Tag Archives: Church reform

Curial Reform: Softlee Softlee, Catchee Monkey

When Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, it was widely acknowledged that this was largely on the grounds of his contribution to discussions inside the consistory, on the pressing need for reform of the curia. So, the world watched anxiously to see what form this reform would take – and in particular, which curial officials would remain in post, be booted out, or receive promotion. Months later, there seemed to  be little change.  This perception though, simply missed the point. Some years on, the perspective is rather different.

Pope Francis addressed the members of the Roman Curia for his annual Christmas greetings – ANSA

The first point to note, is that instead of rushing into a “reform” of the curia, Pope Francis’ first and most important action was simply to downgrade its simple importance. This was dramatically signalled symbolically, by taking up his personal residence outside the traditional buildings, away from the officials. Later, it was given more substantive form, in his formation of an advisory inner circle of cardinal advisors. This is where the important decisions are now taken, not in curial offices. A further sign of the diminished importance of the curia, is in the much reduced flow of published documents issuing from those offices, as compared with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The rightful role of the curia has been restored to that of the church’s civil service, not its government. (That is not to deny that there is extensive unhappiness and resistance within the curia. That is to be expected – but matters far less, than it would have done under Francis’ predecessors).

For a useful summary of just how extensive Francis’ reform has been, taking one simple step at a time, see Pope Francis’ hard-hitting Christmas address to the leaders of the curia, reported in full at Radio Vatican. Every Christmas since taking office, in these seasonal addresses Francis has  given some thoughts on what the curia should be – and what at times it is, but should not be.  Continue reading Curial Reform: Softlee Softlee, Catchee Monkey

Leonardo Boff, on Pope Francis

The crazies at Church Militant have been useful, this time by drawing attention to an interesting newspaper  interview with the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff.  What has angered them, is his claim that Pope Francis is “one of us” – that is, in sympathy with liberation theology. That should not surprise anyone: to me, it is obvious.  Right from the start of his papacy, Francis has sent out signals of sympathy to both the people and ideas of the liberation theology movement. However, there’s much more of importance in this interview, some of it much more radical.

I am particularly interested in Boff’s discussion of the possibility of married priests returning to active ministry. He claims that the Brazilian bishops have already made this request to the pope, and that he (Boff) has “heard” that Francis has agreed. More interesting, is that he personally feels he does not need this papal permission to return to ministry, which he is already exercising, with the tacit approval of local bishops – some of whom may even be encouraging others to do the same.

A fun observation in the interview, is his dismissal of the objections to Amoris Laetitia by Cardinal Burke and his cronies in their “dubia”. Burke, he says, is the Vatican’s equivalent of Donald Trump. The difference though, is that he is effectively sidelined in the curia (“cold-shouldered”, if I understand correctly the German “kaltgestellt” ).

The interview report of course is in German. Fortunately, the quality of Google Translate has improved markedly since a recent major change in their technology.  I include here the Google translation of the complete interview, lightly edited to improve English readability. (For the complete German language interview, see Kölner Stadt-Unzeiger)

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The Brazilian Leonardo Boff, born in 1938, is the son of Italian immigrants. In 1959 he joined the Franciscan Order and studied in Germany for five years.

In the 1980s, Boff became the main representative of liberation theology, and because of his criticism of the church, he was in conflict with the Vatican and Joseph Ratzinger, his superior. After having been twice subjected to a publication ban, Boff left the Order in 1992 and laid down his priesthood.

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Mr. Boff, do you like Christmas songs?

What do you think? (Sings): “Si-hil-lent night, holy night …” This is sung in every family that celebrates Christmas. With us in Brazil, this is just as much a tradition as in Germany.

Do not you see this kind of Christmas kitted up and commercialized?

This is different from country to country. Of course, Christmas has become a big business. But in all this, joy is still alive, a time of being together with the family, and in many cases also a time of faith. And as I have experienced Christmas in Germany, it is a celebration of the heart, very coherent, wonderful.

How does a faith, which speaks for Christmas of a “God of peace”, fit the dissatisfaction we experience everywhere?

