As journalist Robert Mickens wrote in La Croix International on Tuesday of this week: “There was more turbulence in Roman Catholicism this past week… A number of recent events verified — to those who are willing to open their eyes and face reality — that the Roman Church’s ongoing implosion is picking up pace.”
Mickens called attention to ongoing clerical sexual abuse issues, specifically that Spain’s government has announced it was launching a major investigation into Church-related sexual abuse because the country’s Catholic bishops have refused to do so.
Not all Catholic turbulence, of course, is negative. Mickens mentioned the two cardinals who have recently called for radical changes in Catholic Church teaching and practices. Other commentators have called attention to them as well.
Last week, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest daily newspapers, that “it would be better for everyone to create the possibility of celibate as well as married priests.” Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin made the same recommendation a few days before.
Marx said the church needs deep reform to overcome the “disaster” of sexual abuse. For some priests, he said it would be better if they were married—not just for sexual reasons, but because it would be better for their life. He asks whether celibacy should be taken as a basic precondition for every priest. Already in 2019, Marx had expressed support for a call by bishops in the Amazon region for the ordination of married men.
I like Cardinal Marx’s thoughts and words. I would suggest however that, in today’s church, words are not enough. It is time to move into action: (1) Allow priests who would like to be married to do so; and (2) Drop the celibacy requirement now.
Another hopeful Catholic development has come from the Luxembourg Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who is also president of COMECE: the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union. Cardinal Hollerich said the church’s assessment of homosexual relationships is wrong and that it is time for a fundamental revision of church teaching. Hollerich made his comments in response to the public campaign by 125 Catholic Church employees in Germany who recently outed themselves as queer, saying they want to “live openly without fear” in the church.
The Luxembourg cardinal stressed that it is important for the church to “remain human.” He added that he knows of “homosexual priests and laypeople” in the Archdiocese of Luxembourg. “And they know that they have a home in the church,” he said. “With us, no one is dismissed for being homosexual. With us no one has ever been dismissed because of that.” Divorced and remarried people are also active in the church in the Archdiocese of Luxembourg, said Hollerich. “I can’t kick them out,” he said. “How could such an action be Christian?”
I am delighted to read Cardinal Hollerich’s words but would stress as well that it is time to move beyond such fine words. It is time to welcome church ministers who are gay. To welcome gay and lesbian married couples. And to welcome gay and lesbian couples to be married in the church.
And the third most positive recent development came from participants in the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Way” — a series of conferences involving Catholics in Germany discussing a wide range of contemporary theological and organizational questions concerning the Catholic Church in Germany. The Synodal Assembly consists of 230 members, made up of bishops and an equal number of non-ordained members. They voted on Friday, February 4, 2022, in favor of women’s ordination and married priests. Germany’s Synodal Way is generating far-reaching proposals for significant changes in Catholic governance and practice. But it is also causing considerable concern among church officials in Rome, including Pope Francis.
Meeting in Frankfurt, the German synod voted 159 to 26 to adopt a draft statement calling on the pope to allow Catholic bishops around the world to ordain married men and to give already ordained priests permission to marry without having to leave the priesthood. It later voted 163 to 42 to ask for permission for bishops to ordain women as deacons, able to preach and officiate at baptisms, weddings, and funerals: all as an intermediate step toward making women priests and bishops.
Frankly, I don’t think progressive bishops like Marx, Koch, and Hollerick should wait for Rome to move. And I would like to see US Catholic bishops taking similar steps: supporting LGBT people, ordaining married men, and of course ordaining women.
Change in the Catholic Church usually begins at the local church level not higher up. The Roman Catholic Church still carries the marks of Imperial Rome which means it remains very pyramidal. The Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, is the last absolute monarchy in the world today.
Looking at Catholic history, therefore, we see a three-stage pattern for church change:
Stage One: A changed understanding and a changed way of doing things begins at the local level. But church authority condemns it.
Stage Two: The change continues and spreads. Then, church authority allows it as “an experiment.”
Stage Three: The change becomes widely accepted and implemented. Then, church authority recommends it for all as “part of our tradition.”
Yes. Understandings evolve and structures and practices can change. It is time to make it happen.
PS In my post last week about Christian nationalism I neglected to mention a book that came out in 2009. It is an important book for understanding an element in Catholic turbulence today as well as Christian nationalism in general. It is available from Amazon:
The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America….By Betty Clermont.