Werner Jeanrond.    Conference 2016 Transcripts

“Thank you ACTA for having me with you today and allowing me to open with reflections on the Church and where we’re going with Pope Francis.

We’ll start with a few thoughts about our expectations.  What do we expect of God at this point in history?  And what is the role of the Christian Community?  We might expect salvation, forgiveness, justice, heaven.  And what does God expect from us?  How do we think of God?  Is he a monarchical superpower appearing in response to our prayers?  How do we imagine our cooperation with God?

The Catholic Church is witnessing changes.  The old model was that of a perfect society, with other denominations being seen as an aberration.  The perfect society consisted of a hierarchy of the Pope, bishops and priests, supported by religious and laity...  Francis proposes a different model, that of a field hospital, a pilgrim church.  It’s a movement beside other movements.  The ministry of Jesus confirms Gods creative will for the world and emphasises God’s love.  God made himself known in Jesus.  The salvation brought by Jesus is not a departure from the world into another place but accepting God’s promise to make everything new.  So Francis view of a field hospital makes good sense.  


The mystery of God’s love has to make us participate more deeply in our human relationships: love of other, love of creation and love of ourselves.  Christian communities are communities of love and not models of some perfect society.  Theologically, it follows nowhere that those who lead a Christian society ought to be male.  Male celibate clericalism is a result of power games, we shouldn’t blame God.  


The clericalist understanding of the Church reflects the efforts of past generations to build a perfect society in a pyramid, with a male representative of Christ at the top.  In this model, the guarantors of a functioning church are the clergy.  The image of a celibate holy man is an image of power.  This is not to suggest that many priests haven’t been good people, otherwise none of us would be here today.  But the old model is neither theologically necessary nor desirable if the Church is a field hospital which is there to serve a wounded world.


Today, how can the Church reflect Pope Francis’ vision of a field hospital?  I’m going to focus on the local church.  


There’s a book called Great Catholic Parishes by William E Simon which was published a few weeks ago.  It sets out criteria for successful parishes. Though it’s about US parishes, it’s also relevant to us in the UK.  

In 2012 and 2013, Simon and his team studied 244 Catholic parishes to determine what made them exceptional. The study found that all of the parishes shared four foundational practices that led to a profound sense of belonging within their parish communities and a deepening commitment to discipleship:

  • Share leadership by using clergy and lay staff with the best talents and skills to direct the community
  • Foster spiritual maturity and plan for discipleship by offering a variety of formation programs and ministry opportunities to reach parishioners at differing points in their lives
  • Excel on Sundays by dedicating significant time, energy, and money to liturgical celebrations that parishioners and visitors find welcoming
  • Intentionally evangelize by challenging insiders to look outward and providing service programs, social events, global mission opportunities, and pastoral care at key sacramental moments that focus on inviting outsiders to deeper relationship with Christ and the Church.

The book describes how good pastoral leadership differs from the old model of priestly leadership.  Good pastoral leadership always involves lay people.  Lone rangers are no longer the law in parishes. Collaborative, delegated and consultative leadership styles combine to develop the ministerial profile.  The pastor must trust the laity and allow them to get on with it.  The pastor will then have the time and energy to do his own job well.  We need to liberate our priests.   Ordination might be a road to developing new forms of leadership.  Spiritual maturity is to be pursued and resources must be allocated for this.  However, increased participation in church activities does not significantly contribute to an increasing love of God!  The goal of church life is to develop relationships with God and with each other.  It’s not a feeling of tribal belonging, but a sense of Christian community.  A parish can’t only be inward looking, it must relate to other parishes and communities and serve the wider world.  The Eucharist is central but it is not the only transformative experience in parishes.  Mass attendance by itself is no guarantee that the church is moving forward dynamically.  The Sunday experience deepens Christian Vocation:  it needs good planning; it needs a culture of hospitality.  The homily and the music must be properly prepared and delivered.  The experience of good parishes teaches us that:


  1. Welcoming Sunday liturgies require planning.
  2. Catering for children is critical.
  3. An online presence is vital.
  4. Good physical upkeep of the building is essential and buildings must be suitable for their purpose.
  5. Pastors love being present to people and allocate time to prepare the homily.
  6. Music is essential to the worship experience:  time, talent and money has to be allocated to providing music.  

