Sunday, 6 February 2011

European Theologians' statement: 'The Church in 2011 - a necessary departure'

Dispute over the Immaculate Conception – Disputation of the Doctors
Giovanni Antonio Sogliani (c. 1530), Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence
(This painting reminds us that there is nothing new about theological controversy).

On 3rd February, 'Toby' posted a number of questions about Catholic formation and the context in which one studies and teaches theology. By way of a response, I'm sharing a link to a translation of a statement titled 'The Church in 2011 - a necessary departure', published in German and signed by 143 European theologians (more signatories are being added daily). This is a moderate and reasoned plea for a more open and participatory Church. My reason for linking to it here is not only because I think it's worth reading but because, taken alongside 'Toby's' quite different understanding of Catholic formation and theology, it is evidence of considerable debate and diversity among Roman Catholic theologians today, including those who are licensed - as many of these signatories are.

I've cut and pasted the opening paragraphs of the statement here:
It is over a year since cases of sexual abuse of children and youth by priests and religious at the Canisius School in Berlin were made public. Thereupon followed a year that plunged the Catholic Church in Germany into an unequaled crisis. Today, a split image is projected. Much has been undertaken to do justice to the victims, to come to terms with the wrong done, and to search out the causes of abuse, cover-up, and double standards within the Church’s own ranks. Many responsible Christians, women and men, in office and unofficially, have come to realize, after their initial disgust, that deep-reaching reforms are necessary. The appeal for an open dialogue on structures of power and communication, the form of official church offices, and the participation of the faithful in taking responsibility for morality and sexuality have aroused expectations, but also fears. This might be the last chance for departure from paralysis and resignation. Will this chance be missed by sitting out or minimizing the crisis? Not everyone is threatened by the unrest of an open dialogue without taboos – especially since the papal visit [to Germany] will soon take place. The alternative simply cannot be accepted: the “rest of the dead” because the last hopes have been destroyed.
The deep crisis of our Church demands that we address even those problems which, at first glance, do not have anything directly to do with the abuse scandal and its decades-long cover-up. As theology professors, women and men, we can keep silence no longer. We consider ourselves responsible for contributing to a true new beginning: 2011 must be a Year of Departure for the Church. In the past year, more Christians than ever before have withdrawn from the Catholic Church. They have officially terminated their legal membership, or they have privatized their spiritual life in order to protect it from the institution. The Church must understand these signs and pull itself from ossified structures in order to recover new vitality and credibility.
The renewal of church structures will succeed, not with anxious withdrawal from society, but only with the courage for self-criticism and the acceptance of critical impulses – including those from the outside. This is one of the lessons of the last year: the abuse crisis would not have been dealt with so decisively without the critical accompaniment of the larger public. Only through open communication can the Church win back trust. The Church will become credible when only its image of itself is not removed so far from the image others have of the Church. We turn to all those who have not yet given up hope for a new beginning in the Church and who work for this. We build upon the signals of departure and dialogue which some bishops have given in recent months in speeches, homilies, and interviews.
The Church does not exist for its own sake. The church has the mission to announce the liberating and loving God of Jesus Christ to all people. The Church can do this only when it is itself a place and a credible witness of the good news of the Gospel. The Church’s speaking and acting, its rules and structures – its entire engagement with people within and outside the Church – is under the standard of acknowledging and promoting the freedom of people as God’s creation. Absolute respect for every person, regard for freedom of conscience, commitment to justice and rights, solidarity with the poor and oppressed: these are the theological foundational standards which arise from the Church’s obligation to the Gospel. Through these, love of God and neighbor become tangible.
Finding our orientation in the biblical Good News implies a differentiated relationship to modern society. When it comes to acknowledgement of each person’s freedom, maturity, and responsibility, modern society surpasses the Church in many respects. As the Second Vatican Council emphasized, the Church can learn from this. In other respects, critique of modern society from the spirit of the Gospel is indispensable, as when people are judged only by their productivity, when mutual solidarity disintegrates, or when the dignity of the person is violated.
This holds true in every case: the Good News of the Gospel is the standard for a credible Church, for its action and its presence in society. The concrete demands which the Church must face are by no means new. And yet, we see hardly any trace of reform-oriented reforms. Open dialogue on these questions must take place in the following spheres of action.


