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Something momentous is happening in our midst. The concerted efforts to oust Pope Francis are deeply tied to the perverted crisis of abuse embedded in ecclesiastical power structures.  While some may spiritually rely on Julian of Norwich’s “all shall be well”, the fact is, all is not well and will not be well unless the Church undergoes a deconstruction of power and authority and a reconstruction along new lines of inclusivity and integrated systems.

Evolution is the term used to describe the way biological life unfolds into new forms and structures over time. It is not a linear process but one of complexification whereby environmental factors, including stress and crisis, play a role in selecting out traits or behaviors that will optimize life. Intrinsic to this process are the forces of resistance, breakdown, devolution, and death. Considering the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the more recent ideological battle between Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Pope Francis, I am led to ask, is schism now necessary for the evolution of the Church?

Bill Dinges who is professor of Religion and Culture at Catholic University, recently wrote an insightful essay on why teens are leaving the church  and the results are sobering.  The millennial generation, he claims, has moved on from institutional religion. “Religious disaffiliation cuts across almost all traditions, although not equally,” Dinges writes. “It occurs among all age cohorts, but more dramatically among younger millennial and Generation Z respondent. Catholic disaffiliation—which currently represents the greatest net loss of any American religious group—mirrors the intergenerational and intragenerational realignment of religious preference and disaffiliation characteristic of the current American religious landscape in general.” Professor Dinges states unequivocally, “studies of religious disaffiliation point unmistakably in the direction of a post-Christian American future.”  Given the present chaotic state of the Roman Catholic Church and the data on the rise of “nones” (those with no institutional affiliation), it is reasonable to suggest that the Catholic Church, at least in North America, will not survive long into the future.

…studies of religious disaffiliation point unmistakably in the direction of a post-Christian American future.

The data on religious disaffiliation and the recent crises in the Catholic Church are intertwined. The battle between Archbishop Viganò and Pope Francis reflects the deep underlying tensions in the Church between what Michael Sean Winters calls the “EWTN Catholics,” those who want to restore the Church to a pristine past and post-Vatican II Catholics who support Pope Francis’s agenda of incarnating the Gospel as a fundamental transformative way of life.  This difference is one of acosmic (world-denying) idealism and historical realism.  The present crisis is not unlike the political battles in the early Church (2nd – 3rd centuries) over Arianism (Jesus was not truly God) and the corresponding disputes over the two natures of Christ, which led to the five-time exile of Saint Athanasius who was repeatedly threatened with death.  It was Athanasius (d. 373 AD) who argued that if Jesus was not truly God, then we are not truly saved; God became human so that we may become like God.

The doctrine of the Incarnation plays out in our current ecclesial battles because at the heart of the abuse crisis and the polarization between conservatives and liberals is the platonizing tendency toward spiritualism, if not outright Arianism. Conservatives want a  Christology based on original sin, suffering, and sacrifice not evolution, novelty, and future. There’s is a theology of human sinfulness, divine transcendent power and acosmic  spirituality. Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit, emphasizes the Incarnation as God becoming human. Rather than positing a sterile patriarchal Father God, Francis emphasizes that God bends low in love to embrace us where we are.  We do not have to attain spiritual perfection to be pleasing to God; rather, God has come to us in all the messiness and chaos of our world.  This is the good news:  God so loved the world that he has become enmeshed with the world in the person of Jesus Christ.  While the conservatives want a changeless Church, a Church that transcends the shifting boundaries of history, Pope Francis wants a Church deeply engaged in evolution.

The Viganò circle of Bishops and believers are included in what is informally referred to as the Church of Pope Benedict, a Church based on medieval theology, static cosmology, and entrenched dogma, even if dogma contradicts modern science.  The Benedict Church holds that orthodoxy or the true teaching of the Church resides in the unbroken apostolic tradition of the Petrine tradition, the men ordained and ontologically changed by the sacrament of Holy Orders. Their restorationist theology is based on an outdated Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophical synthesis and stands in contrast to the theology of Vatican II in which the Church recognizes that change is integral to history and to the working out of salvation in history. Pope Francis represents Vatican II theology which is less focused on orthodoxy and more concerned with orthopraxis, that is, embodying a living faith attentive to the cries of the poor and the earth, and a faith which expresses itself in mercy, compassion, and solidarity.

Where do we stand in this divided Church? 

Do we want a purified Church walled in by unbroken apostolic succession, acosmic-spirituality and patriarchal power, or do we want a Church open to the world and engaged in evolution, where the incarnating presence of God is empowering creative new life?

We cannot confess “One, Holy, Catholic and apostolic faith” and live in the tension of a divided Church.  Rather, we need a reality check.  Since the pontificate of John Paul II and the strained interpretations of Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has been on a downward spiral of ideological and theological division. With the Viganò attack on Pope Francis, we begin to see the light of an inchoate schism; the seams of the church are busting open.  This schism has not reached its full-blown proportions but at the current tempo of dissolution, it will erupt sooner than later.

