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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DIY Catholicism: Twin Cities “Synod of the Baptized”.

The “whole church” self-evidently includes many more people than simply the self-appointed oligarchy of bishops and their clergy, but the Vatican has never made any serious effort to involve the rest of us in the affairs of the Church – beyond serving as fund-raisers and cheap labour for the simpler tasks. Questions of serious planning and decision-taking it keeps very carefully to its own. However, as I have noted frequently, there are abundant and increasing signs that ordinary Catholics, lay people, religious women, married priests now outside of institutional control, and some more progressive regular priests are recognizing the importance of making a full contribution to the life of the Church. Where they are not being properly involved by the institutional oligarchy, they are simply doing it for themselves.

One of the more impressive examples of this comes from the diocese of Minneapolis / St Paul, which has just brought to fruition their very successful “Synod of the Baptized”. This has been the fruit of long months of hard work and preparation, so I was delighted to read how well the event seems to have gone off – and that the team are already engaged in planning for the next stage.

Taken from the Progressive Catholic Voice, these are some extracts from a report by Paula Ruddy:

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Cardinal Schonborn: Four Months, and In Benedict’s Favour.

It is now over four months since the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna made his remarks on the need to replace the Catholic obsession with homosexual acts with far greater emphasis on the quality of the relationships. For all those who expected a flood of outraged repudiation and denial, there has been  –  nothing, not a peep. There was a well-publicized meeting with Pope Benedict that some observers saw as a dressing-down – but the discussions appear to have been solely on the criticisms of Cardinal Sordano, not the remarks on sexuality. Even that, if it was indeed some kind of rebuke, is quite clearly now gone and forgotten. For the pope’s annual gathering of his former theology students, Cardinal Schonborn had a signal place of honour, being invited to deliver the homily at the closing Mass, which Benedict himself celebrated.  This is what Rocco Palma had to say at Whispers in the Loggia:

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“Incompatible With Scripture”: Jeffrey John on Sexuality & Sanity

The news that Jeffrey John is  a leading candidate to be the next Anglican bishop has caused some panic to break out on the conservative religious blogosphere: the inappropriately and misleadingly named “Anglican Mainstream” has called for an urgent day of prayer to forestall this impending calamity. Virtue Online has dredged up and posted an address he gave back in 1998 on the theme of homosexuality in the Anglican clergy. I am grateful to David Virtue. No doubt he thinks he has posted it as some kind of “warning”:  I read it as prescient.  In the dozen years since he gave this address, years before he was first named and then asked to withdraw as bishop of Reading, the Anglican church has moved a long way, here and world-wide. But instead of simply reading the address as dated, I see it as a mirror for the present state of play in the Catholic church: exactly the same allegations of clerical and episcopal hypocrisy apply to the Church of Rome. More interesting, is that when I put this alongside the small, hopeful signs I see of an imminent shift in emphasis by Catholic bishops, I wonder if we in the Catholic church will also be able to look back twelve years hence, and to note some useful changes.

But that is speculation. Far more useful at this stage is just to read and enjoy John’s wisdom – and humour. I loved his story of the run-around he was given years before when first applying for ordination. The church authorities had established from medical records that Johns was possible gay, and had referred him for psychiatric evaluation:

So l had to go and be checked by the ACCM psychiatrist. This was the first time I realized that in seeking ordination I was entering a danger zone. I was furious that it had happened. but I duly trotted down to London from Oxford one Saturday morning and arrived at a remarkably dingy practice in Battersea. It was the sort of place one might imagine a back street abortionist to operate in, a tiny surgery with peeling wallpaper lit by one fly-blown naked lightbulb. This apparently was the Church of England’s psychiatric HQ. But the truly remarkable thing was the ACCM psychiatrist, whom at first I took to be a patient, since he was dressed in a leather jacket with studs and chains, leather boots, tight jeans, very long dark hair, and a cerise chiffon scarf. When he introduced himself as the ACM psychiatrist, I began to wonder if this was some sort of entrapment procedure – perhaps I was supposed to respond to the uniform and try to get off with him, whereupon an ACCM official would leap out from behind a curtain and say ‘Aha. Got you red-handed’

That did not happen. We had a cup of tea instead, and a cosy chat about family and feelings. Nothing at all about sexuality, nor the entry on my medical record, which was the reason I was there. After tea he said, since he realized I was more than a little angry about what had happened, that he would write his report on me right away so that l could see it myself and post it to ACCM on my way home. So he did. He wrote, ‘Dear ACCM Secretary, I have examined Mr John and conclude that he is a good deal saner than those who sent him to me. Yours sincerely,…’. I posted it in the box outside. Read the rest of this entry »

A “Secularized” West – Or a Secularized Church?

Pope Benedict has created a new Vatican office to “re-evangelize” the West, aiming to combat it’s “secularization”. My immediate reaction on reading this was to wonder if by “secularization”, he is truly concerned about a loss of faith, or the precipitous decline of the Catholic Church in Europe? At USA Today, Cathy Lynn Grossman asks the same question: “Is it God or the Catholic Church facing ‘eclipse’ in the West?“.

