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Church Reform: Adapting Hans Kung’s 2010 Letter to Bishops

In the British “Call to Action” Google group, Chris McDonnell posted a useful contribution under the heading “Direction and Purpose“, in which he referred to Hans Kung’s 2010 open letter to the bishops, and asked “Does this help us forward?”.

This was my reply:

Does this help? Yes, I think it does – with one qualification. Kung was writing to the bishops, with respect to the worldwide church, and problems with the Vatican in particular. As Call to Action UK, we need to adapt this to our situation – and, mindful of the words of the “Serenity Prayer”, to be mindful of what we can and cannot do.

From Kung’s complete letter, I have extracted his six core recommendations, with comment on how we can adapt them, within the bounds of the possible, to our situation and competence.

 1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt.

This, to me, is what CtoA is all about. If, as was said at the October launch meeting, we are not an “issue” driven movement we should certainly be talking about “the issues” that concern us. There will certainly be disagreements between us on several of these: but we do need to discuss them, and encourage others to discuss them.

We also need to discuss them publicly – I am saddened that so much useful discussion is taking place here, in a closed Google group, and not publicly, in the forums of the main CtA website. (I will cross – post my own contributions, in both).

 2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves.

It is too easy for us to assume that “reform” can be implemented only from above. The lesson of the Arab Spring, and of many other political transformations of recent decades, is that it often begins from below. Each of us has the capacity to initiate reform at some level – even if it’s only reform our own minds, in overcoming excessive and inappropriate deference to church authority.

3. Act in a collegial way

Collegiality is usually spoken of in terms of collegiality between the Vatican and the bishops, or between bishops and clergy. But we can also insist on collegiality at deanery and parish level. (And where we meet resistance from an unco-operative priest, see (1) and (2) above).

4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone

This is fundamental. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, educated in Catholic schools, it was drummed into me that obedience to God, justice and conscience took precedence over obedience to unjust laws. I firmly believe that the same principle applies to unjust laws and regulations promulgated by the Vatican. (Benedict XVI, as a young theologian, has said precisely the same thing).

 5. Work for regional solutions

The October launch meeting was a useful start, notable for two features in particular:

  • a strong attendance, in spite of what was really very limited advance publicity.
  • not surprisingly, there was disproportionately strong representation by the London and other South Eastern dioceses, and much weaker turnout from further afield.

We must each work to continue the process, and develop momentum, within our own regions: in our local dioceses, and taken down to deanery and even parish level.

6. Call for a council

I am certain that many of us would agree that we need another council of the whole church, and will happily call for one – but there is little we can do to make it happen. What we can possibly influence, is the creation of local councils: there is provision within existing church rules for diocesan synods. There may come a time when we are ready, at least in some dioceses, to work with the bishops towards such diocesan synods.

Where we are unable to gain the co-operation of the bishops, there could be another strategy: in Minnesota, where progressive – minded Catholics found themselves faced with a particularly conservative and intransigent ordinary who refused to negotiate with them, a group of Catholics set up an independent “Synod of All the Baptized”, for open and public discussion of matters of concern to the church.

That was clearly confrontational, and not necessarily what we want: but it does illustrate that there are different kinds of “councils” and synods. Where we are unable to set up local synods with formal recognition, there are other kinds of public gatherings that we can arrange for ourselves.

Books:

Links to Amazon.com (USA)

Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop Remi De Roo, 2012

Why the Catholic Church needs Vatican III T.P.O’Mahony

Living beyond Conformity: An Experience of Ministry and Priesthood Owen Hardwicke

Priestless People? New Vision for the Catholic Church Vincent McLaughlin

Off Beam Off Side Off Menu: An Appeal From the Catholic Pews‘ Kevin Clarke 

‘Quo Vadis’ Collegiality in Canon Law Mary McAleese

What Happened at Vatican II John W O’Malley

Links to Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop Remi De Roo, 2012

Why the Catholic Church needs Vatican III T.P.O’Mahony

Living beyond Conformity: An Experience of Ministry and Priesthood Owen Hardwicke

Priestless People? New Vision for the Catholic Church Vincent McLaughlin

Off Beam Off Side Off Menu: An Appeal From the Catholic Pews‘ Kevin Clarke 

‘Quo Vadis’ Collegiality in Canon Law Mary McAleese

 What Happened at Vatican II John W O’Malley

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The Bishops of Rome

(Originally published at Queering the Church onNovemebr 27, 2009)

Whenever I look at the institutional Catholic church, as represented by the Vatican establishment and local bishops around he world, at its centralised, totalitarian power structures, its despotic control of speech, and self-selecting methods of appointment and promotion, its wealth, flamboyance and ceremonial, I wonder how the small band of early Christians, so utterly different in culture, ethos and practice, could ever have developed into what we know today as the Roman Catholic church?

“All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Day after day they met as a group in the temple, and they had their meal together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts.”

-Acts 2: 44-46

This passage is well known, and clearly refers to a small group of people sharing possessions, as is feasible when a small group share strong beliefs. But what happened later? How did the sharing of possessions extend to the trickier issue of decision-taking? Later in Acts, we read, in connection with the journey of Paul & Barnabas to Antioch:

“Then the apostles and the elders, together with the whole church, decided to choose some men from the whole church and send them to Antioch with Paul & Barnabas.”

-Acts 15:22

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