Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Commentary on German Theologians' Petition for Reform

Paul Hockenos has now published a discussion of the German theologians' reform petition to the Vatican at National Catholic Reporter.  Hockenos's report stresses something I've mentioned in the comments section of Bilgrimage recently: namely, that the response of the German Catholic bishops to the theologians' statement stresses the obligation of church officials to be in dialogue with the laity and with theologians, and the value of such dialogue for the church as a whole.

As I've noted, this is not at all how the Catholic bishops of the U.S. deal with similar appeals for theological dialogue.  The former head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George, summed up the typical response of the U.S. bishops to appeal for theological dialogue with the laity and theologians last November, when he stated (vis-a-vis discussion of different Catholic views of health care reform),

The bishops . . . speak for the church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them.  All the rest is opinion, often well-considered opinion and important opinion that deserves a careful and respectful hearing, but still opinion.

"The bishops speak . . . . All the rest is opinion."  This has been the leitmotiv of Cardinal George's pastoral leadership in American Catholicism throughout his ecclesiastical career.  The response of the German bishops' conference to the theologians' petition for dialogue about reform is light years removed from George's anti-intellectual, monopolistic (and completely untraditional) approach to dialogue between bishops and the laity, and to the vocation of theologians in the church.

Through their spokesperson, Jesuit Hans Langendörfer, the German bishops have stated, 

In this memorandum  many professors of Catholic theology contribute to the conversation about the future of faith and church in Germany..... For over twenty years, there has been structured dialogue with experts from the German bishops of various subjects of theology. These have worked well and are beneficial to both sides.

Also interesting to note re: Paul Hockenos's article is the predictable (and rather silly) meme that the theologians who crafted and signed this letter are, as one contributor signing as "Anonymous" puts it, "old sixties era hippies who realize their plans for a new church (in thier [sic] own image mind you) are drawing to a close."  As Hockenos notes, those writing and signing the petition include both long-serving theologians and young scholars such as Judith Könemann of Münster, who was one of the eight theologians writing the petition.

Könemann's year of birth? 1962.  The ages of those writing and signing this document run the gamut from people who were of age in the 1960s and  those who were toddlers in that decade that conservatives love to revile--particularly, conservatives who were not themselves even born by the 1960s, and whose understanding of that period in which significant civil rights breakthroughs occurred in many societies is shaky at best.

Also jumping on the bandwagon to lambast the German theologians' call for reform: the right-wing "pro-life" and anti-gay website Life Site News, which dismisses the petition as the dying gasp of a "'progressive' wing of anti-Catholic dissidents" who have been promoting these ideas for four decades now.  Life Site News cites a British priest-blogger who says that the call for reform emanates from "the graying remnants of the 1960s revolt" who may well sometimes have an "attractive" agenda, but then, don't you see, that agenda,  "as in liberal Protestantism . . . cuts mankind off from God."

If the theologians' petition is attracting such perfervid attention from this sector of the political and religious right, whose best arguments against it are the absurd ad hominem claim that it's the ranting of graying 1960s hippies and that "as in liberal Protestantism," it "cuts mankind off from God," the petition must be on to something.  Or so I conclude.

But, admittedly, what hair is left on my head is graying and I lived through the 1960s.  Though I had little or nothing to do with anything that anyone could remotely call hippie culture, as I marched for the civil rights of African Americans and against the war in Vietnam.  And read Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and Küng and Rahner and never smoked pot a day in my life or engaged in sexual antics freelovish or otherwise, as I went to Mass every Sunday and most days of the week.

Until the reform of the reform of these brothers and sisters slamming the 1960s and Vatican II put me decisively beyond the boundaries of the church I love.

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