Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
The core of Jesus' preaching wasn't the Church but the Kingdom of God -- a utopia of total revolution/reconciliation of all creation. This is so true that the Gospels, except Matthew, never talk about Church but always talk about Kingdom. With the rejection of the person and message of Jesus, the Kingdom didn't come and instead the Church arose as a community of those who bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus and keep his legacy by trying to live it out in history.
Since its inception, a bifurcation was established: the bulk of the faithful adopted Christianity as a spiritual path, in dialogue with the surrounding culture. And another group, much smaller, agreed to adopt, under control of the Emperor, the moral leadership of the Roman Empire that was in sharp decline. It copied the imperial political-legal structures to organize the faith community. That group, the hierarchy, was structured around the "sacred power" (sacra potestas) model. It was a high risk path, because if there was one thing Christ always rejected, it was power. For him, power in its three expressions as shown in the temptations in the desert -- the prophetic, religious and political, when it isn't service but domination, belongs to the demonic sphere. However this was the path followed by the hierarchical institutional Church in the form of an absolute monarchy that rejected sharing power with the laity, the vast majority of the faithful. It comes down to us today in the context of a very serious crisis of confidence.
It happens that when power predominates, it drives love away. Indeed, the organizational style of the hierarchical church is bureaucratic, formal and sometimes inflexible. In it, there's a charge for everything, nothing is forgotten or ever forgiven. There's virtually no room for mercy and for a true understanding of the divorced and homosexuals. The imposition of celibacy for priests, deep-rooted anti-feminism, distrust of everything that has to do with sexuality and pleasure, the cult of personality of the pope, and its claim to be the only true church and the "sole guardian established by God of eternal, universal and immutable natural law" such that, in the words of Benedict XVI, it "assumes a leadership role on all mankind." In 2000, then Cardinal Ratzinger still repeated in the document Dominus Iesus the medieval doctrine that "outside the Church there is no salvation" and that those outside "are at serious risk of being lost." This kind of Church certainly doesn't have salvation. It's slowly losing sustainability worldwide.
What Church would be worthy of salvation? The one that humbly returns to the figure of the historical Jesus, a simple prophetic laborer, the Son Incarnate, imbued with a divine mission to proclaim that God is there with His grace and mercy for all; a Church that recognizes other denominations as different expressions of the sacred heritage of Jesus; one that is open to dialogue with all religions and spiritual paths, seeing there the action of the Spirit that always comes before the missionary; one that is willing to learn from all the accumulated wisdom of mankind; one which renounces all power and making a spectacle of faith so that it isn't merely a facade lacking vitality; one which presents itself as "advocate and defender" of the oppressed of any kind, willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom in the likeness of its founder; one in which the Pope had the courage to give up the pretense of legal power over all and would be a unifying reference point for the Christian Plan with the pastoral mission of empowering all in faith, hope and love.
This church is in the realm of our possibilities. We just have to be imbued with the spirit of the Nazarene. Then it would really be the Church of human beings, of Jesus, of God, proof that Jesus' dream of the Kingdom is real. It would be a place where the Kingdom of the liberated to which we are all invited, would be brought about.