Catholic Revolution Gaining Momentum: Germany, Ireland

Within hours of my post earlier today on the Catholic silent revolution, came news of a dramatic corroboration, with a solid band of German academic theologians in open revolt.

In September this year, Pope Benedict will make his first papal visit to Berlin. This will be worth watching: there have been numerous indications that the German Church has been transformed by public anger and disillusionment following the abuse scandals. Well in advance of the visit, prominent German Catholics are preparing for the visit by making public calls for reforms in the Church.

Reuters has a call by a sizeable number of Catholic theologians, said to represent fully one third of all the theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for far-reaching, radical reforms of the Catholic Church.

English language reports have concentrated on the call to ordain “older” married men, which intriguingly appears to mirror a similar call made right back in 1970 by – Fr Joseph Ratzinger.

Supporters of a married priesthood caused a stir late last month when they unearthed a 1970 appeal to ordain older married men signed by nine German theologians including the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope.

An end to celibacy though is not the only reform that is needed, nor the only one demanded by the German theologians.  They have also asked for the ordination of women, lay participation in the election of bishops, and greater inclusion for those who have remarried or are in homosexual partnerships. Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Benedict, on Divorce, Contraception

Pope Benedict’s views on condoms and HIV/AIDS prevention as expressed in “Light of the World” have been widely quoted, misquoted, celebrated and condemned. However, they form only a few line in a wider discussion on sexuality. This broader context is also relevant for its suggestion of some welcome flexibility in his thinking, which is important for a proper perspective on hos views of homosexuality. In an earlier post, I have quoted verbatim the relevant specific questions that Peter Seewald put to him on homosexuality and on the priesthood, and his responses.In this posting, I do the same with his responses on divorce and contraception. The questions are lightly edited, to remove some of Seewald’s less relevant remarks, or those which are specific to Germany. Benedict’s responses I have quoted in full.  (My own reflection on these responses will follow shortly).

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Conscience & Legislation: Sanity From the Catholic Church in Malta.

In the US and Mexico, some bishops are working themselves into a froth over the possible introduction of legal recognition for same-sex unions. In the Philippines, the issue that has them excited. In Malta, it is the possibility of legal divorce. Unlike the other two regions, though, the Maltese church has allowed some sanity into the official discourse, recognizing the possibility of an informed conscience reaching a conclusion that differs from Church teaching, and so acknowledging that parliamentarians could in principle vote in favour of divorce legislation.

 

The Awakening Conscience, (Holman Hunt)

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What (European) Catholics Believe.

The Economist this week has an excellent analysis of the state of the Catholic Church in Europe . Headlined  “The Void Within“, it argues that the church is “hollowing out” at it’s centre. It’s not a flattering picture, but is worth reading in full.

The bottom line is that barring a few exceptions, the Church in Europe is in precipitous decline. There has been a gradual erosion of loyalty and attendance for many years, but this has accelerated since the abuse crisis, and is compounded by a dramatic collapse of church structures and clergy:

….in many European places where Catholicism remained all-powerful until say, 1960, the church is losing whatever remains of its grip on society at an accelerating pace. The drop in active adherence to, and knowledge of, Christianity is a long-running and gentle trend; but the hollowing out of church structures—parishes, monasteries, schools, universities, charities—is more dramatic. That is the backdrop against which the paedophile scandal, now raging across Europe after its explosion in the United States, has to be understood. The church’s fading institutional power makes it (mercifully) easier for people who were abused by clerics to speak out; and as horrors are laid bare, the church, in many people’s eyes, grows even weaker.

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Steady Advance of Gay Marriage – and Christian Divorce!

In Ireland, Marriage Equality have launched a publicity campaign, “We Are Family” for gay marriage to the June month of of Pride. This is timely. Although the Irish government made a clear commitment last year to provide for strong civil partnerships on the British model (not quite full marriage), the timetable seems to be constantly stretching. the Civil Partnership was originally published in June 2oo9, with a promise it would be operational by the end of the year. Enactment is no longer expected any time sooner than October 2o1o.

Checking the progress of marriage equality in Ireland led me also to check on the other countries which have had big announcements, in some cases followed by silence.

Marriage in Europe, June 2010 (Wikipedia)

Portugal

This is the highest profile story, and the battle has already been won. The bill has been ratified, and will take effect as soon as next week.

