|Sometimes fear can be a great motivator for some spectacular feats--like running on water, or meaningful change in the Church
Although I am sure the leadership of the American Catholic Conference will be shortly releasing it's synopsis of the conference, there is already in place the letter written by whose 300+ German theologians earlier in the spring. There are now some 60,000 signatures attached to it. The following is the full letter, and this link will take you to the English version of the homepage, where you will find another link that let's you too, become a signatory.
CHURCH 2011: THE NEED FOR A NEW
Memorandum of professors of theology on the crisis of the Catholic Church
The Church in 2011: A Necessary New Departure
It is over a year since cases of sexual abuse of children and youth by priests
and religious at the Canisius School in Berlin were made public. A year has
followed that has plunged the Catholic Church in Germany into an
unprecedented crisis. The picture emerging today is very mixed. Much has
been undertaken to do justice to the victims, to respond to all the wrong that
has been done, and to search out the causes of abuse, cover-up, and double
standards within the Church’s own ranks. After their initial horror, many
responsible Christians, women and men, in ministry and outside of ministry,
have come to realize that deep-reaching reforms are necessary. The appeal for
an open dialogue on structures of power and communication, on the form of
ecclesial office, and on the participation of the faithful in taking
responsibility, on morality and sexuality have awakened expectations, but
also fears. Could it happen that what might be the last chance for a departure
from paralysis and resignation be missed by sitting out or minimizing the
crisis? For some, the disquiet of an open dialogue without taboos is not a
comfortable prospect – especially since the papal visit [to Germany] will soon
take place. Yet the alternative would even be worse: a “peace of the cemetery”
because the last hopes have been extinguished.
The deep crisis of our Church demands that we address also those
problems which, at first glance, are not immediately linked to the abuse
scandal and its cover-up that lasted for decades. As theology professors,
women and men, we can no longer keep silent. We recognize our
responsibility to contribute to a truly new beginning: 2011 must be the year of
a new departure for the Church. In the past year, more Christians than ever
before have left the Catholic Church. They have officially terminated their
public membership, or they have privatized their spiritual life in order to
protect it from the institution. The Church must understand these signs and
must itself depart from ossified structures in order to recover new vitality and
The renewal of church structures will succeed, not with an anxious
separation from society, but only with the courage for self-criticism and the
acceptance of critical impulses – including those from the outside. This is one
of the lessons of the last year: the abuse crisis would not have been dealt with
so decisively without the critical accompaniment of the larger public. Only
through open communication can the Church win back trust. The Church
will become credible only when the image it has of itself does not completely
diverge from the image others have of it. We address all those who have not
yet given up hope for a new beginning within the Church and are committing
themselves to this. We build upon the signals of a new departure and
dialogue which some bishops have given in recent months in speeches,
homilies, and interviews.
The Church does not exist for its own sake. The church has the mission to
announce the liberating and loving God of Jesus Christ to all people. The
Church can do this only when it is itself a locus and a credible witness for the
liberative good news of the Gospel. The Church’s speaking and acting, its
rules and structures – its entire engagement with people within and outside
the Church – is under the claim of recognizing and promoting the freedom of
human beings as creatures of God. Unconditional respect for each person,
respect for freedom of conscience, commitment to the law and justice,
solidarity with the poor and oppressed: these are the theological foundational
standards which arise from the Church’s obligation to the Gospel. Through
these, love of God and neighbour are made concrete.
Finding our orientation in the biblical message of freedom implies a
differentiated relationship to modern society. In many respects, it surpasses
the Church when the recognition of each person’s freedom, maturity, and
responsibility is concerned. The Church can learn from this, as already the
Second Vatican Council emphasized. In other respects, critique of
contemporary society from the spirit of the Gospel is indispensable, as when
people are judged only by their productivity, when mutual solidarity is
crushed, or when the dignity of the human person is violated.
It remains the case in every instance, however, that the Gospel’s message of
freedom is the standard for a credible Church, for its action and its social
shape. The concrete challenges which the Church must face are by no means
new. And yet, it is hard to make out any traces of future-oriented reforms.
