I ended my posting yesterday about Benedict’s recent “optimistic” Portuguese address with the following observation:
The church finds itself in its current “terrifying” position due to decisions the current pope himself made as John Paul II’s theological watchdog, which he has not effectively reversed through his actions up to this point—as fine as his recent words sound.
And so to make my critique constructive, what actions would I hope to see Benedict undertake, if he is sincere about reviving Vatican II’s call for affirmative dialogue with the world, which recognizes that the church can learn from the Spirit’s leading in other religious traditions, as well as in cultural developments and movements?
As Donald Cozzens notes, every thinking person needs to have a vision of where the church is going—what many on the right like to call an “agenda” when the vision is articulated by Catholics grounded in Vatican II and its call for constructive dialogue with culture:
Every thinking person should have a vision of where the church should be going. The only way not to have an agenda is to stop thinking and to stop imagining. It’s like saying Galileo had an agenda and therefore he had to be squashed and threatened with not only excommunication but torture and death. Is it fair to say that the preeminent theologians of the Second Vatican Council-Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, and John Courtney Murray-each had a secret agenda? I don’t see that.
I find it interesting that conservative visions of the church are never called “agendas.” Apparently only liberals have agendas. Conservatives may want to go back to a pre-conciliar church, but no one accuses them of having an agenda; we just see that as some strange notion of orthodoxy.
And so my vision of where the church must go, if it is to reform itself and if Benedict’s words in Portugal are to mean anything beyond rhetoric. As a minimum, I’d expect the following, if Benedict’s “optimism” and retrieval of Vatican II are to be effective. Ten theses:
1. Apologize to and rehabilitate the more than 100 theologians whom Benedict himself silenced as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Admit that the Vatican has been unjust and cruel to theologians whom it has silenced, forbidden to teach or speak, and refused to permit a fair, open hearing as it takes these actions.
2. Retrieve the work and talents of this group of Spirit-led individuals, whose gifts are exceptionally needed by the church today, if it’s to negotiate its current crisis successfully and begin to interact creatively, fruitfully—with evangelical intent—in its encounter with postmodernity.
3. Apologize for, in particular, the vicious attack on liberation theology which has decimated that much-needed movement in faith communities of the developing areas of the world. Rehabilitate those theologians, in particular, whose prophetic witness is also much-needed by Western theologians, with our lack of attention to structural injustice and our fixation on issues like abortion and homosexuality, while the church faces far greater moral challenges in the economic and political life of nations around the world.
4. Reopen the discussion about women’s ordination. Give women a voice equal to that of men in the governing of the church. This requires ordaining women. Now.
5. Reopen the discussion of sexual ethics that Paul VI squelched when he ignored the recommendation of the commission he appointed to advise him about artificial contraception. Take the witness and voices of lay Catholics about sexual ethics seriously, for a change. Do so in a way that incorporates that witness and voice in the governing structures of the church and its official teaching.
6. Abolish the pre-modern, non-democratic process by which the work of theologians is vetted in Rome. Stop the process of accepting secret reports about “unorthodox” theologians, and then calling them to Rome to answer secret charges made about them of which they have no knowledge in advance of their hearing. Open these hearings to the public and allow those under scrutiny to bring advocates to these hearings—if they are going to continue at all.
7. Send a strong signal that the length of hierarchs’ cappae magnae is not a self-evident testimonial about their virtue, pastoral acumen, or qualifications for high office in the church. If Benedict places Cardinal Pell at the head of the world’s bishops, as credible reports from Rome indicate he intends to do, he will send a signal to the church in general and to clerics in particular that his words in Portugal were just fine words and nothing more. Pell is eminently unqualified for—eminently wrong for—the position for which he’s being considered. He has led the way in the procession of resplendent and ever-longer cappae magnae. His refusal to meet with or even engage the letter his lesbian cousin, a former nun, wrote him several years ago, asking for open dialogue about the church’s oppression of gay and lesbian people, totally undermines his credibility as the leader of the world’s bishops in the 21st century.
8. Become accessible to the people of God. Walk among them. Listen to them. Do so without frou-frou and gravitas. Be a pastor. Take as your pastoral model Jesus, the good shepherd.
9. Demand that every bishop in the world behave that way, as well.
10. Reverse the chill in theology departments of Catholic universities around the world, and admit that it was an act of great evil to trample on the gifts offered to the church by the many laywomen and laymen who flocked to programs of theological study following Vatican II, with great hope and enthusiasm for serving the church in the ministry of theology. Only to find themselves, in the papacy of John Paul II with Benedict as the theological watchdog, subject to intense negative scrutiny and threats, as they followed their vocations as theologians. The effect on the church of this purge designed to chill theological reflection has been deleterious in the extreme. Reversing the chill would go a long way towards starting the process by which the core problems at the heart of the abuse crisis would begin to be addressed—honestly and transparently.
All this to pave the way for the next ecumenical council, which must be a council of reform and must, for the first time in history, be truly ecumenical, with women’s voices counting as much as men’s, and with lay voices counting as much as clerics’. And with representation and voice on the part of non-Catholic communities of faith . . . .
Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 13 May 2010.