Thursday, September 22, 2011

As Benedict Visits Germany: Hans Küng on What the Reform of the Reform Is Costing the Church

In key respects, Vatican II sought to dismantle the structures within the church that had been built on the foundations of the Constantinean turn.  But the council failed.  It failed insofar as it failed to anticipate the ruthlessness of reaction among those determined not to yield their power and privilege and claim to rule.  It failed insofar as it implemented no procedures that really had teeth to effect the necessary changes--the fundamental changes--in how authority is wielded in the church.  The council failed insofar as it did not implement procedures necessary to make the reforms of Vatican II succeed, by blocking the inevitable tendency of reaction on the part of powerful controlling forces called to reform.

And reaction set in with a vengeance with John Paul II and Ratzinger/Benedict, reaction that has been all about reasserting the unilateral power, privilege, and authority of the clerical caste of the church over against its lay members and secular society itself.  The last two papacies have been a reassertion of the Constantinean model of church (and of the relationship of the church to secular society), in reaction to Vatican II and its call for reform.

And here is Swiss theologian Hans Küng today, speaking in an interview with journalists from the newspaper Spiegel, as Pope Benedict goes to Germany:

Ratzinger's predecessor, John Paul II, launched a program of ecclesiastical and political restoration, which went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. He wanted a re-Christianization of Europe. And Ratzinger was his most loyal assistant, even at an early juncture. One could call it a period of restoration of the pre-council Roman regime.

Küng notes that in 2010, for the first time, more people in Germany officially resigned from the Catholic church than were baptized.  Parish life is in shambles.  Rectories are empty, and religious communities of men and women are closing their doors.

The response of this papacy to all of this has been, he points out, to ratchet up the claims of the clerical system and to bolster the top-down, centralized authority of Rome.  The pope has surrounded himself with yes-men who stifle all attempts to continue the reforms of Vatican II.  Though some 100 members of the German Bundestag will be boycotting the pope's speech to that body, his gala visit to his homeland will be depicted as a success because the stadium in Berlin at which he will be celebrating Mass will be packed with people--many of them, in addition to those there simply for the spectacle, ardent young right-wing Catholics who are being groomed by church leaders as the future of the church, while the vast majority of Catholic youth in Europe and the Americas are walking away from the church due to its hard-right turn.

The answer to all of this?  Küng offers two.  The first is for church leaders to carry through, finally and honestly, with the reform agenda set into place by Vatican II.  And the second is for lay Catholics to reclaim their ownership of their church and to push back against the attempt of a clerical elite, at the top, to assert that the church belongs only to them, as they drive the church into the ground while serving their need for power and authority over others.

No comments: