Spanish Catholics want Rome to consider talks on the future of the priesthood including optional celibacy, the ordination of women, and also of married men.
Spanish Catholics want Rome to consider talks on the future of the priesthood including optional celibacy, the ordination of women and also of married men, a key document showed Saturday.
The document, a copy of which was seen by AFP, was unveiled by the CEE Episcopal Conference that groups Spain’s leading bishops at a 600-strong gathering in Madrid.
It was drawn up after months of consultation with more than 215,000 people, mostly lay people but also priests and bishops, with the proposals to be condensed into a final document that will be presented to next year’s Bishops in Synod assembly at the Vatican.
In it, they stress “the need to discern in greater depth about the question of optional celibacy for priests and the ordination of married people; to a lesser extent, the issue of the ordination of women has also arisen,” it said, while noting such issues were raised only in certain dioceses.
“There is a clear request that, as a Church, we hold dialogue about these issues… to be able to offer a more holistic approach to our society,” it said. It also stressed the need to “rethink the role of women in the Church” to
give them “greater leadership and responsibility” notably in places “where decisions are made”.
There was also “a need for greater care” for those who have been divorced or remarried or with an alternative sexual orientation. “We feel that, as a Church… we must welcome and accompany each person in their specific situation,” it said.
The document was unveiled just months after lawmakers approved Spain’s first official probe into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church through an expert independent committee.
The Church itself also took its first steps earlier this year towards addressing alleged abuse by clergy by engaging lawyers to conduct a year-long investigation that will take cues from similar probes in France and Germany.
Supporters of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rose to his defense in the past week after a report on decades of sexual abuse in his former archdiocese in Munich accused the retired pontiff of covering up and ignoring abuse by Catholic priests there.
But some believe the defense of Benedict is less about his legacy and more about the deepening polarization in the Catholic Church and its approach to homosexuality and priestly celibacy, issues that are both now center stage in Germany.
“I don’t think the report is going to change the mind of people either way” when it comes to Benedict, said Bill Donohue, longtime president of the Catholic League, a conservative watchdog and promoter of the church.
Benedict “is hated by the Catholic left because he is the one who really enforced the Scriptures of the Catholic Church as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” said Donahue, referring to the prelate’s tenure during the papacy of St. John Paul II as an enforcer of Catholic dogma, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned the title “God’s Rottweiler.”
“The impending schism in Germany is far more serious than this,” said Donahue, who called himself proud to be called “the Rottweiler’s Rottweiler.”
A report from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, published Jan. 10, found that bishops who oversaw the diocese between 1945 and 2019, including Ratzinger, failed to punish clergy and laypeople who committed sexual abuse.
More importantly for many Catholics, however, is the movement in the wider German church that has involved the country’s Catholics in wide-ranging discussions of the most pressing issues facing the institution, including sexual abuse, for nearly three years. The “Synodal Path,” as the discussions are known, followed a 2018 report that scandalized Catholics in the country when it found more than 37,000 cases of clerical abuse in Germany over the span of 68 years, leading to a massive exodus of faithful.
The Synodal Path discussions ended in early February under the shadow of the revelations from Munich. Even after Benedict responded contritely to the accusations, German Catholics felt “disappointed,” said Claudia Lücking-Michel, vice president of the Central Committee for German Catholics and a delegate to the Synodal Path.
The report, she said, “was the last drop that made the cup overflow.”
While many Germans identify clericalism — the abuse of power by Catholic clergy — as the main culprit for the church’s systemic failure to respond to sexual abuse, some Catholic conservatives blame the presence of homosexuals in the church.
“We have a homosexual scandal here, not a pedophilia scandal,” Donohue said. “Clericalism may have something to do with why some bishops were enabled, but it has nothing to do with why a man would put his hands on a minor.”
Equating homosexuality with pedophilia is strongly contested in the Synodal Path discussions, according to Lücking. “Homosexuality has nothing to do with pedophilia,” she said.
While the majority of Catholics in Western countries agree that homosexuality should be accepted in society, the question of homosexuality and priestly celibacy is more controversial in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. As the Vatican struggles to adapt church teaching with modern understanding of sex and sexuality, the issue has the power to tear the global church apart.
