Monday, April 29, 2013

An Important Challenge From The German Church

Germany's Cardinal Kasper has also called for women deacons and Cardinal Reihard Marx, one of Pope Francis' Great 8 is on record for this statement about women's ordination:  We must go on thinking about this intensively. Perhaps we have not yet come to the end of the road we set out on together.”

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.
Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch, who chairs the German Bishops' Conference, called for the change at the end of a four-day meeting to discuss possible reforms.

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.


  1. "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."

    Considered "secular rather than pastoral" - Give me a break!

    This is all too little and too late for an entire generation of women, imho.

  2. You are correct Ana, I don't. My suspicion is there are probably more than two national conferences that have issues with clericalism. LOL

    I do know of one that won't be getting any more bishops for the foreseeable future and that's the Scottish bishops conference. Pope Francis is not happy with what he has heard about that conference and it's disgraced Cardinal.

  3. It's better than nothing I guess. I had to think about why funerals and weddings would be considered secular and I guess it's because funerals don't necessarily involve a funeral Mass the day of the funeral (if at all) and in weddings the Sacrament is actually administered by the couple and witnessed by the priest. No priestly magic involved in either case.

    It would be far more radical if the proposal was to let women deacons hear confessions. Lots of MSW's would probably apply for the diaconate. The sacrament might actually evolve rather than regress back to a closet and three Hail Marys and three Our Fathers.

  4. I think that the RCC is far from allowing women to hear confessions. We do, however, hear all that is going on in the world nevertheless. The world and the Church make their confession known and it is not a secret to women who have eyes to see and ears to hear. And yes, it's better than nothing to even consider women to be deacons.

  5. tpel, that's the sad state of affairs in the Church, unfortunately, that a male would not want to be "dictated" to. It is not a pastoral way of dealing with his ministry to have such baggage in the form of an attitude that is against serving altogether. How on earth can we say we are united to Christ in any meaningful way, and then to have dragging along such an unholy stance. The sister was carrying out her duties as administrator. That is not about dictating anything. It is about administratively coordinating the ministry with serving the Church and the Churches needs, such as the Baptism. The priest in your example went awol on the Church and Jesus due to his prejudice. I am appalled at such a man who would call himself a priest and then have such a belligerent and arrogant attitude towards a woman who was serving the Lord.

  6. Absolutely agreed. I think the whole trouble here was that the priest felt the sister was acting too far outside her appointed role as a female and therefor was NOT doing Christ's work. So he felt entirely free to ignore the appointment as being in conflict with his ministry. Some people either can't recognize sexism, or they can't recognize sexism is a sin.


  7. This is a worldly priest you speak of, tpel and one who judges by appearances only & needs to take a refresher course on Theology 101 and remember that God is Spirt and not male or female. There is not an ounce of truth that the sister was acting too far outside her appointed role. That's all in his silly head and false teaching. It is God who appoints and gives assignment to whomever and whenever it so delight and please our Creator.

    Sexism is a sinister disease in the Church.

  8. Wow! You know, between the two issues of LGBTQ rights and women's ordination, I can hardly wait to see which one the Church gives in on first. I'm betting on women's ordination because I think there are probably more Christian denominations with which the Church wants to remain friendly that already ordain women than those who push for same sex marriage. I think in the end it will come down, as always, to which move best helps the hierarchy retain power in the secular arena. I'm no political genius but I AM a serious LGBTQ ally because of my son and, from what news I read in that blogosphere, I have very little hope for anything within the Church beyond a cessation of hostility to secular civil unions until much farther down the road.

  9. I wonder if the hierarchy would be too threatened by the thought of putting MSWs in the Confessional because they would have enough education to point out to parishioners that masturbation and committed gay relationships are normal and healthy.

  10. That is just so frustrating. Poor Parish administrator, doing her job offended the priest for whom she was administering the parish. He skips out, bishop ends her job. SIgh.