It’s easier to work with what we are used to, with what we know.  But that is the old model and ministerial roles have to be changed.  Parishes suffer when they have unsuitable leaders.  Now we must bring the light, reach out and share what we receive, in order to evangelise.  In the old model there were fire and brimstone sermons and in the experience of ‘Mission’ has left a bitter taste with its ‘Fire and Brimstone’.  What is required is to change attitudes: from being ‘mirror’ people to being ‘window’ people.  Then people move from maintenance to mission, from being content with what they see to inviting others to come and see.  The purpose of evangelisation is to open doors to let others know the Faith has made a difference in our lives, and to tell people to come and see that we’ve something to show.


Pope Francis says that we must be outreach people.  Instead of ‘saving the saved’ we must develop new methods of evangelisation.  New technology has the potential to revitalise the church’s mission, but the Church has been slow to adapt.

There is a crisis, not of Faith but of a particular paradigm.  For example, do we see the church as being where the priests are or as where the people of God are?

We’re living in a transition between a dying, clerical structure, and a new model which is still emerging.  Transition is always difficult.

Francis has declared war on clericalism.  The challenge is to get rid of clericalism while developing new forms of leadership.  God has not ordained our cultural models of being church.  We must free ourselves from such a false guilt-trap.  God has empowered us to become active participants.  We all share in the priesthood of all believers; the ordained and laity share in priesthood and are priest one to another.  

What kind of priesthood is required to promote the Gospel in today’s world?  We laity must be clear about our co-responsibility for our church.  We can’t be passive if we truly love Christ.  The new model of Church can’t emerge if we aren’t actively contributing.  In this time of transition, we’re invited to remain faithful, loving God and our neighbour.  Struggle in the church must be a struggle of ‘Love’, which is more than ‘Like’.  We must never deny others who are also struggling to discern the way forward.  We must engage in open-ended dialogue of what it means to be Church today. Dialogue today is easier and remains necessary.  Not all aware that the old church model is dying.  We must help them to see the light.  This can take many forms.   

So, how strong is our desire to transform the world in love?  Do we take the priesthood of all believers seriously?  Do we share the Popes vision of a pilgrim church fit to reach out?  We don’t believe in the Church but with the Church and in the transformative presence of God in our midst.  



  1. What is your view about the French Worker Priest movement as a way forward?
  2.  Be careful about prescribing one model for everybody. With regard to worker priests, many priests in France were poor and had to work.  St Paul himself earned his own living.  It is sad that Vatican stopped the experiment after its initial success.  Let’s try and experiment with many models.

Q  How should we fight the closure of parishes, we may need smaller communities?

A  There are sometimes reasons to close parishes not because of lack of priests but because the parish is no longer sustainable.  There’s a simple way of protesting. Just keep the parish going.  The Swiss have shown us how to do this.  I’ve met about half of the English bishops and they are all good people.  The bishops are running for cover: let not blame them but help them.  Nevertheless, the old model is failed and bishops now have to prove themselves by their service.

Q  I teach in a school.  Young adults aren’t attracted to the institutional church.  It doesn’t serve their needs.  Social media has become their parish.  Unless the church learns to use social media it won’t have their interest.

A  I agree.  We have to see which spaces God inhabits and meet people there.  The church building is a hub from which to reach out.  The social networking community is another community.  The millennial generation find it hard to go alone to a Eucharist; they prefer to go together.  We are the force for change, let’s get into a service mode and change things.

Q  Should we be going outside the parish, connecting with other Christians?  What specifically Catholic element should we retain?

A  We can’t just fall into the trap of highlighting the success of great parishes.  Start afresh, have more ambition and imagination and do not forget there are others who can guide us.

Q  Newly ordained priests are following the old model of church.  What can be done in seminaries about the training of priests?

A  If people unfit to lead are leading, they have to stop, but we mustn’t hide behind the competence of priests.  We have to take responsibility ourselves, jump into a service mentality and help them.

Q  My Catholic faith is expressed in social action.  People’s perception of church is that we are against things, e.g. loving relationships which don’t conform.  How can we get that back on to a social justice agenda?

A  Good point.  We have to change the whole structure to attend to all sorts of needs.  We should attend to the spiritual needs as well as the material needs.  We have to start afresh to define how we can deal with all the needs we are facing.  The social justice ones are the easiest to get into.  

Q  The central focus of our worship is the Mass.  Is that really the way to develop spiritual maturity?  Can we ever dare to question the centrality of the Mass?  It doesn’t seem to cultivate the spiritual way.

A  There should be a new place for the Mass, a new expectation.  Preparatory work must be taken seriously. There is no excuse for a bad homily.

Q  There should be a time for silence and reflection at Mass, which we don’t get.

A  I agree with you.

Q  Why don’t we change the practice of sending students to seminaries as opposed to universities?

A  I agree that the whole seminary education is questionable.  It’s a monastic model and then the priest lives on his own.  This is a fraud and must be changed: we need properly trained leaders.

Q  During the last 50 years we’ve emphasised the qualities of membership as opposed to discipleship?

A  We must make resources available to develop discipleship and foster faith.  Let’s minister to each other and nurture each other.

Q  The theological education of women is lacking.  The church isn’t listening to the voice of women.  We have to look at other models of church.  Till priests listen to the needs of all people including women, I can’t see people coming back to the church.

A  As I said before, I can’t see any objection to the ordination of women.  But the ordination of women will not solve the problem of clericalism.  We need to make sure were not going from one power game to another.  

Tina Beattie

Firstly, I would encourage everyone to write to Cardinal Nichols about the Heythrop situation.  It is a vital resource for theological education and if we lose it we’ll never get it back.

I want to encourage you by saying that the fact you’re here is significant.  We think we always have to be doing more. We don’t need to do more, don’t think we’re not doing enough.  

I’m going to use the model “see, judge, act, celebrate.”

We see the dynamism of Pope Francis.  How do we judge it, how does that inform our action, how do we celebrate our action?

How do we see the pilgrim Church?   If we think of a spatial model, everything has to be short term.  But Pope Francis offers a temporal model that requires patience and the possibility of failure.  The problem is the Church is often viewed as a woman, or a womb, that never evolves.  If the Church is a mother it is not like this.  A mother adapts.  Francis offers us a journey seeking God.  

What about judging, reading the signs of the times?  I’m going to read W B Yeats’ poem, ‘The second coming’

   Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Reading the Gospels we find that women have a central role.  We find a God born of woman.  Christ chooses Mary as Mother.  Mary and Elizabeth announce the Good News in the Magnificat.  Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection.   She wouldn’t be able to use the homily spot to do this today!   When will the church read the signs of the times?

Where do we find the power to act and change? We cannot talk about power without talking about gender.  Power can be seen in two ways.

Potestas is the institutional power to act, the power of institutions and, till now, has always been in the hands of men.  The Catholic Church is the last to catch up with the message that God turns the concept of potestas upside down.

Potentia is power in a more general sense.  It is a power to change and act.  A visionary power to change things.  It can change things through manipulation and by networking.    

We need both types of power to enable us to achieve things.  Institutions and the authority of law, i.e. potestas, are essential.  

We also need potentia, that charismatic power, which manipulates, frees and sustains.  We’ll never have that kind of power while institutions are built around gender.

The virtues of good mothering are common human and Christian virtues.  St John Paul II said that a woman can only find herself by giving love to others.  But Christians can only find themselves by giving love to others:  we’re all called to be maternal.  

Where do we belong as Church?  We should position ourselves on the edge of the inside.  A window is on the edge: it lets light in.  A mirror in the centre of the room reflects what’s already there, we only see our own reflections.  If men can’t accept that women’s bodies are sacramentally significant there’s nowhere else but the edge.  How do we use that?

