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Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
Pope Francis and the ‘Third Church’
As the one who heralded it, and nurtured its beginnings, he is always going to be remembered with gratitude
March 13, 2023 11:17 AM GMT

March 13, 2023 11:19 AM GMT

Two events in recent times graphically reveal the changes taking place in the Church today. The first is the death of Pope Benedict XVI at the end of last year. The second event falls on March 13, marking 10 years of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

Many refer to Francis’ time as pope as the "second spring" in the Church, after the dreary winter of the two previous incumbents, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The previous popes were keen on safeguarding certain aspects of the Church that began five centuries ago in the Council of Trent (1545-1563).

The Tridentine Church

In the decades after the Council of Trent, energetic efforts were made to rid the Church of institutional chaos and corruption.

It was widely admitted that the doctrinal ignorance of the clergy was a contributing factor to this, and so the seminary system came into play, largely organized and conducted by the Jesuits.

Soon a seminary in every diocese became the aspiration of every bishop, and a degree in canon law became a must for clerics who aspired to positions of authority. Four hundred years later, this is still largely true.

The Tridentine age also ushered in a more centralized process of the appointments of bishops, now closely monitored by Rome. Gone were the times when a bishop was chosen by popular acclaim.

These two aspects of Church life — doctrine and the episcopate — were tightly controlled during the following centuries. An increasingly centralized papacy even promoted itself as “infallible” during the first Vatican Council (1869).

History shows us the Church for what it really was: a largely European institution, monarchical and imperialistic. Rome was distrustful of all things ‘modern,’ and quick to condemn and reject. In fact, we had a totalitarian Church.

A Changing World

But the world was changing rapidly, and unevenly, and the clash of trends and ideologies made the Roman Church increasingly defensive.

What were some of these changes? The scientific criticism of the Bible. Growing industrial economies everywhere, in the grip of both capitalism and socialism. Resurgent nationalism in several countries. Changes in lifestyle brought about by technology. Increasing militarism as a threat to world peace — these were some of the challenges to the “Roman” Catholic Church on the cusp of the Vatican Council II.

The Council (1962-65) introduced many far-reaching changes, not just in the liturgy and church structure, but especially in a change of attitude to “others” — to the Jews, to the Protestants, and the Orthodox (ecumenism), to the world religions (interfaith dialogue), and to the “world” as a whole.

Resistance to the Council

Not everyone was comfortable with this, however. Several in the hierarchy felt that the Council had surrendered to modernism. Their resistance was quiet but tenacious.

The greatest antagonism however came from the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. He challenged the Council, seceded from its reforms, and set up the Society of St. Pius X, naming it after a pope who feared modernity, tried his best to suppress it, and even snooped on his own cardinals.

Lefebvre was the most radical, but there were others too who resented and rejected what Karl Rahner called the “coming of the world Church.”

For if the “First Church” was that of the early Great Councils (325-451), and was located in the eastern Mediterranean; and the “Second Church” was that of European expansion, inspired by Francis Xavier (1540) and lasting until the Second World War;  the “Third Church” — or the “World Church” (in Rahner’s words) begins with Vatican II.

It marks the coming of age of the faith with deep roots in the cultures of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

The late Pope Benedict XVI must be seen in this light. For him, however, “Europe was the faith, and the faith was Europe,” as Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc would say.

Benedict’s idea of the Church was that of a “little flock,” kept unsullied by the relativism of the modern world, and the contamination of strange cultures.

He truly believed in and adhered to a “Christendom” that Europe had once espoused and glorified, but had now jettisoned forever.

Benedict did not wish to see the Church mutating into something else together, even as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. There is no new name for this yet, but we may call it the “third Church.”

Pope Francis was different

But Francis, that “man from a far country” was different. “I chose the name ‘Francis’,” he once explained, “because St. Francis was a man of poverty, a man of peace, and a man with a care for creation.”

He has steadily dismantled the papal court and made of the papacy what it was always meant to be — a pastoral service. And in doing so, Francis has fundamentally changed the way in which we see the Church.

Francis tells us that the very first words of the Gospel are about the compassion and mercy of God, not about dogmas, rules, or interdicts. Certainly not about canon law!