  1. Thanks Tina.
    The "little light" will have to shine brightly now.

  2. GS on reflection,6 February 2011 at 17:41

    While we are waiting for the dust to settle, or the organic material to hit the fan, some thoughts on
    "This Little Light of Mine" (ref: previous blog comment which seemed affectionately meant)
    It's a childrens gospel song written about 1920.

    "Depending on the source, the song may take its theme from Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven."
    Or, it may refer to the words of Jesus in Luke 11:33, where he said, "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light."
    Or, it may be based on Matthew 5:14-15, where Jesus said, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."

    The Statement above says-
    "We turn to all those who have not yet given up hope for a new beginning in the Church and who work for this."

    Time for lots of candles and lots of shining, not leaving it to others more articulate or courageous.

  3. Tina done it.

    (-: XX

  4. Theologians Statement refers TEN times to FREEDOM– including “the freedom of the Gospel message,” “the biblical message of freedom,” and “freedom of conscience”– the signatories call for married priests, women’s ordination, and lay participation in the election of bishops and priests. The theologians also urge Church leaders “not to exclude” those who have remarried and those in homosexual partnerships."

    Amen and good luck to them.

    1. Yes, indeed. We need much more freedom in the Church. What we need urgently is freedom in the Church from this kind of nonsense and the people who put it forward. I don't know what it is but it isn't Catholicism. They can call it Catholicism as much as they like but if it doesn't quack it ain't a duck. And this ain't Catholicism.

  5. It says "The Church also needs married priests and women in church ministry."
    It doesn't actually say the ORDINATION of women does it? Women in ministry is different isn't it? My parish has a woman with the title of "Lay Minister" listed below the priest's names on correspondence etc.

  6. Tina - why are you still RC - you're obveriously miserable under the Vatican yolk. The Lord loves a cheerful giver - have you tried the CofE?

  7. Pachomius the Sophist7 February 2011 at 02:45

    Another tired call for another non-revival. You are asking the Church to give in to the final collapse of death, not to heal the genuine wounds it suffers.

    Your answers are, to quote Mencken, simple, obvious, and wrong. None of that will make the Church better, only transmute it into something quite unlike that which Christ founded.

    Tell me, Dr Beattie: are you familiar with the Lord of the Rings? There is a passage therein which springs to mind, in which Gandalf the Grey discusses with Saruman the White.

    Saruman has stared into the abyss, and becomes convinced that the principles, the traditions he has clung to, must be loosened. He does this, and in doing so changes his own nature, becoming white no longer, but 'Saruman of Many Colours'. And in doing so, he becomes a pawn of evil, having forgotten that the abyss stared into him also.

    I do not believe you to be evil, though. Not in your intention, at least. Let us choose another example.

    Chesterton writes that Catholicism "has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried".
    I fear you dislike the way the Church is headed because it is hard.

    And yet, Our Lord and Saviour himself said, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

    Again, our lord did not appoint the disciples to sort their leadership out amongst themselves, but deputed the Apostles, and amongst them appointed Peter the leader.

    To change the Catholic tradition is to cease to be Catholic, and to take the brightly-coloured, easy and wide way to destruction.

    Your points, the things you call for, will gain you much applause in the World. If I might advise you, take that as a point over which to be troubled.

  8. This statement may reflect a wide consensus in the German Church, shared by many bishops. A good sign that moderation and common sense may at last be taking root in our Church, which has been going through such an unwholesome time in recent decades.

  9. @Question
    The question of women's ministry is of course much wider than ordination.

