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• a crisis of confidence;
• a crisis of authority;
• a crisis of leadership; and
• a crisis of dissemination.
Many people experience doubts about their belief in God for a variety of reasons, but when they find themselves in this situation they have little confidence in the ability of the Church and its representatives to help them. And that is understandable, because the authority of the Church itself is at an all-time low; the Church is suffering from a deep crisis of leadership and is virtually incapable of giving convincing witness to its official beliefs or explaining them in a way that can be understood.
Many recent events have combined to worsen the health of the Catholic Church. These events acted upon the Church like a case of chills, sending shivers down its body which – to continue with this analogy – served as warnings of repeated attacks of fever.
Attacks of Fever
The Catholic Church is suffering from an ‘attack of fever’, declared Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, president of the Belgian Conference of Bishops, in September 2010 in Brussels. The conservative expert on canon law, whom the Vatican had appointed as head of the Belgian church in direct opposition to the wishes of the majority, was referring only to a single centre of disease – but one that had become alarmingly visible in Catholic Belgium – the sex scandals. In fact, in 2010 the Catholic Church experienced several fever attacks, which usually alternated with fever-free intervals, especially during the festive season.
The First Fever Attack: Police Investigation of Bishops
In Belgium, an independent investigative committee compiled a document of around 200 pages containing reports of at least 475 cases of sexual abuse of children by clergymen and 19 suicide attempts by victims, 13 of which ended tragically. Ever since the Bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had to step down in April 2010 after sexually abusing his own nephew, the number of reports made to the police had increased. As the Belgian judiciary suspected an urgent risk of collusion, they ordered that three police raids be carried out on the same day. The first raid occurred during a meeting of the Belgian Conference of Bishops in Brussels: during the raid, all Belgian bishops, together with the Apostolic Nuncio, were detained for several hours and numerous documents were seized by the police; documents were also seized from the private residence of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who had been the Primate of Belgium until the end of 2009; and in Leuven, a centre headed by the child psychiatrist Peter Adriaenssen that had been dealing with cases of sexual abuse was also searched. Peter Adriaenssen had spoken of an ‘affaire Dutroux [after the Belgian serial child-abuser Marc Dutroux] within the Belgian Catholic Church’.
These were all unprecedented events in a Catholic country, and they turned up the heat on other bishoprics and, above all, on the Vatican. Subsequently, however, at the urging of the Catholic Church, the Brussels Court of Appeal declared the police operations illegal because the police had acted out of all proportion. However, there can be no question that the investigations exposed rotten areas in the Church: the sexual abuse itself, and the cover-ups initiated by the bishops.
At least Cardinal Danneels immediately apologized in several interviews (as reported by the Associated Press on 30 August 2010 and Reuters News Agency on 8 September 2010) for his ‘errors of judgement’ in not urging the incriminated bishop to step down immediately and in attempting to dissuade the victim, who was the bishop’s own nephew, from immediately making public his charges against his uncle after having kept silent about them for so many years. At the same time, however, Bishop Guy Harpigny, who was given the responsibility of reviewing and dealing with cases of abuse, declared that Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the head of the Bishops’ Conference, had refrained from issuing a clear statement of apology because the Church feared potential financial claims by victims for compensation.
In any case, it was clear that, even in Catholic countries, the days when the Catholic Church could demand separate jurisdiction and enforce its own laws contrary to those of the state had come to an end.
