More on the discussion of the agenda of reform that many lay Catholics hope the current pope has begun to undertake with the assistance of his advisory group of eight cardinals: at the For Christ's Sake website, an open letter (in pdf format) to the pope and his advisory group was published prior to last week's meeting of the advisors. The For Christ's Sake site was set up to support a previous petition of three Australian Catholic bishops--Geoffrey Robinson, Pat Power, and Bill Morris--to Pope Francis calling for a council of the entire church to address, and to end, the problem of sexual abuse of minors in the church. I recommended that petition to Bilgrimage readers this past June.
The open letter to Pope Francis and his advisory group of eight cardinals calls for reform of the church that centers on five hopes and needs of the sensus fidei. These are:
1. A Church that embodies the radical hospitality of Jesus in the world.
2. A Church that welcomes open dialogue among its members.
3. A Church that recognizes the fundamental equality of its members.
4. A Church with greater participation of the baptized in governance.
5. A Church that effectively confronts and prevents sexual abuse.
The letter maintains,
In our understanding, what lies at the root of many of these problems [i.e., those with which the Catholics church currently struggles] is the destructive effects of clericalism. We support your desire, Pope Francis, to rid our Church of clericalism in order that we become a community of equals called, through our baptism, to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. All Catholics have the right, innately deriving from our baptism, to have an effective and deliberative voice in the decision-making of our Church. The full participation of the faith community is in accordance with the Gospel, the tradition of the early Church, and the vision of Vatican II.
And as I read this open letter to the pope and his cardinal-advisors, I can't help but think of the final chapter of Matthew Fox's Letters to Pope Francis, in which he encourages the pope to take twelve steps to begin the rebuilding of the church. These steps are as follows (pp. 131-145):
1. Invite married clergy back to ministry and tell the truth: Celibacy is optional.
2. Cease the (sick) preoccupation with sexual ethics and pelvic morality.
3. Go ahead and canonize Oscar Romero and all those who have fought and died for justice in South America.
4. While you are praising these great souls, it would be a significant gesture to remove some of the gold that now adorns many churches in Rome and was seized from the indigenous peoples of South America, often under the banner of slavery and deportations.
5. I think it is important to call to justice the radical sects inside the Church that have made such headway during the past two papacies. I speak of course of Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Legion of Christ, Focolare and more.
6. While you are at it, it is necessary to clean up the canonization process.
7. About the Vatican Bank. Close it.
8. About the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and the New Inquisition. End it.
9. You need to address the appointment of hierarchical leadership as well.
10. Recharge deep ecumenism.
11. Support small communities and women's rights inside and outside the Church and end the current inquisition aimed at women religious in the United States.
12. Unleash a tsunami of creativity including forms of worship.
Matthew Fox is regarded in some quarters as a lightweight theological thinker. But the same people who have used that slur to marginalize Fox are now claiming that Francis shoots off his mouth without thinking and isn't as theologically astute or as intelligent and thoughtful as were Benedict and John Paul II (!). The Catholic right and its centrist cheerleaders have been busy of late crafting a meme that has poor Francis letting down the magisterial side of his papal office because he's just so darned pastoral, a trait that, they claim, causes him to put his foot into his mouth and make theologically dubious , magisterium-betraying statements in his zeal to make people feel included and welcome.
Those babbling these inanities are, of course, a Catholic version of the neocons in the U.S. who spent the years of the Bush younger administrations telling us that if a male mouth, no matter how doltish, says it, it's likely to carry a gravitas lacking when a female mouth says it.
I read Fox as a dreamer--a poet and a mystic, whose intent isn't to write a postmodern version of the kind of systematic theology that a Rahner or a Lonergan sought to write in the 20th century, but someone closer to his mentors Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, or Francis of Assisi. These were people who spoke from the depths of mystical experience, and who spun their powerful creation-centered theologies out of that experience.
Bishops Robinson, Power, and Morris are dreamers, too, I think. So are many of the people of God. As those three faithful and eminently praiseworthy bishops state in their open letter, they're articulating their statement of the dreams of the people of God as they listen to the sensus fidelium.
The people of God dream dreams and see visions (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17). They prophesy. They hunger and thirst for a church that fulfills its founder's vision of a community walking in the path of the reign of God, building a just and humane world, enshrining in its own life the values of the reign of God, in which the last come first and the first last, and all have a place at the table.
These are impossible dreams. They'll never be fulfilled in the flawed world in which we do our dreaming and our visioning and our prophesying.
But the impossibility of realizing our dreams doesn't stop us from dreaming them, does it? And I continue to hope against hope that a pope who appears to want to accent the visionary might choose to dream right along with us, as we dream our mad, futile, but entirely necessary dreams of a better world and a better church.