, as we can witness today everywhere in the news headlines!
    Integrating Science and Religion, or opening them up to each other? Again, the question might be, why the need? When Pope Francis talks about Integral Ecology in his encyclical Laudato Si, it seems that he is calling us to this effort of integration. But he is calling us to create a culture of encounter, of transforming actions, and contemplation, a culture of new relationships. Not to become omniscient, which would be a disaster, nor save the world, which only God can do. But simply generating new questions, acting on them, gaining a new perspective in order to move forward beyond the tomb, to the next question that will bring us closer to God.
    I was thinking of the different reactions between the demons and Jesus when confronted with an unexpected encounter. It seems the demons are saying to Jesus “what do you want from me”, where Jesus, maybe after humanly first ignoring/denying the request or taking his time to answer, usually ends up by saying “what can I do for you”, opening himself up to this new relationship, taking the risk of knowing and being known (or miss-known), loving and being loved (or unloved), of giving and receiving, as well as taking the risk of not being able to answer the coming request, therefore humbly putting himself and the relationship in the hands of God. And then, he moves on, towards his next encounter that will reveal to himself and to others, our relationship to a Trinity God.

  28. Lisa Georgiana on August 31, 2018 at 9:42 am

    As I have heard you say before, dear Ilia, “We need new wine skins for the NEW WINE.” Christ Consciousness is the only thing that makes any sense at all to me.

    You hit the nail on the head in your article, when you said, “While the reconciliation of science and religion may seem pedantic and marginal to the abuse crisis, it is perhaps the most fundamental work that lies before the Church and world today. Without bringing science and religion into a new integrative relationship, there is no real basis on which to construct a new philosophical understanding of theological truths or of human personhood. All the apologies in the world and all the position papers carefully written will not make an iota of a difference to the “substance abuse” that marks the Church. Unless fundamental levels of consciousness change, we cannot attract a new reality.”

    My faith is hanging by a thread. Thanks for the boost. The only way to calm the intense anger that I have felt for weeks now, it to see this crisis as “Christ purifying the Church.” So often radical change can only come about from “hitting rock bottom.” Bless you and your work, Ilia.

  29. Oliver Oviedo on August 31, 2018 at 11:37 am

    I write a column in our local parish newsletter, and am seriously considering submitting the following text for publication, but because it is controversial, I would appreciate some feedback before I pull the trigger (

    In Plato’s Republic, Plato considers whether a rational person would be moral if they did not fear being caught and punished for doing injustices. To explore this question, he wrote about a debate between Socrates and Glaucon regarding the legend of the mythical ring of Gyges, which had the power to turn its wearer invisible.

    Glaucon posits that “if there were two such rings, and the moral person put on one and the immoral person the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.”

    According to Glaucon, the actions of the moral would be the same as the immoral in the end, and that people are moral not out of their own free will, but out of necessity. He believed that if someone had the power to become invisible and never did any wrong, onlookers would praise him to his face while believing in their hearts that he was a “most wretched idiot”. Socrates argues that the man who abuses the invisibility has enslaved himself to his appetites, while the man who does not remains rationally in control of himself and is therefore happy.

    Recently, even more news of child abuse at the hands of many Catholic priests suggests that the invisibility granted them by their clerical hierarchy proves Glaucon’s point. Clearly, the abusers have enslaved themselves to their appetites. But haven’t their power-hungry superiors who covered it up done the same? Does this make the faithful Catholic laity and faithful Catholic clergy the most wretched of idiots?

    Faithful Catholics, both laity and clergy who are of such an “iron nature” as to remain moral despite the privilege of their position, should seriously explore these questions: “If the clerical hierarchy hangs onto their rings of Gyges, what becomes of Christ’s Church? What would truly giving them up entail?”

  30. Sr. Anastasia Lindawati, MM on September 1, 2018 at 12:28 am

    Dear Sr. Ilia,
    Thank you very much for your whole thought. I shared it with several English, Indonesian amd Chinese speaking priests and sisters. I think we need third Vatican Council to make it happens.

