Uprooted: Dialogues on the Liquid Church
Aldo Maria Valli and Aurelio Porfiri
$16.68 paper, $7.41 Kindle
Review by Giuseppe Pellegrino
Are you struggling to make sense of all the confusion in the Church and suffering because of it? Then you need to read this book!
Uprooted: Dialogues on the Liquid Church is written by a 61-year old journalist and a 51-year-old musician who both grew up singing “silly songs” at Mass in the 1970s and gradually began to understand that the post–Vatican II Catholicism they were born into was not a healthy thing. The format of Uprooted is a back-and-forth discussion covering various topics relevant to the life of the Church and the experience of being lay Catholics in recent decades. It is easy to read and will console anyone who has recently been asking more and more, “Is it just me, or is there something off base in the Church today?” Uprooted covers a wide range of topics from the state of the liturgy to the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family to homosexuality and other issues affecting the priesthood and the Church.
Aldo Maria Valli, an Italian television journalist and blog author, will be known to many English-speaking readers as one of the journalists who helped publish the testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in August 2018. Aurelio Porfiri, a composer, choirmaster, and author, is a native Roman who loves the Tradition of the Church and has found modern Catholicism to be more and more “uprooted” and lacking the depth and stability it ought to offer those seeking guidance in their faith.
What Valli and Porfiri relate to each other and to those following their conversation is the story of their conversion, “not from one Church to another, as happens to many converts, but from a church that is Catholic in name but in fact is modernist to a Church that is truly Catholic. A Church that is difficult to find, but which does exist.”
Porfiri opens the first dialogue by explaining that as he began to discover the rich patrimony of the Church’s tradition of sacred music, he also found that priests did not like it when he tried to share his newfound awareness with them:
[N]obody ever told me that the music which should be sung in church was something different. I discovered this on my own, and after this discovery I became discouraged by priests who were opposed to the fact that I had rediscovered my liturgical and musical roots and did not wish to continue singing the silly songs which they threw at us in church. I understood — I don’t know if you have the same impression — that the Catholicism in which I grew up was already polluted, sick and weakened by the shock waves which it had endured in those years, thanks to the holes which had been opened in the Church by Vatican II.
This questioning led both of the authors to a growing skepticism toward the “renewal” of Vatican II, as they have seen the Church they love becoming ever more hollowed out as a result of the massive upheaval, liturgical and otherwise, of the past fifty years. Valli writes, “It was necessary for me to be almost forty years old before I began to notice that there was something that was not quite right in my Church, to sense that not all of the fruits of the Council were good, and that just because a man is a priest he is not automatically holy and honest. This was a process that became ever more painful, as little by little my awareness grew.”
Both Porfiri and Valli have suffered persecution and rejection because of their outspokenness. Porfiri relates how his passion for sacred polyphony has come at a heavy price in his professional career within the Church:
I always remember how as [a choir at my parish] sang a piece in four-part harmony, I felt myself lifted off the ground, and I asked myself: But why has this music been forbidden to us in favor of cheap imitations? Maybe I felt this because I had a particular aesthetic sensibility, but I believed (and I still believe) that it is wrong for the people of God to be deprived of the treasures of the Church in favor of musical pieces of the second order. And because I have said this, I have been treated as a plague victim, condemned to isolation and social death as a result.
Valli also shares about how he has suffered because he has dared to speak out: “I believe that the genuineness of our positions is testified to by a fact: anyone among us who has asked questions and expressed perplexity about the present situation in the Church has paid and is paying for it personally.” Their conversation is never abstract, but rather deeply indicative of the personal price that must be paid for witnessing to the truth, often at the hands of other Christians.
The Italian context of Porfiri’s and Valli’s discussion provides an interesting backdrop to their observations about the state of the Church and will provide English-speaking readers with an awareness that the frustration felt by lay Catholics is a universal phenomenon today. They undertake a vigorous discussion and debate the papacies since Vatican II, an issue that goes to the heart of the confusion many faithful Catholics feel today about recent ecclesial history. Valli notes that Paul VI has often been hailed as the pope who gave the Church Humanae Vitae, and yet in other areas he seemed to allow the smoke of Satan to freely permeate the Church. He asks: “Was Montini the Pope who, despite the Council, succeeded in maintaining the barque of Peter on a straight course, or was he the Pope who, because of the Council, led the barque of Peter to shipwreck? Perhaps he was both.” Porfiri in turn discusses his frustration with the way Paul VI was said to have been unhappy with the liturgical reform after the Council, “yet in that regard he did not do much to stem this phenomenon which has now become radicalized.”