There is no doubt at all that in Europe at least, loyal adherence to the teaching of Catholic Church is in free fall. Belgium is one dramatic example: once universally Catholic, it is now one of the most secularized countries in Europe. Only 7% attend weekly Mass, half of babies are not baptized, and three quarters of couples do not marry in church). In Austria, the number of people formally leaving the church annually, now at over 80 000, has doubled over the past two years – and this is a measure of formal resignation, not just of a gradual drift. A similar process of a steadily increasing rate of formal resignations, is similarly under way in Germany. In Ireland, which was once widely described as “priest-ridden”, many Catholics hold the institutional Church in open contempt. Read the rest of this entry »

Cardinal Schönborn: Two months. No Repudiation, A Portuguese Ally

On April 28th this year, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna dropped some remarks in a news conference that hit made headlines around the world. He called for deep reform of the curia, he criticized a colleague (Cardinal Sodano), and suggested that  it might be time for the Church to moderate its thinking on same sex relationships and on divorce. Most attention fell on the remarks about reform, and the criticism of Sodano, but in the implications for Church teaching, the observations on same sex relationships and divorce were potentially groundbreaking. As my regular readers know, I have been keeping a watching brief on news about Cardinal Schönborn in the expectation of a clear refutation or repudiation by the Vatican or by colleagues, but this still has not happened – at least, not on the sexuality remarks.

On Monday this week, two months to the day after the original news conference, it looked as though things might have changed. The Cardinal had been summonsed to Rome. where he had a lengthy conference with Pope Benedict  and Cardinal Bertone, hardly the most gay-friendly of his colleagues. He emerged with a clear papal reprimand – for his criticism of Sodano.

Then there was today’s meeting between between the pope and his erstwhile protege, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who has among other things denounced Angelo Sodano, head of the College of Cardinals, called for a reform of the Curia, and suggested that the church take another look at clerical celibacy, divorce, and committed same-sex relationships. Sodano trooped into the meeting at the end with Bertone–on hand to mediate?–and a wacky press release ensued that claimed that 1) Schönborn might have  in unspecified ways spoken out of turn; 2) Sodano didn’t really mean it when he denounced press chattering about priestly sexual abuse on Easter Sunday; and 3) only the pope gets to criticize a cardinal.

((From BeliefNet)

About “homosexual” relationships, not a word. (I have not seen anything on this in any of the reports of the meeting, mainstream or fringe).

Are we to assume then, that respect for homosexual relationships of good “quality” has become acceptable doctrine?

In the meantime, while I have been apprehensively looking out for repudiation from Schönborn’s colleagues, I have instead found  independent support, from a bishop in Portugal.

The Catholic religious right are aflame with indignation at the reported comments of Portuguese Bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira, who heads the ordinariate for the armed forces, over some sane remarks on homosexuality and on “family planning”. The only English language reports I have found are the heavily edited and filtered reports on sites like Catholic Culture and Lifesite News, so I attempted to find the full, original report in Portuguese,  and to read it via Google Translate. The result in a (clumsy) English  translation is  here.

I can’t say the exercise has left me with any of the subtleties of his thinking, but I’m pleased I did so – the full report includes much that was omitted from the edited English reports, and has left me with some idea of the person behind the remarks – a person that strikes me as a breath of fresh air in the Church. Taking all the reports together, I have a sense that this is a man who is simply asking for more flexibility and realism in the church. On gay marriage, he is personally opposed, but also acknowledges that gay relationships are a reality the church should deal with. He asks his colleagues, he says, if they have ever spoken to homosexuals? The Church would surely show a great deal more sensitivity on these matters if only they did so. Although he opposed the legislation which introduced same sex marriage, he thinks the President was right not to veto – because that was the realistic thing to do, avoiding unpleasant public displays of anger and protest, with an inevitable legislative override of any veto.

He also argues for more decentralization in Church governance, and is commendably frank in pointing out that bishops are human, like everyone else – and nobody needs to be scandalized by the thought of him, or any other bishop, going to a beach in swimming trunks, and possible lying next to a woman sunbathing topless.

Overall, the man is clearly that rare creature in the echelons of the Catholic oligarchy – a bishop who is capable of blending into his theology a healthy dose of reality, and I commend him for that.

Abuse as the “Defining Moment” of Benedict’s Papacy

In an effective analysis at the Times, Richard Owen argues that the whole clerical abuse saga may well turn out to be Pope Benedict’s defining moment. For far too long, the church authorities appeared to totally ignore the problem and brush it under the carpet. Even as recently as the visit of the Irish bishops, the impression created was that he was totally underestimating the problem.

“Papal Whitewash” ran one headline in the Irish press after Pope Benedict’s encounter with the Irish bishops. No bishops were sacked, no abuse victims were heard, and the Pope — who is to visit Britain in September — announced no plans to visit Ireland to apologise and to mend fences.

More recently, there has been some grudging recognition that more may need to be done, but this still does not go beyond absolute basics. Instead, they have gone on the defensive, trying to argue (against all the evidence) that the Vatican response has been “decisive” and that other institutions are equally guilty.

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