After Portugal and Slovenia, the most likely contenders to be next in line are the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Iceland and Finland.  (Sweden and Norway already have full equality. In Sweden, that includes church weddings.)

Slovenia

Last year, a ruling by the Constitutional Court forced action on equality on the government, who announced moves to full equality. The Equality bill which ensued was duly passed by the country’s lower house of parliament on March 2 this year. Since then, I have been unable to find any reports of progress in the upper house. As the bill was mandated by court decision, I assume it must eventually become law – but who can say when?

Denmark

This was the first country anywhere to accept gay civil unions, more than 20 years ago. Right from the start, these were popularly thought of as “gay marriage”, and are by now so familiar that acceptance of full marriage is widely accepted in principle – but low in priority.  A news report earlier this year suggested that government had accepted the principle of gay marriage, but that the delay at present was just waiting to get approval from the Danish Lutheran Church for their own acceptance of same sex weddings in church, as in Sweden.

Iceland

As in Denmark, the political will is there (with an openly lesbian PM, how could it not be?), but there is some delay while they attempt to achieve the backing and support of the Lutheran Church.

Finland

The leaders of all the main political parties have accepted the principle of a move from civil unions to full marriage, but the issue does not appear to have any great priority. Equality for Finns will surely come, but do no expect any progress until after the next general election – another couple of years to wait, then.

Cyprus

A news report from the Cyprus Mail back in February that the government had promised to “look at” gay marriage led me to ask breathlessly “Would Cyprus be next?”. As there has been not a whisper since, anywhere, I think I can answer confidently “No.” The government may well have “looked” at the question – and then looked away. It takes more than looking to achieve change, it requires political will and action. (Will David Cameron’s promise before the UK election to look at gay marriage go the same way?)

Albania

In Albania, the delay is because ME has become embroiled in wider, much more serious constitutional issues. The governing party has declared support and promised a marriage bill. The opposition socialists would also support the proposal – but do not recognize the validity of the government since the last elections, for which they dispute the results.  They have paralyzed parliament by boycotting it. Gay marriage, it seems, will pass when parliament reconvenes: but nobody can say when that will be.

Outside of Europe, the brightest hopes are in Argentina and Nepal.

Argentina

A bill to approve both marriage and adoption rights for gay couples has already passed the Lower House of parliament, and is currently before the Senate. In an innovative move to take debate around the country, a Senate committee is touring major provincial cities to sound public opinion. The country’s president and Senate leader have both said they will not obstruct debate, nor veto the bill if approved. However, my own gut feeling is growing more pessimistic. Declared sympathies of senators are running about even, but a large bloc will not disclose their views, which I do not take as a promising sign.

Nepal

As in Slovenia, equality has been mandated by the courts, and must come. As in Albania, the process has been clouded by bigger issues of fundamental constitutional change. Until they have been resolved, marriage equality is unlikely to be enacted. It is clear thought that the political will is now there: the money men have recognized the potential value of the pink pound to the country’s crucial tourism industry, and regularly float stories in the Western gay press promoting Nepal as a wedding and honeymoon destination. They will not want to backtrack now, but I am not going to stick my neck out and predict timing on the wider political issues.

Australia

Possibly the biggest marriage story I have not been reporting on comes from Oz, where I have a sense of a steadily growing groundswell of public support. However, their has not yet been acceptance by the two major political parties for anything beyond civil unions, and even they are limited to certain jurisdictions. However, there is widespread de facto recognition of same sex couples, the small but important Green party has embraced the cause, and if I am right that public pressure is growing, this could become a high profile issue quite suddenly, at least in the key states of Victoria (Melbourne) and New South Wales (Sydney).

New Zealand

?

New Zealand was one of the earliest countries to adopt strong civil unions, which offer marriage in “everything but name “- and adoption rights. But I have never seen any reports of pressure for anything stronger. What gives? Are Kiwi queers so laid back that the name doesn’t matter? Are they not interested in adoption? Or have I (and Wikipedia) simply been missing the news stories?

Christian Divorce.

Meanwhile. my research for this post led me stumble upon this delightful snippet, on religion and divorce. Which religious grouping (in the US) do you suppose has the highest divorce rate? Evangelical Christians. Which has the strongest opposition to gay marriage? (Oh, right that;s too easy – Evangelical Christians).

And which has the lowest divorce rate? Catholics. Which has (among) the lowest opposition to gay marriage? Catholics, again.

