Monday, February 3, 2014

Pope warns of future Roman Catholic priests becoming ‘little monsters’

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Making headlines again with some frank talk, a couple months ago Pope Francis took on the clericalism of some priests who are more concerned with their careers then serving people. This was not just about clergy with aspirations to Vatican posts or episcopal positions, but also parish priests set on becoming kings of their own parish fiefdoms.
Though widely reported, this is an article from the New York Daily News.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has said men studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood should be properly trained or the Church could risk "creating little monsters" more concerned with their careers than serving people.

In comments made in November but only published on Friday, Francis also said priests should leave their comfort zone and get out among people on the margins of society, otherwise they may turn into "abstract ideologists".

The Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica published an exclusive text of the comments, made in a three-hour, closed-door meeting the Argentinian-born pontiff had in late November with heads of orders of priests from around the world.

"Formation (of future priests) is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mould the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps," he said.



Since his election in 2013 as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, Francis has been prodding priests, nuns and bishops to think less about their careers in the Church and to listen more to the needs of ordinary Catholics, especially the poor.

Taking over an institution reeling from child sex abuse, financial and other scandals and losing members to other religions, Francis has tried to refocus on the basic Christian teachings of compassion, simplicity and humility.

His conversation with the members of the Union of Superiors General is important because they will transmit his wishes directly to priests in their religious orders around the world.

Francis said men should not enter the priesthood to seek a comfortable life or to rise up the clerical career ladder. 

"The ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an 'external' difficult and complex world," he told them.

He made a brief, indirect reference to the sexual abuse crisis, saying a man who has been asked to leave one seminary should not be admitted to another easily.

Francis said priests had to have "real contact with the poor" and other marginalized members of society.

"This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people," he told them.

"If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy."

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has set a new tone in the Vatican, rejecting the lush papal residence his predecessors used and opting for a small suite in a Vatican guest house, where he eats in the common dining hall.

Civilta Cattolica is the same periodical that ran a landmark interview with Francis in September in which he said the Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality and become more merciful.

Francis, known as the "slum bishop" in Argentina because of his work among the poor, said reaching out to marginalized people was "the most concrete way of imitating Jesus".
His own first visits after moving to the Vatican were to a jail for juveniles and to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa to pay tribute to impoverished immigrants who have died trying to get to Europe.

Francis has said several times since his election that he feels the Vatican is too self-centered and needs to change.

A committee of eight cardinals from around the world that he has appointed to advise him on how to reform the central Vatican administration, know as the Curia, is due to submit its recommendation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Et Cum Spiritu Tuo!

This Advent we are coming upon the second anniversary of the “new”, more traditional English liturgy/missal that was foisted upon the American Church. If the U.S. bishops had been less inclined to bend over backwards to ingratiate themselves to the way the Vatican winds were blowing at that time, this “much ado about nothing” debacle would never have happened. At weddings and funerals, there is still a discordant cacophony to the invitation “The Lord be with You”, where less regular Catholics and visiting Protestants still respond “And also with you.” The more regular Sunday Catholic attendees have been trained to respond “And with your Spirit”. They make this response, not because it makes sense, but because they had been admonished to.


A similar “new” liturgy/missal had been slated for implementation in Germany. But now, with the current direction of the winds of Rome (for pastoral wisdom) German bishops have rejected changing the liturgy to placate some Vatican commission at the expense of clarity and “the language of the people”. A German publication declared that there would be no new translation this Advent, nor will it be coming about in the foreseeable future.” An article on the matter was recently published in the NCR. Full text can be found at http://ncronline.org/news/global/new-german-missal-translation-runs-difficulties 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The real test of Francis' reform...

The National Catholic Reporter started a series of articles examining Pope Francis' recent interviews. You can find this and the other following articles published  on NCRonline.org.

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Pope Francis shows courage: not only in his brave appearance in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but also by entering into an open dialogue with critical nonbelievers. He has written an open letter to leading Italian intellectual Eugenio Scalfari, founder and longtime editor in chief of the major liberal Roman daily newspaper La Repubblica. These are not papal instructions, but a friendly exchange of arguments on equal levels.