  10. @Pachomius the Sophist
    Thank you Pachomius. The quotation about the abyss is of course originally from Nietzsche: if you stare into the abyss for long enough, you find it staring back at you.

    Today's Old Testament reading is from Genesis, and it tells of how God brought all the light and colour and wonder of creation out of the abyss.

    I suppose what we see depends on what kind of abyss we're staring into, and how obsessively we're looking for evil. Some see all the bright colours of creation, others see only darkness and destruction.


  11. Thank you Tina for some common sense about precious and meaningful things. I realise that there are many different outlooks and attitudes in the church but I have to say that I feel alienated by many. I do not know what kind of world people live in when they are unable or unwilling to enable the church to evolve and grow, and embrace and include many who are sincerely searching for the love and creativity offered by Jesus.

  12. The German Church. Losing members faster than anywhere else. No prizes for guessing why with "Theologians! like these. However, thanks be to God they are a tiny minority. Empty vessels and all that.

  13. Tina,

    Thank you for this, I had read it via the Catholic Herald, however, it doesn't really answer the point that I was making, it only really tangentially touches upon it.

    My point is that if people are not properly formed then they cannot be expected to understand what they are dissenting from. To use the example of female ordination - to somebody, outside of the Church entirely, a male-only priesthood appears sexist. Only to someone with the Church with a knowledge of the Gospels, Jesus' lack of time for other social conventions does it begin to make any sense. [On the subject I am all for a larger role for women in the Church's hierarchy, but I don't think ordination is necessary for this.]

    Now some of these theologians may be properly formed, some may not - I have no idea from the list of signatories, but the letter doesn't deal at all with the appropriate attitude towards the Magisterium or what constitues a proper formation from which dissent becomes legitimate, nor does it deal with what these theologians should be teaching in universities particularly when they have a licence. Now as a Catholic theologian I may be going through a phase of thinking that the Arians had a point, but do I have any duty if I feel this way to make it very clear that this is a departure from the official teaching of the Church, to teach that in detail first and then add my current position making clear it is not Church teaching?

  14. Toby's comment continued (apparently too many characters in my post)

    You also mention "'Toby's' quite different understanding of Catholic formation and theology" (no need to put my name in speech marks - I really am Toby, Toby James Lees of East London, would be really uninventive to come up with Toby as an alias!). I would query "quite different to what" - where does the letter lay out what this "other" understanding is? The underlying principle of the letter to me appears to be one of pragmatism (would the change cited as necessary not be necessary if the pews were full and vocations high?), and gives little evidence of any serious theological reflection which I would imagine has gone on in the background to prompt it.

    The language of "a necessary departure" also strikes me as quite disturbing - what if the Church doesn't change as they wish; do they then depart? Are they seeking to hold the Church to ransom? Another Reformation (bit naughty but Germany does have form for doing stupid things twice)?

    Requests for better communication seem quite fair to me, the Church's communications are pretty shambolic at times and it's ability to provide a swift response to controversy can sometimes be painfully slow.

    However, the constant references to freedom seem to me a slight manipulation of the freedom which the Gospel gives us to a freedom to do whatever I want, and really seems to be a request for a freedom to be popular again.

    These reflections on the appropriate freedom of theology may be of interest to some

    One paragraph of particular note is extracted below, but I'd urge anyone to read the whole.

    "The objection can be made that it is the theologians' role to study current questions and that the magisterium, if it speaks at all, must follow the guidance of theologians. The historic experience of the Church, in my estimation, shows that theologians are often unable to resolve their own differences, still less to establish doctrine for the Church. They are, by training and temperament, suited to gather data, to ask questions, and to speculate, rather than to make doctrinal decisions for the Church. Some theologians regard doctrinal decisions as an unwelcome intrusion on their own freedom of inquiry. As scholars, theologians dwell in a somewhat rarified atmosphere, concocting new theories and interminably debating them. For all these reasons, the Church needs a living voice other than that of theologians to preserve continuity with the apostolic faith and to maintain communion throughout the Church. We may be grateful, then, that Christ has equipped the Church with a body of pastoral teachers, competent to decide what is to be preached and to set the limits of theological debate."

