Rethinking “mission territory”

George Weigel

In his June 1908 apostolic constitution, Sapienti Consilio, Pope Pius X decreed that, as of November 3 that year, the Catholic Church in the United States would no longer be supervised by the Vatican’s missionary agency, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide). American Catholicism had grown up. The U.S. Church would now be a mission-sending Church, not “mission territory.”

This pattern has long characterized the organization of the world Church. Young local Churches begin as “mission territory” and their bishops are chosen in consultation with what’s now called the “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” (but which everyone in Rome still refers to by its old name, “Propaganda,” or simply “Prop”). After these young Churches demonstrate that they can stand on their own spiritually, organizationally, and financially, they cease being “mission territory” and relate to the Roman Curia like the older local Churches; the bishops of these newly “graduated” local Churches are thus chosen in consultation with the Congregation for Bishops.

The rapid de-Christianization of Europe, however, prompts a thought-experiment: What should the Church do when this process of ecclesial maturation slips into reverse? Where do venerable but collapsing local Churches “fit” in their relationship to the Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church? If there can be a (sometimes lengthy) period of ecclesiastical apprenticeship during which a young, growing local Church is supervised by Propaganda Fide, might there be a parallel arrangement for decaying older local Churches, in which they’re taken into a form of ecclesiastical trusteeship aimed at rebuilding their evangelical, catechetical, and pastoral strength? And if we can imagine that (admittedly bold) move, which Roman agency should be the trustee?

For purposes of this thought-experiment, my nominee would be the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. It seems the logical place. For John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the Magna Carta of the New Evangelization, called for urgent evangelism among Christians who had fallen away from the practice of the faith, or who had been poorly catechized, or who had, more likely, suffered both maladies, the latter contributing to the former.

That seems to describe most of the Church in western Europe. So perhaps the Church’s central administration should stop relating to dying European local Churches as if they weren’t dying, and recognize that they are, in fact, mission territory. But rather than putting such local Churches back under the supervision of “Prop,” put them into trusteeship under the supervision of a reconstituted and re-staffed Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization – just like a failed company that goes into Chapter 11 bankruptcy is supervised by a trustee until such time as the company can stand on its own feet again.

What would happen under this “trusteeship”? Again, let’s think outside the box. The trustee agency would recommend to the Pope replacements for failed bishops and nominees for empty sees, drawing candidates from around the world who had demonstrated success in enlivening a sclerotic or corrupt local Church. Pastoral life in the moribund local Church and the structures of its national bureaucracy would be examined by Catholics who are expert in making organization serve evangelization; those consulters would then make recommendations to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization for mandated reforms. There would be apostolic visitations of seminaries and houses of religious formation, led by seminary rectors and religious men and women from living and growing communities, who would recommend needed changes; the trustee agency would then mandate their implementation.

Where might this form of trusteeship be tested? How about Germany? The practice of the faith is dying there. Senior German churchmen have made clear that they believe something different than what’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whether the issue is the nature of marriage, the ethics of human love, the character of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood, the authority of revelation, or the enduring effects of baptism. And what could be more appropriate on the quincentenary of the Reformation than to call German Catholicism to a thoroughgoing Catholic reform?

Perhaps this thought-experiment – putting the German Church into ecclesiastical trusteeship – isn’t the answer to the Church’s German problem. But recognizing that Germany is mission territory is the beginning of any serious analysis of a grave situation, and any serious thinking about how it might be addressed.

Featured image by dronepicr | wikicommons

COMING UP: Seeds of Hope, Catholic schools to host “2018-19 Around the AoD Tour”

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Seeds of Hope, in conjunction with Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools, will present the 2018-19 Around the Archdiocese of Denver (AoD) Tour, hosting open-to-the-public school tours at each of the K-8 and high schools that will showcase the faith formation and learning taking place in each of the 36 Archdiocese of Denver schools.