Welling up between the Viganò  (acosmic) and Pope Francis (historical) churches is the sexual abuse crisis. Perhaps we should like to smooth over this crisis by acknowledging a few bad apples who managed to manipulate the patriarchal power system. But the crisis is much deeper and symptomatic of deep structural dysfunction that, if left unchallenged, will catapult the Roman Catholic Church either into outright schism or historical irrelevancy. The Church is no longer One or Whole.  It is divided, fragmented, and permeated with secrecy, abuse, and unbridled power.   If the Church can be likened to the Titanic, there is a giant hole in the ship and it is starting to sink.   Be assured that all who are standing still will sink as well, if they insist on doing nothing but wait.

Only God can save this wreck from crumbling—but salvation comes by no other way than the cross.  Bonaventure’s profound insight is worth noting:  “There is no other path” he wrote, “than through the burning love of the Crucified” (Soul’s Journey into God, ch. 7). Death is integral to life. This is not meant to be spiritualized or platonized; death is the source of all new life in the cosmos which is why the Christ event recapitulates cosmic life: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,” Jesus said, “it remains just a grain of wheat but if it dies, it will produce an abundant harvest” (Jn 12:24).  Similarly, “if you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matt 10:39).

The Church is grounded in a self-emptying God. Divine love pours itself out unto death for the sake of new life. We have spiritualized this core belief and now we are challenged to act on it.  The God of Jesus Christ is a God of absolute love and radical freedom who is revealed not in the power of separation and exclusion but in the power of darkness, emptiness, and death.  The power of God is shown in the powerlessness of the cross.  It is this incarnational commitment of divine love that renders Christianity a religion of evolution, as Teilhard reminded us, which makes death and letting go integral to life.

We are at a crossroads in the Church, a decisive moment for the future of an institution that is sinking in corruption. “Trust in God and trust in me,” Jesus said (Jn 14:1).

Do we trust God enough to let go of an imperialized, political church and enter into new structures of relationships?

Can we trust the Spirit of Love to energize us to create anew?  

Can we lose what we have clung to in the Church for centuries and enter into the darkness of new structures and systems of organization that are inclusive?

The time is coming when every person who loves the Church will have to face death in many forms, in what we have known, in what we have loved and in what we have cherished.  The dawning of a new Church is upon us and what form this Church will take in the future depends on the depth of our inner freedom to act in new ways.

Beatrice Bruteau wisely noted that revolution does not mean a coup d’etat where one set of rulers is replaced by another set while the structure of ruling itself remains basically the same—that is only rebellion.  A genuine revolution, she claims, must be a gestalt shift in the whole way of seeing our relations to one another so that our behavior patterns are reformed from the inside out.   Any revolution worthy of the name must be primarily a revolution in consciousness.  A significant future, according to Bruteau, will not be born until the orientation of the axis itself has been shifted.

Because the coming revolution in consciousness is truly new, a genuinely radical shift in our basic perceptions, we cannot possibly know just what form it will take.   We need a new perspective in which to view our elementary personal, social, and economic relations, and new images in which to represent them mythically to our imaginations, which in turn direct much of our life.  We are far from this Church at present but a new consciousness is being born. In her book, The Grand Option, Beatrice Bruteau brilliantly describes a new understanding of Christ for a new way of being Christian:

To enter by our transcendent freedom into Christ and to become a New Creation means to enter by faith into the future of every person and into the very heart of creativity itself, into the future of God.

To be “in Christ” is to abandon thinking of oneself only in terms of categories and abstractions by which one may be externally related to others and to coincide with oneself as a transcendent center of energy that lives in God and in one’s fellows—because that is where the Christ lives, in God and in one another.

To be “in Christ” is to experience oneself as an initiative of free energy radiating out to give life abundantly to all, for that is the function of the Christ.   To be “in Christ” is to be an indispensable member of a living body, which is the Body of Christ.

To be “in Christ” is to be identified with the Living One who is not to be sought among the dead, for the Living One is the One who is Coming to Be.

If I am asked then, “Who do you say I am?” my answer is:  “You are the new and ever renewing act of creation.  You are all of us, as we are united in You.

You are all of us as we live in one another.  You are all of us in the whole cosmos as we join in You exuberant act of creation.  You are the Living One who improvises at the frontier of the future; and it has not yet appeared what You shall be (Bruteau, The Grand Option, 172-73).


Ilia DelioIlia Delio, OSF is the founder and visionary behind the Omega Center. She is a Franciscan Sister of Washington DC, respected academic and theologian, and author of numerous books and articles. She is an internationally sought-after presenter, speaking on the intersection of Science and Religion, with particular interests in evolution, physics, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. You can find Ilia’s upcoming events calendar here.


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Reading for an evolutionary age

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This Post Has 28 Comments
  1. Something beautiful is always emerging when we open our minds and hearts – thank you Ilia for pulling back the curtain of the old self and illuminating the radiance of Love as it unfolds before us through current events. You are truly a gift! Please keep writing.

  2. If one looks at human history, one sees that when there is a schism, the church divides. There was the early division of the Eastern Byzantine church from the Roman Church. Luther led a famous division. It is possible for the church to divide again. It does not need to be an all or nothing change but a division where you have some people who will remain with the old and those of us who choose the new.