  31. Thomas Becker on September 1, 2018 at 2:59 am

    The Church is a closed system. Rules, fixed order, dogmatic formulas, unyielding laws, patriarchy, authority, and obedience under pain of judgment and death, all have rendered the Church impervious to evolution and to the radical interconnectivity that marks all levels of nature. A closed institutional system in an evolutionary world is bound to die out unless new energy can be put into the system, or the system itself undergoes radical transformation to an open system
    Thank you for this thought provoking piece. After several readings and sorting though the comments I am aware that in many ways I am a closed system as well. It is becoming more and more obvious that many of the beliefs about God and the church that I was raised with are crumbling away under the weight of their rigidity. Change is continuing, new growth comes forth and to cling to what was will only bring decay.

  32. noelle on September 1, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    De Chardin was a prophet before his time when he wrote, spoke and was banned. His words are still beyond the awareness of most people, certainly beyond many Catholics who continue to believe they embody to “truest” expression of Christ. Matthew Fox is only one other who grasped the presence of Christ and god in Creation – and was banned. Women who have felt called, have had to go elsewhere. Prophets speaking of natural structures, have had to go elsewhere. Perhaps open up to the protestant world where structures are already different, where women are ordained, where congregations seek and find their own leaders, etc, is also part of this opportunity. Being broken is an opportunity for change, an opportunity to do things differently, to accept the other truths are also true, to go beyond oneself. It is more than new theologies that are needed — but yes, new ways of doing things based on how christ and god can be observed in all of creation. This means more changes than have been yet stated: ecumenism to the extreme; women ordained; lgbtq accepted fully and theologically as unique being of creation; eucharistic awareness being of the people gathered and sharing, and not the host alone; hierarchy disbanded and communal equality embraced; and more. In difference to what someone said above, going nature-based (which includes the sciences) is EXTREMELY biblical. The Bible begins with the story of Creation. John’s prologue is a story of creation — wherein all things of god can be understood by looking to creation – that is the promise we can believe in. Without that view, the church is, in fact, a closed system. And NOTHING of creation is a closed system. If it remains a closed system, it will completely fail, having denied Creation as the ultimate model. De Chardin’s grasp of natural evolution as part of Creation, is needed, yes.

  33. Patricia Knutson on September 2, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    The demise of the institutional church is truly “catholic.” I watch the protestant denomination in which I was raised ending as we speak. And it must end. Founder John Wesley taught us to live by 3 simple rules: Do no harm. Do all the good you can. And stay in love with God (practice!) The denomination has fallen into the individualistic, moralistic, misogynistic, capitalistic (we could go on here) mindset.
    Thank you Sister Ilia for your beautiful prophetic call. May we all have the courage to love God and not fall into despair.

  34. Eben on September 2, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    Excellent diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis, Dr. Delio. Amen. We must realize that other Christian denominations share some of the same fundamental philosophical and theological flaws that you point to in the Roman Church, even if not all of the associated structural issues. If we share in the fundamental flaws, may we also share in their recognition, removal, and the rebuilding through the movement of the Spirit.

  35. John Siyumbu on September 2, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    “The Ontology of Being, that is, the notion that the priest is on a higher level of being and thus closer to God. This misguided notion stems from the way hierarchy developed in the Church.”

    I’m grateful to have received a link to this article from a friend. As a Catholic, the analysis herein is immensely helpful to me as I consider the abuse of innocents by priests and the associated sytematic aiding and abetting this is being uncovered. I consider how my faith in the Church structure, not in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, is challenged. This is why I wonder how a reinterpretation of the philosophical principle of the Ontology of Being vis-à-vis the sacrament of Holy Orders would be transformed while remaining faithful to the interpretation of another sacrament – Baptism. I’m probably betraying a mechanistic mindset that Sr. Ilia associates with the closed system of the Church. However, I fail to see how a wholesome dismissal of the philosophical principle of the Ontology of Being would contribute to a transformed understanding of how beings are related seeing that relationality is what is at the core of the approaching new life in the Church.

  36. Dominic Deus on September 2, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Dear Ilia Delio,

    Brilliant! I’ve never read you before but I am astonished. This is the single best brief discussion of the inter-relationship between mechanistic thought, Newton and the Church, quantum physics and ontological change ( I prefer the term “transformational”) I have ever read. That plus you include Aquinas whom I love but do not regard as infallible and Aristotle, to whom I would give more credit than you do because he was working with less material than you and I have available to us.

