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John Allen is a Sr. Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR. He recently spoke at the Religious Education Congress this year in Anaheim.
During Q&A after one of his talks, a question was posed as to who at the top of the system is an ally, who also has zeal for causes that are not given as much attention in the general media. His response shed light on the crucial role that all of us – especially those of us who aren’t at the top – can play:
“Here’s a general rule of thumb about Catholic life: when you are looking for creative, visionary change in the Church, in many ways the top of the system and Rome in particular is the last place you ought to go looking for it… It is easy to joke about that, but in some ways that’s by design. The Vatican is designed to be our last line of defense to ensure that the Church is not swept away by the shifting tides of a given era’s fashions. It is in some ways by definition a cautious, conservative, you might almost say defensive charism, and someone has to play that role in the Church. But to expect that outfit to also be the R&D wing of the Catholic Church, is ladies and gentlemen, a prescription for perpetual heartburn.
And so therefore my general rule of thumb would be, that when we see some urgent new cause, some transcendent new crusade on the horizon, it is always a mistake in the Catholic scheme of things to sit around waiting for the Vatican to be the ones to lead us forward, because that’s not the role that they play. The role that they play is discerning and scrutinizing new energy in the Church over a long arc of time, deciding whether it is compatible with the faith or not, and then either ratifying or rejecting it. Again, a legitimate, urgent, critical role for someone to play, but it’s never going to be the cutting edge of Catholic life. We have to form that cutting edge for ourselves.”