Monday, February 9, 2009

Living in Hope: Petition of German, Swiss, and Austrian Theologians Supporting Vatican II

Several days ago, in a comment I made on a previous blog posting (see, I recommended a petition in support of Vatican II that has been circulating among German, Austrian, and Swiss theologians on the heels of Benedict's rehabilitation of SSPX. As that comment indicates, Terrence Weldon has helpfully provided a link to this petition at his Queering the Church website, which links to this blog.

Since I signed the petition last week, I received in today's email an update about it from Christian Weisner, one of the theologians organizing this initiative. The update notes that the petition is now circulating in 10 languages and receiving signatures daily. The German media is following this initiative with great interest.

Christian Weisner's email contains a link to the English version of the petition, for anyone who might wish still to read, sign, and/or forward this petition to others: see

The petition calls for the Vatican to adhere to the second Vatican Council. It notes that the gross, public anti-Semitism of Richard Williamson and several members of the Society of St. Pius X violates the decrees of Vatican II, which called for dialogue between the Christian and Jewish communities, and a renunciation of anti-Semitism by Christians.

The petition interprets the move to rehabilitate SSPX as a "turn around" on the consensus of Vatican II, particularly on its consensus about the need for ecumenical outreach among Christian churches and from the churches to the other religions of the world. The petition notes the fear of democracy underlying these attempts to deconstruct an ecumenical council of the Catholic church.

What this petition makes clear is that the attempt to rehabilitate SSPX is sparking a new determination among many Catholics to defend the second Vatican Council. As my posting about the thinkability of papal resignation yesterday noted, theologians have felt powerless for years now, as we have watched what Vatican II accomplished chipped away, bit by bit, by this pope and his predecessor.

German, Austrian, Swiss, and Dutch theologians have been, on the whole, resolute about protesting this attempt to deny Vatican II--far more than American theologians and American bishops, with their tradition of deference to Rome, have been. The petition now circulating in defense of Vatican II is one in a long line of similar initiatives by theologians in those nations, to keep the public informed of how the second Vatican Council is being undermined by powerful groups at the center of the church in this restorationist moment.

These initiatives have had little success in stopping the destruction of Vatican II. In Austria, there has been a deliberate move on the part of Rome to appoint right-wing bishops who are uncritically and unthinkingly loyal to Rome, and who suppress theological freedom and lay solidarity. These efforts to deconstruct the church of Vatican II in Austria have been successful, if one regards the loss of millions of Catholics to the church a success.

The Austrian Times reported on 22 January that 40,595 Catholics formally left the Church in 2008, and 36,858 in 2007 (; see also These are only those who have chosen to submit formal resignations; the figures do not include the large number of Austrian Catholics who have simply stopped attending liturgy or engaging in church activities.

The German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported two days ago that Catholics are now exiting the Catholic church "in droves" in response to the rehabilitation of SSPX. Father Eberhard von Gemmingen, the head of Radio Vatican's German service, notes a new "wave of exits" in German-speaking countries following Benedict's action.

It is impossible to see the price that John Paul II and his point man, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, have made the church pay for their agenda of "restoration" as a good price, when one looks at the concrete effects of this restorationist agenda on the life of many national churches. Demoralization; loss of enthusiasm for worship, community, church-sponsored social outreach programs; cynicism about church leaders; the silencing of those called by God to exercise the ministry of theological reflection in the church; the alienation of people of good will both within and outside the church: the price the entire Catholic church is paying to turn back the clock on Vatican II is an enormous price.

It is simply too high.

I hope, along with many other theologians and Catholic bloggers around the world, that the current determination to defend Vatican II against the restorationist agenda that holds sway at the church's center presages a new age in the life of the church. I have my doubts. Under John Paul II and Benedict, those appointed bishops around the world are, in many respects, those least qualified to give good pastoral leadership to the church today. Through these bishops, John Paul and Benedict have assured the continuation of their agenda in the church long after these two popes will have gone.

John Paul II and Benedict have made being a yes-man the most important--the all-qualifying--criterion for being named to episcopal office. This attempt to subordinate the entire church to an autocratic centralized regime saps local churches of vitality. It will take generations of healing to alter the situation that John Paul II and Benedict have created in the Catholic church through their strategy of extending the restorationist program through episcopal appointments.

The deliberate assault of both restorationist popes on theologians around the world also leaves the church bereft of some of its most important, faithful thinkers at precisely the moment in which the need of the church for critical thought, as Catholic tradition engages postmodernity, is most acute. No institution that wants to have a bright future muzzles and decimates its knowledge class. The Catholic church has been systematically doing that, in the person of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for several decades now.

It will take much healing and much work to repair what these two popes have accomplished by their attempt to deconstruct Vatican II. And that work will have to be done in the absence of some of the most gifted members of the community, who have been told that their gifts are not appreciated or needed.

I do hope for renewal now, and I do believe it is possible--to live in faith is to live in hope. But I also foresee a long road ahead, for those struggling to bring the church out of the pit into which its present leaders have hurled it. And I also remind myself of the power those leaders have among privileged economic and political elites who have a vested interest in keeping the Catholic church in their pockets, and in defending the politically and socially regressive tendencies of Catholic leaders at this point in the history of the church. Those powerful elites still retain the ability to assist the church's leaders in marginalizing critical voices, and I expect them to continue demonstrating this ability through their strong influence in the media and the political sphere.

One must always set forth on the journey of hope with clear eyes. And when one does that, extraordinary things may happen, despite all the signs on every side which tell one that one's journey is futile.