  3. Brilliant! Encouraging and hopeful. I am grateful for you Sister and for all you do. My prayer today is to be useful in the creators purpose, in the life of Christ, for our church and for all. Thank you agian

  4. This is a very thought provoking post, and honestly I am struggling with some parts of it. I am feeling like I am just not getting the big picture here. I would appreciate any kind of clarification or explanation that anyone feels moved to share. These are some of the things I am struggling with, specifically:

    Within the Catholic Church there has always been a wonderful variety spiritual viewpoints, practices, ideologies and theological interpretations. A wealth of perspectives, if you will. If this weren’t true, we would not have amazing people like St. Francis, San Ignacio de Loyola, Bonaventure, Teilhard, Thomas Merton, James Martin, Richard Rohr, or Ilia Delio consistently springing up within our Catholic Church. Given that many (not all) of the fruits of this institution have been rather good, I am struggling to understand what it is about the Catholic Church as an institution that is axiomatically incompatible with genuine, Christian, spiritual practice.

    As Catholics, ours is a really big tent, and there are a lot of diverse people inside it. They aren’t always going to get along or like each other, and I don’t see that as an insurmountable problem. I believe that a group of smaller tents only masks some of these tensions, does nothing to actually resolve them, and misses the point. I see no reason why I can’t be in that big tent and find spiritual inspiration from the likes of St. Francis, San Ignacio de Loyola, Bonaventure, Teilhard, Thomas Merton, James Martin, Richard Rohr, or Ilia Delio. I see no reason why I can’t have a parish priest who disagrees with me on certain issues, or is still stodgy and old-fashioned in some respects. I see no problem in having debates with conservatives, or in trying to understand diverse perspectives even when they are impossible for me to adopt or integrate. I don’t feel like my homilies have to have nonstop Merton or Rohr quotes for me to be meaningfully engaged during Mass.

    As humans, we tend to be tribal and succumb to group-think ( We tend to express to our tribe-mates that we are good citizens by demonizing competing tribes. Like our own personal myths that drive our beliefs and behaviors, this tendency to tribalize is virtually inescapable. In fact, our “tribal affiliations” are quite interwoven with our own myths. It seems to me that in this post there are “tribes” which are being defined, each with their own attributes and sharply delineated agendas sorted into neatly packaged bundles. There is also a (gentle) directive for the reader to align themselves with one of the defined tribes, which includes an acceptance of that tribe’s agendas and traits as defined. The problem with this way of thinking is that we tend to see the other tribe as either immoral, insane, or idiotic for not belonging to our group. This often manifests in political interactions (Democrats vs. Republicans in the U.S.A., for example), and is a strong impediment to actually communicating or moving forward in a meaningful way.

    As a Catholic Christian, I have always believed that God gave me free will and that it was up to me to develop my own conscience and grow as a person. That can be hard when confronted with an expert or authority figure, as we tend to feel some pressure to accept their conclusions as our own lest we seem foolish. Reading the analogy of the Titanic in this post had the emotional impact of being handed an alarming and unexpected ultimatum. I questioned myself for a moment: “Am I hardcore enough to hang out with the cool kids in Sr. Ilia’s camp after all?”

    As a human, I believe it is critical to have a sense of belonging, to feel that you are part of a larger group that understands and supports you. We need community. But is it really essential to have some “other group” to demonize? Do we need adversaries in order to function? Does this help us define ourselves in a meaningful way, or assist us in our growth as spiritual beings? Are we defined by what we strike out against? Is it essential that we only associate with people who are exactly like ourselves? How does this fit with the directive to love our neighbors as ourselves, even when those neighbors might be dirty, poor, misguided, stodgy, homophobic, conservative, ignorant, hateful, or otherwise unattractive or unenlightened?

    What I am really struggling with in this blog post is the inspiring, beautiful and mystical insight into the nature of Christ juxtaposed against what I perceive to be a call for the end of the Church (or an analysis which concludes that the Church is irrelevant and slated for extinction). I believe that the Church is by definition, the body of Christ, so please understand that this a difficult proposition from my point of view. I have a hard time understanding why this is necessary, let along conducive to a valid spiritual journey. Yes, there are always going to be people who are more at ease outside of an institution than within it, and that is OK. But without that institution, and without an internationally recognized leader at the top of it, who is going to go on international television and hand Donald Trump the encyclical on climate change? Who is going to declare that taking care of the environment is an official act of mercy, in a way that one-sixth of the world’s population can hear and understand?

    I think at the heart of my struggle with this post is what I perceive to be a conflation of evolution and entropy, and of life and death. In my mind, evolution isn’t entropy, it is actually the opposite. Just as life is the opposite of death.

    I believe that for evolution and growth to happen, I believe you need harmony, love, and peace. If you have discord, hate and fear instead, evolution and growth will tend to slow or halt as energies and resources refocus within an adversarial framework. Biologically speaking, you don’t “rest and digest” during your “fight or flight” response. Theologically speaking, I see this as the reason that John the Evangelist tells us that God (who is the creator) is love, while Satan is considered the great adversary, the accuser, and the sower of discord.

