Andrea Riccardi, 72, is an academic specializing in religious history. In 1968, he founded the Sant’Egidio community in Italy.
The Catholic Church throughout the world continues to deal, country by county and at various paces, with the sexual abuse crisis.
In France, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) released a shocking report last year that highlighted the systemic nature and extent of sexual abuse committed in the Church since 1950.
This has been a blow to the Church’s credibility, admitted Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Rome-based Sant’Egidio Community and one of Europe’s keenest observers of contemporary Catholicism.
The 72-year-old history professor analyzed the crisis and what comes next in this exclusive interview with La Croix’s Bruno Bouvet and Céline Hoyeau.
La Croix: One year ago, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) revealed the extent of sexual abuse committed in the Church in France since 1950.
How can the Church still be credible in society?
Andrea Riccardi: The credibility of the Church has been questioned several times in contemporary history.
It has been reproached for being on the side of the rich and the employers, far from the poor and the workers; close to Vichy in France and not to the Resistance, silent on the deportation of the Jews… I could go on and on.But there is a deeper crisis of which the sexual abuse crisis is a sad aspect, a global phenomenon that I really felt the night of the Notre Dame fire.It wasn’t just the monument that was burning, but the entire Church.
And it was significant that this happened in Paris and in France, which have been the historical laboratory for an encounter between the Catholic Church and modernity.
Vatican II owes an enormous debt to French Catholicism… and yet it was in France that the Church was burning.
What are the causes of this crisis?
The answer is not simple. But the Church’s illness is not only a Catholic affair. This is a crisis of Christianity, of secular society.
It’s a European phenomenon, marked by different symptoms from one country to another.
In Italy, it’s the disappearance of Christian Democracy; in Spain, the brutal passage from a Catholicism linked to Franco’s authoritarian regime to secularization; in Germany, the sexual abuse scandals, but also the synodal path, which calls into question certain Vatican positions.
I also wonder about the rupture in the transmission of memory. You will tell me that the traditionalists have responded to this, but it is the minority, sectarian response of a small Church nostalgic for a recreated past.
In your recent book, La Chiesa brucia (The Church is burning) you warn against the insignificance of the Church’s thinking. At what point did it lose touch with history?
Father Marie-Dominique Chenu (one of the theological experts of Vatican II, editor’s note) said that there were 86 quotes of the word “history” in the Council, an absolute novelty for ecumenical councils.There was talk of the signs of the times, of politics, of the Third World, of revolution, of conservation. History was everywhere.
Our time, on the contrary, has lost the sense of history. But looking at history gives us the strength to face the future through the complexity of situations.
The lesson of Vatican II, reactivated by Pope Francis, is that we must live in history. This means being able to read it before developing a prophecy, that is, an alternative imagination that our society, so poor in visions, needs.
This vision will come from Scripture and from the action of Christians, in service to the poor, in volunteer work.
John Paul II said that faith that does not become culture is a half-faith. Not an academic culture, but a popular culture, a faith that is thoughtful and free, but also emotional and with imagery.
The notion of crisis runs through your entire book and yet you refuse the rhetoric of decline. Why?
In European culture, people have been talking about the decline of the West for years, and it has become a manner of living or surviving. I think there is a link between the European decline and the crisis of the Church.
Look at the election of Jorge Bergoglio: his witness as a Latin American Catholic was a shock. Ratzinger symbolized the European crisis and the crisis of the Church together, while Bergoglio embodies the energy of a Catholicism that was not tied to Europe.
I do not neglect the years of John Paul II.
It is said that his pontificate was a marathon of a quarter of a century and that with his personality he covered up, basically, the weaknesses of the Church.
Wojtyla was not an illusion. He exercised a charismatic government. To be pope, one must be charismatic.
Ratzinger was not, and he resigned, apparently with good reason.
Francis, on the other hand, was the miracle, the way out of the crisis. In fact, his message is very important, with the centrality of the poor, the end of non-negotiable values, the ecological message, the encyclical Fratelli tutti…But he doesn’t have a magic wand, either. The problems have remained, starting with the drop in vocations and the problem of the priest, which the abuses have brought to light.
Where will the Church find its salvation?
I am not a prophet, but in my opinion, hope is in the prayer of the Church. We must return to Scripture, have the capacity to speak to the men and women of our time, integrate strangers, not be afraid.
The Church of St. Gregory the Great, pope and bishop of Rome, integrated the barbarians by creating a Romano-Barbaric civilization, and today in Italy we are afraid of ten boats carrying desperate people…My conviction for the future is that Christianity has only just begun. History is not over if we discover the deep energies of Christianity.
Concerning the crisis of priests, for example. Can we leave communities without the Eucharist? Shouldn’t we think of another clergy?
We talk about married clergy, but I insist on an adult clergy, married or not: not young people coming out of the seminary, but mature men, with a solid experience of life.
Christianity still has resources for us and our Europe.
With thanks to La Croix where this article first appeared.