    God Bless,


  15. Thanks be to God for B16, and we need to pray for him daily. The world is on his shoulders I m sure he could live without these "experts"telling him how the Church should be run.Also400 (small minority) of Irish Priests who seem to love bubblegum English. I suppose we should not be surprised since Ireland, like Scotland is a liturgical desert, bubblegum litugies abound.

  16. Tina

    I'm glad you brought this up. I think it's what is commonly known as the "Revolt of the scholars". Phillip Trower is excellent on this - see the link below. Great read.

    As for you I haven't given up on you. You're a tough nut to crack so I'm going to pray to St. Eustatius tonight to bring you to your senses and give you a proper understanding of the Catholic faith. He's one of the 14 Holy Helpers and if anyone can help you it will be him. He's helped me in the past; I think he can help you now.


  17. Most of us see both, in our lives and outwith. It is a question of choosing, the light over the darkness, the ordered over the chaos!

  18. The extract from the theologians' statement gives me hope. I don't understand some comments from your detractors but I suppose they do keep coming back here for more stuff they don't like so they may change yet. 'To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often', says Newman but maybe not for us ordinary Catholics?

  19. @Anonymous
    The European Church is losing members because people are shocked, not just by the sex abuse scandal but by the culture of secrecy, denial and unaccountability that allowed it to continue for so long.

    I think that's the point of what these German theologians are saying.

    Best wishes,

  20. @Anonymous

    Toby, thank you for another thoughtful posting that is also more nuanced than your last one, and thank you too for confirming that you really are Toby! I never know when people are using a nom de plume.

    You're right - the theologians' statement doesn't address the points you raise. I appreciate your taking the time to raise the level of this discussion, without abandoning your theological principles which may (or may not) be different from mine.

    I shall take time to write a separate blog that engages with your questions more closely, but I have a busy week ahead so it may not be for a while.

    Best wishes,

  21. @Anonymous

    Thank you BJC. How lovely it is to sip my wine after a busy day and know that St.Eustatius is on my case. (I mean that sincerely).

    I in turn shall pray to St. Mary Magdalene for you, and then we can both know that we are well represented in heaven. Thank God for the diversity of saintly charisms.

    All best wishes,

  22. @Anonymous

    'Anonymous', you're right. The abyss is both horror and hope, order and chaos. We choose, but perhaps emotional and psychological states also play a part.

    Maybe one day I'll write a blog about Nietzsche and Therese of Lisieux. Their writings suggest a remarkable similarity at the level of their emotions and experiences - they both confront the most profound void, but Nietzsche interprets it in terms of nihilism, and she interprets it in terms of a persistent obstinacy of faith. And Catherine of Siena also writes about the abyss.

    By the way, noticing this similarity between Nietzsche and Therese I did some research into whether their paths ever crossed. I discovered that they stayed in the same hotel one night, but it's unlikely that they met.

    Best wishes,


  23. @Catherine

    Thank you Catherine. It gives me hope too, but I'm glad people who disagree feel free to keep posting to this blog. I think it's becoming an honest reflection of just how much diversity there is in the Roman Catholic Church!

    Best wishes,

  24. @Ernie Skillen

    Ernie, you ask why I'm still an RC. Why haven't I tried the C of E? I have actually, many years ago. But perhaps, with apologies to Groucho Marx, it's because I don't care to belong to any church that will have me as a member.

    All the best,

  25. Whilst I would agree that is the case some of the time. Dissention by people in Power ( Priests, Bishops and indeed Theologians) causes confusion amongs the faithful. In a world that changes on a almost daily basis, people do look for rocks.The Church, all be it in an imperfect way attempts to be that rock.
    Not to say that there should never be change, but constant attempted chipping away at the core, does no-one any good.

