Jesuit Father Henri Boulad issues a heart felt appeal for reformation.
A big thanks to frequent commenter TheraP for giving me the heads up on this article.
A call for a Catholic reformationBy Henri Boulad Egyptian Jesuit - Washington Post
I dare to speak directly to you for my heart bleeds upon seeing the abyss into which our Church is falling. Hopefully, you will forgive the filial frankness, inspired by the liberty of the children of God to which St. Paul invites us and for my impassioned love for the Church. (Me too.)
I will be pleased also that you forgive the alarmist tone of this letter for I know that little time remains and that the situation remains dire. Let me first tell you a little about myself. I am an Egyptian Lebanese Jesuit of the Melkiterite. I will soon turn 78. For the last 3 years, I have been the rector of the Jesuit school in Cairo. I have also carried out the following responsibilities: superior of the Jesuits in Alexandria, regional superior of the Jesuits in Egypt, professor of theology in El Cairo, director of Caritas-Egypt, and vice president of Caritas International for the Middle East and North Africa.
I am well acquainted with the Catholic hierarchy of Egypt having participated over many years in meetings as president of superiors of the religious orders of Egypt. I have very close relations with each one of them, some of whom are my former students. I also personally know Pope Chenouda III, whom I saw frequently. As far as the Catholic hierarchy of Europe goes, I had the opportunity to meet personally with some of its members such as Cardinal Koening, Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Daneels, Cardinal Martini, Archbishop Kothgasser, Bishops Kapellari and Kung, other Austrian bishops and bishops of other European countries. These encounters occurred during my annual trips to give conferences throughout Europe, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, France, Belgium, etc. During these visits, I spoke and engaged with diverse audiences and the media (newspapers, radio, television, etc.) I did the same in Egypt and the Near East.
I have visited 50 countries on 4 continents and have published some 30 books in 15 languages--mainly in French, Arabic, Hungarian, and German. Of the 13 books in German, perhaps you have read Sons and Daughters of God which was published by your friend, Fr. Erich Fink of Bavaria. I say this not to brag, but rather to tell you simply that my intentions are grounded in a realistic knowledge of the universal church and its current situation in 2009.
Returning to the reason for this letter, I will try to be as brief, clear, and objective as possible.
In the first place, there are several topics [the list is not exhaustive].
Religious practice is in a constant decline. A continually shrinking number of seniors [who will soon disappear] are those who frequent the churches in Europe and Canada. The only remaining remedy will be to close these churches or change them into museums, mosques, clubs, or municipal libraries as is now being done. The thing that surprises me is that many of these churches are being completely renovated and modernized at great expense with the hope of attracting the faithful. But this will not stop the exodus.
Seminaries and novitiates are emptying out at the same speed, and vocations are in sharp decline. The future is very somber and one has to ask who or what will bring relief. More and more African and Asian priests are in charge of European parishes.
Many priests abandon the priesthood. The few who remain--whose median age often is beyond that of retirement--have to be in charge of many parishes in an expedient and administrative capacity. Many of these priests, in Europe, as well as in the Third World, live in concubinage in plain sight of the faithful who normally accept them; this occurs with the knowledge of the local bishop who is not able to accept this arrangement, but who needs to keep in mind the scarcity of priests. (This is a great description of the classic "avoidance/avoidance conundrum, otherwise known as 'damned if you do, damned if you don't")
The language of the church is obsolete, out of date, boring, repetitive, moralizing and totally out of synch with our age. The message of the Gospel should be presented in all its starkness and challenges. It is necessary to move towards a "new evangelization" to which John Paul II invited us. But this, contrary to what many think or believe, does not mean repeating the old which no longer speaks to us, but rather innovating and inventing a new language which expresses the faith in a meaningful way for the people of today.
This is not able to be done without a profound renewal of theology and catechesis which should be completely reformulated. A German religious priest whom I met recently was telling me that the word "mystic" was not even mentioned once in "The New Catechism." I could not believe it. We have to concede that our faith is very cerebral, abstract, dogmatic, and rarely directed to the heart and body. (As I read this paragraph I was thinking, "and they wonder why Catholics are going New Age?" and then I read the following paragraph.)
As a consequence, a great number of Christians are turning to the religions of Asia, the sects, "new-age," evangelical churches, occultism, etc. This is not unexpected. They go to other places to look for nourishment that they don't find in their own home. They have the impression that we give them stones as if it were bread. The Christian faith in another age gave a sense of life to people. It appears to be an enigma to them today, the remains of a forgotten past.
In the moral and ethical areas, the teachings of the magisterium repeated " ad nausaeum," about marriage, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, married priests, the divorced who remarry again, etc. etc., no longer affect anyone, and only produce weariness and indifference. All of these moral and pastoral problems deserve something more than categorical declarations. They need a pastoral, sociological, psychological and human treatment that is more evangelical.