    Your response to the never ending denunciation of women is refreshingly different but similar enough to mine that, of course, I like it. (Just a little nerd humor there. If I didn’t already believe much the same as you do, I’m sure you would have moved my concordance needle in your direction!)

    Your concerns about patriarchy-centric reasoning across centuries seem to me well placed. I am confused about your reference to a Christ-centric faith going forward. Are you for it or against it, both or neither? Personally, I think if we are going to have a Trinity, making better use of the Holy Spirit is more cosmologically, ontologically, spiritually intriguing especially since the Christian creation story seems to have started with a very young woman making the choice to accept a transformational union of flesh and spirit in a way only a woman could.

    Finally, as metaphysicians go, you are remarkably understandable.

    Thank you,

    Dominic Deus

  37. Michelle Murray on September 3, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Dear Ilia,

    Thomas Berry’s idea of church as “bioregional communities,” gives me such hope. Can we expand our understanding of church? And so the changes should begin with us since the institutional church is stuck in medieval structures and beliefs. Are we realizing the immersion in the larger life community that we live daily? Do we recognize the voices of the larger life community? Are most people on this planet able to give themselves their own identity in space and time? How can we do so without the voices of the larger life community?

    Men and women are both part of the human community within the larger life community, yet we mainly hear about male images, male voices, male rituals, and male language. Is it possible to be fully human or fully whole without these voices? There is a need for new cultural coding which engages not only female images and voices but also the larger life community and this has implications for our collective ministries. Liturgy should give expression to what we currently understand about God and our relationship to the larger life community. When reflecting upon “The Universe Story” by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, can we give expression to liturgy in its cosmic dimension as each speak eloquently to the larger life relationships by connecting to all of creation? Can we create rituals in our homes that honors the water such as our rivers and oceans as sacraments which nourishes and sustains all of us, and we respond with thanks as praise. I can honor the honey bees as sacraments as bees pollinate, which create flowers and food which sustain and nourish all of us. I can help my children expand their understanding of sacraments and incorporate them in our lives where we are able. As families, we could create rituals like these for all ages and stages of life such as when people mature in age, we can celebrate their sacredness as wisdom leaders giving them thanks and praise and by doing so, this would help young people and our culture value the elderly as a vital part of creation. From time to time, we can add animals, or plants or other parts of creation, such as summer or winter solstice celebrations.

    Can we transform the language of the song “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will” to include the rest of creation in our formal liturgy using the song “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, as an example? It certainly makes a nice connection to the larger life community and how the universe is so diverse and inclusive.

    When we break bread in our homes, we can give thanks and praise for the earth which brought forth the food which we are about to receive. We can also give thanks for the elements of oxygen, hydrogen, tungsten, gold, etc. and remind our families that we are participating in the “Great Liturgy” along with the rest of creation.

    Accessing art, music and poetry and incorporating them into our daily lives can help to expand and make connections to the rest of creation, as one sacred community (artists like Mary Southard and Brother Micky McGrath, poets like, Annie Dillard and John O’Donohue, nature writers like John Muir, Leopold, and Thoreau). Since we are symbol making people, meaning making people, using artist Mary Southard’s “One Sacred Community,” we can make connections to the larger Body of Christ which includes all of creation pointing out the whole of the universe is holy ground. And then finish by giving thanks for all of creation.

    Since we are all in relationship with the divine, no more do we need to worry about being better that someone else, more or less sinful, but that all people, animals, plants, water, earth, galaxies, everything in creation participates in God’s goodness and we are to trust and allow this to happen.

    I find myself looking for ways to attend to my own relationship with the rest of the natural world. A friend gave me a copy of Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim: A Personal Manual for Prayer and Ritual by Edward Hays. I find that and the Thanksgiving Address Greetings to the Natural World both so helpful in both prayers and practices which I have incorporated into my life. I find that honoring the Summer Solstice Celebration is a great way to set myself within the larger universe! I also created a new litany of life which incorporated the larger life community. We can take our time and understand the “Universe Story,” set up practices, rituals, prayers which set us within the larger life community.

    Since we are caught between stories, as Thomas Berry states, it is no surprise to me that we are struggling on an institutional level. Can we become full human persons in our churches today that are teaching and celebrating the old story? I find myself looking for an Intentional Eucharistic Community but none exists near me so I find more inclusive prayers, look for more inclusive songs, and spend more time outdoors celebrating with “all beings” not just humans.