Among the 12 questions from Scalfari printed in La Repubblica Sept. 11, the fourth seems to me of particular importance for a church leadership ready for reforms: Jesus perceived his kingdom not to be of this world -- "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" -- but the Catholic church especially, writes Scalfari, all too often submits to the temptations of worldly power and represses the spiritual dimension of the church in favor of worldliness.
Scalfari's question: "Does Pope Francis represent after all the priority of a poor and pastoral church over an institutional and worldly church?"
Let's focus on the facts:
  • From the beginning, Francis has dispensed with papal pomp and glory and engaged in direct contact with people.
  • In his words and gestures, he has not presented himself as the spiritual lord of lords, but rather as the "servant of the servants of God" (Gregory the Great).
  • Facing numerous financial scandals and the avarice of church leaders, he has initiated decisive reforms of the Vatican bank and the papal state and called for transparent financial politics.
  • By establishing a commission of eight cardinals from the different continents, he has underlined the need for curial reforms and collegiality with the bishops.
But he has not yet passed the decisive test of his will to reform. It is understandable and pleasing that a Latin American bishop puts the poor in the favelas of the great metropolises first. But the pope of the Catholic church cannot lose sight the fact that other groups of people in other countries suffer from other kinds of "poverty," and also yearn for the improvement of their situation. And these are people whom the pope can support even more directly than he can those in the favelas, for whom state organizations and society in general are primarily responsible.

The synoptic Gospels have developed a broader notion of poverty. In the Gospel of Luke, the beatitude of the poor refers without a doubt to the really poor, poor in a material sense. But in Matthew's Gospel, this beatitude refers to the "poor in spirit," the spiritually poor, who, as beggars before God, are aware of their spiritual poverty. Thus, in line with the other beatitudes, it includes not just the poor and hungry, but also those who cry, who are left out, marginalized, neglected, excluded, exploited, desperate. Jesus calls both the miserable and lost ones in a situation of extreme affliction (Luke) and those in a situation of inner distress (Matthew), all those who are weary and burdened, including those burdened by guilt.

Thus the number of poor who need support multiplies many times over. Support in particular from the pope, who can help more than others, due to his office. Support from him as the representative of the ecclesiastical institution and tradition means more than just comforting and encouraging words; it means deeds of mercy and charity. Offhand, three large groups of people come to mind who are "poor" in the Catholic church.

First, the divorced. From many countries and counted in the millions, many are excluded from the sacraments of the church for their whole life because they have remarried. Today's greater social mobility, flexibility and liberality as well as a noticeably longer life expectancy make greater demands on partners in a lifelong relationship. Certainly, the pope will emphatically uphold the necessary indissolubility of marriage even under these aggravating conditions. But this commandment will not be understood as an apodictic condemnation of those who fail and cannot expect forgiveness.
Rather, this commandment expresses a goal that demands lifelong faithfulness, as it is lived by innumerous couples already, but cannot be guaranteed. The mercy that Francis calls for would allow the church to admit divorced and remarried persons to the sacraments if they seriously wish it.

Second, women who are ostracized in the church because of the ecclesiastical position regarding contraception, artificial insemination and also abortion, and often find themselves in a situation of spiritual distress. There are millions of them in the whole world. Only a tiny minority of Catholic women obey the papal prohibition to practice "artificial" contraception, and many with a good conscience use artificial insemination. Abortion should not be banalized or even be used as a means of birth control. But women who for serious reasons decided to have an abortion, often experiencing great moral conflict, deserve understanding and mercy.

Third, priests who had to leave the priesthood because they married. Across the continents, they number in the tens of thousands. Many suitable young men do not even become priests in the first place because of the commandment of celibacy. Without doubt, voluntary celibacy of priests will continue to have its place in the Catholic church. But the legal commandment that church officials remain unmarried contradicts the freedom guaranteed in the New Testament, the ecumenic tradition of the first millennium and modern human rights. The abolition of mandatory celibacy would represent the most effective means against the catastrophic shortage of priests noticeable everywhere and the related collapse of pastoral care. Should the church maintain mandatory celibacy, there is no thinking of the desirable ordination of women into the priesthood.