The Catholic Church, which has been the great teacher of Europe for many centuries, seems to forget that this same Europe has arrived at its maturity. Our adult Europe does not wish to be treated as a child. The paternalistic style of a church "mater et magistra" is completely out of touch and no longer works today. Christians have learned to think for themselves and are no longer inclined to swallow just anything that someone else proposes.
The most Catholic nations of the past, for example, France, "the first-born daughter of the church," or ultra-Catholic French Canada, have made a hundred and eighty degree turn and have fallen into atheism, anti-clericalism, agnosticism, and indifference. Other European nations are proceeding down the same path. We are able to state that the more a nation was dominated and protected by the church in the past, the stronger is their reaction against it today.
The dialogue with other churches and religions is in a worrisome decline today. The great progress made over the last half century is on hold at this time. Facing this almost devastating situation, the church's leadership reacts in two ways:
1. They tend to minimize the seriousness of the situation and to console themselves by focusing on a resurgence of the most traditionalist factions and on growth in the Third World countries. 2. They appeal to their confidence in the Lord who has sustained the church for over 20 centuries and who is able to help them overcome this new crisis. (Do they ever go on endlessly about the 'resurgence of the most traditional factions'.)
To this I respond.
Neither relying on the past nor holding on to its crumbs will solve the problems of today and tomorrow. The apparent vitality of the churches in the Third World today is misleading. It appears very probable that these new churches eventually will pass through the same crises that the old European Christianity encountered. (It's not a probability, it's a certainty.)
Modernity is irreversible and having forgotten this is why the church today finds itself in such a crisis. Vatican II tried to reverse four centuries of stagnation, but there is an impression that the church is gradually closing the doors that it opened at that time. The church has tried to direct itself backwards towards the council of Trent and Vatican I rather than forward toward Vatican III. Let's remember a statement that John Paul II repeated many times, "There is no alternative to Vatican II."
How long will we continue playing the politics of the ostrich hiding our heads in the sand? How long will we avoid looking things in the face? How long will we continue turning our back and rejecting every criticism rather than seeing it as a chance for renewal? How long will we continue to postpone a reform that has been neglected for too long a time?
Only by looking forward and not backward will the church fulfill its mission to be the light of the world, salt of the earth, and leaven in the dough. Nevertheless, unfortunately what we find today is that the church is the caboose of our age after having been the locomotive for centuries. I repeat again what I said at the beginning of this letter. Time is running out! History doesn't wait especially in our era when it its rhythm flows ever more rapidly.
Any business when confronting a deficit or dysfunction examines itself immediately, bringing together a group of experts, trying to revitalize itself, and mobilizing all its energies to overcoming the crisis. Why doesn't the church do something different? Why doesn't it mobilize all its living forces to have a radical aggiornamento? Why?
Because of laziness? Lethargy? Pride? Lack of imagination? Lack of creativity? Culpable passivity in the hope that the Lord will take care of things and because the church has weathered other crises in the past?
In the Gospels, Christ warns us that "the children of darkness manage their affairs better than the children of light."
So then, what needs to be done? The Church of today has an urgent and compelling need for a three-pronged reform.
1. A theological and catechetical reform to rethink our faith and reformulate it in a coherent way for our contemporaries. A faith that has no significance and gives no meaning to life is nothing more than an ornament, a useless superstructure that eventually implodes upon itself. This is the current situation.
2. A pastoral reformulation that re-thinks from head to toe the structures inherited from the past.
3. A spiritual renewal to revitalize the mystical and to rethink the sacraments with the view of giving them an existential dimension, one that connects with life. (Any reformation which does not have this task as it's guiding principle will fail.)
I would have much more to say about this. Today's church is too formal, too formalistic. One has the impression that the institution suffocates its charisma, and in the end what one finds is purely external stability, a superficial honesty, a kind of facade. Don't we run the risk that Jesus will describe us as the "whitened seplechres"?
In conclusion, I suggest convoking a general synod at the level of the universal church in which all Christians would participate-Catholics and others-to examine with openness and clarity the issues raised above and their ramifications.
Such a synod would last three years and would conclude with a general assembly-let's avoid the word council-which would synthesize the results of this exploration and draw its conclusions.
I end, Holy Father, by asking your pardon for my outspoken boldness and I ask for your paternal blessing. Let me also tell you that in these days I live in your company thanks to your extraordinary book, Jesus of Nazareth, which is the focus of my spiritual reading and daily meditation.
With the utmost affection in the Lord,
Henri Boulad, S.J. ix a priest in Egypt and rector of the Jesuit school in Cairo.
Too bad Fr. Boulad is a Jesuit. This letter probably never made it to Benedict for that very fact.
And now another call for Catholics to commiserate with our leadership and leave it in place because they are the 'good guys' suffering just like Jesus. Sr. Mary Walsh is the Spokesperson 'person' for the USCCB.