  38. Ilia Delio on September 3, 2018 at 9:51 am

    There is so much I want to say to each of your responses. I completely agree with Dominic on the role of Spirit – divine energy permeating creative evolution. For me the best way to respond to each of you is to keep writing the blogs so I can pull a number of ideas together. Let us live in hope for hope reaches out to the incomprehensible One (the God who can never be grasped and manipulated by power), the dawning light, the ever newness of Love that is God.

  39. Judith C on September 3, 2018 at 11:26 am

    The “institutionalized” church stood to loose a lot and so it did. What now? Ilia is on the mark saying that each of us must “ignite dynamic exchanges and conversations” . . . partnering, collaborating and networking with a diversity of persons to bring about new local churches and a global church in the model of “the itinerant one.” Teilhard de Chardin and other mystics called us to awaken and realize that we are co-creators of the world and the universe in an evolving reality. It is our time to be the evolutionary agents of love in the Great Work of “making all things new.” If not us, who?

    Judith Cauley, CSJ

  40. Karl on September 3, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Two contexts may be helpful: 1) Pope John Paul II harbored Cardinal Law in Rome and supported sex abusing priest and founder of Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, So abuse and cover-up go to the Papal level. 2) Church crimes reach far beyond sex as documented by the apologies of the last 3 Popes. John Paul II issued some 100 apologies. Among them: abuse of women as a gender, collusion with Nazis, sack of Constantinople, African slave trade, violation of ethnic groups.
    The abuse of power goes back to at least Constantine when Church buildings and power came to the fore. Unlike the simple home church of the early church: “From that time on, this disciple took her into his HOME.” John 19:27.
    Edwina Gateley says “God, indeed, is doing something new.” Short of God’s love and power, I don’t think anything new will happen. But that is enough. Edwina Gateley is also correct that “Those who have been most oppressed and excluded – women- will feature prominently in the new structure which will emerge from the Spirit of God.”
    Thank you, Ilia for your superb article.

  41. Joan on September 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    These comments strike a familiar note. So much truth. However, I am moved to tell a bit about my own experience. As a small child.
    I was sexually abused by two different (not priests) males. Not until I was in my thirties, at which time I suffered
    a psychotic break. followed by six more hospitalizations, did I realize how my physical and mental health was affected. I underwent
    a lot of pain due to hyper-hormones for years. When they finally did the third abdominal surgery, they said I would never have had children. The endometriosis tissue waseverywhere. I have long since forgiven these two men;but, I will never forget the guilt I felt as a teenager.
    These few thoughts are on a different level; however, please keep in mind, those who abuse, were probably abused….let us not look for a pound of flesh. Even as we try to reform, remake, the Church let us be compassionate as Jesus is loving. Part of love is helping
    one to accept responsibility for their Sister Joan

  42. Jock Bliss on September 3, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Very thoughtful and thought provoking. Also produced many thoughtful “responses”. But God is probably a term for Cosmic Consciousness. As quantum mechanics has made clear, Consciousness precedes EVERYTHING.

  43. Robert C on September 3, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    I think Sr. Ilia’s analysis of the current scandal is spot on. She recognizes that our current understanding of the church is based on an outdated philosophical foundation, and that the Church needs to utilize insights from current developments in science, namely evolution and quantum mechanics, in our theology. It seems the Church has invested so much in its Aristotelian & Thomisitc metaphysics that it would be extremely hard for it to shift to a scientific mindset. Before the Scientific Revolution, this type of metaphysics had its function in helping people make sense of the world, but now with our insights from Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, etc, we know more than ever about how the world works. Yet, we have not used this information in relation to our revealed faith, and we still speak of “transsubstantiation” as if this term has any relevance to anyone. Imagine if we could speak of the sacraments using what we know about science? I think it would be so much more relevant to people today, and this perceived antipathy between science and religion that exists would disappear. The challenge would be to find people who understand DEEPLY both the science and our Christian tradition. Having only a superficial knowledge of science would lead people to conclusions which are not really congruent with science at all, and to project onto science their own particular biases or theological bents. Even Teilhard de Chardin, with all his remarkable insights, allowed himself to become so entrenched in his own theories that he supported eugenic practices. We need to create places where committed scientists and theologians can find new ways of articulating our faith so that our Church can be the dynamic reality it was intended to be.