All these reforms are urgent and should first be discussed in the summit of eight cardinals, which is to meet Oct. 1-2. Francis faces important decisions here. He has already shown great sensitivity and empathy with the hardships of people, and proved considerable courage in various situations. These qualities enable him to make the necessary and forward-looking decisions regarding these issues, some of which have been a problem for centuries.

In his interview, published Sept. 20 in Jesuit journals worldwide, including La Civiltà Cattolica and America, Francis recognizes the importance of questions such as contraception, homosexuality and abortion. But he refuses to put these questions too much at the center of the church's mission. He rightly calls for a "new balance" between these moral issues and the essential impulses of the Gospel itself. But this balance can only be reached when reforms that were postponed again and again are realized, so that these fundamentally secondary moral issues will not rob the proclamation of the Gospel of its "freshness and attractiveness." This will be the great challenge for Francis.


[Fr. Hans Küng, Swiss citizen, is professor emeritus of ecumenical theology at Tübingen University in Germany. He is the honorary president of the Global Ethic Foundation (www.weltethos.org [1]).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Francis: Church should be "a home for all."

Wonder how Conservative spinmeisters are going to try and spin this one?  Pope Francis was critical of Ecclesial “purists” when he said “This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people." A New York Times article follows...

New York Times

September 19, 2013

Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Pope Francis, in the first extensive interview of his six-month-old papacy, said that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he has chosen not to speak of those issues despite recriminations from some critics.
In remarkably blunt language, Francis sought to set a new tone for the church, saying it should be a “home for all” and not a “small chapel” focused on doctrine, orthodoxy and a limited agenda of moral teachings.
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope told the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a fellow Jesuit and editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal whose content is routinely approved by the Vatican. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.
“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
The interview was conducted in Italian during three meetings in August in the pope’s spartan quarters in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse, and translated into English by a team of translators. Francis has chosen to live at Casa Santa Marta rather than in what he said were more isolated quarters at the Apostolic Palace, home to many of his predecessors.
The interview was released simultaneously on Thursday morning by 16 Jesuit journals around the world, and includes the pope’s lengthy reflections on his identity as a Jesuit. Pope Francis personally reviewed the transcript in Italian, said the Rev. James Martin, an editor-at-large of America, the Jesuit magazine in New York. America and La Civiltà Cattolica together had asked Francis to grant the interview, which America is publishing in its magazine and as an e-book.
“Some of the things in it really surprised me,” Father Martin said. “He seems even more of a free-thinker than I thought — creative, experimental, willing to live on the margins, push boundaries back a little bit.”
The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, often appeared to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. These teachings are “clear” to him as “a son of the church,” he said, but they have to be taught in a larger context. “The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”
From the outset of his papacy in March, Francis has chosen to use the global spotlight to focus instead on the church’s mandate to serve the poor and marginalized. He has washed the feet of juvenile prisoners, visited a center for refugees and hugged disabled pilgrims at his audiences.
His pastoral presence and humble gestures have made him wildly popular, according to recent surveys. But there has been a low rumble of discontent from some Catholic advocacy groups, and even from some bishops, who have taken note of his silence on abortion and gay marriage. Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., told his diocesan newspaper that he was “a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis” because he had not spoken about abortion. “Many people have noticed that,” the bishop was quoted as saying.
The interview is the first time Francis has explained the reasoning behind both his actions and omissions. He also expanded on the comments he made about homosexuality in July, on an airplane returning to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, where he had celebrated World Youth Day. In a remark then that produced headlines worldwide, the new pope said, “Who am I to judge?” At the time, some questioned whether he was referring only to gays in the priesthood, but in this interview he made clear that he had been speaking of gays and lesbians in general.
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he told Father Spadaro. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”
The interview also serves to present the pope as a human being, who loves Mozart and Dostoevsky and his grandmother, and whose favorite film is Fellini’s “La Strada.”
The 12,000-word interview ranges widely, and may confirm what many Catholics already suspected: that the chameleon-like Francis bears little resemblance to those on the church’s theological or political right wing. He said some people had assumed he was an “ultraconservative” because of his reputation when he served as the superior of his Jesuit province in Argentina. He pointed out that he was made superior at the “crazy” young age of 36, and that his leadership style was too authoritarian.
“But I have never been a right-winger,” he said. “It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”
Now, Francis said, he prefers a more consultative leadership style. He has appointed an advisory group of eight cardinals, a step he said was recommended by the cardinals at the consistory that elected him. They were demanding reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, he said, adding that from the eight, “I want to see that this is a real, not ceremonial consultation.”
The pope said he has found it “amazing” to see complaints about “lack of orthodoxy” flowing into the Vatican offices in Rome from conservative Catholics around the world. They ask the Vatican to investigate or discipline their priests, bishops or nuns. Such complaints, he said, “are better dealt with locally,” or else the Vatican offices risk becoming “institutions of censorship.”
Asked what it means for him to “think with the church,” a phrase used by the Jesuit founder St. Ignatius, Francis said that it did not mean “thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”
He said he thinks of the church “as the people of God, pastors and people together.”
“The church is the totality of God’s people,” he added, a notion popularized after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which Francis praised for making the Gospel relevant to modern life, an approach he called “absolutely irreversible.”
And while he agreed with the decision of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, to allow the broader use of the traditional Latin-language Tridentine Mass, he said that the more traditional Mass risked becoming an ideology and that he was worried about its “exploitation.” Those who seek a broad revival of the Tridentine Mass have been among Francis’s harshest critics, and those remarks are not likely to comfort them.
In contrast to Benedict, who sometimes envisioned a smaller but purer church — a “faithful fragment” — Francis envisions the church as a big tent.
“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” he said. “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”


