Letter from America
Catholicism’s ongoing clerical abuse scandals have provoked wide reactions, not the least of which has been a push both within the Church and from outside it for tough norms and policies to provide accountability for both the crime and the cover-up.
However, according to a leading member of a high-profile Catholic movement, the more essential change the scandals should provoke is a renewed internal commitment to Christ.
“All the efforts that can be made will not solve the problem if the Faith, that is, the personal and communitarian bond with Christ, is not the centre,” said Alberto Savorana, a member of the Communion and Liberation movement.
“If I love Christ, if I follow Christ, every other desire, every other relationship, acquires its just perspective. Above all, one recognises that they are a sinner and that they cannot save themselves on their own,” he said, adding that recovering from the abuse crisis does not mean simply fighting evil, but doing good.
The renewal the Church is facing has to be more than correcting the wrong that’s been done, but it has to be offering something positive to the world, he said, and pointed to Peter’s denial of Christ as an example.
When Jesus came to Peter after his resurrection, “He doesn’t say, ‘You made a mistake, you betrayed me.’ He says, ‘Peter, do you love me?’” Mr Savorana said, arguing that Peter’s response was an expression of love which recognised his limits but which also allowed God to work in him, turning him into someone who would accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God.
Mr Savorana spoke on a March 15 panel in Denver presenting the English edition of his whopping 1,300-page biography of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, The Life of Luigi Giussani, originally published in Italian in 2013. The panel, which was hosted by the University of Denver, was one stop on a wider US tour presenting the lengthy biography.
Giussani, who lived from 1922-2005, was the founder of a Catholic lay movement called Communion and Liberation, which he established in Milan in the 1950s and which boasts of hundreds of thousands of members throughout the world, with the greatest concentration of members in Italy.
Communion and Liberation is one of the largest “new movements” in the Church. It’s known to be a favourite of retired Pope Benedict XVI, who often met with the community’s members and leadership, and whose household is run by consecrated women who are part of the movement’s Memores Domini association.
Shortly after Pope Francis’s election in 2013, the group got a reputation for being loyal opponents to the new Pontiff, due in large part to the fact that a bishop from the movement, Italian Archbishop Luigi Negri of Ferrara, was quoted in an Italian newspaper in 2015 as saying he wanted Francis dead.
However, Francis also in 2015 held a major audience with the ciellini marking the 10th anniversary of Giussani’s death, and which was attended by thousands of members of the movement from around the world.
Mr Savorana said the election of Pope Francis came as “a great surprise” to the movement, but they were glad to hear the Pontiff on several occasions mention that he is familiar with Giussani’s writings, and that having read Giussani “made him a better man and a better Christian”.
“From Don Giussani we learned that obedience to the Pope is fundamental for living a Catholic experience,” he said, adding that since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, “since the beginning we wanted to follow and to support the steps of Pope Francis”.
Mr Savorana described the relationship between the ciellini and Francis as “very close”, and said the current head of the movement, Spanish Fr Julián Carrón, named as Giussani’s successor in 2005, meets with the Pope periodically when he’s in Rome.
Referring to the 2015 audience held for the movement in Rome, he said the Pope’s speech that day “gave us a programme of returning to the essential, to follow the charism of Don Giussani, which indicates Christ as the centre of life so as to become, as he said, the arms, legs and hands of a Church that goes out to serve the presence of Christ in the world today”.
Noting similarities between Francis and Benedict, Mr Savorana said the centrality of Christ is a key theme in their writings that the movement appreciates, as is Francis’s emphasis on being a “Church that reaches out”.
These things, he said, constitute a return “to the essence of the origin of being Christian”.
Speaking of Giussani’s legacy in the 21st Century, Mr Savorana said that if it had to be boiled down to one phrase, it would be the constant emphasis on man’s humanity and his need to be saved.
“Christ and Christianity become incomprehensible, and therefore useless in living, if man does not take his own humanity into consideration,” Mr Savorana said.
The greatest poverty in Catholicism today, he said, is “not feeling our own humanity, because Christ came and comes to respond to humanity as we are today, full of needs as we were 2,000 years ago”.
Elise Harris is senior correspondent at Cruxnow.com