Perhaps that is why the religious right is so opposed to marriage equality – they are so desperate to rescue the parlous state of their own, that they will try anything, no matter how far-fetched. While Catholics, feeling less threat to their own marriages, are happy to share the benefits more widely.

OK, the preceding paragraph badly oversimplifies, and the data on divorce is ten years old, from a research outfit I’m not familiar with. This needs more careful analysis. But prima facie, I thought it fascinating.

 

Related articles

Church, Sex – and Silence

A light-hearted aside here yesterday brought a typically pertinent response from reader Etienne:

I’m not too sure that yet another code will do the trick, but otherwise I get the point. May I suggest a thorough theological [re-]thinking in the preparatory phase? I’d want to explore the following subjects for a start: freedom, love, play, the body, sexuality.

Earlier, Colleen (of Enlightened Catholicism) had this useful observation about the Vatican in response to  my previous post, “Episcopal Pornography”:

What they lack is any understanding of sexuality as a relational experience. Reducing sexuality to acts, divorced from it’s relational aspects, is in itself a definition of pornography.

Mareczku, responding to the same post, refers to the Sipe report. By wonderful serendipity, National Catholic Reporter now has an article by Richard Sipe, discussing precisely these ideas we’ve all been circling. I also have an extended post in preparation,  on the “Nature and Purpose” of sex, as observed in real lives (human and animal) and in history, rather than in dry and dusty theological manuals. When I responded to Etienne, I wrote that the re-thinking of the issues  he proposes must involve lay debate, in plain language. My reply to Colleen noted the irony that the “relationships” we are seeking are exactly what the Vatican accuses us of being incapable of, while themselves focussing exclusively on acts.

This discussion and re-valuation has already begun, even without the participation of the Vatican. Long may it continue, and may the discussion here play some small but constructive part.

Here’s Sipe:

Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.

But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.

Human sexuality is the core of the whole Catholic upheaval that the Pope and the Vatican still refuse to face and discuss realistically.

In 1990 a bishop returning from Rome told me that Pope John Paul II personally instructed every new bishop that he “should not discus in public” birth control, a married priesthood, women’s ordination, abortion and the host of celibate/sexual issues that constitute an agenda that theologians have pointed out for decades are precisely the “tangle of issues that clog up” the Catholic agenda.

Roman Catholic leadership has failed to deal credibly and openly with all of human sexuality. William Shea outlined the challenge most elegantly already in 1986 when he listed the issues that need discussion: “divorce and remarriage, premarital and extramarital sex, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, [women’s ordination, mandated celibacy] and the male monopoly of leadership.” He opined that the fear and perhaps hatred of women could be at the bottom of the ecclesial hang up.

It would be disingenuous to protest that the Church has discussed these issues or invites dialogue about human sexuality. True enough, the Vatican has made pronouncements and declarations on every item on the list, but none invite dialogue. Congar’s observation is validated; sex is all sin virtue is submission and obedience to authority and its dictates.

Despite Pope John Paul’s four-year effort to define a Theology of the Body he never transcended some of the basic constraints of church teaching that sex is sin. Sex remains permissible and holy only within a valid marriage.

A chronic problem with church pronouncements about sex is their use of the idea of natural law as they define and apply it. The Vatican represents their interpretation of sexual human nature as an absolute determination. They isolate the idea and impose it as an instrument of control. The approach fails to acknowledge that natural law is also the inherent practical and reasonable guide to conscience independent of revelation. Many Catholics use natural law as the road map to guide their sexual behavior. For instance natural law often trumps the dictates of Humanae Vitae in matters of family planning. Some behaviors labeled by the Church “contrary to natural law” (masturbation one instance among many) should be open for examination and dialogue in the minds and hearts of many serious Catholics.

“Intrinsic” is a church-word that seals off any possibility of conversation. Birth control is presented as intrinsically evil; so is abortion; and masturbation. Sex with a minor girl, however, is not considered intrinsically evil only gravely sinful.
Homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 1986 document authored by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared that homosexual orientation although not sinful in itself, “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” As if the concept of Original Sin were not sufficient to cover all human beings of any orientation or inclination.

The definition of sex as sin establishes and maintains authoritarian control because bishops and priests (alone) have the power to forgive mortal sin. They are lords over the inner territory of the soul where secret violations are stored. Catholics are required to submit grave sins in sacramental confession for a priest’s absolution at least once a year. All sexual sins, of course, are grave according to Catholic teaching.

(Read the full article at NCR)