Open dialogue on these questions must take place in the following spheres of
1. Structures of Participation: In all areas of church life, participation of
the faithful is a touchstone for the credibility of the Gospel’s message of
freedom. According to the ancient legal principle “What applies to all should
be decided by all,” more synodal structures are needed at all levels of the
Church. The faithful should be involved in the process of appointing
important office-holders (bishop, parish priest). Whatever can be decided
locally should be decided there. Decisions must be transparent.
2. Parish Community: Christian communities should be places where
people share spiritual and material goods with one another. But the life of the
parish community life is eroding at present. Under the pressure of the
shortage of priests, ever larger administrative entities (“XXL Size” Parishes)
are constructed in which neighbourliness and sense of belonging can hardly
be experienced any longer. Historical identities and social networks achieved
over time are given up. Priests are overburdened and burn out. The faithful
stay away when they are not trusted to share responsibility and to participate
in more democratic structures in the leadership of their parish communities.
Ministry within the Church must serve the life of the communities – not the
other way around. The Church also needs married priests and women in
3. Legal culture: The recognition of the dignity and freedom of every
human person becomes evident especially when conflicts are worked out
fairly and with mutual respect. Canon law deserves its name only when the
faithful can truly make use of their rights. It is urgent that the protection of
rights and the legal culture within the church be improved. A first step is the
creation of institutional structures of an administrative justice system in the
4. Freedom of Conscience: Respect for individual conscience means
placing trust in people’s ability to make decisions and carry responsibility. It
is also the task of the Church to support this capability; this task must not
revert to paternalism. It is especially important to take this seriously in the
realm of personal life decisions and individual life styles. The Church’s
esteem for marriage and for the unmarried form of life goes without saying.
But this does not require the exclusion of people who responsibly live out
love, faithfulness, and mutual care in same-sex partnerships or in a
remarriage after divorce.
5. Reconciliation: Solidarity with “sinners” presupposes that we take
seriously the sin within our own ranks. Self-righteous moral rigourism ill
befits the Church. The Church cannot preach reconciliation with God if it
does not create by its own actions the conditions for reconciliation with those
whom the Church has wronged: by violence, by withholding law, by turning
the biblical message of freedom into a rigorous morality without mercy.
6. Worship: The liturgy lives from the active participation of all the
faithful. Contemporary experiences and forms of expression must have their
place in it. The Eucharist and other celebrations of the sacraments must not
become frozen in traditionalism. Cultural diversity enriches liturgical life;
this is not compatible with a tendency toward centralized uniformity. Only
when the celebration of faith takes account of concrete life situations will the
Church’s message reach people.
The dialogue process that has already begun in the Church can lead to
liberation and a new departure only when all participants are ready to take up
the pressing questions. Through a free and fair exchange of arguments
solutions have to be sought that lead the Church out of its crippling
preoccupation with itself. The tempest of the last year must not be followed
by a period of rest! In the present situation, this could only be the “quiet of
the grave.” Anxiety has never been a good counsellor in times of crisis.
Christian women and men are compelled by the Gospel to look to the future
with courage, and walk on water as Peter did, spurred by the word of Jesus:
“Why do you have fear? Is your faith so weak?”
I think the one thing not being asked for in these reform movements is the one thing that most definitely needs to happen, and that's the dissolution of the Vatican Bank. JPI certainly targeted this bank as the most needed 'reform of the reform'. I agree. The Roman Catholic Church has no gospel reason to be involved in banking precisely because it is the single biggest connection to the kind of corruption which corrodes the soul of this Church. I've often thought if Jesus came back today, he would take out the Vatican bank just as he did the money changers in the Temple. Should Benedict dare to follow JPI's foot steps in this regard, really clean up the Vatican Bank by getting rid of it and it's tainted assets, I would seriously take notice.
This is a fairly straight forward reform which touches on no doctrine, no dogma, no creedal statements, but it does impact directly on the soul of the institution. While I signed the above letter, I would ask they add just one more paragraph, a paragraph number 7 requesting the dissolution of the Vatican Bank. I think then we might see some cardinals (and others) running on water out of sheer terror at this kind of reform of the core of 'their Church'.
At the request of a commenter, here is an active link to the signatory page.