    Remember that evolution entails complexification, which requires interconnection, understanding, communication and harmony with regard to what came before. Evolution always builds on some preexisting thing, informed by context, circumstance and situation. Entropy on the other hand entails de-complexification, which requires breakdown, misunderstanding, miscommunication and discord – think of a rotting corpse on a cellular level, or a cancer cell gone rogue. Reducing a log to ash is not evolution, even though change did occur. Simplistically put, an organism can be said to evolve by attaining harmony within its environment and the other organisms around it. On the other hand, discord within the environment and amid neighboring organisms tends to impede evolution, which in turn compromises survival and promotes extinction.

    Evolution is anabolic in that it builds something up, entropy is catabolic in that it breaks something down. Yes, evolution entails change over time, but too much change too quickly results in disintegration (like a log burning, or a fatal genetic mutation), which is actually akin to entropy. Just think of a child growing up with its family, and the concepts of harmony versus discord with regard to development (as I understand it) might become more clear. I have a hard time thinking of death as the force that seeds life, or that life arises out of death. Isn’t death the absence of life, just as entropy is the absence of evolution?

    And I appreciate the scriptural quotes about the grain of wheat and so forth, but I always interpreted these as a call to challenge our intrinsic assumptions about the material appearance of things in order to see the divine potential contained within, and to let go of our precious egos for the sake of transcendence. I had always thought of these as calls to awaken to a spiritual reality, and that the point of Life was much more about transcendence (and evolution) than about clinging to the established or familiar. We accomplish this shift by seeing familiar things from a new perspective. Which is the very reason Jesus used parables about everyday things to convey his radical new truth. I think the key is the willingness to change, symbolized by facing death unflinchingly (think of Abraham and Isaac), rather than an actual, literal death.

    It makes sense to me that life defies death, transcends it, establishes order and meaning where previously there was none. Homeostasis is an iterative series of struggles of life against death – death in the form of the chemical equilibrium of non-living matter. It makes sense to me that life seeds life, both biologically (in terms of literal seeds, offspring, etc.) and spiritually (in terms of a living God breathing life into us).

    I think that in these times of uncertainty, fear and doubt, the best thing we can do is to promote peace, love and harmony, even among our enemies. People need to feel secure and stable and need to be well informed. I honestly believe that promoting peace of mind, hope, and harmony within our spiritual community will accelerate evolution and growth in the long run, while highlighting divisions and amplifying uncertainty will slow it down.

    1. I agree with this post but must admit that I skimmed through because it was so long. The history of the Jewish people is very complex and highly spiritual and so is the history of the Catt church. Opposing views do not worry me. I do see many shades of grey instead of black and white. Every single person in the Jewish Christian community and also in Islamic spirituality has been called in a tradition that is 3000 years old to see and seek the loving God Marianne

    2. Almost as long as the article ???? but very well said! I agree evolution comes from life and we need to pray for unity of heart of not viewpoint

  5. I feel very hopeful, Oliver your thoughts are very well expressed and I am very grateful for SR. ILIA gift of leading the way for our dialogue to begin, we must be ready to continueour deep prayer and walking the way.

  6. I am for evolution and all it implies…we must move on through the force of love and yes, there will be huge changes…the church will be shaken like a bloody rag (Julian).
    In any case “all will be well” in the end…however long that takes.
    You say it better Illia…thank you.

  7. From a protestant point of view, I’ve been revisiting Thomas Keating’s teachings on the emotional energy centres and through this process came across a recent sermon by one of those who contributed towards the woundedness I and many others have experienced at the hands of the dominant mythological protestant gospel, “Get your life together. Trust that God’s bloodlust has been quenched by Jesus… or else.” Absolutely nothing had changed. It was the exact same message I’d heard a hundred times twenty odd years ago. My immediate response was anger and I initially went about making an argument, which I then deleted. If what you and many others are teaching and what I and many others are learning is true, that we are ALL connected, interrelated, one body, then I can’t see anything new emerging until the real death comes.

    I keep feeling as if we’re living on the crest of a wave about to break. Most seem oblivious, only feeling the loss of gravity that comes with the crest reaching its peak and so cling even tighter to what came before. It’s not just the church that requires death, it’s the whole western structure of being. Competition, isolation, anxiety, fear, depression, the list goes on an on. Everything is being “privatised”, commodified, intrinsic meaning and worth being strip mined from almost everything and snowballing towards a very uncertain future, like a desperate last ditch fire sale. It must come crumbling down but it won’t be like all the other times. The current structure’s very nature will see to it’s own demise. It’s already so full of holes and cracks. I think you’re right. The titanic is sinking and it will be a network of lifeboats that arises after it’s gone.

    I recently listened to Br David Steindl-Rast’s talk with Thich that Hanh at Plum Village ( Thich Nhat Hanh made the comment about peaceful protest and how it isn’t really a peaceful protest unless those protesting are being peace. I’m coming to realise that I don’t need to make arguments, to fight, that as soon as I do I become part of the dualism, part of the problem. Like Br David says, “The very definition of revolution, of turning the pyramid upside down, is being revolutionised.” It’ll be a truly grass-roots transformation. “The time of the hero saviour is over.”