Thursday, August 15, 2013

When does our hope for Francis become denial?

While some are hopeful, not everyone is enamored with the new pope. Some are among the established conservative, and others are among the “liberal” crowd who question any changes as perhaps style – not substance. This is picked up on by Jamie Manson in an NCR article.


When does our hope for Francis become denial?

Jamie Manson
Jul. 31, 2013 Grace on the Margins

Full disclosure: I do not feel excited or hopeful about what Pope Francis said about women and gay priests [1] during his epic press conference on the way home to Rome.

Now, wait. Before you click me off as a hater or an incorrigible pessimist or an angry feminist lesbian or another choice label, please understand this: I don't dislike Pope Francis.

I think he has an authentic warmth. I appreciate his desire to be among the people. I laugh at some of his jokes, and there are themes in his sermons that genuinely move me. I share his desire to break down clericalism and the injustices of capitalism, and I believe wholeheartedly in his vision of ecological justice.

More substantively than even all of this, I share with him a deep passion for the poor and marginalized. Like Francis, I, too, have my most vivid encounters with Jesus among those who are homeless, mentally ill, incarcerated or suffering with addictions.

But Francis and I part ways on the topics of women's equality and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the church. The pope's statements on the plane only reinforced the depth of my disagreement with him.

An excessive amount of commentary has been launched into cyberspace since the news of the pope's comments on women and gay priests hit the Internet, so I'll attempt to give the short, bullet-point version of why I do not share in the hope or excitement of some of my colleagues and friends.

• In terms of his much-touted use of the word "gay," I believe he used it not so much as a sign of respect but because the word was being used in the context of the rumored "gay lobby." Few people still know what this mysterious lobby inside the Curia is or what precisely they are advocating for (clearly it isn't LGBT rights), but Francis was again clear he was not pleased with this lobby, saying he needed to distinguish whether a person was gay or part of the gay lobby.

• After Francis delivered his now-legendary "Who am I to judge?" line, he immediately reaffirmed the teaching of the catechism. He may not have used the "intrinsically disordered" phrase, but he did make it clear that "the tendency isn't the problem." Obviously, same-sex acts and same-sex marriage still are the problem. The real question I think he was asking was, "Who am I do judge a celibate gay person who seeks the Lord and is of goodwill?"