The Second Fever Attack: The Vatican Called to Account
The Supreme Court in the USA rejected an appeal by which the Vatican attempted to challenge the verdict of a court in the state of Oregon. The Oregon court had declared that the Vatican itself could be put on trial for the sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests and that, on conviction, it could be forced to pay punitive damages. The US Supreme Court also rejected the Vatican’s argument invoking its legal immunity as a sovereign state. Attorney Jeff Anderson (St Paul, Minnesota), who has been extremely successful in bringing class action suits against individual clerical perpetrators of sexual abuse and whose own daughter had herself been abused by an ex-priest, declared that this verdict meant that, after eight years of obstruction since 2002, the path was finally clear for a class action suit in which the Vatican could be held criminally accountable for its role in concealing cases of abuse. It is expected that such a suit will soon be filed against Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Cardinal Secretary of State and current Dean of the College of Cardinals, and against the current Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. Moreover, a suit could also be filed directly against Ratzinger himself, for he was the man who, according to a detailed report by the New York Times, while he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, abstained from issuing any sanctions against the priest Lawrence Murphy. Lawrence Murphy abused some 200 deaf boys in Milwaukee between 1950 and 1975. Even if the pope as head of state enjoys immunity from prosecution, these are disastrous prospects.
The Third Fever Attack: Exposure of Financial Scandals in the Vatican
In the recent past, the Vatican has come in for much criticism because certain companies with financial ties to the Vatican have been involved in the armaments industry or in the manufacture and distribution of birth control pills. More serious were the revelations of the shady operations of the Vatican Bank which took place under the presidency of the American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus (1971–1989), a trusted friend of Pope John Paul II, and which continued behind the back of Marcinkus’s successors Angelo Caloia and Ettore Gotti Tedeschi despite their efforts to stop them. The details of these machinations were exposed in the book Vaticano S.p.A. by the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, published in 2009, and on pages 279–280 of this book I will give a fuller account of them. In 2010, the Vatican was again shaken to the core when the news broke that the Italian authorities had confiscated 23 million euros lodged in an account held by the Vatican Bank at the Italian bank Credito Artigiano, and that a suit had been filed against the new president of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, known to have close ties to Opus Dei, and against the bank’s director Paolo Cipriani. In view of the many earlier scandals, all of these separate events probably represent only the tip of the iceberg. Is the Vatican’s ‘national’ independence now under threat, not merely from legal attacks but also financially? And is not the pope himself as the bank’s sole owner legally liable? At least, the new EU guidelines on money laundering now also apply to the Vatican. I will be considering this point in more detail in Chapter 6.
The Fourth Fever Attack: Conflicts within the Top Echelons of Church Leadership
The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a former doctoral student of Ratzinger and his protégé since the latter was a cardinal, asserted that the then Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano had been responsible for ensuring that proceedings against the child-abusing Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, Schönborn’s predecessor in Vienna, had been blocked for a long time, even though the Austrian Conference of Bishops had declared that it was ‘morally certain’ of Groër’s guilt. Although the paedophile cardinal resigned in 1995, he was still permitted to attend Cardinal Schönborn’s installation ceremony in Rome in full regalia. No condemnation of Hermann Groër occurred before his death in March 2003. But it was clear that Schönborn’s public criticism of Cardinal Sodano and his moderate comments on priestly celibacy and homosexuality had provoked more ire in the Vatican than the misdeeds of Groër. At all events, Cardinal Schönborn was ordered to Rome, and, in Austria, his trip was generally interpreted as an act of self-abasement. After a private talk between the four of them (Cardinal Secretary of State Bertone had also been invited), a press statement was issued expressing no criticism of Sodano whatsoever but culminating instead in the assertion that criticizing the behaviour of cardinals was solely within the purview of the pope. Why? And since when? Clearly, ‘reasons of state’, or better ‘reasons of the Church hierarchy’, were behind this unprecedented humiliation of the Archbishop of Vienna. Whether, as the press release suggested, Benedict’s ‘great affection’ for Austria and his invocation of the ‘heavenly protection of the Virgin Mary, so highly venerated in Mariazell’ would pave ‘the way for a renewal of the Church community’ is more than questionable. Nevertheless, the mere fact that Cardinal Schönborn had dared to voice such open criticism of one of the most powerful men within the Roman Curia was viewed positively in Austria.
