Within hours of my post earlier today on the Catholic silent revolution, came news of a dramatic corroboration, with a solid band of German academic theologians in open revolt.
In September this year, Pope Benedict will make his first papal visit to Berlin. This will be worth watching: there have been numerous indications that the German Church has been transformed by public anger and disillusionment following the abuse scandals. Well in advance of the visit, prominent German Catholics are preparing for the visit by making public calls for reforms in the Church.
Reuters has a call by a sizeable number of Catholic theologians, said to represent fully one third of all the theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for far-reaching, radical reforms of the Catholic Church.
English language reports have concentrated on the call to ordain “older” married men, which intriguingly appears to mirror a similar call made right back in 1970 by – Fr Joseph Ratzinger.
Supporters of a married priesthood caused a stir late last month when they unearthed a 1970 appeal to ordain older married men signed by nine German theologians including the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope.
An end to celibacy though is not the only reform that is needed, nor the only one demanded by the German theologians. They have also asked for the ordination of women, lay participation in the election of bishops, and greater inclusion for those who have remarried or are in homosexual partnerships.
The English language reports do not carry a great deal of detail, so I am currently attempting to wrestle with the German language originals. I will have more later, once I have done with my labours, but already I have gleaned enough from the German to add two encouraging snippets to the brief English reports. The team of eight who initiated the move say they would have been content to get 50 signatories – but ended with 144.
“It looks like we struck a nerve,” said Judith Könemann a professor from Münster and one of 144 signatories of the declaration.
The professors said that they no longer wanted to stay quiet in the face of child sex abuse scandals that came to light last year and plunged the Catholic Church into an unprecedented crisis.
– from Deutsche Welle
I also have confirmation of a guess I made earlier, that there were many others who made clear their agreement with the text, but were unwilling to sign.
Signatories include theologians from a diverse set of backgrounds, including veterans of previous calls for reform, but also younger people and even some usually regarded as “conservatives”. Part of the appeal included a call for the bishops to begin a process of “dialogue”. It is encouraging that the bishops have agreed to discuss this appeal at a meeting in mid-March. They will need to: Germans have been leaving the Church in droves, while estimates are that by 2020, in less than ten years, as many as two-thirds of German parishes will not have their own priest.
These are all fundamental reforms, for which the need seems to be obvious and urgent. The demands, however, will not be met – not yet. Patience is required, but the simple fact that such a high proportion of theologians can be saying these things publicly is highly significant. With so many speaking up publicly, there are many more who may agree privately, but are wary of rocking the boat publicly, for fear of endangering their careers. We can be sure that the total number desiring reform is much higher than those who have gone public, and that these sentiments are also shared in other parts of the world, even if not in quite the same numbers. We can also be sure that the demand for reform will grow in the years ahead, and surely cannot be resisted indefinitely.
Over 140 Roman Catholic theologians in Germany have urged the church to embrace far-reaching reforms to end priestly celibacy, ordain women, welcome same-sex couples and let lay people help pick their bishops.
The proposals reflect liberal positions in deep disfavour at the Vatican. While they have no hope of being adopted, the fact that 144 theologians backed them meant Benedict’s third trip to Germany since his 2005 election could be his most difficult.
The latest appeal said the scandal-hit church needed a new start to win back Catholics who had left in protest last year.
“The church needs married priests and women in church ministry,” it said. Catholicism should also not “shut out people who live in love, loyalty and mutual support as same-sex couples or remarried divorced people.”
It criticised Benedict’s stress on bringing back older practices in Catholic worship, saying “the liturgy must not be frozen in traditionalism.”
This is the second such German appeal for reform in two weeks. A group of prominent Catholic politicians urged the bishops last month to ordain older married men in response to the worsening shortage of priests.
Meanwhile, in another encouraging development, the Church in Ireland has embarked on a “listening process” to hear the views of Catholics, as part of the extended response to the crisis in that country precipitated by the Ryan and Murphy reports. This listening process is thus triggered by the abuse problems, but it is to be hoped that those participating do not restrict their contributions to that topic alone. The abuse problems did not arise in isolation, independently of wider problems of Church governance and leadership arrogance. Discussion of one must also include discussion of all the others.
On Wednesday night, Bishop Noel Treanor visited the Good Shepherd Church, Belfast, to begin the project and choose the group of facilitators who will document the views of Church members.
In an earlier letter to parishoners, Bishop Treanor extended an invite to “all whose experience has caused them to become angry or disaffected with the Church” to take part in the two month project.
“The purpose of this Listening Process is to give a voice to the People of God – parishioners, clergy, religious and those who live the monastic life – in regard to the ways in which we celebrate, pray and live the Christian faith,” the Bishop explained.
“As we address the need to renew our response to the Word of God in the life of the Church and in society, it is vital that parishioners have an opportunity to express their views and be heard.”
What I particularly like about this, is the news that the process will culminate in a diocesan synod, which will be convened in 2013. We need many more of these diocesan synods, with participation from all strata of the church, in every diocese, every country. Where the bishops fail to convene them, the rest of us should consider doing so ourselves – as the people of the Twin Cities did last year, in the Synod of the Baptized.
- Germany: theologians call for women’s ordination, lend support to homosexual partnerships (Catholic Culture)
- Catholic theologians call for an end to compulsory celibacy (Deutsche Welle)
- Theologen gegen den Zölibat (Suddeutsche Zeitung)
- Memorandum der Theologen: “Kirche 2011: Ein notwendiger Aufbruch” (Suddeutsche Zeitung)
Pope Questions Celibacy? (ncregister.com)