It is clear that both men are on a journey of understanding the shortcomings of the Novus Ordo, of “what happened” to the liturgy and the rest of the Church since 1965. Likewise, they discuss the way in which the election of John Paul II in 1978 made them hopeful for the Church. “He succeeded in a short time in restoring faith in the Church and restoring her credible image,” says Porfiri. Valli shares how he and his wife were directly inspired by Papa Wojtyla to have six children together, a choice that often brought them ridicule: “It was he who exhorted us to believe in faithful conjugal love, to be open to life, to go against the current with respect to the dominant culture, and to make the Christian life one of living witness.” And yet, at the same time, both of these men are painfully aware of the problems caused by the way in which John Paul II became a sort of celebrity-pope, as Valli relates:
The great gatherings that John Paul II called for, such as the World Youth Days, were the triumph of this sort of narration. And yet while all this was happening, the churches were emptying, the faithful were falling prey to relativism imposed by the prevailing culture, traditions were being abandoned because their significance was no longer perceived; they were only seen as tinsel. I repeat: judging all this in hindsight is far too easy. But surely at the time some realized the dangers.
It is this sort of acknowledgment, that the matters and personalities being discussed are complex, that makes this book so intriguing. Neither Valli nor Porfiri seeks to give a simplistic analysis or to offer easy solutions for the deeply layered problems which afflict contemporary Catholicism.
The authors also are convinced that the present crisis of the Church goes far deeper than just a need to “restore what has been lost” but forms a challenge to the Church to reframe the way in which she proposes and presents herself to a society that has become completely unmoored from reality. Valli makes a very provocative assertion:
[T]he key problem is not the confrontation of traditionalists vs. progressives. These are only labels, widely used by those who, either not knowing how to or not wanting to debate, take refuge in pre-fabricated slogans. The problem is very simple: who and what do we want to take as the decisive point of reference for our lives? God or man? The eternal divine law or the caprices of the creature? The objectivity of good and evil or the subjectivism which justifies everything? I know so many good and faithful Catholics who, when I ask these questions, look at me in a daze. They are not accustomed to framing the question in these terms.
The above passage invites faithful Catholics to ask some difficult questions about what they are really fighting for and also what their motives and hopes are as they undertake the struggle. It is a challenge to understand the readiness needed on the part of the Church to share Christ’s suffering if she is going to be faithful. Valli and Porfiri are not pining for a restoration of lost glory to the Church; they are aware of the price of fidelity to the Gospel today and prefer a Church that is faithful and suffering to one that is externally triumphant but avoiding her interior wounds.
Valli minces no words in critiquing both the right and the left within the Church when he says, “If the problem of the modernists is that of always being out of breath, because the world will always be more modernist than they are, the problem of traditionalists is always trying to establish who is the most traditionalist ‘traditionalist.’” Nor does he spare the present occupant of the Chair of Peter: “Look at how La Civiltà Cattolica, to which I no longer subscribe because it has nothing to say, has been reduced to simply being a loudspeaker for the soundbites which are dear to the heart of Pope Francis, which in themselves are positions that are very impoverished to begin with.”
Porfiri and Valli discuss the confusion caused during the pontificate of Pope Francis by the Synods on the Family, the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and the apparent presence of a homosexualist agenda within the clergy and the hierarchy. There is a refreshing candor that permeates the book, rooted in a deeper awareness that the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to radical conversion, beginning with each individual believer.
In the end, through the stimulating back-and-forth of their dialogue, Porfiri and Valli conclude that as Christians we are called to be hopeful. There is a joyful confidence which permeates Uprooted and which will leave its readers encouraged even as they continue to wrestle with so much that is painful in society and in the Church. Valli offers us this hopeful prognosis:
The reasons for hope are very slim, humanly speaking. But the Lord will not abandon us in the trial. As Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “The Church will experience a new flowering, and once again it will appear to men as the homeland which gives them life and hope beyond death”(Faith and the Future). I am convinced of this. I don’t know how long this trial will last, I don’t know how deep and widespread will be the apostasy of the shepherds, but the rebirth will assuredly happen. And perhaps it is already starting. The designs of the Lord are often mysterious….Thank God I am a Catholic and I believe in the special assistance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary. And its only for this reason that I am able to continue to go forward calmly.
For his part, Valli offers a straightforward reason for his hope:
Thank God I am a Catholic and I believe in the special assistance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary. And it is only for this reason that I am able to continue to go forward calmly.
Uprooted provides the modern Church food for thought, balanced reflection, and challenging questions, while maintaining hope that the present trials of the Church are part of a purification and refinement that God will bring to fruition in His own good time.
This post has been updated.