The major part of faith is promise. Ernst Bloc*h says: “Real genesis is not at the beginning, but at the end, and it only starts to begin when society and existence become radical.” The joy of Christmas lies in this promise: The earth and the people are not condemned, it always goes on as we experience it – with all the wars, violence, fundamentalism. We are promised in faith that in the end everything will be good; That despite all the mistakes, missteps and setbacks, we are coming to a good end. The real meaning of Christmas is not that “God has become man,” but that he has come to tell us, “You men belong to me, and when you die, you will come home.”

Christmas means: God is coming to pick us up?

Yes. Incarnation means something of us is already divine, immortal. The divine lies within us. In Jesus it has been shown most clearly. But it is in all people. In an evolutive view, Jesus does not come to the world from outside, but grows out of it. Jesus is the manifestation of the divine in evolution – but not the only one. The Divine also appears in the Buddha, in Mahatma Gandhi, and other great beliefs.

This does not sound very Catholic.

Do not say that. The entire Franciscan theology of the Middle Ages conceived of Christ as part of creation, not only as the Redeemer of Debt and Sin, who comes into the world from above. Incarnation is also salvation, yes. But first and foremost it is a glorification, a deification of creation. And something else is important at Christmas. God appears in the form of a child. Not as an old man with white hair and long white beard …

Just like you …

So, if at all, I rather resemble Karl Marx. What I am concerned with is the following: If, at the end of our lives, we have to face the divine judge once before, then we are faced with a child. But a child does not condemn anyone. A child wants to play and be together with others. This side of faith must be re-emphasized.

Latin liberation theology, among whose most prominent representatives you belong, has come to new honour by Pope Francis. A rehabilitation also for you personally after the decades of fighting with Pope John Paul II and his most faithful guardian Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI?

Francis is one of us. He has made liberation theology the common property of the Church. And he has extended it. Those who speak of the poor must also speak of the earth today because it is also plundered and desecrated. “To hear the cry of the poor,” means to hear the cry of the beasts, the forests, the whole tormented creation. The whole earth cries. So, says the Pope, quoting the title of one of my books, we must at the same time hear the cry of the poor and the earth. And both must be liberated. In recent times, I myself have been very concerned with this extension of liberation theology. And this is also the fundamentally new one in “Laudato si” …

… the “eco-encyclical” of the Pope from 2015. How much Leonardo Boff is in Jorge Mario Bergoglio?

The Encyclical belongs to the Pope. But he has consulted many experts.

Has he read your books?

Even more. He asked me for material for “Laudato si”. I have given him my advice and sent some of what I have written. He also used it. Some people have told me that they had thought on reading it, “that’s Boff!” By the way, Pope Francis said to me, “Boff, please do not send the papers directly to me.”

Why not?

He said: “Otherwise, the Secretariat will see them off, and I will not get them. I would like to know that the current Vatican ambassador is an old acquaintance of the Pope from his time in Buenos Aires. They have often drunk mate together. One day before the encyclical was published, the Pope had to call me to give me his thanks for my help.

But a personal meeting with the Pope is still pending?

He has sought reconciliation with the most important representatives of liberation theology, with Gustavo Gutierrez, Jon Sobrino, and also with me. I said to him, with a view to Pope Benedict and Joseph Ratzinger, “but the other one still lives!”. He did not accept this. “No,” he said, “il Papa sono io” – “the pope is me”. So we should come quietly. You see his courage and determination.

Why did it not work out with your visit?

I had an invitation and had already landed in Rome. But on that very day, just before the beginning of family synod 2015, 13 cardinals – among them the German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Congregation of the Faith – were preparing rebellion against the Pope with a letter addressed to him, which then – oh, miracle! – appeared in the newspaper. The Pope was angry and said to me, “Boff, I have no time. I have to make peace before the Synod. See you another time.”

Even with peace that has not really gone away, right?

The Pope feels the sharpness of the wind from his own ranks, especially from the USA. This cardinal Burke, Leo Burke, who has now written a letter together with your Cologne Cardinal Meisner, is the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church. (Laughs) But unlike Trump, Burke is now cold-shouldered in the Curia. Thank God. These people actually believe they should correct the pope. As if they were above the Pope. Such a thing is unusual, if not unprecedented in the church history. You can criticize the Pope, discuss with him. I have done this often enough. But that Cardinals publicly accuse the Pope of spreading theological errors or even heresies, which I think is too much. This is an affront, which the can not be done to the pope. The Pope can not be condemned, that is the  teaching the Church.