    Most of us, however, are still deeply subconsciously immersed in the system, the structure of life, even in the midst of understanding the new cosmology you teach and all that this means. But I don’t think there’s anything that can stop the fall of that structure. Teaching like your’s and others is so important to prepare those rising in consciousness (some of us more slowly than others *jazz hands*) to be there for all those who will have felt that they have lost everything. In fact, it has become so clear to me that I am beginning training as a psychologist next year in order to be as prepared as I can be for the immense loss of meaning on its way.

  8. Thank you, Ilia, for your post and to those who have left comments. It seems that not only the institutional church but most, if not all of our socio-economic and political structures need to undergo deconstruction of power and authority and reconstruction along inclusive and integrated evolutionary lines. The state of the institutional church and the dualistic dynamic between the historic and the acosmic camps of the Catholic Church are a microcosm of the macrocosm of evolutionary dynamics that are tearing at the fabric of humanity. Within this context we can ask if the phenomenon of young (and older) individuals turning away from the established institutional church is part of the evolution (and revolution) of consciousness? It certainly appears to be part of the death of the established church. The dying of our institutions will continue until new ways of relating to ourselves, others, the world we live in and the universe at large come into being and what appears to be an accelerating rate of the evolution of consciousness become manifest in new socio-cultural and economic structures and dynamics. We can work toward exploring what these new ways may be, particularly in the spiritual and religious realms, and identify aspects of our current reality that will help lay a foundation for the future. In this way we can live within a deep hope. At least, I pray this may be. Peace.

  9. This quote from Hans Kung’s “A Short History of the Catholic Church” seems to me to succinctly analyze the problem with church governance and to suggest a solution:

    Francis of Assisi, with his gospel demands, was originally the alternative to the centralized, legalistic, politicized, militarized and clericalized Roman system. It hardly bears thinking about: what would have happened had Innocent III, instead of integrating Francis into this system, taken the gospel seriously and adopted the key points of Francis of Assisi? What would have happened had the Fourth Lateran Council introduced a reform of the church on the basis of the gospel? Innocent III died unexpectedly, seven months after the conclusion of the council. On the evening of 16 June 1216 he was found in the cathedral of Perugia, abandoned by all, completely naked, robbed by his own servants. He was probably the only pope who, on the basis of his unusual qualities, could have shown the church a fundamentally different way, who could have spared the papacy a split, and exile, and the church the Protestant Reformation. Even if a great church cannot be so enthusiastic and idealistic that it ignores the complicated questions of the exercising of office and the law; in other words, even if offices must be handed on in a legitimate way, the law must be implemented and financial transactions carried out; the basic question still remains: Should the Catholic Church be a church in the spirit of Innocent III or in the spirit of Francis of Assisi? We recall the key words of Francis’s programme:
    • Poverty: Innocent III stood for a church of wealth and splendour, of greed and financial scandal. But would not also a church have been possible which had a transparent financial policy, was content and made no claims, was an example of inner freedom from possessions and Christian generosity, and did not suppress the life of the gospel and apostolic freedom but furthered them?

    • Humility: Innocent III stood for a church of power and rule, of bureaucracy and discrimination, of repression and the Inquisition. Would not also a church have been conceivable which was modest, friendly and engaged in dialogue , was made up of brothers and sisters and was hospitable even to those who did not conform , whose leaders engaged in unpretentious service and showed social solidarity, and which did not exclude from the church new religious forces and ideas, but made fruitful use of them?

    • Simplicity: Innocent III stood for a church whose dogma was excessively complex, for moralistic casuistry and legal safe-guards, a church with a canon law which ruled everything, a scholasticism which knew everything , and a ‘magisterium’ which was afraid of the new. But would not also a church have been possible which was a church of good news and joy, a theology orientated on the simple gospel, which listened to people instead of merely indoctrinating them from above, not just an ‘official church’ which only teaches, but a people’s church which keeps on learning afresh?

  10. Dear Ilia,
    Thank you very much for putting out this question about Schism or Evolution.

    Isn’t separation what happened to the disciples when Jesus ascended to heaven?
    I learned with time that there is a big difference between division and separation. Sometimes separation is needed to let both side grow freely at their own pace. It gives time and space to both party to breath. But separation is deeply rooted in the hope of respect, love and mercy for the ones we part from, where division is rooted in hatred and despise of the other. Separation is different from division. It is the realization that roads need to part but that there is a continuity somehow. There is a hope of reconciliation at one point, of meeting again, not knowing when, but staying open to it. There is a deep love and respect of those we part from and a deep hope of forgiveness for parting from them and not being able to stay with them.
    Isn’t the root of the crisis the same if one refuses to the other the freedom to go or if one refuses the freedom to the other to stay a bit longer? Don’t both of them evolve, just not in the same way or at the same pace? Don’t we need all the roads and are lucky that some take care of one road while others take care/open new ones if we trust that we are called by God?