  26. To an extent, you have to have been in the dark to appreciate the light fully. In the same way you only know true order when you have had some experience of chaos.
    Few of us, I would venture are modern St Therese s or Nietzsche s. But all of us need light more than darkness and order more than chaos. Theologians would do well to remember that.

  27. @Anonymous

    You see, 'anonymous', I don't know of a single occasion when I've been 'chipping away at the core'. I've written in defence of all the core doctrines of the Catholic faith - the Trinity, the incarnation, the sacraments, the resurrection of the body, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption .... It's when we confuse the core with the periphery that the mystery of faith becomes a set of rules, and the rock becomes the obstacle on which faith itself is shipwrecked.

    Best wishes - and goodnight to all. This is my last posting for a couple of days, but I'll continue to publish comments as they come in.


  28. Core and periphery may have strong demarcation lines in the eyes of people, who like yourself are a professional in faith matters. But for your ordinary punter like myself,expecting truth, continuity and to learn something. The lines can be very blurred indeed. Hence we look to Rome for leadership, and whilst Rome is far from perfect in so many ways, at the end of the day its all we have here on earth.

  29. GS, on behalf of "Rowan" Catholic InterFaith friends7 February 2011 at 22:17

    I hope the "couple of days" and "busy week ahead" means you are involved this week in the COUNCIL FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY Faith and Order Advisory Group on the ANGLICAN-ROMAN CATHOLIC Commission ARCIC report
    Goodnight Tina and thanks for the response to interesting comments.

  30. Secrecy - denial - unaccountability...

    Yes I'll agree - but not about the clerical abuse - the rules were there since 1962 - excommunication to anyone who didn't report the abuse within 14 days and excommunication for those who did not act upon it to prevent its recurrence and punish the perpetrator - the rules were simply ignored, defied, through fear, reliance upon psychiatrists, cowardice and the old boys network - inner rings within dioceses - who contravened both Canon Law and the direct orders of the Pontiff via the Holy Office.

    But secrecy ?
    Yes - secrecy of motive - duplicity - arguing for one thing when you truly wish another - using any readily available phenomena as a means to an end. Egoism - Intellectual mendacity - Being a puppet-master - Pretence - Deception on the most fundamental levels - staing a belief and justifying a praxis while contemproaneously making every move and machination against it.

    Denial? Yes Denial of the Truth personified in Christ and the revealed Truth inherent in the Gospel and the magisterial teachings of HIS Church. Choosing that the reality is distasteful or unappealing and too much of achallenge and does not fulfil your worldly desires - so rebelling, refusing, denying...

    Oh yes - unaccountable to one's baptismal vows, to one's duties and responsibilities to one's neighbour and Holy Mother Church. To recklessly abrogate one's responsibility and declare to those around one 'I neither know you nor care about you' to stand before what one knows to be Good, true and beautiful - and deny its existence.

  31. Tina B, described on another blog as "Christina the Admonisher" (love it) wrote here yesterday-


    I think this St Eustatius-(died c.1194, Byzantine scholar, archbishop of Salonica (from 1175),RENOWNED AS MASTER OF ORATORS at Hagia Sophia, Constantinople) - must definitely be on the case.

  32. Tina

    "Core" and "peripheral" sound a lot like "pick" and "mix" to me. It's interesting that you don't include the Papacy in your list because I think even a non-Catholic would have done that. It's also interesting that you don't include sanctifying grace (the supernatural life) in your list because I would have put it at number 1. The whole of the gospel is about it and it is what at root distinguishes us from Protestantism.

    From what I've seen you write in your blogs you have a very different definition of these terms than from what the Church teaches:

    - Magisterium
    - Development of doctrine
    - Church (Roman Catholic? Catholic Communiun? What are these?)

    And I dare say there are more. Until you get to grips with your problems you are never going to be a happy bunny. If I were you get a good orthodox priest and talk to him about it. At times you seem all over the place to me. You don't give orthodoxy a chance.


