8 May 2011

Catholic theologian says secrecy, misogyny and resistance to reform in wake of clergy sex scandals will doom the church

The Christian Century   -  May 7, 2011

Theologian Kung says only radical reforms can save the Catholic church

Munich, May 6 (ENInews)--The Catholic Church is seriously, possibly terminally ill and only an honest diagnosis and radical therapy will cure it, one of the sharpest critics of Pope Benedict XVI, the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Kung, has written.

Speaking at a sold-out event in the Literaturhaus (Literary Centre) in Munich on 2 May, Kung who is a former colleague of the pope at the University of Tubingen, introduced his new book, "Ist die Kirche noch zu retten?" ("Can the Church Still Be Saved?").

Kung argues that the malady of the church goes beyond recent sexual abuse scandals. According to him, the church's resistance to reform, its secrecy, lack of transparency and misogyny are at the heart of the problem.

He said that the Catholic church in the United States has lost one-third of its membership."The American Catholic church never asked why," he said."Any other institution that has lost a third of its members would want to know why." He also said that eighty percent of German bishops would welcome reforms.

Kung is one of today's most outspoken Roman Catholic theologians. Because he questioned the infallibility of the pope in 1971, he had his "missio canonica," the license needed to teach Roman Catholic theology, withdrawn. Thereafter, he became professor of ecumenical theology in Tubingen. He remains a Catholic priest.

He told the mostly elderly audience in the Diocese of Munich and Freising, the former diocese of Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "I would have preferred not to write this book. It is not pleasant to dedicate such a critical publication to the church that has remained my church."

He said he had hoped that Benedict would find a way forward in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) which in the early sixties reformed the church in a number of ways, such as the celebration of Mass in local languages instead of Latin.

However, Benedict has distanced himself from Vatican II and "failed in the face of the worldwide sexual abuse by clergy," King said. Benedict is "in essence a person for medieval liturgy, theology and a medieval church constitution."

Referring to the celibacy debate that arose after the sexual abuse cases, Kung said, "the Roman Catholic church survived for the first thousand years without celibacy." He is strongly in favour of allowing priests and bishops to marry.

Kung compared the changes needed in the Catholic church to the democratic changes taking place in the Arab world."When will in our church the youth take to the street? That is our problem; we have no young people anymore," he said to laughter from the 350 people present.

At the end of the book Kung returns to the question: "Can the church still be saved?" He said he has not lost his vision of a church that would meet the expectations of millions of Christians, but certain conditions have to be met. In their reforms, this Church should show Christian radicalism, constancy and coherency, he said. "I have not given up the hope that it will survive," Kung ended, to applause.

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  1. Father-of-two U.S. Catholic bishop quits


    VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles in the United States, Gabino Zavala, on Wednesday, after he confessed to having fathered two children.

    "The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the post of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Gabino Zavala," the Vatican said in a statement, without spelling out why he quit.

    The pontiff has demanded action be taken in the case of priests who are homosexual or married, calling on those concerned to hand in their resignations if they cannot abide by their vow of chastity.

    "Bishop Zavala informed me in early December that he is the father of two teenage children who live with their mother in another state," L.A. Bishop Jose Gomez said in a separate statement announcing the "sad and difficult" news.

    "Zavala also informed me that he submitted his resignation to the Holy Father in Rome, which was accepted," he said.

    The Mexican-born Zavala, ordained in 1977, is an influential figure within the Church renowned for his fight to abolish the death penalty in the United States, as well as improve rights for homosexuals and Mexican immigrants.

    "The Archdiocese has reached out to the mother and children to provide spiritual care as well as funding to assist the children with college costs," said Gomez, adding that the family's identity was being withheld.

    The American Catholic Church has been rocked by a clerical child abuse scandal which has cost a number of bishops and priests their jobs since 2002.


  2. For Priests’ Wives, a Word of Caution

    By SARA RITCHEY New York Times Op-ED January 12, 2012

    WHAT will life be like for the wives of Roman Catholic priests?

    On Sunday, the Vatican announced the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, a special division of the Roman Catholic Church that former Episcopal congregations and priests — including, notably, married priests — can enter together en masse. The Vatican has stressed that the allowance for married priests is merely an exception (like similar dispensations made in the past by the Vatican) and by no means a permanent condition of the priesthood. If a priest is single when he enters the ordinariate, he may not marry, nor may a married priest, in the event of his wife’s death, remarry.

    Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to house married priests in numbers perhaps not seen since the years before 1123, when the First Lateran Council adopted canon 21, prohibiting clerical marriage.

    Now as then, the church’s critics and defenders are rehashing arguments about the implications of having married priests in an institution that is otherwise wary of them. But in the midst of these debates, we should pause to ponder the environment that the priests’ wives might expect to encounter. After all, the status of the priest’s wife is perhaps even more strange and unsettling than that of her ordained Catholic husband.

    While the early Christian church praised priestly chastity, it did not promulgate decisive legislation mandating priestly celibacy until the reform movement of the 11th century. At that point, the foremost purpose of priestly celibacy was to clearly distinguish and separate the priests from the laity, to elevate the status of the clergy. In this scheme, the mere presence of the priest’s wife confounded that goal, and thus she incurred the suspicion, and quite often the loathing, of parishioners and church reformers. You can’t help wondering what feelings she will inspire today.

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    By the time of the First Lateran Council, the priest’s wife had become a symbol of wantonness and defilement. The reason was that during this period the nature of the host consecrated at Mass received greater theological scrutiny. Medieval theologians were in the process of determining that bread and wine, at the moment of consecration in the hands of an ordained priest at the altar, truly became the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The priest who handled the body and blood of Christ should therefore be uncontaminated lest he defile the sacred corpus.

    The priest’s wife was an obvious danger. Her wanton desire, suggested the 11th-century monk Peter Damian, threatened the efficacy of consecration. He chastised priests’ wives as “furious vipers who out of ardor of impatient lust decapitate Christ, the head of clerics,” with their lovers. According to the historian Dyan Elliott, priests’ wives were perceived as raping the altar, a perpetration not only of the priest but also of the whole Christian community.

    The priest’s nuclear family was also seen as a risk to the stability of the church. His children represented a threat to laypersons, who feared that their endowments might be absorbed into the hands of the priest’s offspring to create a rival clerical dynasty. A celibate priest would thus ensure donations from the neighboring landed aristocracy. Furthermore, the priest’s wife was often accused, along with her children, of draining the church’s resources with her extravagance and frivolity. Pope Leo IX attempted to remedy this problem in the 11th century by decreeing that the wives and children of priests must serve in his residence at the Lateran Palace in Rome.

    Given this history, I caution the clerical wife to be on guard as she enters her role as a sacerdotal attaché. Her position is an anomalous one and, as the Vatican has repeatedly insisted, one that will not receive permanent welcome in the church. That said, for the time being, it will be prudent for the Vatican to honor the dignity of the wives and children of its freshly ordained married priests. And here, I suggest, a real conversation about the continuation of priestly celibacy might begin.

    Until then, priests’ wives should beware a religious tradition that views them, in the words of Damian, as “the clerics’ charmers, devil’s choice tidbits, expellers from paradise, virus of minds, sword of soul, wolfbane to drinkers, poison to companions, material of sinning, occasion of death ... the female chambers of the ancient enemy, of hoopoes, of screech owls, of night owls, of she-wolves, of blood suckers.”