German Church ponders reforms, but does she go the right way?

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700A conference in Germany, held last week, in which the Catholic bishops of that country participated alongside some 300 experts to discuss reform in the Church, led to some worrying developments. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the bishops’ conference, presented some of this at the conference’s closing.

The first suggestion is to allow women to be ordained as deacons. According to Archbishop Zollitsch, this would be one of the reforms that would  allow the Church to regain credibility and strength. But, as Regensburg’s Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (the last German bishop to have been appointed by Benedict XVI) rightly commented, the diaconate is inextricably bound to the priesthood, which is only open to men. Allowing women to be deacons would make them different deacons than men: unable to progress on to priestly ordination, it remains to be seen what their duties in liturgy and parish would and could be. Whatever the case, they will not be deacons like men are deacons.

A second suggestion regards the position of divorced and remarried people in the Church. Their rights to sit on parish councils and the like is certainly open to debate, but their partaking of Communion and the other sacraments is another topic altogether. Archbishop Zollitsch said that he doesn’t intend to undermine the sanctity of marriage, but also wants to take these faithful seriously and make them feel welcome and respected.

Personally, I think that much greater progress may be made by the Church, as far as her credibility is concerned, in presenting her faith seriously and acting on it. But in the end, the Church is not in the business of being credible and liked. She is in the business of saving souls, and that purpose is not served by pandering to majority opinion, especially when that opinion does not gel with the faith of the centuries. In that respect, divorced and remarried faithful will be better served by good teaching and compassionate guidance, and not by pretending that there is no problem. Problems are not solved by ignoring them.

Throwing the diaconate open to women, even if this were possible, also will not solve any problem, assuming there even is a problem. Instead, it will only confuse people as to what is true and real; it will be a pretense.

Conferences on reform in the Church are actually bound to fail if they limit themselves to one country. The German bishops, for example, are not able to change the faith and teachings of the world Church. At most, they can create a rift between themselves and the rest of the Church. So what if a conference finds that there is a widespread desire for one thing or another? The standard response of the Church to that should not automatically be to agree and go along. Rather, she should consider it in the light of the faith and then decide of that desire is something she can work towards making reality. If she finds she can’t, her task is to teach, always motivated by love, and present the faith that Christ has given her to protect and communicate.

“Loyal and faithful” – Flanders’ Bishops comment on ill-informed manifest

Yesterday afternoon, the bishops of Flanders received the initiators of the “Faithful have their say” petition (which I wrote about here) to discuss the suggestions in said petition. The document, which calls for the abolition of celibacy, the ordination of women, lay people ‘celebrating’ Mass, people who are not priests giving the homily and people living in sin receiving Communion, was obviously not accepted, but the people behind it were. And that’s how it should be. Uneducated in the faith, these people need and want explanations, but it remains to be seen whether they’re open to them.

As it is, however, the Flemish bishops issued the following press release (my emphases and comments):

“We, The Flemish bishops, attentively took note of the manifest “Faithful have their say”. The desire for change that speaks from the text, does not leave us untouched. We too are looking for renewal and a greater authenticity, loyal to Scripture and the tradition of the Church.

The situation which we are going through as Church today is not comfortable. Much is asked from those with pastoral responsibility. We no longer have the social position nor the impact which we had in the past. We make every effort to bring the Gospel closer to the lives of the people. But this is not easy in a society in which the secular sense of life is increasing more and more. We understand the pain and powerlessness of many. How can we proclaim the Gospel in such a way that it touches the hearts of the people of this age? That is the question which lives in all of us and which remains our greatest challenge. Structural reform or adaptation will not change anything about that [In other words, changing outward appearances does not remove the challenge]. But they may help us. That is why we understand that the gradual nature of these reforms [what sort of reforms, though?] try the patience. But the evolutions in our society are so fundamental that they require time and discernment to see what can and must happen in these cases.

The manifest also gives us the opportunity to clarify our position. Some elements, such as the question of Word services on Sunday, are diocesan affairs and at the moment subject of deliberation. Others, especially those about Holy Orders and the priesthood, are matters of the world Church. [A missed opportunity here to clarify what can be changed and what can not, and, most importantly, why or why not] In questions which touch upon the personal lives of people, we plead for a respectful, pastoral attitude. Even though not every state of life is equal, no one is inferior, because a human being is always more than his actions and than the situations in which he finds himself. The Church community then, built up around Christ and His Gospel, is sent to all people. She takes on this mission from a vital core which lives from the Eucharist. Because there the branches connect to the vine (John 15:5). [The celebration of the Eucharist is therefore not just one form of worship among many. It is THE form of worship.]

God needs all faithful, all baptised, to make His love known to the world. Let us work together for a Church community which takes care of its identity, faithful to the mission it has received, a Church which is open and accessible for everyone, with a heart for all men.

Signed, the Flemish bishops.”

Source: Kerknet