Criticisms of the Pope continue to pour in from all quarters, the latest coming from prominent theologian Hans Kung, who has written an open letter accusing the Pope of orchestrating a world-wide cover up of clerical sexual abuse and plunging the church into its worst credibility crisis since the Reformation.
At this stage, such claims are hardly news, and the fact that they are coming from Kung isn’t big news either. But beyond the deplorable handling of the sexual abuse scandal, Kung outlines a series of further missed opportunities:
- Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches
- Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews
- Missed is the opportunity for a dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust
- Missed is the opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America
- Missed is the opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.
- Missed is the opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.
- Missed is the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.
The letter follows a story earlier in the week about vandalism and graffiti appearing on the Pope’s childhood home in Germany, and a report that Germans are leaving the Catholic Church in their thousands.
In the face of all this, what amazes me is that people at the highest level of the Catholic Church seem so oblivious to how much damage they are doing not just to the church institutions that they regard as so precious, but – more importantly I think – to people’s faith.
In a comment on a post I wrote earlier this week, Tanya Jones wrote:
[There is ] … a vast overestimation of the importance of the Pope to individual, particularly lay, Catholics. I’m not sure that this proposed papal visit will mean a great deal to most people, either in a positive or negative sense, any more than the papal letter of a few weeks ago did. Benedict and the Vatican increasingly seem to be addressing a construct of the church that to a great extent simply isn’t there anymore, and he doesn’t have the charisma of John Paul II to mitigate against the irrelevance. The only thing that might change that, and in a negative sense, would be the extent to which evidence appears of his personal culpability in the hierarchy’s cover-up.
I think Jones is right that many, many lay Catholics don’t take any notice of the Pope when it comes to trying to live a just and authentic Christian life. And the way things look at the minute, that is probably to the good of the Catholic Church!
Kung sees that to be sure, as his letter he appeals to the bishops – over the head of the Pope it would seem – to do something that would reflect the needs and desires of the majority of people in the Church. As Kung says, ‘… I want only to lay before you six proposals that I am convinced are supported by millions of Catholics who have no voice in the current situation.’
Those six proposals are:
1. Do not keep silent
2. Set about reform
3. Act in a collegial way
4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone
5. Work for regional solution
6. Call for a council
More details about the proposals are provided in the full text of the letter, which concludes:
With the church in deep crisis, this is my appeal to you, venerable bishops: Put to use the episcopal authority that was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. In this urgent situation, the eyes of the world turn to you. Innumerable people have lost their trust in the Catholic Church. Only by openly and honestly reckoning with these problems and resolutely carrying out needed reforms can their trust be regained. With all due respect, I beg you to do your part – together with your fellow bishops as far as possible, but also alone if necessary – in apostolic “fearlessness” ( Acts 4:29, 31 ). Give your faithful signs of hope and encouragement and give our church a perspective for the future.
I don’t have much hope that the bishops of the world (at least the Western world it would seem) have the will or the power to take such radical steps. In the absence of that, will we see laypeople take responsibility for their faith in spite of the lack of action on the part of the institutional church, or will more join the thousands of Germans who are on their way out the church doors?