  44. Fr.Donald Conroy on September 4, 2018 at 9:27 am

    This extremely thoughtful and inspired piece of theological and spiritual reflection is both timely and farsighted. At the National Institute for the Family and in national & international pastoral ministry I have seen the need for this refocusing of the Church’s true mission and the New Evangelization. This is now apparent in the deeper and more subtle messages of Pope Francis, who is now under attacked by narrow and uninformed minds. But don’t be discouraged. Indeed, what Sr/Dr Ilia Delio has put into words here has been in development since the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council and in the writings of Durwell’s work on the Resurrection, Karl Rahner’s insights in Christian anthropology, the breakthrough writings of Teilhard de Chardin and hinted at by Thomas Berry and some ecological thinkers. The Future of the Planet as well as the Mission of the Church are pivotally intertwined. Let us go forward bravely — led by the Spirit of the Risen & Cosmic Christ..

  45. Joan Fothrrgill on September 4, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Oh my Ilia! Well done!

  46. Oliver Oviedo on September 4, 2018 at 10:58 am

    The recent email that went out had some really good questions:

    * Is the church beyond restoration and what does that mean for you and your community?
    * What can we do to foster healing from the abuses connected to the institution of church?
    * Where can we turn for signs of new life and transformation, and how can we participate in that movement?
    * Where can we find supportive spiritual community and trust-worthy spiritual or religious leaders now?

    I think that to get a grip on these questions, one needs to take a long view of how things might pan out given various courses of action. If the church were to be restored, what would that look like? Is it a question of creating more transparency, re-evaluating the hierarchy and training of the clergy? Allowing women and married men into the clergy? How would implementing these changes resolve things? Who would have both the political will and power to implement the changes? Keep in mind that other denominations (or even the Boy Scouts, etc.) which lack the Catholic clerical hierarchy also suffer from abuse scandals: Child abuse and molestation are crimes of opportunity, and any time you have adults in charge of kids it creates an opportunity for criminal activity.

    On the other hand, if we were to contemplate a schism, what would that look like? Who would lead it, what theological differences would there be? How many different issues might a given schism try to tackle, and is only one schism enough to accommodate everyone’s ideals? And even if one or more schisms result from this scandal, and even if one or more of them retain enough of our apostolic tradition that they might be appealing enough for a fair percentage of Catholics to migrate to them, one would have to imagine that a huge number of people would still remain under the Catholic umbrella. What becomes of them? Doesn’t the need to reform the church remain, even if those who can’t tolerate its brokenness leave it? Consider the iconic schism: Martin Luther and Lutheranism, and reflect on how many of the changes he called for actually got implemented over time in the Catholic church – like translation of the Bible into the lingua franca of the laity, or the end of various forms of corruption. Also bear in mind how many of his reforms the Catholic church rejected – retaining the Sacrament of Marriage and retaining the entire Septuagint as cannon. How is this proposed schism going to play out over the fullness of time? Should the Vatican eventually come around and implement sound reforms (which it must eventually do), will these new schisms have a way of rejoining?

    Honestly, the Bodhisattva in me doesn’t see the sense in abandoning a bunch of people to suffer under a corrupt hierarchy while searching for my own utopian spiritual paradise. I am happy to suffer through the disillusionment, the smeared public image of Catholicism at large, and continue to do whatever I can from within the church to be a voice for change. I believe that abandoning the Church somehow dilutes our voices, as per the notion of Sensus fidelium ( There has to be some middle way, where we refuse to tolerate or accept the corruption of the clerical hierarchy, but at the same time refuse to fragment the Church with yet more splinter groups claiming to the the “one and only true church”. More division and alienation hardly seems the right answer in the long run.

  47. Janet on September 8, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    That’s why we had “Women in Future Priesthood Now: A Call for Action in Detroit, Michigan from November 28-30 in 1975.
    We have not seen many changes since…I’m still waiting and involved in “helping make things new”. Thanks Ilia and all the above
    thoughtful and enlightening comments.