• While his words about a new approach to divorced and remarried Catholics were encouraging, they were couched in his mentioning that a new "pastoral care of marriage" was being developed. My sense is the main thrust of initiative will be to make the boldest Roman Catholic declaration yet that marriage is between one man and one woman. Remember that just two years ago, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he called same-sex marriage an "anthropological setback," and on the plane, he affirmed the church's opposition to marriage equality.

• Pope Francis' words about women were spirit-breaking. The idea that we need a "deeper theology of women" is remarkable only because, for the past half-century, Catholic women theologians, many of them women religious, have been developing, writing and teaching a profound theology of women. Just because the hierarchy has not cared to read it doesn't mean it doesn't already exist. I shudder to think whom Francis would ask to formulate this "deeper theology."

• As a woman who has discerned a calling to the priesthood for more than 20 years, Francis' hiding behind John Paul II's theology and claiming that the "door is closed" on the ordination issue was profoundly painful. Hearing these words, I felt the same kind of humiliation I would have experienced if a door had literally been slammed in my face.

• Francis got some positive attention for saying women are more important than priests and bishops, even if they have no chance of being ordained. In essence, he said even though women will never have ecclesial decision-making power or the opportunity to exercise sacramental ministry, they are so much more special than the men who get to run and lead the church.

This last point raises an important question about the laity's response to Pope Francis: Who among progressive Catholics of the last two decades would have ever abided by such patronizing rhetoric? In previous papacies, this kind of a statement about women would have raised the ire of all progressive Catholics.

Francis locked the deadbolt on John Paul II's closed door to women, and he reaffirmed the church's woefully inadequate teaching on gays and lesbians as well as its ban on marriage equality. Yet we still hear that many progressive Catholics "cannot get enough" of the new pope.

I have even heard Catholic women who have been fierce fighters for the full inclusion of women in the church claim that they still feel hope and are excited about this pope and his proposed deeper theology of women.

Yes, Pope Francis is a warm pope of the people with a deep passion for many marginalized communities. But he is still advocating some very unjust, harmful doctrinal positions. So why do Catholics, especially many progressive Catholics, continue to give him a pass?

Francis is changing the tone in the hope that the church will be perceived in a better light, but there is little evidence to suggest he will or wants to make doctrinal changes on women's equality, same-sex relationships or contraception, and his response to the issue of clergy sex abuse has been underwhelming at best.

Have we gotten to the point where our desire to realize the church of our dreams and our insistence that Francis will be the man to make our dreams come true is clouding our perception of what Francis is really saying?

Recently, when I criticized the pope's words about the existence of a gay lobby, a friend chastised me, saying I had already decided I didn't like the pope, so there was nothing he could do that would please me.

I took the comment to heart, and I continue to use it as a litmus test for my own reactions to Francis. But I also turned the tables on my friend. Couldn't it also be argued that there are progressive Catholics who have decided they like this pope so much that they have practically given him immunity from any criticism?

Are we truly listening to the full context of what Francis is saying, or are we just hearing what our hearts most deeply want to hear? It is important to be people of hope, but at what point does being hopeful and optimistic slip into avoidance and denial of what this man truly believes?

I realize Catholics are starving for inspiring, authentic pastoral leadership, but honesty and solidarity demand that we speak out against unjust, spiritually harmful words, even if they are coming from a charismatic figure in whom we desperately want to believe and trust.

I want to be hopeful that Francis might have a transformation. Personally, my heart has a deep investment in it: I would love to be able to return to active Catholic ministry again, and I want all of the exceptional women and LGBT Catholics who have the ability to spiritually lead and inspire to be able to answer God's calling.

I want to believe real reforms are in the imminent future. Again, my heart is invested in this: I would love to have the opportunity to marry my partner in the church of my childhood, the church with the "sacramental view of the world" and the finest social justice teachings on the books. I want all LGBT couples to have the chance to marry in the church with which their hearts identify.

But there was nothing Francis said on that plane that leads me to think we are any closer to either of these possibilities. I remain hopeful justice will come someday, but I think it is important to accept the reality that the residual effects of a patriarchal, homophobic, clerical formation can still dwell within a man who is otherwise committed to justice and deeply pastoral.