Therefore our response must be always to show compassion to all our brothers and sisters, especially to the poor, the marginalized, refugees, the homeless, and the sick.

And Francis has practiced this publicly, regularly, unapologetically. “The Church,” in one of his famous sayings, “is a hospital on the battlefield.”

He has given us a new perspective on faith: not orthodoxy, correct belief; but orthopraxis, acting rightly. That’s what God wants of us.

Many other things can be said about Francis, but we will say just two because these two innovations of his will leave their impact on the Church long after he has gone.


The first is synodality.  This is not so much an event or a slogan as a style and a way of being, by which the Church lives out her mission in the world.

All these years, we have been used to a hierarchical church, where bishops ruled and the laity obeyed.

A synodal church is the opposite: it is built on the participation of all — young, old; men and women; priests, religious and laity; the educated and the ordinary — as all walk towards (the original meaning of ‘syn-odos’) their mission, revealed in communion with the Spirit of Jesus.

It's a new way of functioning, something which neither “obedient” Catholics nor “Protestants” are used to. And it is based on discernment, or openness to the Spirit, which now becomes the new way of proceeding for the Church.

This is Pope Francis’s gift to the Church. Will it be cherished? Will it be remembered? Will it be used?

Care for Creation

And the second: Pope Francis has placed the care for creation at the center of his mission.

With Laudato Si', Francis compiled the compendium of church teaching on ecology and explicitly linked it with the socio-economic turmoil faced by a world of climate change and rapid deterioration of ecosystems.

His message has transcended the Catholic Church, joined faith and science, reimagined humanity's relationship with the rest of nature, and positioned him as a world leader on the many environmental challenges facing the globe.

As the climate activist Bill McKibben wrote recently:  "Laudato Si' remains the most important document of the millennium on the climate crisis, and indeed among the best critiques ever issued on capitalism, consumerism, and our strained and unequal modernity."

This brings me to my final point.

The 'Third Church'

The “Third Church” is the new shape of the Church for the present millennium, a Christian community that has outgrown its historical moorings in Europe and the Mediterranean, and is busy finding its roots in South America, Africa, and Asia.

The typical Catholic now is no longer a white man. She is more likely to be a colored woman, not affluent, but carrying herself with confidence, outspoken wherever the need arises, and with a vision for herself and those whom she holds dear.

She probably lives in a country where Catholics hold little economic or social power, and may even be the victims of persecution and discrimination. Catholic communities of the “Third Church” may not always be led by a celibate clergy but will be guided by both men and women, most of whom are married. Their bonds with those of other faiths are warm and enriching.

Indeed, it is an entirely new experience of faith — not dogmatic, not exclusivist, not cluttered with norms and rituals, but springing from life in all its depth and complexity.

This is then what “discipleship” means. This is what “synodality” is in practice. And the one who heralded it, and who nurtured its beginnings, is always remembered with gratitude.

He is Pope Francis, “the man from a far country.”