    “The God of Jesus Christ is a God of absolute love and radical freedom who is revealed not in the power of separation and exclusion but in the power of darkness, emptiness, and death. “
    … but ONLY in the light of the resurrection. Isn’t the power of God shown in the resurrection but the way to this power is the way of the cross, where Jesus still loved humanity enough to open heaven to the villain on his side at the last seconds of his life, and as he screamed for forgives to God for all of us in his last breath?
    Also, you only talk about the schism concerning the ROMAN Catholic Church, saying the Church will no longer be one. But today the Catholic Church is not only Roman. Isn’t the Roman Catholic Church as well as the whole Western world in need of their Eastern brothers’ to believe in the power of resurrection again?
    Is evolution the same as resurrection?

  11. I believe the US Church is in trouble because too many Catholics are fat, lazy and satisfied, and so, don’t need Jesus. Most people who came to Jesus had a deep need, for healing or nourishment, social reintegration, etc. Most Americans are too satisfied.

  12. I have enjoyed the blog and all the comments. Don’t know how far I will get on the phone texting! But…since everything is connected, hard for me to be concise. When Keating discusses the contemplative mind or the evolution of consciousness, this is a becoming…. a being pulled forward in love ( in Christ) Omega!
    I have been in a long lamentation…… not about The Church, per se, more about what I can’t help but feel is a de evolution of humanity.
    All matter becomes something else as the atoms and particles of our bodies will become somethingelse …. what of the God particle within us, within all wonderfully created stuff? ???
    In this moment , I feel free of Church. And for once, maybe momentarily, without lament. Perhaps because of connections like this!
    but this is church !? Really.
    Finally, to put in some context, I know that our human egos have been on this planet for such a short period on time within the eons of time of Earths creation, the Cosmos.
    Would that we fall down with laughter. ????

  13. In response to Ilia’s essay:
    The crisis of sexual abuse isn’t just embedded in the ecclesiastical power structures, but in the clergy in general to a greater degree than in the population at large.
    In my opinion, Catholic disaffiliation is primarily disaffiliation with a theology that isn’t accurate and isn’t meaningful. The foundation of a theology that is accurate and would be affiliating would begin with understanding that God became “enmeshed” with the world from the beginning of creation, not since the person of Jesus Christ. A better way to say it is that God incarnated, God became physical creation, and all that is, living and not living, is God incarnate, including Jesus. All that is, living and not living, is sacred. This theology is a foundation for respect and compassion for self, one another, and the world. Based on it, we would treat self, one another and this world as sacred because they are.
    A church deeply involved in evolution would be based on a theology that makes sense. We are overdue for current theology to evolve. Some quantum leaps are needed. The belief that the sun revolved around the earth sufficed for a long time, and then it became obvious that the belief was inaccurate, people other than the church disaffiliated from it, and once the quantum leap to belief that the earth revolved around the sun became unignorable the Catholic Church went along.
    Not only is Catholic disaffiliation related to Catholicism’s antiquated and inaccurate theology, wide spread clergy sexual abuse and cover-up of it also is. Our world is sick, and it would be a great help if there was a healthy theology and church that was healthy based on that theology. For the sake of transformation and new life we need to let the current theology die, and allow new and accurate theology to grow. Allow it or not, it will happen. I don’t think Catholicism is up to being a religion of the evolution that is needed, but life is up to it and life is evolving with or without Catholic theology or the Catholic Church.
    Theology is an important part of life, and life in its evolution, currently by some quantum leaps, will evolve a theology that makes sense, will be whole and healing, and will be one with which people will want to affiliate.

  14. What I’m offering here has a kind of specificity that I think deserves consideration. I wrote the following, under the heading “Catholic Church Needs Radical Reform,” on August 28 and sent it as a letter to the editor of my state’s major newspaper. The paper declined to print it. Here is what the paper would not print.

    I am 85 years old and what is known as a “cradle Catholic.” The most recent revelation of the horrendous sex abuse perpetrated by priests in my church not only saddens me, but makes me angry. Angry because I am convinced that unless those deemed to have both power and authority in our church recognize the structure enabling sexual abuse by clergy and act to reject that structure, nothing essentially will change. The Vatican may make stern announcements, bishops may (again) authorize investigative commissions and reports, but after a flurry of activity, and scandalous headlines have disappeared, the institutional church can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief as it envisions its life getting back to normal.

    And what will that “normal” be? It will be “an essentially flawed celibate/sexual system of ecclesiastical power,” a system that, thriving in a culture of secrecy and impunity, “develops, fosters, and protects sexual abuse….” These are words from a book published 23 years ago, Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy Of A Crisis, by the Catholic psychotherapist and former Benedictine priest, Richard Sipe, who as early as the 1960s began investigating and warning about sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Moreover, the abuse of minors, as he noted, “is only part of the problem. Four times as many priests involve themselves sexually with adult women, and twice the number of priests involve themselves with adult men.”