Women should be careful of potestas, even as they acquire more institutional power.  Women look after children, and every vulnerable person should be cared for as though they were a child.  Potentia is to see and respond to the suffering of the vulnerable.  Women are in a position to see suffering and to act.  The Church is being repositioned by Francis to be on the margins.  He’s intent on promoting people who will care for those on the margins.   Though certain things are ignored.  For example, the death of millions of women in childbirth is not mentioned in any Catholic document.

Do we celebrate our actions?  We are called to be a people of joy.  Don’t go through life exhausted by the work of the Kingdom.  The Magnificat calls us to live a transformation that’s already happened.  The rich have already been sent away empty.  The poor have been filled with good things.  The powerful have already been overthrown.  

All around us there’s darkness, but there’s always light in the darkness.  Each day in our world, beauty is renewed.  I’ll finish with Ann Carson’s poem called ‘God’s Justice’.

In the beginning there were days set aside for various tasks.
On the day He was to create Justice
God got involved in making a dragonfly

and lost track of time.
It was about two inches long
with turquoise dots all down its back like Lauren Bacall.

God watched it bend its tiny wire elbows
as it set about cleaning the transparent case of its head.
The eye globes mounted on the case

rotated this way and that
as it polished every angle.
Inside the case

which was glassy black like the windows of a downtown bank
God could see the machinery humming
and He watched the hum

travel all the way down turquoise dots to the end of the tail
and breathe off as light.
Its black wings vibrated in and out.



Q  Do you think Pope Francis has been able to appoint enough new cardinals to secure his legacy?

A  Thank God it’s not up to Pope Francis alone to lead the Church into the future!


Q   I’m indignant that we’re talking about ourselves rather than about the world we’re living in.  We need to be more indignant about all the injustices in the world and we should be doing something about them.

A  I’m going to disagree with you.  Every single person here shares and is giving time, effort and money to improve things in the world.  But we’re like a family – sometimes we need to talk about the dynamics of who we are.  We don’t always want to be made to feel guilty because we can’t change the world. Instead we encourage people to act by being more who we are.  


  1.  Do we need to be more confident about ourselves?  
  2.  Nelson Mandela asked: ‘who are you to say that you’re not great’.  We do all need to affirm ourselves and to speak out.  If we can’t speak out under Francis we never will. Not confrontationally.  Amoris Laetitia contains a superb section on dialogue, see paragraph 136 onwards.


Q  Werner referred to leadership.  My parish has had no priest for 10 years now.  Do you think the church has allowed a gendered agenda to dominate?

A  I think women are already leaders in the church.  It’s the denial of a sacramental role that is the issue.   There’s a case for not having an active agenda: you need ‘potentia’ to change the world.  


Q As a woman, I shall take away being on the edge.  I hope the males here aren’t going to feel inferior. Men need education.  An aggressive fight won’t get us anywhere.

  1. I’m glad you said that.  There’s an epidemic of suicide among young men.  It is about education.  Pope Francis says we lack a theology of women.  There’s only a theology of humans.  There’s plenty of theology about women but very little about men.  


  1.  The church argues many things based on ‘Natural Law’.   Can we just throw over the concept of Natural Law?  
  2.  We see natural law as something we can’t break.  That’s not necessarily Thomas Aquinas’ view.  There are ways in which Natural Law is an expression of culture.  It’s a way of interpreting the world that allows us to live as social animals in the cultural context.  It’s can be about how we flourish


  1.  I’m concerned about the clericalisation of leadership.  In our church there are many women and laymen exercising leadership yet there’s a groundswell of pushing for the permanent diaconate for women.  I’m very concerned that it’s another way of boxing women into a clericalised mode.  I think we need a new model of leadership?


A  We need a different model. The church will not be better for ordaining women.  We should be ordaining women for sacramental integrity, not for moral virtue.  I think and pray Pope Francis is being very canny: by opening up the debate about the diaconate you also have to talk about women’s ordination.  


Q  The debate about women’s ordination goes back more than 60 years, Catholic women often had to take on pastoral task when priests were absent, e.g. in the concentration camps.  Now there are many girls who are altar servers.  Being a server was seen as a preliminary step to being a priest.  For girls, what have they got to look to forward to?  Thank you for encouraging us to speak out.

Transcript by John Michael Wilkins

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