The new Vatican prefect for consecrated life says his key job is “rebuilding a relationship of trust” with religious orders -- a situation he seems to blame on his predecessor.
“We have had to confront many difficulties. There was quite a lot of distrust on the part of the religious, due to some positions taken previously. Now, the focal point of the work is precisely that of rebuilding a relationship of trust,” said Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz in the latest edition of the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni.
The 64-year-old Brazilian took over the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in January after the retirement of Cardinal Franc Rode. During his time in office, the Slovenian cleric frequently referred to a “crisis” in religious life that he traced back to the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
Notably, in 2008, Cardinal Rode undertook an apostolic visitation of women religious in the United States. Archbishop Braz also seemed skeptical of the initial approach taken by that investigation.
“There was mistrust and opposition. We’ve spoken with them, their representatives have also come here to Rome,” he said.
“We’ve started to listen again. It's not to say that problems don't exist. But, we have to confront them in another way. Without preemptive condemnations. Listening to reasons.”
Archbishop Braz grew up in a poor family in the town of Mafra in southern Brazil. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Apucarana in 1974. He admits to having been influenced by “Liberation Theology” in those early days.
“We were idealists, we wanted give our life to something big. The option for the poor gave us great hope, especially for those of us coming from poor families.”
That legacy leaves him with mixed emotions, given that many of the Catholic groups who promoted the idea – often described as a hybrid of Marxism and Christianity - now operate as secular non-governmental organizations.
“They said they wanted to change the Church, but their faith failed and what was left was sociology. This can only arouse sadness,” he told 30 Giorni.
“Yet I remain convinced that in this period something great happened for the whole Church. A realization that human sin creates structures of sin. Also, that the preference for the poor is God’s choice, as seen in the Gospel.”
Towards the end of his interview Archbishop Braz was equally candid about his skepticism over the Legion of Christ. The order’s future is currently being reviewed by the Vatican following the revelation that their late founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had sexually abused seminarians over many years and fathered children with different women.
“As far as the Legionaries go, I was never convinced by the lack of trust in personal freedom that I saw in their structures,” said Archbishop Braz.
“It was an authoritarianism that sought to dominate everything with discipline. I took the seminarians of Brasilia out of their seminaries, because I saw that things couldn’t go on that way.”