For many progressive Catholics, the Benedict years were painful and divisive. But the upside of having a pope that was less pastoral and more rigidly orthodox was that it helped some Catholics break out of some of the trappings of our tradition: the passivity, the clericalism, the adulation of the papacy. Laypeople began to embrace the idea that God has infused all of God's people with deep sacramental power.

Since our new pope is so likeable and so obviously committed to justice for many marginalized groups, it appears that even some of the most liberal Catholics are gradually being lulled back into an odd, filial submission to Francis. Hearing so many English-speaking folk refer to him as "Papa" suggests this pope may even be fulfilling the need for a benevolent, spiritual father. I'm not sure how healthy this is spiritually or how helpful it is for the future of badly needed reforms in our church.

The response to the papal plane ride has set up an interesting challenging. How do we remain people of hope with a deep admiration for much of what the pope says and does while also not losing our prophetic edge in fighting for true justice for women, LGBT people, sexual abuse survivors and those suffering from lack of access to contraception?

If we cannot be honest about what this pope believes, and if we refuse to criticize him when criticism is justified, we could run the risk of giving the Vatican public relations machine exactly what it wants: a return to the days when the pope was an object of affection, adulation and unequivocal goodwill -- no questions asked.

[Jamie L. Manson is NCR books editor. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her NCR columns have won numerous awards, most recently second prize for Commentary of the Year from Religion Newswriters.]


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TWO PRIESTS, TWO POPES, HALF A CENTURY APART

Eugene Kennedy, a friend of WEORC, composed the following article and offered a treasured photo of himself and Hans Kung.

TWO PRIESTS, TWO POPES, HALF A CENTURY APART
By
EUGENE CULLEN KENNEDY

           Austria’s Father Helmut Schuller’s current Tipping Point Tour on which he is calling Catholicism’s leaders and people back to the documents and spirit of renewal of Vatican II follows by half a century Swiss theologian Hans Kung’s tour of America, speaking on what then seemed a revolutionary idea, “The Church and Freedom.”

            Anyone who was in the crowd that packed McCormack Place to hear Kung, whose book on the Church and Reform, had ignited the imagination of Catholics as it revealed the possibilities of the Council that was then in session, will recall the electrical charge that exploded like a flash bulb in the crowd’s response to his presentation.  Prominent layman Dan Herr had introduced him and said later that the wave of enthusiasm that swept up from the crowd convinced him that the Church was really ready for change.

            Kung received at least half of the back of the ecclesiastical hand that has slapped Father Schuller for his prophet’s call to re-invigorate the Church by returning to the work of the Council in which Kung had played such an important role.  Kung received an interdict from the Catholic University of America but an honorary degree from St. Louis University.  One of the first actions taken by Pope John Paul II was to decree that Kung could no longer be regarded as a Catholic theologian at the University of Tubingen where, even stripped of that credential, he has continued to be a leader in Church reform and renewal.

            Father Schuller has been denied permission to speak in Catholic Churches or schools by bishops who, much as in Kung’s day, do not want to fail to ban a speaker or silence a theologian if that looks like the pope’s wishes.  Father Schuller enters the New Inquisition Sweepstakes not riding a sleek thoroughbred bearing theological colors but on the clerical Budweiser workhorse of hierarchical indenture,  He has worked as a Church official and knows that its stable of swayback horses desperately needs to be cleaned out or burned down so that the Church can enter fully into the only race that counts, the human race.

            You won’t find irony as rich as that associated with the punishment he received from the Austrian hierarchy.  They told him that he was no longer a monsignor, a title out of medieval court life, the loss of which turns out to be a tribute to Schuller who is committed to bringing the Church as a Servant to humanity in the 21st century.  Schuller is traveling on the energy generated by Kung and the reformers of Vatican II, urging people and bishops to commit themselves to the evangelization urged by that Council rather than the evangelization, a return to the middle ages and monsignors, urged as a new “interpretation” of Vatican II by those partners in retro-theology and Church discipline, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

            If Schuller and Kung, following the same knight’s calling to retrieve the Holy Grail, might, in a sense, have been separated at birth, so, too, the Popes, John XXIII and Francis, separated by the same half century, nonetheless possess the same master pastoral gene.  John XXIII expressed it in his bringing his country roots with him into the Vatican, breaking centuries of traditions, such as the pope’s eating alone, and, when told that the workers would not come near him when he walked in the papal gardens, asked, “Why not, I won’t harm them?”  He disdained the official papal footwear and had a pair of familiar farmer’s boots modified for his many ambles around the Vatican and occasionally into Rome itself.  He laughed when he was told that the English journalists called him “Johnny Walker.”