    While Sipe’s pioneer research and his work as an “expert witness” in the courtroom brought him into conflict with some bishops and other Catholics, upon his death just a few weeks ago, it was said of him: “No one did more for the cause of people abused by clerics and to aid the moral repair of the Catholic Church than Richard Sipe.”

    Sipe’s prophetic writings make clear, however, that no genuine “moral repair” will be possible so long as a system is maintained that is rooted in ideas that run deep in the history and culture of the church, ideas, to name just a few, such as: 1) “the place of women is subordinate to men,” 2) “the equation of women, pleasure, and sin with sex,” 3) “the male virgin–the celibate–is one not defiled by woman,” 4) nonmarriage is a “higher state” than marriage, and 5) by both nature and God’s will only males are especially suited to exercise religious authority.

    Because ideas like these and others–particularly ones that range from the loony to the downright demeaning about women–are what undergird the Catholic Church’s celibate/sexual system, it is hardly surprising that Sipe notes: “Equality of women is the single most threatening factor to…the system as it now exists and operates.”

    Is it not time then for the institutional church’s Old Boys’ Club with a Vengeance to acknowledge its systemic sickness of “power perverted in the name of religion” and promote a truly radical reform of its structure, one which could renew its being in accordance with a spirit historians detect in early Christianity where women as well as men shared roles of leadership and authority?

    Anything less than such a reform is destined to leave essentially unchanged a fetid system.

    1. Barbara — This 80 year old father (of six), grandfather (of 16) & great grandfather (of 3), all of whom came to be after 10 years of priestly service, dispensation and a later 10 years service as Chair of a Diocesan Clerical Sexual Abuse Committee, says that you have nailed the issue exactly. . . somehow my faith says, “do this and the rest will follow.” In the words of Christopher Fry,
      Dark and cold we may be, but this
      Is no winter now. The frozen misery
      Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
      The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
      The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
      Thank God our time is now when wrong
      Comes up to face us everywhere,
      Never to leave us till we take
      The longest stride of soul we ever took.
      Affairs are now soul size.
      The enterprise
      Is exploration into God.
      Where are you making for? It takes
      So many thousand years to wake,
      But will you wake for pity’s sake!

  15. Dear Ilia, You are a prophet crying out in the wilderness of civilisation, and many are hearing your transforming words and their lives are changing. There is a quiet but painful, spiritual rebirth occurring across Christianity and all the major religions. Somehow somewhere you will be a part of this on going rebirth.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you. Stay strong.

  16. You have asked the most courageous and important question we face at this moment in time:

    “We are at a crossroads in the Church, a decisive moment for the future of an institution that is sinking in corruption. “Trust in God and trust in me,” Jesus said (Jn 14:1).

    “Do we trust God enough to let go of an imperialized, political church and enter into new structures of relationships? have asked the necessary and courageous question we are faced with at this moment in time: ”

    It is time to LET GO and Trust in the Darkness of God

  17. I was thinking again about separation.
    In Matthew 19,6 we can find “… what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
    Of course they are talking about weddings, and today we have this big debate in the Catholic Church on divorcee.
    One of the thing out of the many things the Catholic Church bring to the table of Christianity are the sacraments. The belief that there are some engagement in life that requires the grace of God to be made possible. And of course one can make a mistake and shouldn’t be living in horrible condition “for the sake” of the sacraments. A bit like when Jesus was saying in Mk 2, 27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
    This summer I witness two situations in the Catholic Church
    • the immense joy and gratefulness of two divorcee who were desperately asking for and who received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church.
    • the immense joy of a couple finally getting out of their marriage crisis, a very dark and deep crisis, where one of the two held on to their couple putting all her faith in the vows they had pronounced on the day of their marriage, therefore putting her marriage and herself in the hands of God.
    In made me wonder. Why?
    Why does that first couple, who know by experience that a marriage can fail, absolutely want to be married in the Church, even more so the Catholic Church where weddings are a sacrament that shouldn’t be dissolved? What make them thirst so much for the sacredness of this sacrament and for the blessing and grace of God?
    Why did the wife in the second couple trust that putting all here faith in God would enable her and her husband go through their transformational crisis, digging deeper in the roots of their vows? What enabled her husband to realize that now “their couple is stronger than ever”?

    Another sacrament in the Catholic Church is the sacrament of the order. Is being a priest a simple “job” or a more? In the Catholic Church, a priest can be many things in addition to being “married to God and to the Church” through the sacrament of the order. I would say the many things is the job part (actor, teacher, therapist, manager, and maybe even giving out the sacrament?) But the sacrament of the order “marry” them to the Church; and actually to a specific rite chosen by them, within the Church.
    The sacrament of marriage as well as the sacrament of the order are both vocations. As Pope Francis puts it in his encyclical Amoris Laetitia, these vocations are there to teach us how to love. And love, and faithfulness to one’s vow to it, sometimes becomes a choice more than a calling.
    Both vocations are blessed in a public sacramental ceremony. Not only are they live testimony of the hope in the love and trust of and in God, but they are also a call for all the witness to help them and support them fulfill their vows, especially in times of crisis. Aren’t we all the hands and feet of God on earth?
    And maybe the question that we are asked today is the one God asked in Gen 4,9 “Where is your brother?” Will we answer “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Isn’t that the exact same question the Pope is asking us in his encyclical Laudato Si?
    On a side note. I was talking to an Israeli the other day. He was asking, what is new in the Catholic Church. I pointed out that top researchers were working on the dialogue between Science and Religion. His reaction was “The Galileo complex”. To put it in other words I told him, how about “Technology and Poverty”. His reaction was “Ah, now that is new”.