With all your enthusiasm for the Pope, what about the Church reforms that many Catholics had hoped for from Francis, but where in fact still not so much has happened?

You know, as far as I understand it, the center of his interest is no longer the church, certainly not the inner church enterprise, but the survival of mankind, the future of the earth. Both are in danger, and one must ask whether Christianity can contribute to overcoming this great crisis that threatens humanity.

Francis takes care of the environment, and now his church is on the wall?

I believe there is a hierarchy of problems for him. When the earth perishes, all other problems have also settled. But as for the inner-church questions, wait a while! It was only recently that Cardinal Walter Kasper, a close confidant of the Pope, said that there would soon be great surprises.

What do you expect?

Who knows? Perhaps women deacons. Or the possibility that married priests can be used again in pastoral care. This is an explicit request from the Brazilian bishops to the Pope, especially his friend, the Brazilian Cardinal emeritus Claudio Hummes. I heard that the Pope wanted to comply with this request – initially for an experimental phase in Brazil. This country, with its 140 million Catholics, should have at least 100,000 priests. But there are only 18000. Institutionally, this is a disaster. It is no wonder that the faithful overflow with the evangelicals and Pentecostals who fill the vacuum. If the many thousands of married priests were able to exercise their office again, this would be a first step towards the improvement of the situation – and at the same time an impulse for the Catholic Church to loosen the fetters of the obligation celibacy.

If the Pope were to decide in this sense, would you, as a former Franciscan friar, take on priestly duties again?

Personally, I do not need such a decision. It would not change for me, because I am still doing what I have always done: I baptize, I bury, and when I go to a church without a priest, I celebrate the Mass together with the people.

Is it very “German” to ask: Can you do that?

So far, no bishop I know of has ever criticized or forbidden it. The bishops even rejoice and tell me: “The people have a right to the Eucharist. So keep on, in peace! “My theological teacher, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who had died a few days ago, for example, was very open. He went so far as to bring married priests, whom he saw sitting in the bench during the Mass, to the front of the altar, and together with them celebrated the Eucharistic feast. He often did that and said. “You are still priests, and you will remain so!”

 

Spanish Theologians Back Gay Marriage.

A few years ago, it was German speaking theologians from Europe who hit the headlines when they signed a letter asking for far-reaching reforms on Church teaching and structure.

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Now, a group of mostly Spanish  language from Latin America who have asked the Synod for far more radical reforms. They ask for full LGBT equality in Church (including equal marriage), an end to the absolute ban on abortion, admission to the priesthood for married men and women, and access to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Here’s the groundbreaking opening section , on full LGBT inclusion: Continue reading Spanish Theologians Back Gay Marriage.

Moral Theologian: Same – Sex Couples Deserve Sexual Expression of Their Love

First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their lives – and that includes, too, the fact that like all people, they are sexual beings – to be recognized.

– moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff

Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.
Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.

Finally, an influential, mainstream Catholic theologian has faced the elephant in the room. More and more cardinals, bishops and others in the Catholic church have come to accept that same – sex couples deserve to have legal recognition of their relationships. Some have said so publicly, many more now agree, but are keeping their opinions firmly to themselves. Some have said they see positive value in such civil unions, others are more reluctant, seeing them merely as something to be accepted as a lesser evil than full marriage. But in all the many observations on the subject I have seen, there’s one crucial point no-one has yet dared mention publicly: can the Church accept that couples in such same – sex legal, committed and loving relationships, may express their love sexually?

The German moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff has, in effect, answered with a clear “yes”. He’s done so not in so many words, but that is the clear implication of his words, quoted above. Continue reading Moral Theologian: Same – Sex Couples Deserve Sexual Expression of Their Love

From Africa and the Philippines, Signs of Hope for LGBT Catholics!

