Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco talks about true inculturation, priestly celibacy and re-evangelizing the culture: the second of a two-part interview (part one can be viewed here

By Jan Bentz for Inside the Vatican

Would you say that evangelization and inculturation go hand in hand? Can they be in conflict?

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone: A proper sense of inculturation goes hand in hand with evangelization. It is what the Church has always done when she encounters a new culture: bringing the Gospel for the first time and implanting it in the culture. She recognizes what is good within the culture and what needs to be purified, then goes on to baptize it. I used the example of a mission-architecture as a very good example of inculturation. And these are things that take a long time, to truly become inculturated. It is not a matter of mimicking the culture and performing that which is sacred. It is finding ways to sacralize it.

We could think of the Christian civilization of Latin America. That is a new Christian civilization, which was a sort of division of the original evangelizers… So inculturation isn’t something

that happens instantaneously — it is something that kind of evolves. And [it takes] the Church’s understanding how to sacralize and integrate within the sacred.

The Franciscan friars did that in many contexts. They composed sacred music in the mission era, utilizing what they could, sometimes to extremes, and reflecting again the local culture. So there is some legitimate sense in how the Church has incorporated the local culture in order for people to be able to access the Truth of the Gospel. But again, it is not just incorporating wholesale everything secular in the culture into the sacred.

You are the head of a very, I imagine, complicated diocese, a very challenging diocese. In your opinion of the Church’s state in the U.S., what is the greatest challenge? And what is the greatest challenge in your own diocese in day-to-day evangelization?

Cordileone: Well, I would say it is the same here as everywhere. We feel it more here because the culture is, in general, more secularized. But we are all concerned about the exodus of the so-called “nones,” the people with no religious affiliation. A lot of it has to do with the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. A lot of it has to do with a misunderstanding of science and of religion. A lot of it has to do with impressions of the Church with current scandals, and even historically…

There is only so much I can do in one homily, but I tried to touch on this year…It was right after the burning of Notre Dame in Paris, and it struck me how the whole world was mourning that destruction, not just Catholics, but non-Catholics, and even people of no faith.

They recognized how beautiful that structure is, and what an iconic structure it was. For the French people, all French people, see this as their mother, and I think we all felt solidarity with the French people at that time. It struck me that the Church has given this to the world in all areas.

There are people who want to make us feel ashamed to be Catholic; but on the contrary, we should feel proud to be Catholic.

So I spoke to them to ask them to think about that structure. They say it took about 200 years to build that cathedral, which is a very reasonable time frame back then. But most of the people who worked on that knew they weren’t going to see the finished project. So why would they give their whole lives to it, if they knew they weren’t going to see the finished product? Because they were doing it for the glory of God, not for their own glory.

I often speak about forms of beauty, about music. Modern musical notation, where does that come from? It originates in the chant of the 11th century: people used notation to help them sing, to remember when to go up and down, to put it into chant notation. From there we have our modern musical notation — the Church gave us that.

I asked them to think about when they are reading a Bible, or any other ancient script, a Roman philosopher or anything else from antiquity, how is it that they are holding it in their hands now when the Roman Empire fell apart in the middle of the 5th century? There was complete chaos and it would be another 1,000 years before the printing press was invented. So how is it that these ancient texts were duplicated and spread throughout the world? It is because for hundreds of years monks all over Europe spent their whole lives copying texts. The reason you can hold a Bible in your hands and read it is thanks to these monks in the Middle Ages copying texts.

I spoke about the innovations of science, the Church’s contributions to the scientific method, and the research in monasteries. Monasteries were not just a refuge for prayer, but for learning and teaching. [I spoke about] how that developed into the university system. So the Church gave us the university.

The Church’s commitment to healthcare, especially healthcare for the poor, from the very beginning. I preached about how, when the plague broke out, the Church took care of the sick and the dying — all the sick and not just their own. That developed in the Middle Ages into the hospital system.

The Church gave us the hospital system. The Church has given us so much, and if they understood this history, they would be proud to be Catholic. I think we have a massive educational challenge. If we can take advantage of it, that will give us a lot of opportunity for re-evangelization of the culture.

You mentioned the “Theology of the Body,” which John Paul II was very powerful in writing and promoting. One of your brother bishops said recently that we have to do a “re-thinking of the mystery of human sexuality.” What would be your response?

Cordileone: I don’t know what “re-thinking” means… The Church doesn’t undo what comes before. The Church builds upon it, takes it deeper. Otherwise, I am not sure what “re-thinking” means. I think we need to rethink how we can convey these teachings and how people understand the deeper meaning of that. But the Church does not teach one thing one day and another thing the next day. That is not how the development of Doctrine works. Development of Doctrine is gaining a deeper insight into the narrative. 

Oftentimes celibacy and the lack of priests are mentioned in one sentence. Do you see an intrinsic value in the celibacy of priests? Or do you think changing Church discipline in that regard would be fruitful for the growth of the Church?

Cordileone: The first thing I would want to point out is the fallacy of thinking that Church teaching and Church discipline are unrelated categories. The Church has the discipline she has in order to reinforce the teaching so that people can understand and appropriate the teaching to themselves. The longer a discipline has been a part of the Church and the more it has been integrated in the life of the Church, the more damage it does when it is changed in terms of the people’s understanding of the teaching.

It would be important to emphasize the scholarship of Cardinal Alfons Stickler (1910-2007) and his disciples, who have found out that celibacy goes back to apostolic times and how the then-called “law of continence” was practiced. When a man was ordained he had to practice the law of continence and the wife had to agree to it. They would not share common life and the woman would typically enter a convent or something of that sort.

Ordination means marriage to the Church. Priestly celibacy has to be understood as a practical means by which the priest has to be available to his people. More importantly, every man is a father. Celibacy enables him to be a father and expand his “fatherhood energy” to the children of his Church. In that sense, he becomes what Christ was, the “caput” of his Church, the head. And then he can lay down his life for his sheep. We have to have people understand the importance of celibacy and its antiquity — especially in the West, but also in the East.

The East has allowed priests to be married and continue their life like that, but even there, a priest who is widowed cannot remarry, for example. Many saw this as tied to the Eastern understanding of marriage. Marriage there is a bond that is continued into eternity and is then assumed into the marriage ofChrist to his Church. So even in that sense, you could say that the priest has to be held to higher standards.

But there are other indications. For example, priests are to abstain from marital relations before celebrating the liturgy. Or even traditionally — and I do not know how much these practices are still alive in the Eastern Church — but all throughout Lent, the priest has to abstain from marital relations, and in other penitential times throughout the year. The removal of celibacy will also not solve the problem; to think that is very naïve. In the past, we have had lots of priests that accepted this call and now we don’t.

The problem is not the requirement of celibacy, the problem lies deeper. And if we attempt to change that way [dispensing with celibacy], then our solution will be superficial, because it will not go to the root of the problem, and the crisis of the faith as seen in the priesthood will continue — whether we have that requirement or not.

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