The Fifth Fever Attack: The Flurry of Excitement about Condoms
A long interview given by Benedict XVI to his favourite German reporter, Peter Seewald, and published as a book under the title Light of the World, caused a considerable stir. In the interview, the pope admitted, for the first time, that in the battle against AIDS the use of condoms might be permissible under certain circumstances. Of course, a pope can make his opinion known in interviews, but whether such a delicate and intimate issue should be treated in this informal manner is debatable. Initially it was unclear how authoritative such an interview was. Its prior publication in Osservatore Romano (even before the press release embargo date had expired!) was clearly part of a carefully directed, widespread publicity campaign, and the result was international media frenzy. A heated discussion immediately erupted as to whether this pronouncement by the pope represented a policy change or not. In reality, it was both. After Pope Benedict, during his trip to Africa, had branded the use of condoms as unconditionally immoral, he appeared, to all intents and purposes, to have changed his mind, at least with regard to male homosexuals. Nevertheless, that effectively amounted to a belated admission that it was no longer possible to uphold the previously rigid doctrine on artificial techniques of birth control. The pope knew that even some otherwise conservative Catholics, including bishops and theologians, and, even more importantly, certain Church organizations involved in providing aid to the developing world, rejected the Church’s rigid prohibition of condoms, and that the irrational Vatican policy was making the Church look ridiculous all over the world. Thus, the pope’s statement was mainly a tactical manoeuvre and did not represent a fundamental change. Limiting the ethical concession to male prostitutes constituted an affront to all married couples and particularly to women, who are the principal victims of the spread of AIDS in Africa.
A truly fundamental reversal of the Church’s previously held position would have occurred if Benedict had not limited his casuistic response to male prostitutes but instead had given a fundamental answer to the question being asked by millions of heterosexual married couples, namely whether the Roman Magisterium no longer considers every form of ‘artificial’ birth control intrinsically evil. There is nothing on this topic in the Bible. In reality, the idea derives from a false understanding of natural law, assuming that every act of sexual intercourse must always be directed towards propagating the species. Clearly, the then pope intended to continue to adhere to the position set forth in Paul VI’s controversial encyclical Humanae vitae. And so he got caught in the infallibility trap, a trap that needs to be discussed openly and honestly. The provisional result of this obfuscation was formulated by the International Herald Tribune in an article under the headline ‘Confusion, not clarity from Pope’ (23 November 2010). Paradoxically, this confusion was confirmed four weeks later by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself in a statement that attempted to pour oil on the troubled waters stirred up by its former prefect by publishing, just before Christmas, a memorandum in six languages entitled ‘On the Trivialization of Sexuality’. According to the memorandum, Benedict’s comment on the permissibility of using condoms was in no way intended to be understood as implying the principle (otherwise well-established in ethics) that a lesser evil should be balanced against a greater one. What a pity.
Perhaps an end to reports of such fever attacks might indicate a drop in the severity of the illness affecting the Church; unfortunately, however, it looks as though there will be no end to such reports. How then should we react?
Seven Reactions to the Illness of the Church
Every Christian, man or woman, and, all the more, every theologian, needs to face this question. Millions of Catholics do not agree with or approve of the course charted by the Church. In all, I identify seven different reactions to the current situation, but I consider the first four of them to be out of the question:
1. One can leave the Church, as tens of thousands of people have done because of the scandalous revelations. As I mentioned previously, the figures for Germany were around 250,000, and in Austria (based on a projection by Cardinal Schönborn) the numbers were approximately 80,000.
2. One can create a schism within the Church by seceding together with a group of other people, as the reactionary former archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (excommunicated in 1988) did with his traditionalist Fraternity of St Pius X. However, it should be noted that not a single reform-minded group has done this to date.
3. One can retreat into a state of inner emigration and remain silent. Many previously reform-minded persons have done this; giving up in frustration, they remain in the Church, but cease to be involved: ‘It is all to no avail, the system simply cannot be reformed!’ And so, everywhere, fewer and fewer high-profile people are prepared to offer resistance.