  33. NEWSFLASH! Tonight 8 Feb 2011 at St. Lawrence Jewry, London.
    Renowned German Theologian JURGEN MOLTMANN on
    "Is the World Unfinished?" (Careful, he IS Protestant, therefore a heretic).
    Professor Moltmann is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, Germany.
    He is most noted as "a proponent of the 'theology of hope' and for his incorporation of insights from liberation theology and ecology into mainstream trinitarian theology."
    "On the Side of the Angels" you could go, heavily disguised? I dare't.
    I have put you under the care of St Ignatius of Antioch,(AD100).Probably the first to lay stress on the role of bishop as the guardian of orthodoxy. Do you know any more about him?
    Your use of language is terrific (though I don't recognise any Christian "rebelling, refusing, denying" going on). Are you a journalist?
    I have already posted comment on the Statement in my boring alter ego and am in danger of getting the compulsive blogging bug if I'm not very careful!
    I blame Tina.
    Bye. (-:

  34. "400 (small minority) of Irish Priests who seem to love bubblegum English. I suppose we should not be surprised since Ireland, like Scotland is a liturgical desert, bubblegum litugies abound."

    Well as one of the 400, I love good English, such as was presented to Rome in the 1998 translations which Rome suppressed. If you consider the current text bubblegum, what can the new translations (have you actually read them?) be compared to? Perhaps chewed bubblegum that has been retrieved from a ditch?

  35. For BJC
    Unlike Dr.Beattie, you seem not to believe in the Creed. This is a requirement for orthodoxy.
    You claim you prayed to St Eustatius. Then, Dr. Beattie is now under the protection and guidance of that noble saint. Yet you are not prepared to leave it to him. Unlike Dr. Beattie who has prayed to St Mary Magdalene for you, having fully explained her position in a personal response. Be assured she will have confidence that the matter is in safe hands, probably requiring no further human input from her. Thank you.

    "...I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the COMMUNION OF SAINTS, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting."
    Apostle's Creed.

  36. I have indeed read as much as I can. I very much like the changes when compared to what we have now. What else can they be compared
    You would have to be very foolish indeed Father to retrieve chewed bubblegum from a ditch. I have to say I really do not understand the thrust of your point.
    I just get the feeling that you are using this as a stick with which to beat the Hierachy. No one can blame you for that. But please, do not also punish the punter in the pew as well!

  37. I am from Nigeria. Europe is rotten as far as Catholicism is connected to personal morality! The call for the abolition of celibacy is a ploy to kill the moral pedestal of the church. I am against it. Also, we have our tradition to protect. We cannot ordain women because the Catholic tradition forbids it. If the world is going that way, as we see in the Anglican church and others, fine, but never the Catholic Church. The Church cannot follow the ways of the world. It is the world that should follow the church as she is the bulwark of ther truth!

  38. Percy the Penguin14 February 2011 at 00:30

    @Joe O'Leary

    Hmmm... Homosexual activity is far from wholesome, which is what these German individuals are calling for. Holy Church reminds us that the constant teaching of the Church in Scripture and tradition, that homosexual acts are gravely immoral and contrary to the natural law. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

  39. It would be interesting to know how many more of the 400 Priests are not actually resident in Ireland, like Dr O Leary who is in Japan......

  40. Who wrote this, Martin Luther? Sounds familiar. The "freedom" spoken of I think is really the freedom to do as I please, no more "Thou shalt nots". As was present in Martin Luther's day is present today, reformation is needed but not the church; the reformation needed is in men's hearts. The gospel provides the lessons for doing that and Holy Mother church continually presents God's word as it should, not as we want them to be. Dear priests please stop railing against church teaching and start living and preaching the word of God. It's not about the freedom to do what we want, it's about the freedom given to us by a loving God to do what we ought.


Comments and contributions are welcome so long as they respect the rules of courtesy and respect, which is not to inhibit robust disagreement.