  48. Joe Wurtz on September 8, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    I pray these following comments are offered ultimately out of love. I searched my heart to think if they could be from some self-serving purpose. I understand love as willing the good of another. I know how we all, at one point or another, have confused things of this world with that “good”. I think it would be fair to say the ultimate good is to be in right relationship with God. So, with this in mind, I pray these comments are offered out of true love, love for neighbor, love for the Church, love for truth, love for Jesus Christ. ….

    So, get right to it, I personally find many of the thoughts and opinions expressed in the article to be disturbing. I can barely imagine the pain and tears our Blessed Mother Mary must be experiencing as she witnesses this ideology seep into the minds and hearts of her children. Throughout this article and related ones I read, I hear someone with a radically different view of what history, Scripture, Tradition and the teachings of the Church clearly communicate. Some statements outright contradict what is clearly revealed in Scripture and can be found in historical writings of the early Church. The opinions, at best, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship of Jesus and the Church, at worst, communicate a heretical view of God and his plan of salvation history.

    Beyond that, the writings ooze with something I can’t even recognize. I’m no expert on “alternative religions” but it seems like a heavy dose of “new age” scientology. Maybe Tom Cruz is fan!

    But the thing that disturbs me the most is how the author uses the current crisis in the Church and the plight of the victims as a means to push her own personal agenda that seems to permeate her website and writings. Mary, the true Queen of Heaven, the most perfect creature of all things God has made, the woman who is exalted above all things, is witness to the subjection of the genius, beauty and true value of womanhood to a new ideology with its own lust for power and prestige.

    I pray for Ilia Delio. I pray for the Church and its reform. I pray for our pope, bishops, priests and religious. I pray for myself and my evil ways! – I pray that we all know and cooperate with the will of God. In all things, I pray I seek the truth. My reason, intellect and heart tell me the most trustworthy lens for truth is Scripture, the life and writing of many of the great Saints of the Church, the writings of the Early Church Fathers who sat at the feet of the Apostles, the teachings of the Church and by the grace of God, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Maybe the last 2000 years was just dumb luck and the Church has it all wrong. I don’t think so. The good news is, in the end, God is the final judge, and I at peace with that.

  49. sophia on September 11, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    It’s so refreshing, and empowering, to hear the Truth be told.

  50. John Glynn on September 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    When I was younger I got life from the divergent opinions; thinking there would be eventual agreement. Now I am just interested in peace and realize the Church cannot come to that consensus.
    I have looked for peaceful community elsewhere
    (ELCA). The points raised are valid but do not bring. me passion. God must have a flat head!!

  51. Katherine Bicicchi, Psy.D. on October 1, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    In the light of recent events (Dr. Christine Blasey Ford & Judge Kavanaugh and all that that entails) I am stunned to read this article. I tend to see events holistically, and therefore make some loose associations. So I apologize ahead of time as I try to explain what current events brought to mind, and more importantly to gut and soul; and how deeply I believe we have all been traumatized by the process of trying to grow the fullness of our individual humanities in the post WWII era (I am an early boomer). I come from deeply Catholic, conservative, traditional parents who had no intentions of producing a professional woman. My upbringing in totally Catholic education did little to foster that inclination that dwelled within me, which was to be a professional psychologist. The world I grew up in included some abuse and also strong missives to stay in my place as a good Catholic woman. My bro, as a victim of priest abuse, told my parents, who did not believe him. I had two priests do things to me, which were minor by comparison to others and yet they damaged and traumatized me. So, what does this have to do with this article? Because of my experiences, I am acutely aware of the truth of Ilia Delio’s statements. I grew up in a church and a world which most definitely attempted to disengage young women from their sexuality and their bodies. I was taught that the hierarchy (including the sisters, actually) were holier than married people, who by the way, were required to perform sexually to produce little Catholics. Leaping forward, as a woman who, in spite of such obstacles, has always been enthralled by modern science, I was fascinated with modern physics. And Dr. Delio is correct. I didn’t ever hear about it in church or catholic school. The scientific world of my girlhood did stop with Newton, mechanics, predicability, and immutable laws. Newton’s world and the church were indeed closed systems. And yet, there were wonderful scientists and theorists to convey to sequestered Catholics that creation is much more vast and mysterious than once imagined, and that absolutes couldn’t possibly contain reality. However, because the net reality of the Church’s resistance to embracing the good news of science has been, as Dr. Delio described, a deterrent to true knowledge of the immensity of a God that gave us the wonders of ongoing creation. As the author implies, resistance has led the Church and her people into the dark side of power and dogmatism rather than fulfilling it’s mission to rejoice and be fulfilled in the process of creation. This leads me to express my fear that such deeply entrenched systems are not easily moved into different spaces. The study of persuasion, or opinion change, indicate that this is not easily accomplished. Considering that Aquinas’s closed system built on absolutes and the Newtonian system’s mental habits of absolutism that has so influenced our world, it is highly possible that the church, as well as our body politic and corporate systems will need quite a jolt to reach the level of consciousness that Dr. Delio suggests is necessary for change. I trust that “Evolution is a general condition”, as Teilhard de Chardin wrote, is the fundamental fact of life. This is where faith, trust and love must sustain. Saw some physicists (on Nova, I believe) propose that big bangs might possibly continue for all eternity, which is hopeful to me. After all, if our universe implodes into nothingness, what is left? Where is God? Wow, within this possibility we are all creating together forever. Awesome! However, living through this phase of evolution, it seems that this process is not for the feint of heart. Hopefully, our consciousness will emerge with less of a struggle than we seem to be having now. But honestly, this seems to be a fearful process. In the meanwhile, Dr. Delio, President Barach Obama asked (at Senator McCain’s funeral) what can I (we) do today?