4. One can outwardly conform but privately hold dissenting opinions. This is the path pursued by people who are willing outwardly, at least, to toe the prevailing line whatever direction it takes. In particular, it is the course taken by conformist politicians, who place great store on maintaining good relationships with the institutional Church and enjoy sitting in the first row at church conventions and papal appearances, and who flatter the church hierarchy outwardly but voice their objections to official doctrines or ethics only in private or not at all.
But three other reactions are also observable, all of which I consider to be important and helpful:
5. One can get involved in the local church community and work together with the local pastor and others, disregarding the popes and bishops. Alternatively, as increasing numbers of men and women who want to remain involved are doing, one can take over, officially or unofficially, some of the tasks of the absent priests.
6. One can protest publicly, and vigorously demand reforms on the part of the ecclesiastical leadership. Unfortunately, the number of involved people who are willing to criticize the Church openly in this way has been dropping continually in the face of the massive resistance offered by the Roman Catholic establishment. Even the organized reform movements now suffer from a shortage of active supporters and especially from the lack of young people willing to get involved.
7. One can study the situation academically and publish the findings, hoping that these publications will inspire and guide individual church members and communities. That is what those theologians are doing who have not simply given up in despair or retreated to their comfortable academic ivory towers, but instead continue to take seriously their responsibilities as teachers (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28 ff.). This is where I see my own special duty as a teacher of theology.
No less important, however, is the question: how have the bishops reacted to the situation?
Bishops Prepared to Enter into a Dialogue
In December 2010, a specially commissioned report on the archbishopric of Munich and Freising – a former workplace of the seminarian, priest, professor and bishop, Joseph Ratzinger – concluded that between 1945 and 2009 at least 159 priests had committed acts of sexual or physical abuse in the archbishopric. The real number was probably ‘considerably higher’, according to Marion Westpfahl, the lawyer responsible for the report. However, only 26 priests were convicted of sexual offences. In the past, cases were systematically hushed up: ‘We are dealing with a widespread practice of destroying documents.’
Nevertheless, the fact that the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, allowed the incriminating report to be published and publicly admitted that these were the ‘worst months’ of his life, must be acknowledged with respect. It shows that some theologically conservative bishops are beginning to understand how serious the situation within the church is. The Archbishop of Munich and the Bavarian bishops have drafted a joint prayer for forgiveness and pledged to do more in terms of prevention and to work more closely with the public prosecution authorities. At the end of 2010, Archbishop Marx once again spoke out in favour ‘of a policy of openness, of looking more closely, and of transparency’. He considered the crisis and its aftermath to be far from over.
But Christian Weisner, the speaker of the reform movement We are Church, argues that to overcome the deep crisis of credibility it will be necessary to tackle the underlying problems, namely, the abuses of power, the inhibitions in dealing with sexuality, the lack of equality between men and women, celibacy … The bishops should not cherish the hope that the cases of abuse will be quickly forgotten: ‘The memory of these abuse cases is not going to go away.’ It is not enough to get these cases of abuse under control within the organization. Surely, all of the bishops need to recognize how serious the situation is.
To paraphrase the beginning of the famous poem of Heinrich Heine: ‘Thinking of Germany’s Church at night/puts all thoughts of sleep to flight.’ In 2010, despite two heavily promoted and expensive campaigns launched that year – the Year of Vocations and the Year of Priests – only 150 candidates responded from all over Germany. This is the lowest number ever reported. And how many of them will change their minds before they are ordained? Moreover, how many priests will die in the meantime? In view of the upside-down population pyramid of the Catholic clergy, it looks as though the celibate priesthood may die out in the foreseeable future.