  11. Amen sister Tpel. When it is acting too far outside one's gender role to actually do their assigned job then we have major problems with gender theology and the servant priesthood.

  12. That could be, but I was thinking more along the lines of process theology and psychological self actualization. They are not mutually exclusive. There are more than a couple of priests who would have no difficulty in a confessional treading the lines between psychological health and religious sanction.

    As far as I personally am concerned, the more psychologically healthy the better the spirituality. Psychological health implies getting ones ego under control and that is the first step in experiencing real spirituality. Hence the Temptations in the desert came before Jesus started His ministry.

  13. I agree Chris. This will eventually be a very big step, should it actually happen, in a woman's place in the scheme of Church things.

  14. Big story in men's professional sports in that finally a current athlete came out. Jason Collins, a center for the Washington Wizards, announced he was gay via Sports Illustrated. I was shocked it was an NBA player because I really thought it would be an NHL player. The NHL has gone a very long ways in dealing with early childhood sexual abuse from coaches.

    A black guy in the NBA is a very big deal. I couldn't help but remember when Martina Navratilova came out way back in 1981. It's hard for me to believe it's taken the men 32 more years. Wow. I guess it proves in spades that the real gay issue is with men, not women. I think the issue will be reversed when it comes to Women's ordination and gay issues. Too many gay priests and too much mysoginy makes me think women's ordination is a long way away. But hey, Deacons is a very good and very traditional place to start--but I actually think there will be schism before any of the rest happens.


  15. The National Catholic Reporter noted in an editorial last year, that the formal Anglican approval was based on a study by the Catholic Pontifical Biblical Commission that found there is no biblical prohibition on women's ordination.
    There's no doubt a reason Popes JPII and B16 refused to allow even discussion of these matters: open and honest debate can lead to only one conclusion - "the recovery of past practices".

  16. What I love about this, is that in addition to the point on women deacons (quite rightly the headline point), there are other important issues, too: support for greater inclusion of divorced people, and for reform of employment practices - which could include hiring openly gay or divorced teachers, for instance.

    Recently, the German bishops also announced approval of morning after emergency contraception in cases of rape.

    It's obviously no co-incidence that this is Germany - where two years ago, 40% of professional theologians signed up publicly to a rousing call for extensive reform of Church teaching and clericalist culture.

    No wonder Benedict has chosen to remain in Rome, and not return to his German fatherland.

  17. I disagree that the divergence between male and female athletes coming out suggests that the gay issue is a bigger deal for men than for women (although it could be). Remember, this is sport we're dealing with.

    It's very much part of macho male culture for men to be deeply into sports - much more so than for women, or for many gay men. For anybody obsessed with conforming to gender expectations, success in competitive, sweaty sports just confirms their masculinity.

    For women, it's different. Just being a professional athlete contradicts some expectations of what being "feminine" is all about. So those who do excel at sports have already jettisoned some of the baggage of gender conformity. Going one step further, for them, is less of a big deal than it is for gay men.

    If your suggestion was generally true, it should also apply in other fields. What about the fashion industry? Are there more women fashion designers coming out as lesbian, then men as gay?

    I think you could be right that coming to terms with a same - sex orientation is in fact a bigger issue for men than for women, possibly for reasons associated with men's ideas of patriarchal dominance, and physical sex, compared with women's emphasis on emotional bonding and sisterhood - but comparing male and female athletes is not a sound place to look for supporting evidence.

  18. Oh, I agree! I definitely agree that more compassionate psychology in the confessional would be a huge improvement! As one who struggles daily with mental illness, I'm all for that! And as far as 'hierarchy' goes, I don't mean to include most of your everyday priests. Most priests I personally know aren't the problem, (our latest local pastor excluded; he's a total nutcase). I was thinking more along the lines of higher up the food chain. Did I misspeak? I don't tend to think of priests as 'hierarchy.' I tend to think of a lot of them as in the same scrunched down pile as the average layperson. Maybe I'm not using the term correctly.