  52. Mary Pat J on October 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm

    So invigorating and encouraging. Decreases sense of loneliness.

  53. PAULA S on January 11, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Ritiro Omega Discussion Group Death in the Church: Is New Life Ahead? And Posted Comments By Sr. Paula Scraba, OSF and the Allegany Franciscan Sisters from the Ritiro
    The Ritiro Omega Discussion Group met in December, 2018 to reflect on the blog by Sr. Ilia Delio from August 28, 2018 Death in the Church: Is New Life Ahead, and Posted Comments. The sisters’ in the discussion group found the added comments very enriching to add to the initial blog reflection.
    The focus of the group was on the collective conversation and one of the questions- Where can we turn for signs of new life and transformation, and how can we participate in that movement? Comments are as follow from some of the reflections:
    Thinking of Church of structure transforming vs total New Church. God is going to make something new out of a reforming what is in the darkness now. New light transforming from the present state. Question- Will I be around to see this new transformation? Maybe I don’t need to be here when it happens but witness the openness to transform. There is a spark lit already expressed by how many women are coming forward that have been excluded and oppressed in the past.
    Where is God in all this? As we know many times new light comes out of the chaos. God is steeped in the healing process. Speaking out presently the Church is a closed system and we are experiencing low membership and people leaving. WE ARE CHURCH- and we need to be an open system. WE MUST BE CHURCH – science has opened the door for us to look deeper into the spirit of God and building relationships and women being part of that spirit. It was commented for years how seminarians were in formation totally separate from programs allowing women present in the same classroom. Now formation is in programs where Church allows for the women’s voice to be part of the relationships and the transformation of new life in the Peoples Church. Many times we don’t see our own poverty. How structure has formed our relationships. Being open to see each other in equality as believers and non-believers, clergy and lay, women and men equally contributing…etc
    Question highlighting a blog comment- an evolution toward what? The continued awareness of science and religion and the encyclical Laudato Si calling us to contemplate this new relationships. People have to be willing to move on. Christ Consciousness and the comment in the blog “we need new wine skins for NEW WINE.” Christ purifying the Church and a level of consciousness to change. Maybe it is a question of poverty by choice born into the movement not physical but spiritual poverty? God is calling us for the future into the movement. God needs us to build a renewed Church. We as women need to respond and take responsibility to be responsive. We need to walk in truth and trust in God. It may take generations but we have to allow a Free Will for people to stand by and help save the People’s Church and keep the vision alive.

  54. DR L P PRIOR, OFM on November 21, 2020 at 4:01 am

    Alan, can it be mere coincidence that I’ve come across your name twice in two weeks. I’m delighted you are still in touch with Teilhard. I read all I can of Ilia as she writes with great hope. (An Englishman living in South Africa.)


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