While the USCCB head is discussing 'dirty hands' and and how this gives him permission to exclude Catholics, his German counterpart is talking inclusion and reform. Pope Francis has some work to do in getting his upper leadership on the same page.
Women Catholic deacons 'no longer taboo'
The Local - 4/29/2013
Germany's top Roman Catholic has called for women to be allowed to become deacons, which would enable them to perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass - a novelty for Catholic women.
The conference, the first of its kind, invited 300 Roman Catholic experts to propose reforms. Zollitsch's comments echo year-long calls from the Central Committee of German Catholics to permit women to become deacons. On Sunday, Zollitsch said that aim was no longer a 'taboo.'
Zollitsch said the Catholic Church could only regain credibility and strength by committing to reform. He described an "atmosphere of openness and freedom" at the conference.
Deacons assist priests during church services and can perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass. Their primary role however is to serve the needy in their community and their duties are considered secular rather than pastoral.
Another proposal to emerge from the conference was to extend the rights of remarried divorcees to sit on church bodies such as parish councils. Conference members also discussed the possibility of granting them the right to receive Holy Communion and attend confession.
"It's important to me that, without undermining the sanctity of marriage, these men and women are taken seriously within the church and feel respected and at home," said Zollitsch. At present the reforms remain speculative and there is no proposed time-frame for their implementation. The position of divorcees remains highly controversial within the Church.
The conference also touched on the difficulty, particularly in eastern Germany, of recruiting people to work for Catholic institutions such as hospitals and kindergarten. At present the Church can only employ Roman Catholics. However Zollitsch called for work permits to be extended to non-Catholics and to those with "different lifestyles." This would technically apply to homosexual people too. However Church labour reforms are unlikely to be introduced in the next three years. (But the odds are all these reforms will begin happening now, as Zollitsch has verbally opened the door.)
While reform might be slow to come, the sentiments expressed at the conference are a signal to many that change is on the way. "I have never experienced a process of strategy development as transparent as this one," said Thomas Berg, of the Baden-Württemberg Leadership Academy, who attended the conference.
I wrote before, I think in a comment, that the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis has opened some fissures and let off some pressure. This German conference and AB Zollitsch's remarks are another major indication of this phenomenon. More and more bishops are talking meaningful reform and not just rearranging deck chairs--except in the US. This latest from Germany is unique simply because it's a request from an entire national Church, an important national Church whose financial clout is second only to the US. I cannot imagine this sort of thing happening during the papacies of Benedict or JPII. Yes, the German Conference put it's foot down about a few things, most notably a couple of bishop appointments, but to advocate for major changes in the Diaconate, hiring and firing practices, and for pastoral ministry to irregular marriages is huge, and could never have happened before February 28th.
Here in the US we are still mired in the Benedict/JPII Church as can be seen in the tripe written by Cardinal 'dirty hands' Dolan, the removal of gay employees simply on the reception of single anonymous letters, and the continued coddling and mishandling of abusive priests. There is an arrogance in too many of the US bishops that is breath taking in it's application. If there is one national Bishops conference that exudes a fundamental cancerous clericalism, it's the USCCB. None of this is really not all that surprising since it seems to be molded in the image of Cardinals Bernie Law, Justin Rigali, and Roger Mahony, and this is not to forget the boys from Bishop Bruskewitz's Nebraska stable. They may differ in terms of theological emphasis, but not in clerical privilege and diocesan 'ownership'. God only knows how much money the California crop has spent on Cathedrals. It's most likely only exceeded by the amount they spent on clerical abuse. It's no wonder Cardinal O'Malley is the US Cardinal selected by Francis for his kitchen cabinet of 8. There was no other real credible choice.
As to these proposals from Germany, they are the first necessary steps in restoring gender balance in the Church. The next step is to free priests to marry. These are not truly reforms, but the recovery of past practices. They will be easily accepted in the third world because women hold real positions of spiritual authority in Indigenous cultures. Unfortunately, while they would be welcomed in the US Church, they would not be forthcoming from our current crop of bishops--at least not all of them. What I would like to see is a similar gathering of laity and bishops in US, and more than that I would like to see Pope Francis mandate similar gatherings in all national Churches. It is the only feasible way for lay Catholics to have meaningful say in the Church. It's not democracy, but at least it's a long step from absolute monarchy. The German Church has opened an important conversation and laid down an important challenge--not that this exact scenario hasn't happened before--the question is will the result be different.