Holy Week and the suffering Church
By Sister Mary Ann Walsh Director of Media Relations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - Washington Post
Holy Week is time when Catholics worldwide feel the pain of dying in Christ.
It comes this year as media reports bring up heartrending, often previously published, stories with a new twist - how the Vatican handled the cases. Efforts to link stories to culpable inaction by Pope Benedict XVI cause reasonable people anguish given all that the pope has tried to do to address this crisis. (Except he never bucked his boss. He swallowed his whistle in favor of obedience and let Maciel and others ravage and ravage and ravage. He practiced the cowardice of obedience instead of the courage of conviction.)
Since 2002, the church in the United States has had a policy of zero tolerance, which means a priest or deacon who has admitted to or been found guilty of sexually abusing a minor can no longer engage in public ministry. Likewise, the church has developed screenings and processes to ensure that the children in its schools and religious formation programs today are not subject to abusive behavior, whether by a cleric or lay person. This has solved one problem by excising child abusers from parishes and dioceses. (Except in Lincoln, Nebraska which is the exception that proves the rule: Catholicism is at core a tyranny of autocratic leadership.)
Yet another problem has emerged. Society is finally seeing that sexual abuse of a child is a sin, a crime and often a sickness. Now we ask with hindsight why those in authority did not act more quickly in addressing the problem, more stringently in dealing with offenders, and more compassionately when hearing the victims. It is little comfort that many in charge acted with woefully inadequate knowledge, the same inadequate knowledge that has bedeviled psychology, law enforcement, even families for half a century or more. It is not an excuse - some things, such as not harming the weak, you should know instinctively. However, it is a fact that all of us now know more now than we did 50, 40, 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. We treat physical and mental illness today in ways different from how we did in the 1960s. The police who once for the sake of peace in the precinct took a "Get out of Dodge" approach to many crimes no longer practice such expeditious law enforcement. And while we still believe in the power of prayer, no one in the church thinks a 30-day retreat and a firm purpose of amendment can cure a sexual abuser. (Pedophilia was a crime 50, 40, 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. Aiding an abetting was a crime and is a crime. Families do not shuffle their 'Uncle Teds' to other families or reassign them at family gatherings so Uncle Ted can return to 'family' life and prey on other families.)
New knowledge means new obligations for church leaders, of course. Not knowing is no longer acceptable. Inaction will no longer be tolerated by law enforcement, fellow clerics and the Catholic community. Signs of such realization have been shown, for example, by Pope John Paul II who declared "there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young" and Pope Benedict who said bluntly: "I am ashamed and will do everything possible to ensure that this doesn't happen in the future." (Unless your name is Maciel and one of your supporters is the richest man in the world. Then JPII thought you were an 'efficacious guide for youth'.
For many, the emphasis of Holy Week is on Good Friday, a day that's good not because Jesus died a terrible death that day, but because the death led to His subsequent resurrection. It holds deep meaning for Catholics now who seek meaning from the tragedy of pedophilia.
Pedophilia has had terrible effect on many and reminds us of sinful humanity than is around us and within us. It has made a long Good Friday for many, especially those victimized by this sin and crime. But as the church has learned while dealing with these wounds, as it did with the crucifixion of Jesus, the pain can lead to a church purified of sin. (No Sister, all you and Benedict are proving is that Catholics can only be assured that the Vatican attitude to this crime depends on who is at the wheel. Benedict did squat except obey JPII until Benedict got the wheel. There is nothing to prevent this happening all over again with a different hand on the wheel.)
With the current spate of news stories about inaction in the face of pedophilia, Catholics rightly feel numbness like that of Holy Saturday when the Apostles and followers of Jesus were stunned by the events around them. The message, however, is that Jesus' death led to new life. The Church is still learning through its pain. The comfort of Christ awaits, which is something victims/survivors need and deserve and something the entire Church, from Pope Benedict to the newest baptized child, can take hope in. (No, actually we can't because nothing has fundamentally changed concerning the management structure which allowed this to happen. Benedict himself is the prime example that obedience trumps conscience when it comes to the clerical caste.)
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In my opinion, and it's a strong one, Benedict will get zero sympathy from me because he found it far more expedient to practice the cowardice of obedience rather than follow his conscience. His example is not one worth emulating, it's one worth castigating, and it's all too symbolic of what we can expect in the future. No amount of spin can change this fact. Period.
My spiritual mentors emphasise and emphasise that it is not enough to admit mistakes, one must learn the lessons in the mistakes and then let that knowledge change your behavior. Benedict first needs to admit he made mistakes, that those mistakes were part and parcel of the clerical culture of which he was a huge component, and then take that knowledge and make meaingful changes in his behavior and by extension the culture in which he is the symbolic head. To do anything else is to miss the resurrection moment entirely.
Instead of concentrating on Christ crucified, Benedict needs to concentrate on Peter the betrayer. After all, he is in Peter's line of succession, not Jesus's.