Speaking to an audience of journalists at the Lateran, in a lecture that was one in a series designed to promote the mission of the City of Rome, Cardinal Sodano emphasized the need to carry out reforms without provoking divisions within the Church.
Distinguishing also between outward appearances and inner reality, the cardinal compared the Church to a tree, in which the trunk remains healthy and intact even if the bark is scarred and peeled. Thus he argued that the continuing health of the Church across twenty centuries can be seen in the witness of the martyrs (of whom, he pointed out, millions have died during this century)-- despite the damage done by heresies, schisms, and the sins of the faithful.
The Church is constantly called to renewal, the cardinal said, in order to increase "the many fruits of holiness." For the keys to proper renewal, he relied on the work of Congar, the French Dominican who was raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in recognition of his enormous contribution to Catholic theology.
Congar laid down four general rules for reform. First, those who love the Church should seek not to create something new, but to show the Church in all her beauty. Second, reform should preserve and strengthen the communion among the world's bishops-- although, as Cardinal Sodano observed, there is still ample room of individual initiative. Third, reformers must be patient, allowing time for their efforts to mature. Fourth, true reform always involves a return to the traditions of the Church.
The cardinal concluded his address with two challenges-- one to all men of good will, the other specifically to Catholics. To the former he suggested that before making any judgment of the Church they should look at the institution from every angle, not neglecting the witness of the centuries. To the faithful, he offered "an invitation to love the Church more deeply, as a second mother."