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Signs of a Sea Change?

A number of surprising recent developments could signal significant change in the Catholic Church: the Vatican reached a landmark agreement that could eventually alter the exercise of the papacy and mandatory celibacy, Dutch Dominicans recently called for parishioners to select Mass presiders from their midst, an Australian bishop outlined the need for a constitutional papacy and married Zambian priests are going public. Here’s the round up.

Vatican-Orthodox Reunification?  Commenting on a November 15 report from the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper said the commission has made “modest” progress towards healing the 1000 year old split between Roman Catholic and Eastern churches, but differences over the Pope’s authority remain. On November 16, the London Times spelled out some possibilities: “If the proposals move forward, the Pope would be acknowledged as the universal Primate, as he was before the schism. Although it is not stated outright, he would be expected by the Orthodox churches to relinquish the doctrine of infallibility. The proposals could also allow married priests in the Catholic Church, as already happens in the Orthodox.” The commission agreed that Rome occupied the “first place” in canonical order of the ancient seats of bishops—including Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, and the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos (first in ancient Greek) among the patriarchs.  However the report also stated “While the fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West, there are differences of understanding with regard to the manner in which it is to be exercised, and also with regard to its scriptural and theological foundations.”  The next meeting of the commission will be held in two years. Meanwhile the Pope met with the Church’s cardinals on November 23 where the report was to be a main topic of discussion. 

Dutch Dominicans: Eucharist Primary. At their June 2005 provincial chapter, Dominicans in Holland formed a committee of experts to study “whether celebrating the Eucharist depends on the ministry of ordained men, or whether it is possible that the Church community it has appointed, celebrate the Eucharist themselves.” In August, the outcome: “The Church and the Ministry” was sent to every parish in Holland.  The 38-page booklet proposes that parishes choose Mass presiders from among their community and present selected candidates “women or men, homo- or heterosexual, married or single” to the bishop for ordination. At present, the Netherlands has 1,557 parishes and only 1,112 priests, many of whom are elderly. The number of Masses on Sunday fell from 2,200 in 2002 to 1,900 in 2004, while the number of Word and Communion Services increased from 550 to 630.  The booklet ends with “An Urgent Plea” well worth quoting here in part (full text available at www.futurechurch.org).

With some emphasis we urge our faith communities, the parishes, to realize what is at stake in the present emergency situation of the shortage of ordained celibate priests and to be allowed to take the extent of freedom which is theologically justified to choose their own leader or team of leaders from their own midst.

… If a bishop should refuse such a confirmation or `ordination' on the basis of arguments not involving the essence of the Eucharist, such as obligatory celibacy, parishes may be confident that they are able to celebrate a real and genuine Eucharist when they are together in prayer and share bread and wine.

We urge parishes to act in this way with a great amount of self-confidence and courage. … we would like to emphasize once more that our argument is based on statements of the Second Vatican Council and on publications of professional theologians and pastoral experts which have appeared since this council.

Bishop Calls for Constitutional Papacy. Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary Bishop from Australia, has written a new book calling for major restructuring of the Catholic Church, including a constitutional papacy: “Papal power has gone too far and there are quite inadequate limits on its exercise.” In Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus (John Garrett Publishing), Robinson criticizes Catholic leadership, especially Pope John Paul II, for failure to confront root causes of clergy sex abuse. He says the exercise of authority should permit greater collegiality among bishops and incorporate the “sense of the faithful” in church decision-making. Further, there should be appropriate evaluation of those in authority, an elected parliament of bishops and the option to remove a pope from office. To date, the response from the Australian hierarchy has been minimal.

Zambia Married Priests Go Public. Some Zambian priests who left the active ministry to marry are calling for secretly married priests to come out in the open and celebrate Mass.  In early August, the Movement for Married Priests Now- Zambia Chapter held a rally to announce the beginning of their activities.  The group was founded by excommunicated Catholic Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. Although the Vatican has made it clear that it does not support or recognize any of Milingo's work, his wife Maria told members of the media that the Archbishop constantly updates the Vatican on his activity.


Focus on FutureChurch

Fall 2007


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