|The angel showing John the New Jerusalem, with the Lamb of God at its center|
THEOLOGIANS CONFRONT HIERARCHY’ is a headline that should send hope to discerning Catholics across the world. “In our roles as theology professors we can no longer remain silent” - so stated 144 leading Catholic theologians from Germany, Switzerland and Austria in a bluntly frank open letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy as reported by the National Catholic Reporter, February 13th.
Among other demands, the statement calls for ending celibacy requirements for priests, opening the priesthood to women, and in general introducing significantly more democracy into the church’s structures in the German-speaking world and beyond. “We feel that we have the responsibility to contribute to an authentic new beginning,” the theologians continue, referring to the “unparalleled crisis year of 2010.” The church should recognize and discuss the mistakes and failures of the past, as well as current deficits and calls for reform.”
The letter calls on Catholic bishops to engage in a meaningful dialogue on reform, saying that the Catholic church can only proclaim the “peaceful and loving God Jesus Christ” when the church itself is credible. In recent years, the letter says, the church has lost this credibility. Moreover, the church has to show more respect for individual Catholics -- for their freedom, dignity and intellect, the letter says.
The religious scholars list a number of specific demands: more synodal structures at all levels of the church; the participation of laypeople in the choosing of priests and bishops; the inclusion of married males and females in the priesthood; the protection of individual rights and nurturing of a culture of rights within the church; and tolerance toward single, divorced, unmarried and gay people.
The letter claims that reforms are necessary in light of the scandals as well as the shrinking number of priests. Only about 100 priests were ordained last year in Germany, and 99 and 92 in 2009 and 2008 respectively. In the early 1960s there were more than 500 in West Germany alone.
This same frustration is expressed in a recent theological reflection issued by Fr. Richard Rohr. In a recent online meditation Rohr comments that the reason why he believes the Christ Mystery is so hard for us to see is that we have not advanced very much in our understanding of this mystery. Consequently we continue to experience violence, war, genocide, repetitive stupidity and the injustice of it all. Rohr than lays a lot of the blame directly at the feet of the current Church hierarchy as he continues “We see, for example, the Roman Church, circling its largely self-constructed wagons around itself, as if it alone and apart was the world Jesus loved and died for (John 12:47). Refusing to die to itself, it remains “just a single grain of wheat” (John 12:24) and becomes much more Roman than Catholic. And yet it was doing this same think in the first part of the last century-in spades-and the courage of the Second Vatican Council came out of nowhere. Where did this high level and enlightened thinking come from? Now it stand forever as a Council of the Church, and no elderly Pope or young priest can put this toothpaste back into any tube. If we reject this Council then we can reject the other twenty also. It stands, like the Gospel, and will finally win out. And we, in our doubt, still continue to hope and chant, “tome, Lord Jesus!” Perhaps this hoping and chanting are his very coming.
The original letter from the 144 theologians, together with similar sentiments from Fr. Richard Rohr, are not just directed at the Catholic hierarchy. It is clearly aimed at followers of religious institutions everywhere. People of God, Catholic, Muslim, Jew etc., together must reclaim and rediscover the God that resides deeply within.
Finally, it should not escape our Catholic hierarchy that the letter from the German theologians was signed by exactly 144 individuals. The number 144 is very significant in biblical terms and appears several times in the Book of Revelations in reference to the building of a New Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Catholic News Service reports (Feb. 8) that an Irish bishop has called on parishioners to "reform and renew" the Catholic Church toward a future that is more transparent and in which leaders are accountable. Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, the diocese based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, launched a new "listening program" across the 88 parishes of the diocese Feb. 8. The program is aimed at giving laypeople a chance to have their say about the church. "The history of the church includes moments when the people of God are called to reform and renew the church," Bishop Treanor said. "This is one such moment." More than 50 parishioners have been commissioned to lead listening sessions in anticipation of a diocesan assembly at Pentecost in 2013.
Update: PrayTellBlog.com is reporting Feb. 15 that more theologians have signed the letter. The total now is 227 theologians from the three German speaking countries, and 249 including theologians from other countries. This link also has an English translation of the letter.