            Pope Francis seems to many nervous Catholics too good to be true and they worry that this man who, in his large-hearted simplicity and common sense, may somehow turn out to be different than he has seemed, less like John in the long run and more like Benedict.  Any pope who can say that having the previous pope around is like having grandpa nearby does not seem likely to lose the humanity that makes him so attractive. 

            When John XXIII was pope and had broken down barriers by the kind of embrace that he gave the delegation of Jewish officials, saying, “I am Joseph and you are my brothers,” prompted philosopher Hannah Arendt, who had noted his work to save Jews during the war, to write, :We have a Christian sitting on the throne of Peter.”

            She would write the same thing if she heard of Pope Francis’s pastoral response when, on his plane returning from World Youth Day in Rio, he was asked about homosexuals and he answered, obviously from his heart, of their human goodness, of our need to support rather than censure them, and, who was he to judge them is they were seeking God in their own way? 

            The wonderful thing about these words about homosexuals is that nobody – no speechwriter, advisor, or P.R. expert, much less a curial official or a screenwriter – could have imagined the saving simplicity of Francis’s profoundly Christian words.  He speaks as John XXIII did when aked why he called Vatican II into session.  He did not respond by saying that the Church had to tighten up but that it had to open up, and his purpose was not to save monsignors or other trappings of the past, but that he did it for the people, “so that the human sojourn on earth might be less sad.”   That, of course, is why Francis urges bishops and priests to get out of the institution and into the midst of their people.  The Church is indeed to make the journey of all people less sad.

            So blessed are we that we have in Father Schuller a priest who calls us back to Vatican II much as Hans Kung had called us to it half a century ago.   Francis stands as unself-consciously as a pastoral pope as John XXIII did in that same era.  Father Schuller is not just calling for healthy reforms, he is bringing back, as is Pope Francis, the excitement that filled the Church at the time of Vatican II.  While Benedict XVI worked hard to bring us back to the 19th century of Vatican I, Francis is gently bidding us to rediscover the riches of that Council so that we may serve the world better, so that, in fact, we may join in making the “human sojourn on earth less sad.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Catholic Tipping Point: Conversations with Helmut Schüller

Internationally acclaimed Austrian priest activist,


Fr. Helmut Schüller to tour 15 US cities - July 16-August 7

Fr. Helmut Schuller is the charismatic founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, (Pfarrer-Initiative) organized in 2006 to address a deepening shortage of priests forcing many Austrian parishes to close. His work inspired the establishment of similar priest groups in Germany, Ireland, France, the United States and Australia.

Schüller’s U.S. Tour comes in the midst of a steadily worsening priest shortage. A 2009 study from the National Federation of Priests’ Councils found that for every 100 U.S. priests who retire, only 30 are available to replace them.

In June 2011, the Pfarrer-Initiative issued a “Call to Disobedience” calling for lay leadership and preaching in parishes without a priest, permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive sacraments and support for the ordination of women and married men.

Fr. Schuller’s 15-city tour of the US is a result of an invitation by FutureChurch and the work of a coalition of nine church reform organizations*.

His visit is being called Catholic Tipping Point because priests and people worldwide are creating a critical mass transforming the Church from the bottom up.

From http://www.futurechurch.org/newsletter/events/helmut-schuller/

Wed 7/24, Chicago Hosted by Call To Action, Theatre Building of UNO Rogers Park
7400 Ridge Ave, Chicago (immediately south of St Scholastica Monastery
Registration and Networking 6 pm - 7 pm

Contacts:
Bob Heineman - bob@cta-usa.org - 847.682.1056