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.

  • Jack

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.

17 thoughts on “Roman Catholic Turbulence

    1. Have the church leaders forgotten that Peter and other apostles were married? Plus, Jesus chose a married man to be The Rock of His church.

  1. Thank you for bringing Micken’s words about the “turbulence in Roman Catholicism” to our attentions. As you wrote, this is an opportunity for change for the better beginning at the local level. It is up to us to “make it happen.” Your lips to God’s ear, Jack. And thank you for recommending my book.

  2. Jack,
    it is my desire that the US Bishops would follow the lead of the German Bishops, but the current group do not give us much hope. With a few exceptions they are not even “speaking the fine words”, much less taking action. They seem to be ignoring the synodal process and certainly are not promoting it. As a result, there are several groups of lay people who are holding their own synods and will be submitting their reports directly to Rome. This is a “bottom up” movement to which you refer. May it be successful.

  3. Dear Jack,
    Your words do give me hope. I wonder if I will be alive to see some of these positive changes. An example of the possibilities that could occur with a renewed church was demonstrated a few years back in our parish. Fr. Aubry Kingdon was a late vocation after many years in the Canadian military followed by presidency of a construction company. He had a long marriage with several children before his wife died. He was a dignified gentleman full of life experience. The standing joke in the parish was his loyal following of adoring little white haired ladies. But, above all, his priesthood was valid and credible because of his life experience. His homilies were in touch with his people and he felt like one of us. You have offered us hope of a clergy who are not looking down from a pinnacle and a church that touches our real lives. Thank you for sharing the dream!

    1. Dear Frank
      I am delighted to hear from you. Some days I wonder if I have become just an old babbling man. I do feel old but am not yet senile. My warmest regards.

      1. Dear Jack,
        NEVER feel like your words are not meaningful!! You are inspiring to so many of us who look forward eagerly each week to your message. Many people look for angels who appear as specters in the night or secret whispers in the mist. I believe that the Spirit comes to us through real, substantial messengers (a.k.a. prophets) who are our teachers, mentors, and friends. YOU are the voice of God among us!! We should all be lucky enough to “babble” like you!
        God Bless You!

  4. Thanks so much, Jack, for this clear call for changes in our church. I’m so glad some bishops also have the courage to do that. Homilies that I’ve heard from married deacons and women often are more down to earth and speak to real life situations better than priests’ homilies. Their message & spirit is one of understanding the human situations which parishioners are living every day and as such of great inspiration! I think the day will come — and I hope to still here to see it.

  5. First of all, Dr. Jack, you are a voice of vast experience and insight into the absurd Wide Old World, as Frank Skeltis and the community of your “commentators” know, so please never doubt your gift of prophecy. I rely on you, thanks to our mentor and friend, the late Richard Cross, a Louvain man, who was priest, musician, father and grandfather, with Kathleen beside him on the Way.

    Second, thank you for punctuating the stages of adaptation– rejection/trial/assimilation– indeed of metanoia and mutation, that are happening right now, not as a linear liturgical procession, but as an integral, immersive jump. The past and future are present. Your alignment with other prophets like Teilhard, and Jean Gebser is not an accident, it is an organ expression of the new naturalism in “federation of meaning” for which understanding the spirit of humanity ever thirsts.

    Third, with gratitude for the tradition in which I was raised and forever argue, I try to recall the absurd and hidden meaning behind the teaching transmitted to us by “Filius hominis” who is recorded to have said, perhaps urgently, “multa pati et reprobari a senioribus et principibus sacerdotum et scribis et occidi et tertia die resurgere… omnes si quis vult post me venire tollat crucem suam cotidie et sequatur me.” (Luke 9:18-24, in the breathless Vulgate translation) For me the coded jump point to action in this key passage lies in the verb “vult”– “thele” in Greek– which conveys the dynamic sense of willing, of the ability to act. Change, metanoia, mutation, happens with seeing, thinking, acting– your very own mantra. The “church” might be the arena of the ancient scribbling hierarchs, but is it really the Wide Old World where the rest of us mill about amidst the “turba”– the crowd on the highways of life, looking for the right Way? Keep up the good work; never give up; resistance is inevitable. So we have been told; so we believe. Make it so.

    1. Care Dan,
      Gratias tibi ago. Yes the mystery of Christian life.
      I think about our friend Richard Cross just about every week. I miss what used to be our regular emails.
      Warmest regards
      Ioannes in Lovanio

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