Sunday, February 6, 2011

German Theologians' Petition to Rome: A Translation

As an addendum to what I have just posted about the inability of key sectors of American Catholicism--notably, the theological community at the center of the church in the U.S.--to embody welcoming attitudes to some of their brothers and sisters (especially those of us who are gay or lesbian), and also to what I posted yesterday about the reform petition of a third of Germany's Catholic theologians to the Vatican (and see also Terry Weldon's good discussion of this document):

Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, about whom I also posted yesterday, has translated the German theologians' petition.  It's online at the Pray Tell blog.  I'm struck by the German theologians' willingness to address frankly a moment of deep crisis in the Catholic church, as thousands of German Catholics walk away.  As I've noted, there is no similar honesty or solidarity among American Catholic theologians, who will not even talk frankly about the parallel exodus of Catholics in the U.S.--or for the reasons for that exodus, which implicate theologians as well as pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church.

The German theologians note that they are speaking out because this may well be "the last chance for departure from paralysis and resignation" among German Catholics.  And so they name their petition a call for "A Year of Departure" in German Catholicism: departure from the toxic way of doing business up to now, which is resulting in the rapid implosion of their church.

I like very much the way in which the German theologians' reform statement takes ownership of the current problems in the church, and calls on every sector of the German Catholic church--including its theologians--to talk freely, honestly, and openly about the problems facing their church.  And about the solution to those problems.  

As the theologians note, the church cannot be credible in its proclamation of God's universal salvific love to the world unless the body of Christ (and this includes Catholic theologians and journalists) itself embodies what is proclaimed--and that means addressing how we do business as a Christian community, whom we hound out of our conversations and why we hound them out, who receives free welcome in our Catholic workplaces and who has no guarantee of freedom from harassment in those workplaces, etc. The document states:

The church has the mission to announce the liberating and loving God of Jesus Christ to all people. The Church can do this only when it is itself a place and a credible witness of the good news of the Gospel. The Church’s speaking and acting, its rules and structures – its entire engagement with people within and outside the Church – is under the standard of acknowledging and promoting the freedom of people as God’s creation. Absolute respect for every person, regard for freedom of conscience, commitment to justice and rights, solidarity with the poor and oppressed: these are the theological foundational standards which arise from the Church’s obligation to the Gospel. Through these, love of God and neighbor become tangible. 

As the petition emphasizes, the church cannot credibly proclaim God's desire to reconcile the world to God when the community making this proclamation "does not create by its own actions the conditions for reconciliation with those before whom the Church is guilty: by violence, by withholding rights, by turning the biblical Good News into a rigorous morality without mercy."

This is a model theological call for reform by a group of theologians who recognize their pastoral obligation as theologians.  It ought to be adopted as a model by other groups of theologians in other local churches in various parts of the world, who might wish to confront a similar implosion of their own local church with pastoral intent.

But there will not likely be any similar call for reform (and for the church to begin embodying the principles of love, mercy, and justice it proclaims to society) among American Catholic theologians for the reasons I enumerated in my previous posting today.  To take one example among many--the case of gay and lesbian Catholics: far too many American Catholic theologians remain complacently silent as they pursue their academic work within Catholic universities and theology departments that afford gay and lesbian employees absolutely no protection from discrimination.  And that even actively discriminate against those who are gay and lesbian, though this fact is seldom brought to the table for open discussion.

Far too many American Catholic theologians shrug their shoulders when they witness discrimination against gay and lesbian colleagues or students in the very universities in which they teach.  And far too many American Catholic theologians gleefully ridicule openly gay or lesbian voices, when those voices try to enter the conversation of the American Catholic center--where the voices of openly gay Catholics can still be censored at some Catholic blogs, or met with immature scornful rhetorical tactics (e.g., placing phrases posted by a gay commenter in quotation marks to mock them), rhetorical tactics that are all about letting the intrusive brother or sister know (s)he's unwelcome, not part of the community, not taken seriously and not up to the high standards of the intellectual elite of the American Catholic center.

Still--and this needs to be said--some courageous younger Catholic theologians and journalists do continue speaking out about these issues, and for their witness I give thanks.  Like Nicole Sotelo, who published this powerful statement recently at National Catholic Reporter about how the violent rhetoric used by Catholic leaders re: their gay brothers and sisters feeds violent actions against those brothers and sisters.  As I look down the road and wonder how long I can continue blogging, while I grow older and cope with health challenges, and when some of the disdainful treatment of other Catholic thinkers on other Catholic blogs does take its toll on me, I take heart at what I see happening with some of the younger Catholic voices speaking out now.  And I am also strengthened by the recognition that new and significant voices have come on the scene through blogs in recent years--blogs that allow bloggers a voice in a conversation from which the center continues to shut them out.

The graphic for this posting is from Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier's The Big Conversation Space blog.

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