Austrian Bishops: Winds of Catholic Reform

Far better than Maria Von Trapp’s Sound of Music are the reverberations coming from Austria.

The Austrian bishops in the course of a three day meeting in Mariazell:

(2)     have called for the ordination of married men

(1)     have asked that the Vatican open discussion about priestly celibacy

(3)    have called for “great reforms in the Church”

Earlier, last week, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna told a group of journalists that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, had “deeply wronged” the victims of sexual abuse by downplaying the importance of the issue. On Easter Sunday, Cardinal Sodano had surprised everyone at the papal liturgy in St. Peter’s Square with an unscheduled statement of support for Pope Benedict XVI. In that statement Cardinal Sodano had referred to criticism of the Pope’s handling of the abuse issue as “petty gossip.” 

Cardinal Schönborn hinted that Cardinal Sodano—still a highly influential figure in Rome, as the dean of the College of Cardinals– had a history of underestimating the abuse problem. Schönborn said that in 1995, the future Pope Benedict pushed for a probe into abuse allegations against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër – then Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna —  but that Cardinal Sodano resisted the probe. Cardinal Schönborn had earlier told The New York Times in April that Cardinal Ratzinger had called for an investigation of Cardinal Groër, who served as Archbishop of Vienna from 1986 to 1995, but that “the other side, the diplomatic side, had prevailed.”

Schönborn is emerging as a fascinating figure to watch and listen to. Some think he is working to make himself a likely papal successor to his friend and former teacher Joseph Ratzinger.

During his interview with Austrian newspaper reporters, Cardinal Schönborn made several other noteworthy comments:

  • On homosexual couples: “a stable relationship is certainly better than if someone simply indulges in promiscuity.”
  • On Catholics who divorce and remarry: the cardinal said the Church might need to reconsider the idea that they should not receive Communion.
  • On  the Roman Curia: it is “urgently in need of reform.”

The Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican.

Congratulations as well to Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the NYT on 1 May 2010:

Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down.

Jesus wasn’t known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues. Does anyone think he would have protected clergymen who raped children?

Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring.

A New Reformation the Only Solution

I have no desire to reintroduce the guillotine. Nor do I want to see a Roman Catholic reign of terror… Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church needs a French Revolution.

The revelations about  clerical sexual abuse  in the Roman Catholic Church continue to explode like an Icelandic volcano, spreading ashes of dismay, disgust and anger across the globe…….and all knowledgeable observers agree that we still see just the tip of the iceberg.

In a recent article, sexual abuse expert and church lawyer, Fr. Tom Doyle, summarizes accurately I believe the problem and the solution.

The most common response to revelations of sex abuse of the vulnerable by priests has been denial and blame-shifting soaked in narcissistic arrogance.  The Vatican and the bishops simply don’t get it!  In the early nineties the Pope and his talking heads all distanced themselves by proclaiming that this was an American problem and a salient cause was materialism, secularism and hedonism.  Some of the more psychotic rantings blamed it on the wholesale refusal to obey the 1968 birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae. That was circa 1993.  Then Ireland exploded with the Brendan Smyth affair in 1994.  In 1995 one of John Paul II’s favorite cardinals, Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna was exposed and had to resign.  The revelations continued over the years.  The U.S. bishops organized their defense against the victims, treating them to deceitful pronouncements about how caring they are while at the same time doing everything in their power to avoid any accountability.  Their true colors are obvious…they are afraid to reach out to victims, incapable to comprehending the horror of it all and equally incapable of any form of spiritual healing.

The bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere regularly pontificate that they have made the world safer for children and they have handled the sex abuse crisis in such a superlative way that it’s now over.  The power of the papacy and the episcopacy to change reality and re-write history appears to be waning!  Over the past few months what some predicted was inevitable has happened.  May, 2009 – The Ryan Report reveals systemic torture and sexual abuse in Ireland’s Church-run orphanages and child-care institutions.  November 2009 – The Murphy Report exposes the culture of abuse, denial and dishonesty in Dublin;  February-March, 2010 – revelations of clergy sex abuse in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and…..The Vatican!

All the pope has to offer is talk…more words, more meetings, more silly press releases and the promise of a special pastoral letter.  The “problem” is not going to be fixed by the pope, the bishops or anyone who works for the institutional Church.  Why?  Because they are the problem.  The light at the end of the long tunnel will remain way out of reach until the very system that produced the dysfunctional clerics and their equally dysfunctional bishops is ended and somehow replaced with not another monarchy but something that one can readily identify with the Body of Christ.

When the Roman Empire in the West collapsed, the Church of Rome wed its structure in sickness and in health. The Bishop of Rome clothed himself in imperial grandeur; and arrogance, domination, and self-preservation replaced the Gospel values of compassion, humility, and ministry to the oppressed.