  19. Terry, I was speaking it's more difficult for men to come out as far as society goes, not personally more difficult. I also think you have a point that society accepts out gays and lesbians easier if they are in a non traditional gender role. Actually, now that I think about it, one of the stereotypes women still face in professional sports is the lesbian issue and 'everyone knows' all male fashion designers are gay.

    I'm still blown away it's taken this long for a gay man to come out in men's professional team sports. Maybe it's the beginning of crossing the last real hurdle to acceptance.

  20. Love your last sentence, which proves even for the 'wizard' there is no place back home. I thought the hiring thing was interesting as well. I can imagine certain members of the USCCB wish German bishops didn't exist.

  21. I so, so hope that it won't come to that! I am so sad about what I have woken up to since I came out of five years of amnesia. It's like waking up on some strange planet! I feel like Alice down the rabbit hole! Not that it hasn't always been this way I'm sure but, I never noticed it before. I was always your proverbial 'good little Catholic girl'. I guess I had to have that distance from it to actually see the Chaos...not just in the Church but the world, my hometown, even in my own family! It can't be that all that has changed so drastically. It must be me that has changed. I wish I understood...there is already 'schism in my heart' from everything I thought I knew but, especially with the Church. There are times I wish I'd never woken up from my sleep.....

  22. Schism may be too strong a word, but the German bishops conference and the USCCB are light years apart on a lot of issues. And then there is Austria, and Ireland both of whom have active priests movements much more closely aligned with Germany than the USCCB.

  23. Just a note: Mahony has always been an outsider in the USCCB, being seen as way too liberal. Yes, he indeed touted the company policy on clerical secrecy and protecting the image of the Church, but no favorite of JPII or Benedict. But remember he is the one who started the hated "Religious Education Congress" which still vexes the Trads to this day. *Bring on the Liturgical Dancers!*

    One thing many people don't know, the former Cathedral in Los Angeles was damaged in an earthquake, and the major donors for the new Cathedral tied their money to construction of a new building only. Mahony was the one who fought to keep it in downtown L.A.

    I'm not a Mahony apologist, just get frustrated by internet "facts" that really have little relation to the truth.

  24. The Old Catholic Church which the RCC has agreed has valid sacraments has already ordained women. The idea that the Lutherans, Methodists and Anglicans do not have valid sacraments is ludicrous. All these churches ordain women.

    The idea that people must be celibate to give their lives to a religious vocation is also ludicrous. If that were true than how could other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers and others dedicate themselves to their professions. The church is recalcitrant in refusing to change.

    The idea that that change takes up to 300 year as it did in the case of the doctrine of the earth as the center of the universe is also ludicrous just plane stupid. It is true that the Anglicans did begin with women deacons first but the Anglicans encourage questions and fear change less.

    The idea that the Church must change slowly "to get it right" is also plane wrong. Growth and development does require people and institutions to change and change again. I recall advising medical residents about taking their Board Examinations. I told them that the questions often remain the same but the answers frequently change. Dogma is a problem! Relative ideas to a finite being is much better!

  25. We are in the midst of schism right now. Former Catholics are the largest group in the US second to the RCC. Some of these people go to other very good churches such as the Old Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodists or Lutherans, some do not go to formal religions at all. But most of them remain spiritual beings that have the critical power of thought. The loss to the RCC will continue to compound because of the poor decision to be slow. In other words not to decide now is also a decision. To declare that a Pope has no authority to ordain women when the other Catholic Churches already do is an example of very poor leadership----- the type that is in part responsible for the current schism.

  26. It is really sickening to find that ONLY the German Church is calling for reforms. Reforms that should have happened a long time ago. The Church is filled with a bunch of cry baby right wingers and misogynist gay bashing bullies in the US. It has been this way for years. People are sick and tired of conversations and want some real action for changes and an end to the all-male monarchy.

  27. He started his ministry at the wedding at Canaan and turned water into wine. The temptations came later. He was baptized before that too. What bible are you reading?