Glimpses into the Uniqueness of Recent Popes

This book was released by Abp Filip Neri Ferrao of Goa and former Foreign Minister, Eduardo Falleiro, at the Mandovi Hotel, Panaji, Goa, on 13th November. Rev deSouza is a Redemptorist priest who has held important posts in the Vatican and the Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC). He has specialized in the social teachings of the church, besides working for domestic workers and fisher folk, like his co Redemptorist, the late Rev Thomas Kocherry. It fell to my lot to review the book at its release.

I felt that the title of the book was wrong. This was not a glimpse (something casual and superficial), but a critical analysis of the functioning of the Catholic Church. That is why I also opined that the Popes were only incidental to the book. It was rather, an in depth study of ecclesiology, particularly after the “tectonic changes of Vatican II” as deSouza describes it. A real flaw in the book is its flow, that is more chronological than thematic.

Even in its chronology it often oscillates between past and present; giving the impression that it has been written in bits and pieces over a period of time.

What the book lacks in style it more than makes up in substance. Infact the author even wonders if the present Pope Francis himself is a man of style or substance. How far has his personal acts of living in a two-room guesthouse, or using a small car, had an impact on the Church’s social praxis? He gives some interesting examples.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has sold his palatial bishop’s house, as have the archbishop of Philadelphia and the bishop of Pittsburg. Inspired by Pope Francis the community of Newark objected to an expensive house for its archbishop. All these instances are from the USA; though a German bishop was made to resign after spending 43 million USD on the renovation of his residence. The author quotes Pope Francis saying, “It breaks my heart when I see a priest or nun with the latest model car”.

But this austerity has certainly not percolated down to the Church in India. Rememberthe Rupees Fifty Crore church just built in Edappally, Kerala?

The really interesting part of the book is the author’s suggestion for restructuring the Catholic Church. He observes that a church from “above” is characteristically hierarchical and conservative, as so evident today. On the other hand a church from “below” would be creative and charismatic. However, if left to itself such a church would implode, as has happened to so many sects. He advocates a balance of both, and says that the only movement that actually achieved this was the transition wrought by Nelson Mandela in South Africa. A similar attempt by Mikhail Gorbachev in the erstwhile Soviet Union failed, as it shattered into smithereens.

Another gem of wisdom is his proposed restructuring of the Vatican bureaucracy, or Curia; that is both centralized and stifling. The Vatican should learn from the U.N., he says. Its headquarters are in New York, but it has its offices (departments) spread across the globe. So there is UNESCO in Paris, ILO in Geneva, UNIDO in Vienna, FAO in Rome etc. So we could have the Vatican Congregation for Dialogue in India, for Social Justice in South America etc. Sounds good.

DeSouza says that Pope Paul VI was his favourite pope, because he was the one who really weathered the post Vatican II storm. I would fully agree with the author. Where I beg to differ is when he says that Gaudium et Spes is the most important document of Vatican II. I daresay that Lumen Gentium is more important, especially for the laity, because without that basic change in the Church’s self-understanding, Gaudium et Spes and other Vatican II documents would have been rendered infructuous.

The author concludes by saying that he lived through Vatican II and actually experienced its tectonic change. As he says, “For me Vatican II is not just some distant event … it transformed my life”. In like manner I would recommend this book to readers who love the Church and believe in the radical transformation wrought by Vatican II. It could be a truly transforming experience.

Author: Rev Desmond deSouza Cssr

Publisher:  Media House, New Delhi,

Pages 158, Price Rs 180/-.


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