Despite the sex abuse crisis and other crises rocking the Catholic Church today, Wellington Cardinal John Dew confidently believes there will still be a future for the Church.

“For anyone of faith there must be a future, despite the current scandals, the sex abuse crisis which has rocked and continues to rock the Church worldwide. Despite all of that and the pain and agony it has caused, there is a future because we are the Church of Jesus Christ,” he said at the Cardinal’s Lunch held on August 28 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Wellington.

Cardinal Dew said it would be “a bit presumptuous” to speak on the future of the Church. He spoke instead on what he thought the Church needed to be in the future.

His first suggestion was “Just be friendly”.

“When the Church today and in the future enables all people to belong, then we are the Church. It is not about what theological persuasion we are, what spirituality attracts us, what ethnicity we are, what age we are. . . we are members of the one body. ‘Just be friendly!’ Being friendly is the human thing to do,” he said.

Quoting from Pope St John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, he said the priests, as well as lay people, should be “affable, hospitable, sincere in words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening ourselves to relationships and of encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive and console . . . .”

“They are challenging words and very much needed Pope is ‘honoured’ by criticism from the United States for the future of the Church,” he said.

Cardinal Dew also said the lay people will need to be theologically formed
in the future.

“The Church of the future needs lay people who are formed theologically,
because we will be relying more and more on lay leadership in the future.
Not just because of a severe reduction in the number of priests, but because baptism calls us to leadership,” he pointed out.

Young in spirit

Cardinal Dew said the Church of the future will be young, not in the sense
that it will be made up of young people, but “young in spirit”.

“This is seen in Francis, 82 years of age, but full of energy, full of wit, vital
and alive, interested and ready to greet anyone. It is the Spirit of God who keeps us young, open to new ideas and fresh ways of operating,” he said.

The future Church will be prayerful and reflective,he said.

“It is our daily dialogue with the Spirit that allows us to go forward and which keeps us young and interested. Prayer is not just what we do on a Sunday, if prayer and reflection on Scripture is not part of our life as individuals and as communities, there will be no future, it is communion with God that energises and fortifies us,” Cardinal Dew explained.

Unlike the current American president, Cardinal Dew said the future Church will go beyond walls, not build them.

“The Church of the future must build bridges. The current incumbent of the White House began his term in office by speaking about closing the United States in and building walls that keep people out. Francis began his ministry by speaking about going out to the peripheries, reaching out to all. The Church of the future can never close in and protect itself, it is about going out and offering life to all,” he said.

Lastly, he said, the Church of the future should have “intentional disciples”.

He referred to a quote from former US President Theodore Roosevelt who said “the credit belongs to the man/woman who is actually in the arena
. . . whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again”.

Cardinal Dew said, “it is hard, it is difficult, it is challenging, there are things we don’t like, human mistakes and shortcomings, but — there is no one else to turn to, we are called to stay in the arena. It is still a place of hope and inspiration, it is still a place where an enormous amount of good is done and people helped, given hope and encouragement.