At the family synod 2014, some African bishops were prominent in opposition to the more welcoming tone towards lgbt Catholics, proposed by some of the Europeans, and included in the mid – synod interim relatio. From this it would be easy to read the struggle for lgbt inclusion as a contest between “progressives” of Europe (and North America), and conservatives  of the so-called “developing” world, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. That would be a mistake, as recent news reports illustrate:

Commonweal reports on a fascinating interview with the African Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, in the conservative website Aleteia, His responses should be warmly welcomed for the hope they imply for greater inclusion of both lgbt Catholics, and those who have been divorced and remarried. (There could also be some schadenfreude in noting how the responses clearly discomforted Aleteia’s interview, who did his best to get Palmer – Buckle to modify his words – to no avail).

In a wide-ranging, at points jaw-dropping interview with Aleteia, Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, signaled his openness to finding a way for remarried Catholics to be readmitted to Communion–and suggested the church might reinterpret Scripture to allow the “unbinding” of marriages. Palmer-Buckle, who is sixty-four years old, was selected by his brother bishops to represent Ghana at this October’s Synod on the Family. Early in the interview, the archbishop makes it clear that he takes seriously Pope Francis’s call for open discussion of the challenges facing Catholic families today.

via Commonweal Magazine.

In Asia, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has issued a statement in support of a government bill to prohibit anti-gay discrimination. At the Filipino blog Catholic LGBT (Catholic gay and blessed), there are two posts quoting sections of the statement, in which Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, sets out the bishops’ opposition to homophobia, and support for greater lgbt inclusion in the life of the church.

On homophobia, Villegas is forthright on condemning parents who inculcate homophobia in their children:

The Church has much to contribute towards the education of Catholics to be more accepting of others and to see through appearances the Lord present in each brother and sister There can be no more approval of parents who imbue in their children the loathing and disgust for persons with a different sexual orientation or with gender identity issues. In Catholic institutions, there should be zero – tolerance for the bullying and badgering of persons in such personal situations.

On lgbt inclusion, he is equally clear:

[We] call on all pastors throughout the country to be as solicitous of the pastoral welfare of all our brothers and sisters regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Their exclusion from the life of the Church, their treatment as outcasts, their relegation to the category of inferior members of the Church worthy only of derision and scorn certainly does not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as the sacrament of Divine mercy and compassion”

To be sure, it’s not all rosy in the garden.  A longer news report at Rappler also describes how Villegas, while opposing discrimination, reserved the right to contiue discriminating in its own hiring and selection procedures for the priesthood, and the Church’s firm opposition to both homosexual “acts”, and gender transitions. Like many other bishops, he has no desire to change Church teaching – but just like the 2014 Family synod, this signals a clear desire to adjust pastoral practice, in  a more sensitive, caring direction. That augers well for the 2015 synod, and in the longer run, that will undoubtedly lead to some modification of the core doctrine, itself.

"The Acceptance of Gays Among Catholics is Irreversible" – Historian Gary Wills.

Gary Wills is an eminent historian of the Catholic Church, who was described by John Allen (in 2008) as “”perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years”. With his long view of the Church, his assessment of it’s present state of change deserves close attention – and it’s a most encouraging one, for lesbian and gay Catholics, for women, for for others whose understanding of sexual realities is far removed from the theorizing of Vatican documents – and for all who understand, as proclaimed by Vatican II, that the Catholic Church really is the whole “people of God”, and not just its public office – holders.  

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In a wide – ranging interview with Macleans magazine, Wills explained why he was enthusiastic about the change in style being introduced by Pope Francis, and why these will in time become entrenched as permanent features of the Church. Francis’ willingness to stimulate debate and tolerate disagreements, he says, are a sign of his strength. He contrasts this with Pius IX, whose proclamation of papal infallibility he sees as a sign of weakness, not of strength. Continue reading "The Acceptance of Gays Among Catholics is Irreversible" – Historian Gary Wills.

Family Synod: For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing

The familiar phrase, “La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is usually interpreted as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. For lesbian and gay Catholics in the wake of the synod, this formulation could equally be reversed: “the more things stay the same, the more they change”.

In the entire proposed final “Relatio” of the synod, only one paragraph dealt specifically with homosexual people – and narrowly failed to secure the two thirds majority support required for approval.