The Around the AoD Tour kicks off on Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Mar. 19, 2019. To commemorate the tour stops, each person who visits a school on the 2018-19 Around the AoD the Tour will receive a free 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour t-shirt. A representative from Seeds of Hope and a tour guide from each school will greet and lead visitors. This is a chance to see inner workings of the schools, ask questions of leadership and see up close the differences the schools are making in their communities every day. No matter where somebody is in the Denver Metro or Northern Colorado area, there is a 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour stop coming soon to their community.

“We want people in their communities to be able to see firsthand how our schools are building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth,” said Seeds of Hope Executive Director Jay Clark. “Our schools are the future of our Church and seeing the students and teachers in action with school leaders is an incredibly inspiring way to spend an hour.”

Signing up for a tour is easy – just visit seedsofhopedenver.org, call 303-715-3127 or email info@seedsofhopedenver.org to choose a tour
date and t-shirt size.

2018-19 Around the AoD Tour Schedule

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
Sacred Heart
1317 Mapleton Avenue, Boulder, 80304
11:00 AM

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
St. Louis 
925 Grant Avenue, Louisville, 80027
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 9, 2018
Annunciation
3536 Lafayette Street, Denver, 80205
11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Stephen
414 South Hyland Park Drive, Glenwood Springs, 81601 11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Clare of Assisi
31622 Highway 6, Edwards, 81632
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Baptist
350 Emery Street, Longmont, 80501
9:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Evangelist
1730 West 12th Street, Loveland, 80537
11:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. Joseph
127 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins, 80521
1:30 PM

Tue., Oct. 30, 2018
St. Mary’s Greeley
2351 22nd Avenue, Greeley, 80631
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Holy Family HS
5195 West 144th Avenue, Broomfield, 80023
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Nativity of Our Lord
900 West Midway Blvd., Broomfield, 80020
1:00 PM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
St. Vincent De Paul
1164 South Josephine Street, Denver, 80210
9:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
2256 South Logan Street, Denver, 80210
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Most Precious Blood
3959 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, 80210
1:00 PM

Thu., Nov. 15, 2018
Bishop Machebeuf HS
458 Uinta Way, Denver, 80230
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
All Souls
4951 South Pennsylvania St., Englewood, 80113
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
St. Mary’s Littleton
6833 South Prince Street, Littleton, 80120
1:00 PM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
Blessed Sacrament
1973 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
11:00 AM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
St. James
1250 Newport Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Tue., Jan. 15, 2019
Frassati Catholic Academy
3951 Cottonwood Lakes Blvd., Thornton, 80241
11:00 AM

Thu., Jan. 17, 2019
St. Rose of Lima
1345 West Dakota Avenue, Denver, 80223
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Our Lady of Fatima
10530 West 20th Avenue, Lakewood, 80215
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Notre Dame
2165 South Zenobia Street, Denver, 80219
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Assumption
2341 East 78th Avenue, Denver, 80229
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Holy Trinity
3050 West 76th Avenue, Westminster, 80030
1:00 PM

Thu., Feb. 7, 2019
St. Francis De Sales
235 South Sherman Street, Denver, 80209
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Sts. Peter and Paul
3920 Pierce Street, Wheat Ridge, 80033
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Shrine of St. Anne
7320 Grant Place, Arvada, 80002
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
St. Thomas More
7071 East Otero Avenue, Centennial, 80112
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
Our Lady of Loreto
18000 E. Arapahoe Road, Foxfield, 80016
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Good Shepherd
620 Elizabeth Street, Denver, 80206
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Christ the King
860 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
St. Catherine of Siena
4200 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80211
11:00 AM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
Guardian Angels
1843 West 52nd Avenue, Denver, 80221
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Therese
1200 Kenton Street, Aurora, 80010
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Pius X
13680 East 14th Place, Aurora, 80011
1:00 PM

About Seeds of Hope: The mission of Seeds of Hope is to cultivate minds and hearts for Christ by making a transformative Catholic education financially accessible to any family who seeks it. Seeds of Hope accomplishes it mission by providing tuition assistance to schools across the Archdiocese of Denver for families in need through fundraising activities. Seeds of Hope also partners with the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools on a Variable Tuition Program that helps calculate affordable tuition for families. Learn more about Seeds of Hope at www.seedsofhopedenver.org.