“The Holy Spirit has to remain the first protagonist of the Church”

Father Grégory Woimbée, Vice-rector of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse

Marco Carvalho

A theology teacher at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse, an institution where he is Vice-Rector, Father Grégory Woimbée directed his research efforts towards studying the relationship between faith, reason and culture with a particular emphasis on the issue of the credibility of Christianity. The French priest, who recently visited Macau, was invited by the University of Saint Joseph to address some of the main challenges that Catholicism faces nowadays and the way they might jeopardize the credibility of the Church. Three centuries of deism, atheism and indifferentism, Father Grégory Woimbée claims, have caused inescapable damage and eroded the authority of the Church. The only way to restore the trust that has been lost ever since lies in the sublimation of the essence of Christianity. The Holy Spirit, the French priest claims, should remain the first protagonist of the Church.

You claim that we are not witnessing solely a problem of credibility of the Church, but a problem of credibility in a general sense. People seem not to believe anything nowadays. Nevertheless, this crisis of credibility relates to Christianity or it is in a very particular way a problem of credibility of the Church? As you mentioned, we cannot hide the Church from the equation, because the Church is a part of the larger picture. Did any of the issues, that the Church is facing nowadays, cause or accelerate the “desert of spirituality” that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about?

Father Grégory Woimbée: No, I think there is a crisis in the Church and the Church lost its credibility. The question is not about the loss of credibility, but of how can we rebuild the credibility of the Church in context of a loss of credibility for a lot of institutions. It is not just the Church. Of course, there is a specific loss of credibility in the Church and that is, I think, partially due to the crisis of sex abuse. But what I wanted to say is that credibility is not just about answering the questions that need to be answered, but it is also showing the very essence of Christianity. So, the risk is for the Church to be self-referential and I do think that this crisis is just a problem of organization of the Church. Organizational issues can be found in every organization. We have problems of organization that need to be solved everywhere, but to restore our credibility we need to go deeper into reform.

If organization is not the issue, how can the Church restore the credibility it lost? It is not exactly easy to rebuild trust.

F.G.W: It is not just a problem of organization and we have a lot of things to do. It is really about the deep connection the Church has with its very Nature and its relation with Christ and the revelation of Christ. One of the problems, I believe, is that auto-referentiality I was talking about. I agree with what the Pope says about self-referentiality. I think sometimes the Church talks too much about the Church. We need also to talk about God, about Christ and the very source of our faith. The Church is the place where I believe, it is not the source of my belief. This should be quite clear and it should be clear for the Church itself. What I want to say… I don’t know if I am being sufficiently clear, but I didn’t want to claim there is no lack of credibility, but this is not merely about the credibility of the Church. It is, somehow, a deeper issue. It is also, in certain parts of the world, the way the reference to God is totally avoided and the way religions are seen just as problems and not also as a constitutive part of the person, as a constitutive part of the people.

You used the word “reformation” in your answer. During your talk, you left it very clear that you believe the answer to this crisis is in the very essence of the Church. Should that reformation process imply transformation? We cannot look at the Church the way we look at a political system. It is not exactly a democracy where everybody needs to have a word to say. Should that reformation process imply transformation? Should it imply adaptation to the times we are living? Or should the Church keep faithful to his essence?

F.G.W: Well, I think, of course, there is always an ambiguity on the meaning of the word adaptation. What does it mean to make adaptations? If adaptation in this specific context is to make sure the Gospel is better transmitted, yes. If adaptation is to bring the spirit of the world within the Church and to surrender to mundanity, then no. As you see, it depends. Some discernment is needed. We need, of course, to make sure the message is transmitted. We need to do everything in our power so that the mission is accomplished. Because it is a mission. The Church is the mission. It is not just being somewhere and staying there, without saying nothing and doing nothing. But we need to pay attention not to bring into the Church all the practices of the world: some are good, some are not. The object is not the same, the mission is not the same.

There is no easy answer for most of the challenges that the Church faces nowadays, but how should the Church fulfil its mission and its responsibilities towards God and towards Humanity?

F.G.W: We need to stay faithful to ourselves, in the very nature of what we are. We need discernment. It is not a big no, but it is not a big yes either. It’s just that we need to find what we need to bring, but also, we need to keep the very essence of the message we are the witness of. It is really important, because we live in a world…well, you see the world we live in right now: wars, uncertainty, dangers of every kind. I am not sure if we need to bring, within the Church, this sort of dictatorship of opinions we see everywhere else. Shall we bring that sort of battle of opinion to the Church without seeking a consensus from a common experience of the faith? The Church can adapt, but the Holy Spirit has to remain the first protagonist of the Church. We need to keep that spiritual line, instead of just being a human organization doing things. It’s important to keep in mind our divine mission. It’s something strong.