Ten Commandments for Church Reform by John Wijngaards – a review by Séamus Ahearne OSA

Ten Commandments for Church Reform by John Wijngaards.

I read the book. John writes easily and clearly. It is a very refreshing reflection. Many of the characters who appear, were familiar from our own times. The issues are obvious and much debated. They don’t and won’t go away. His observations are obvious and almost mainstream! His commitment and energy, is extraordinary. It is a Memoir and therefore it is littered with the ‘I’. His life was rich. His passion for evangelisation, is most impressive. His excitement at delving into new means of communication, is challenging. His particular background in India is revealing. His wartime past had a profound effect on him. His sharp emphasis on the role of women; his focus on clerical celibacy; his deep concerns on governance; his clobbering of Humanae Vitae (and afterwards)  and the associated problems with sexuality, are illustrative of major fault lines, in Church administration.

John is a man who thinks. In some ways, he is a hero to us all. Ministers of faith are called to be thinkers; are asked to incarnate Christ, in everyday life and language. There is no rest for the minister. Every day is new. ‘Faith seeking understanding’ is the motto and banner over all of us. I expect he would find totally incomprehensible the ornate language of our Liturgies (an example is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) which is riddled with non-sense. It is overpowered by impossible language.

I had only two or three simple quibbles. Poor Augustine got blamed for the sexual chaos in the Church. Now Augustine said many stupid things. He didn’t get everything right. But I think John overdid the blame. His set up scene, for the interview with Augustine, was very contrived. He fitted the answers too conveniently to his desired conclusions. That is too neat and much too literal. Something of that literal inclination, occurred elsewhere too. He was too certain in places. He explained this sometimes by the practical clarity of the Dutch mind. Augustine was an Orator. His background was in Rhetoric. His forum was the debating chamber of life. I think John missed some of that in his earnestness.

My next comment was his mention of the Italian Prosper Grech. In fact, Prospero was Maltese. His English was perfect. John compared his own success in front of the audience with the boredom of those who listened to Prospero. That seems to me to be most unlikely!

I conclude. Wijngaards’ book does prompt all of us, who minister in the Church, towards deep reflection on the privileged and holy place we have, in so many lives. John emerged as happy; as fully alive; as a driven person, in the world of faith. He does inspire. In so many ways, his book is hearty. It is teeming in humanity and godliness. It is gracious. It is angry in parts but more hurting than angry. It contrasts with those who simply complain and are full of cold and dark criticism. John’s God is dancing, but is a demanding partner in the dance of life.


Séamus Ahearne osa

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