  18. I understand that the seed must die to be changed (transformed) in the flower, vegetable, tree. I truly believe that we do not understand the death of Christ. We have been taught the death of Christ is that he is a victim, Jesus is not. He was in control and as death persuad him he accepted it as the way to teach what all encompassing love is for each of us. We are all going to die. It is what we run away from most of our lives. We want power, control, a place to be recognized in life. Jesus this coming weekend in Mark’s gospel is a critical teaching of Jesus. Peter answered the question of Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” Peter says,”You are the Messiah.” He is correct, but Jesus asked him to be silent. Why? The people wanted the messiah to take over the Roman Empire, so they were mistaken in what they wanted the Missiah to do. Jesus wanted them to know another type of Messiah. No wonder Jesus would say often “Say nothing about me” let me show you a new way to lead. I often reflect on the Last Supper in John’s gospel: he took a basin and a towel and washed the disciples feet and dried them. He placed himself in a servant role. He was a human showing us to let go of power, control, and placing himself on his knees. This is what we all need to do to die to ourselves to be transformed in our lives through death to new life. The clerical problem is that we have lost the biblical life of Jesus as being one with us that we may “be in Christ.”

  19. Thank you Ilia for this insightful discussion and to all who thoughtfully responded. In 2006 the faith community that I was coordinating studied Diarmuid O’Murchu’s book, Religion in Exile. Up until that time our focus had been on Church reform. But that book set us in a new direction. What he said essentially was that formal religion could not sustain itself in its present structure and that efforts to change it would not work. Let it die he said and work for structures that are arising that will sustain us in the future. So I understood our role at that time was to be a Hospice worker for something that was dying and to help it die with dignity and gratitude for the fact that it brought us this far and for the solid foundation it gave us. We were also to be mid-wives for those emancipating and inclusive structures that were struggling to be born. They are under the radar but they are there. Cynthia Bourgeault came and spoke with us and suggested that what we were experiencing was a Church that was like a plant that had become pot bound. When that happens the plant doesn’t die right away but it “withers,” unable to sustain real new growth. She suggested that institutional Catholicism, while deeply rooted, needed a larger container so that it could flower more fully in the world. For us this larger container was an evolutionary perspective that was able to bring God and the world together in a way that our roots would grow more deeply into our Source and our full flowering in the world would bring Catholicism to fulfillment of its destiny as the “Sacrament of Christ in the World.” 41 years ago we started as a Catholic Bible Study. We are now a “compassionate community for contemplative living and learning.” You can feel the difference…. Thanks to theologians like you, Teilhard, Cynthia, Richard Rohr, Diarmuid O’Murchu and others… all of whom we have studied.

  20. A Living School friend of mine recently commented:
    “This reminds me of a speech that I heard by a women at a catholic conference in the 70s!
    She said that Vatican Council 2, in the 60s was, for her, so full of hope for systemic/institutional change in the church that she envisioned, looking forward, that for Vatican Council 3, Bishops could bring their wives, and for Vatican Council 4 ,Bishops could bring their husbands!!!
    I wonder, looking about today and forward, what she would have to say— Yes, “Something was lost!”…

    I so appreciate , Ilia, the way you crystallize thoughts, action and inspiration. I left the institutional Church 50 years ago, yet feel closer to my true Christ-roots than ever. Let the walls come tumbling down. What is real can never die.

  21. A short comment on a large, rich discussion. It comes from an experienced international negotiator. “No exchange works so long as one side or the other wishes that the other side would cease to exist.” This is an attitude which can be derived from different aspects of our tradition, but is found often enough among both liberals and conservatives.
    John Langan SJ
    Baltimore, Maryland

  22. I live in Perth in Western Australia. We are preparing for a national Plenary Council in 2020 in Australia. Like the USA and many other countries, Australia has experienced the tragedy of endemic child sex abuse by some of its male clergy. Our most prominent cleric Cardinal George Pell is presently indicted and awaiting trial on charges that involved him in the abuse of young men while he was a young priest. Our national Royal Commission into Institutional failure to protect children from sexual abuse finished several years ago and, although the Anglican clergy also had some involvement as well as other groups like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic clergy were the greatest number of perpetrators and the Catholic Church led all other institutions in its failure to protect children.

    These articles by Sr Ilia Delio provide a positive way forward for the Catholic Church to evolve as the Church established by Jesus should evolve in our evolving world. I hope her thinking and that of Teilhard de Chardin can guide the Church in Australia at this important time. We the laity are presently being asked to answer the question “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?” in preparation for Plenary Council 2020. We hope Sr Ilia Delio’s principles form part of Australia’s Plenary Council.

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