Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

When the German theologians last week released their declaration calling for far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church culture, structures and teaching on sexual morality, it had been signed by 143 leading theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The publication of the declaration on Friday coincided with the resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in the culmination of sustained popular protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Since then, Arab street protests have spread to other countries of the Middle East, notably including Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Algeria.
The theologians’ revolt has similarly been spreading beyond the original 143 German signatories.
A note by Bill Lindsey in the Open Tabernacle comments thread drew my attention to the current list of signatories, which as of yesterday (February 18th) had grown to 245 German theologians. Simple calculations demonstrate that if the original 143 represented about a third of the total, then 245 are more than half – an absolute majority. (There will still be others who agree with all or most of the points, but have withheld their signatures). Even more interesting to me, was an observation at the bottom of the German list, confirming what I suspected when I first wrote about this; theologians in other parts of the world are now adding their names.


Das internationale Interesse am Memorandum ist groß. Immer mehr Theologieprofessorinnen und -professoren aus den nicht-deutschsprachigen Ländern bekunden uns ihre Unterstützung.

(International interest in the Memorandum is huge. An increasing number of theology professors in the non-German countries are telling us of their support).

The site lists 22 foreign names – not yet many, but this will surely grow, once the word spreads that this is no longer an exclusively German development. Academics thrive on extensive personal international connections (several of the theologians are listed as associated with two distinct institutions, in different countries) International attention will spread rapidly.

Several conservative commentators have attempted to dismiss this declaration as no more than the dying gasp of older liberal, well past their sell-by date – or paradoxically, of young and junior people of no real clout.  The reality is that these are a diverse group of varied backgrounds, working in  institutions ranging from the most prestigious universities (Catholic and secular) through technical universities and specialist vocational schools. With over half of all the academic theologians now aligning themselves with this Memorandum, we must conclude that is reasonably representative of all German theologians. For completeness’ sake, I am compiling a statistical summary of the signatories and the institutions they come from, which I will add to this post as an update later today.
Meanwhile. I would like to share with you the rest of Bill Lindsey’s comment to my earlier post at The Open Tabernacle. (As an academic theologian himself, Bill has good personal knowledge of the politics of academia, and is also well-placed to evaluate the credentials of the people involved – far more so than an outsider like myself.)

As of today, the count of theologians in German-speaking areas signing the reform petition to Rome stands at 254.

In my view, one of the most significant aspects of this document is its opening statement, which notes that, as theologians, those drafting and signing the document recognize their important pastoral responsibility to address a moment of serious crisis in the Catholic church in Germany. In the past year, the numbers of Catholics officially resigning from the Catholic church in Germany and Austria were at record levels. As the theologians note, if this situation is not addressed pastorally–and by dialogue between church pastoral leaders, theologians, and the laity–the church will in all likelihood not recover from its present crisis.

It is fascinating to me to watch the ill-informed and twisted reaction to this eminently pastoral document in the circles of the American religious and political right. Increasingly, right-wing American Catholics are taking their talking points from websites of the political and religious right, which are without any knowledge at all of the role theologians play in the Catholic church–and, in this case, of the demanding requirements for receiving a degree in theology in Germany.

The silly ad hominem attacks among those of the American political and religious right, which try to question the expertise or credentials of these German theologians are astonishingly ill-informed. German theologians are among the most rigorously trained in the world, and as with all professions in Germany, they go through a credentialing process that puts the credentialing of theologians in many other countries to shame.

There is also obviously little awareness among members of the American political and religious right that theologians play a significant function in the Catholic church as teachers called by the Spirit to assist the body of Christ in understanding scripture and tradition. The rather conservative Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles, who was made a cardinal, in fact wrote a classic article describing the teaching role of theologians as a second magisterium that works in tandem with that of the bishops of the church.

Most of all, it is difficult to understand the lack of any sense of pastoral responsibility among American Catholics who take their talking points from the religious and political right, and who seem oblivious of (or even gleeful about?) the serious crisis through which the Catholic church is passing right now, due to the pastoral malfeasance of its leaders. In nation after nation (Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria, the U.S., e.g.) people are walking away in droves. By February 2008, the figures in the U.S. were appalling: one in three adults raised Catholic in our country had left the church. One in ten American adults is a former Catholic. If all those who have left the Catholic church in the U.S. were grouped into a church, that church would be the second largest denomination in the country.

The German theologians are to be highly commended for showing the pastoral responsibility one would expect of any faithful Catholic concerned about the future of the church, and, in particular, from theologians. 
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