“This report and the entire sexual abuse scandal, a sad page for the church in Germany, is being exploited to bring about a new church,” said the Rev. Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai, a Catholic priest from Cameroon who teaches theology and philosophy at Boston College.
According to Agbaw-Ebai, who wrote his dissertation on Benedict, the Munich report offered Benedict’s detractors “their pound of flesh” and strengthened the position of those who want to push Catholic doctrine toward the demands of modernity.
Germany’s Synodal Path is the surest sign of that push. On Feb. 5, its plenary assembly approved four documents proposing a “reevaluation of homosexuality” and challenging Catholic doctrine forbidding female ordination and requiring priestly celibacy.
“The synod has changed,” Lücking said, “you can feel the difference at the plenary. There are more and more bishops saying we have to act, we have to change, there is no other way out of the crisis.”
On Feb. 3, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, supported a renewed study on priestly celibacy and told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “For some priests, it would be better if they were married.”
Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, meanwhile, has proposed that the church’s teaching on homosexuality “is no longer correct.” Hollerich has been named by Pope Francis to oversee the Synod on Synodality, a self-examination of church practices underway in dioceses around the world that will conclude with a summit at the Vatican in 2023.
The concern for Catholic conservatives is that the progressive stance of German prelates will influence Francis’ ambitious reform efforts for the church as a whole.
In Germany “you have a rebellion going on,” Donohue said. “This synod process that is going to go forward is an open invitation for people to exploit any friction in the Catholic Church,” he said, adding that progressive Catholics “will use Benedict as another weapon in their arsenal.”
But Agbaw-Ebai contends that “what is happening in Germany is clearly a result of the actions and statements of today’s Vatican,” pointing to Francis’ willingness to engage with the Catholic LGBTQ community early in his pontificate.
He said he buys Benedict’s prediction that the church is destined to shrink to a small group of true believers. It’s unlikely that conservative Catholics will be the ones to leave, he said, unless the Vatican embraces “radical teachings” like those discussed in Germany. He blames the Vatican for allowing the German Synodal Path to “raise people’s expectations in a regrettable way.”
For Lücking, if the Vatican doesn’t take the proposals of the Synodal Path, then “the Catholic Church in Germany will become a minority, a sect,” but she said she still harbors “the illusion” that what is happening in Germany may still clear the path for progress.
“It might not be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but it will happen one day,” she said.
Marx told the German newspaper that the practice of celibacy was “precarious,” but refused to draw a link between celibacy and cases of abuse that have shaken the Catholic Church around the world.
“This way of life and this grouping of men draws in people who are unsuited and who might not be mature,” he said. “But sexuality is part of being human.”
Marx was tight-lipped on the question of whether women should be priests, saying only that it was a topic that was being discussed inside the church.
“I’m not just a person who has an opinion,” he said. “I have to help hold the organization together.”
A new assembly aimed at reforming the German Catholic Church is set to begin in Frankfurt on Thursday. It is expected to address a number of topics, including the position of women in the church, Catholic sexual morality and celibacy.
Fr Tom Doyle was one of the first people to highlight the sexual abuse of children by priests in the 1980s
By Sarah Mac Donald
A priest who has campaigned on behalf of clerical sexual abuse victims for more than three decades has criticised the Catholic Church’s “toxic and erroneous teaching” on human sexuality.
Canon lawyer Fr Tom Doyle linked the crisis over the church’s mishandling of allegations of abuse to “a misconception of the clergy and bishops as the essence of the church” who are “essential for salvation”.
He warned there is “still plenty of pushback and resistance in the church” toward abuse victims, adding: “The good of the Church really means the good of the ecclesiastical aristocracy.”
Speaking at a webinar ‘Stolen Lives: Abuse & Corruption in the Catholic Church’, which was hosted by the lay reform group, Root & Branch Reform, he said: “It is not a few bad apples in the barrel that is the problem, it is the barrel.”
In his view, “the violation of the most innocent in the church is a scourge that neutralises everything that is Christian about Catholicism”.
Fr Doyle, who served as a pilot in the US air force and was one of the first people to highlight the sexual abuse of children by priests in the 1980s, hit out at the “unrealistic idea that priests and bishops are exalted sacred beings” which he said still exists in the church and paralyses a lot of people from speaking out.
