Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change

When people think of the crisis facing the Irish church since public awareness exploded over the sexual abuse scandals, they generally think only of the abuse itself. However, the real crisis goes much deeper. The abuse problems brought the crisis into sharp focus, but (tragically important as they are) they are in fact just one symptom of a much deeper malaise.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has garnered respect for his own response to the crisis, but in a hard-hitting speech in Cambridge, he has explained the extent of the problem, in terms remarkably similar to the argument made by the German theologians this month. Their statement, remember, was a response to a reflection on the abuse problems that emerged in Germany, Austria and Switzerland a year ago. Reflecting on the abuse issue, they concluded, like Archbishop Martin, that clerical sexual abuse cannot be looked at in isolation, but must be viewed as part of a much larger problem of Catholic culture and structures, which are urgently in need of fundamental reform.

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Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

When the German theologians last week released their declaration calling for far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church culture, structures and teaching on sexual morality, it had been signed by 143 leading theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The publication of the declaration on Friday coincided with the resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in the culmination of sustained popular protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Since then, Arab street protests have spread to other countries of the Middle East, notably including Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Algeria.

The theologians’ revolt has similarly been spreading beyond the original 143 German signatories.

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Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth

When I quoted Charles Curran last week with his statement that “the majority” of moral theologians want to see some revisions to Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, I could not have anticipated how quickly I would be seeing some evidence that Curran may even have understated the problem. At the end of the week, coinciding beautifully with the Egyptian”Day of Departure”, the German press published a statement by 143 theologians, titled “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure”, which called for fundamental, far-reaching reforms in the structure and moral theology of the Catholic Church.  In doing so, they dramatically demolished an important Catholic myth: that Vatican doctrine and disciplinary rules dictate the beliefs and conduct of the Church.

They do not. It has long been clear that Vatican pronouncements on sexual ethics and on the requirements for admission to the priesthood do not reflect the views of ordinary lay Catholics. It is now obvious that they also do not reflect the views of their own professional theologians. I suspect, indeed, that the Vatican oligarchs no longer believe their own pronouncements themselves. True Catholic belief, as reflected in the real life beliefs of real people, and not abstract words in a rule book, has been substantially reformed. All that is now required is an admission of the fact. What is now becoming clear is that, just like the Emperor’s New Clothes, the idea that the Vatican controls Catholic minds and speaks for their belief, is – a myth.

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Thoughts on Popular Revolutions: in Egypt, in South Africa – in the Church

Events in Egypt are dominating the headlines all around the world. It is always dangerous for outsiders to comment too definitively on the internal politics of foreign countries, but inevitably many of us will have thoughts of our own, and will consider the implications for their own countries.  Bill Lindsay’s reflections on this theme at Bilgrimage led to an exchange in the comments between myself and another reader, which I would like to share (and expand on) here. After some specific response to Bill’s post, I reflected on the implications for the Catholic Church:

My own reflections lie in analogy and implications for another autocratic and corrupt empire of an entirely different kind – the Holy Roman one, based in the Vatican, but with global reach and influence. Just like the Egyptian (and Tunisian) people this year, and the East Europeans, South Africans, Ukrainians and Filipinos before them, Catholics will not continue indefinitely to blithely accept control from the top, with no possibility of meaningful input from below.


Vatican control and influence in the lives of Catholics takes a fundamentally different form to the political control in Arab states, and the Catholic revolution will look different. But the principle is the same, and the revolution is most certainly coming – if it has not already begun.

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Sexual Ethics, Social Statistics, and the Sensus Fideii

Formal Catholic teaching is clear: in developing moral norms, it is right that we consider  the findings from social science and social statistics. On moral norms around sexuality, however, the Vatican simply ignores its own guidelines.

Whenever I refer to the evidence from social statistics on real – world Catholic belief, and the challenge they present to the sensus fideii on Vatican doctrine,  I know that someone will immediately object, either in a comment to my post, or in an outraged blog post of their own at one of the rule-book Catholic sites. (No, I never have claimed that these polls disprove the SF – just that the present a challenge, a prima facie case that the SF might not exist).

Aphrodite, Goddess of Love

 

Salzmann and Lawler (“The Sexual Person“) put it like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Vatican Meltdown*

This post has moved to my new domain at http://queering-the-church.com/blog

Vatican Paper Asks: “Where Were The Women”?

For many years, it seemed that the institutional Church was content to ignore the unfolding stories of widespread sexual abuse by priests, or at best to address only the specific problems of individual perpetrators and the pain of victims. Recently, as the scale of the problems expands (Switzerland is the latest country reported to be investigating complaints) numerous observers have remarked on how swiftly the tone has changed, with an increasing number of high ranking prelates starting to talk about the real issues contributing to the enabling environment. Just in the past few days, Cardinals from Austria (Schonborn) and Brazil (Hummes) have been calling into question the rigid rule on compulsory celibacy.

Times have changed, and society too, and the Church will have to consider how this type of life can be maintained or what it has to change,” Salzburg Archbishop Alois Kothgasser said on Austria’s ORF television on Thursday evening.

In a diocesan newsletter, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said the Church had to ask difficult questions about the abuse scandals. “That includes the issue of celibacy and the personal development” of priests, he wrote.

-Reuters

The Catholic Church is studying ways to loosen the centuries-old requirement that priests abstain from sex in an effort to rebuild its image in the wake of pedophile scandals, Rome-based la Repubblica reported today. Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who once said “celibacy is not a dogma,” is in charge of the project as head the congregation of the clergy, according to the report.

Business Week

Outside the ranks of the powerful others have been calling for greater lay participation in the selection and oversight of their bishops.

Now, right at the heart of the Vatican, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano is suggesting that it is time to revisit that other church bugbear – the place of women. Read the rest of this entry »