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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11 Comments on this Story
This article is absolute heresy. Vatican II from 1962-65 is what made the entire Roman Catholic Church and every laity within it now invalid. There is not one member of the Roman Catholic Church From the current demon pope down that is currently valid and the only valid members now are either in a nursing facility or buried. Scripture tells us that the Church will faulter, but it will return. The new ways instituted by the Second Vatican Council were instituted by satan and now run by the creatin, but as stated, the Church will overcome. But never through the efforts of this pope or the Second Council.
You are right. He should leave immediately the Church. I never understood all those selfcalled "catholics" that are the opposite of catholicism. If they like a different religion, join another or make a new one as they please. Destroying (from within) Church is being not only heretics. It is being treacherous hypocrite.
Time to uproot old dogmas such as ending the idea of celibacy of priests and nuns, permitting married people, both men and women, to become priests and nuns. This includes women in the priesthood and men as nuns if this is their preference. If children have parents as priests or nuns, let them emerge from the shadows. Permit free exchange among Protestant and Catholic denominations, focusing on Jesus rather than religiosity. Encourage scientific studies and knowledge among Catholic laity and priesthood and nuns. Have the Church enter into business, being self supporting, as Paul always worked to support himself during his missionary journeys. Support the persecuted church in Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America, and let the lines between Protestant and Catholic become blurred. This isn’t the Third Church, but the First Church, the Bride of Christ Church. The Church, if it is even to survive into the modern age, must become transformed into what it was always supposed to be.
Will the Third order herald the admission of gay relationships,openness to abortion,female ministers. etc. I hope the Vatican and church in general promoting ideas that there is hope of tolerance and moderate approach by Muslims,stop signing accords of tolerance as though it is Christians who are militant.Stop declaring Islam is also Abraimic in origin and that Christianity has common values with Islam and trying to convince the flock into believing such falsehood. Why is Francis so opposed to Latin mass? I doubt that modernism will save the church.
Jesuits being Jesuits.
Vocations flourished under St John Paul II. They also did BEFORE Vatican II. The Church after the 2nd Vatican Council saw a tsunami of priest and religious exit the Church. All this spells a de Christianized society. The writer is ignoring this. He seems to think this collapse is positive. Europe is being overrun with Muslims. How disastrous to have apologists for the demolition of Christendom from within the Church itself.
Pope Francis can promote synodality and his Laudate si advocacy without sacrificing doctrines that has held made the Catholic Church the beacon of light in terms of Christ's teachings. We do not condemn the gender confused person but we do not have to condone their lifestyle. That would surely be a great pastoral challenge but one should be called to conversion and not regression.
This article fills my soul with delight! The seeds of this vision of Church were sown by Jesus himself. It has taken a long time for the message of the great commandment to begin to bear real fruit."Love your neighbour as yourself". Pope Francis seems to bring that commandment into the space of 'Love as you yourself are loved' 'as I have loved you' 'Go and do the same'...listen to the other, respect the other, make space for the other..for it is the business of God, not a bound and blinded fearful rigid cult like community, that the Church is called to be.,The Divinity of God will not be mocked or restrained by the self imposed restrictions that have become part of the norm of some elements of Catholic Christian life. It is wonderful to see Pope Francis do things like befriending people of other faiths and none because that is what real Catholics and pwople of other faiths and none, 'on the ground' in real life situations, do! Jesus shared an image of God to his disciples which was outlandish for them to contemplate.."My Father..causes the sun to shine, the rain to fall on everybody, regardless"! Pope Francis is demonstrating something of that, the synod process is calling the Church towards that and I live in hope that one day the Church will be that blessing of peace and nurture and appreciation of all that God has created in all her words and deeds.
Utter nonsense. This "Third Church" is just another offshoot of the Vatican II Institution, which is not the Catholic Church. It is a counterfeit church that will soon go the way of all other heresies.
So terrible article to be uncommentable. A fast note: islamologist Bausani noted that Islam is more an Orthopraxis than an Orthodoxy. But we are talking of Holy Roman Church. Sincerely: read again the Creed. Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, Factorem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibilium Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigénitum et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sǽcula: Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero, génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: per quem ómnia facta sunt; qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem, descéndit de cælis, et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex Maria Vírgine et homo factus est, crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto, passus et sepúltus est, et resurréxit tértia die secúndum Scriptúras, et ascéndit in cælum, sedet ad déxteram Patris, et íterum ventúrus est cum glória, iudicáre vivos et mórtuos, cuius regni non erit finis. Credo in Spíritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificántem, qui ex Patre Filióque procédit, qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur et conglorificátur, qui locútus est per prophétas. Et unam sanctam cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam. Confíteor unum Baptísma in remissiónem peccatórum. Et exspécto resurrectiónem mortuórum, et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen
How can you have orthopraxis without orthodoxy? Surely, logically speaking, orthodoxy must be the foundation of any orthopraxis? I think Pope Francis is simply being orthodox by encouraging orthopraxis: Jesus said to the people to do as the pharisees said, not as the pharisees did. Despite their hypocrisy, they still preached the law. But Jesus did more: he preached with authority, because he practiced what he preached. This is what I believe is Pope Francis's focus.
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