The priest said this belief, which had created “a clerical aristocracy” in the church, had to be changed.
“We all know what clericalism is. It is a disease. It is a virus the Catholic Church has, which means the clergy and the clerical way of life and its values come before anything. It is total nonsense,” he said.
Appealing to lay people to “stop tolerating a clericalised church”, he said they had to challenge the hierarchy when they saw evidence of clericalism which “fuelled the constant, systemic, nightmare of child and adult sexual violation by clerics and non-ordained religious”.
The abuse crisis also stemmed from an emphasis on the protection of the prestige, power, and the economic resources of the hierarchical system of the church, he said.
Fr Doyle said at the top of the hierarchy was “a tiny aristocracy running the whole show while the rest of us are down at the bottom”.
“If you look at the positions of power, the men who actually call the shots, about 3,000 men run the Catholic Church,” he said.
“They are all bishops. None of them have been married, presumably.
“Certainly, none of them have been parents presumably, because if they had been parents, they would have understood clearly the horror of what was happening to children.”
On the issue of mandatory celibacy, he told the webinar: “It seems to me that in some ways you have got to be more Christ-like to be a husband or a wife or a parent than you do to be a priest because you need to learn what it means to be unselfish.
“You have to constantly get up in the middle of the night to take care of sick kids, you put up with your kids when they make mistakes, you bail them out of jail, you do all of these things.”
He warned the majority of abuse victims are still suffering in “cocoons of guilt, shame, fear and silence” because studies showed only 37pc of those who were violated ever came forward.
How much do you really want to know about your parish priest?
Well, that depends on a number of factors. It might depend on who you voted for in the 2020 election.
It also might depend on whether or not you can get your hands on his cell phone. Or his cell phone records.
Such is the debate scorching up religious and tech circles these days. It was initiated by two Irish American lawyers-turned-crusaders (if you will), which sounds like nice work if you can get it.
Unless that work prompts one of the most respected voices in Catholic American circles to say, “What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? And where does it end — when we have a church where no one has ever sinned? The church will be empty.”
That’s James Martin, the best-selling Irish American author and commentator, and regular guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.
Martin, quoted in The Washington Post, was responding to the work of Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the ex-lawyers who now run The Pillar, which is billed as a Catholic “newsletter.”
Well, boys, you wanted attention. You got attention!
This all began earlier this month with a special “Pillar Investigation.” For the sake of fairness — or decency, or karma — we’re going to explain this story but leave out the name of the priest at its center, even though it is very much out there.
“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to (the priest) emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020,” the investigation notes.
It adds: “An analysis of app data signals correlated to (the priest’s) mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using (the) location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment…”
Where to begin?
As you can imagine, this has elicited a broad range of angry responses, and not only because of the personal behavior of this priest who is not a mere parish priest, but also a rather big big-wig.
There is also the issue of these two Irish Catholics, who both attended very respectable schools and have held lucrative jobs, essentially crawling through the 21st century equivalent of a stinky trash can to dig up secrets about a prominent American religion official.
Who, by the way, resigned his various positions in recent days.
“The case of the high-ranking Catholic cleric who resigned after allegedly being tracked on the gay dating app Grindr quickly became a Rorschach test Wednesday for Catholics already mired in tension over politics, theology and culture,” The Washington Post noted.
Since Flynn and Condon are loud and proud church “traditionalists,” their cheering section has pointed to these findings and declared that gay priests and other post-1960s dogma-ignorers are ruining the U.S. Catholic Church.
But those on another side see little more than “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests,” in the words of America Magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin.
If it smells like and looks like a burning-stake, well, that’s probably what it is.
It seems appropriate, though, that I confess something else here.
It took me a few minutes to make heads or tails of this story. For a moment I thought perhaps that the priest was actually being pressured, in the name of social justice, to proudly proclaim and embrace the private details of his romantic life.
There have, after all, been many times so-called progressives felt it was entirely appropriate to expose the private lives of culture-war opponents. Or divulge personal details to turn enemies into “allies.”
We are approaching the end game of the oft-chanted belief that the “personal is political.” That what you wear and drink, share and think, either saves or ruins the planet.
What you do when you take off your clothes is the inevitable next skirmish.