The pastoral care of people of homosexual orientation

55 Some families live the experience of having within them people of homosexual orientation. In this regard, we have questioned with regard to pastoral care what is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”  Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In this regard there should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination”

There are two parts to this, dealing in turn with gay marriage, and with the need for respect. Both are established principles, deeply embedded in Vatican teaching. The section on gay marriage is found in paragraph 4 of the 2003 CDF “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons“, the words about respect and sensitivity are found in both the Catechism and the CDF 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”. There’s clearly nothing new in either of these. As established teaching, the paragraph should surely have deserved unanimous support, but could not muster even two thirds. Why not? Continue reading Family Synod: For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing

Pope tells Austrian bishops to stay close to their priests after ‘one in ten’ signs reform call

It’s not at all clear what the Pope means by asking bishops to “stay close to” their priests. Is this in support of them – or in order to keep a watchful eye on them, and any possible transgressions?

Either way, it’s worth noting that an estimated one in ten Austrian priests have signed the public declaration by the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, the “Call to Disobedience”. That’s a high proportion, for priests who are dependant on the bishops for their homes and livelihoods, and for a document which goes beyond a simple call for reform, to one for active disobedience.

Fr Helmut Schüller
Source: The Catholic Tipping Point (http://www.catholictippingpoint.org/)

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Continue reading Pope tells Austrian bishops to stay close to their priests after ‘one in ten’ signs reform call

German Bishops Agree: Sexual Doctrines Must Change!

Consider the following Catholic views on sex and marriage:

  • Most Catholics disputed the Church ban on artificial means of birth control (only 3% of couples rely on natural family planning)
  • Most Catholics disputed the Church ban on premarital sex (Almost all couples who wish to marry in church have already been living together)
  • Most Catholics disputed the Church ban on gay sex (most approve legal recognition for same – sex unions)
  • Most Catholics criticize rules barring the divorced from remarriage in church.

All of this is familiar, and unremarkable – except for the source. Similar statements have been familiar to ordinary Catholics from formal opinion surveys, and from anecdotal evidence in discussion with parish peers, for years. Among lay Catholics, this is routine. But these statements do not come from secular opinion polling, or from any progressive group of church reformers, but from the German bishops themselves, as they have digested their results from the global survey on marriage and family. (Reported by Reuters, “German Bishops Tell Vatican: Catholics Reject Sex Rules“)

Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg im Breisgau, Chairman of the German Episcopal Conference Continue reading German Bishops Agree: Sexual Doctrines Must Change!

NCR: Moral Theologians, on the Need for Doctrinal Change

The Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, which will be taking place later this year, was never intended to produce doctrinal change. Many events, however, have unintended consequences. Pope Francis’ revolution in the Catholic Church has often been compared to Vatican II, but at the outset, nobody really expected the extent of the transformation it achieved. The synod will not directly produce any change in doctrine, but it is being preceded by an extensive global consultation on how the Church as a whole understands and accepts those doctrines. If anyone really doubts that the conference will not be forced at least to consider the urgent need for doctrinal change, they should pay close attention to the many reports now emerging on the responses to that consultation – and especially to the responses of the experts, the professional moral theologians. National Catholic Reporter has some commentary on responses from some German theologians:

German theologians critique church teachings, propose new sexual understanding

Two groups of noted German theologians have bluntly outlined how church teaching does not align with the concerns or lifestyles of most European Catholics in response to a Vatican questionnaire on Catholics’ attitudes on issues like contraception and same-sex marriage.

Church sexual teachings, say the representatives of the Association of German Moral Theologians and the Conference of German-speaking Pastoral Theologians, come from an “idealized reality” and need a “fundamental, new evaluation.”

“It becomes painfully obvious that the Christian moral teaching that limits sexuality to the context of marriage cannot look closely enough at the many forms of sexuality outside of marriage,” say the 17 signers of the response, who include some of Germany’s most respected Catholic academics.

The theologians also propose that the church adopt a whole new paradigm for its sexual teachings, based not on moral evaluations of individual sex acts but on the fragility of marriage and the vulnerability people experience in their sexuality.

The theologians are responding to a Vatican request last October that bishops worldwide prepare for a 2014 global meeting of Catholic prelates by distributing a questionnaire on family topics “as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”

full report at National Catholic Reporter.

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