But this is just another symptom of the dramatic loss of confidence the Catholic Church is facing. According to a study by the Allensbach Institute published in July 2010:
… the percentage of the general population that believes the Church to be capable of offering orientation on questions of morality has dropped from 35 per cent in 2005 to 23 per cent; between March and June 2010 alone it decreased from 29 per cent to 23 per cent. At the same time, the belief that the Church offers answers in the search for meaning has also declined. In 2005, around 50 per cent of the population still believed that; by March 2010 the figure was only 45 per cent, in June it was down to 38 per cent. (Frankfurter Allgemeine, 23 June 2010)
The latter figure is especially alarming because it concerns the Church’s core mission, and figures such as these should galvanize the church leadership into taking immediate action.
However, at the Second Ecumenical Church Congress in Munich (May 2010) the bishops never even mentioned any of the numerous reform movements. Since then, numerous articles, comments, letters to newspapers and personal discussions have shown them the extent to which unrest, resentment, frustration and anger have spread among the church laity and clergy alike. And so there have been indications of a slow change of opinion within the German Bishops’ Conference, and, if I am not mistaken, within other bishops’ conferences as well. On the eve of the autumn plenary meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference in Fulda in October 2010, the Bishop of Fulda, Heinz Josef Algermissen, who was hosting the conference, spoke of a ‘bottleneck situation’. He indicated that many questions were ripe for discussion, from sexual morality to celibacy. Such topics can no longer be kept under wraps. In truth, apart from the virtually incomprehensible official catechism, it is the increasing backlog of reforms, halted for many decades and culminating in the cover-up of widespread sexual abuse, which constitute the main reason for the current wave of people leaving the Church.
Bishops Refusing to Enter into a Dialogue
Still, the massive opposition to dialogue on the part of the ultra-Roman wing of the worldwide episcopate should not be underestimated. Again I call attention to the situation in Germany as typical of that elsewhere.
In Cologne, the largest archbishopric, currently headed by the conservative Cardinal Joachim Meisner, only nine priests were ordained in 2009, and only four in 2010. The 221 parishes will soon be downsized to 180. The situation is the same in the Essen diocese under Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, another member of the conservative wing; there, only two new priests were ordained in 2009 and only one in 2010. He has amalgamated some 272 parishes (with roughly 350 church buildings still in ecclesiastic use) into 43 mega-parishes (information provided in 2010 by the art historian Dr Christel Darmstadt from the grassroots campaign ‘Save Bochum’s Churches’). Clearly, as role models for future priests, such conservative prelates alienate more than they attract.
The diocese of Limburg offers an especially alarming example of the damage being done by the narrow-minded, conservative prelates appointed under John Paul II and especially under Benedict XVI. There, in 2007, the widely admired, open-minded Bishop Franz Kamphaus was replaced by Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, a protégé of Cardinal Meisner. Fully committed to the Roman line, he high-handedly set about streamlining his diocese. (See the report by N. Sommer in Publik-Forum on 3 December 2010 and also the report in Spiegel online on 15 November 2010.) He also ignored a public letter from ten of his priests accusing him of excessive spending, of dealing arrogantly with his clergy and of fostering a general climate of fear in the diocese (reported in Frankfurter Allgemeine, 17 September 2012).
Specifically, he has been taken to task for treating himself to an exorbitantly expensive and opulent episcopal palace to replace the modest housing of his predecessor. On his instructions, the new vicar general has warned the clergy to observe discretion and maintain secrecy, thus leaving them afraid to speak out and tell the truth about the prevailing conditions in the Church; the editors of church newspapers are being pressured to avoid controversial topics; every effort is being made to re-clericalize diocesan life. The candidates for the priesthood are once again inculcated with clerical arrogance, and, contrary to an explicit decision by the diocesan Council of Priests, clerics who toe the line are once again being rewarded with Roman titles like ‘Prelate’ or ‘Monsignor’. Meanwhile, lay people are being marginalized and are no longer permitted to act in the name of the Church, e.g. lay theologians serving in pastoral and liturgical roles are no longer called ‘pastoral ministers’. Under no circumstances are remarried divorcees permitted to receive Holy Communion or homosexual couples to receive a blessing. The overall prevailing policy is to put an end to the parishes as they have existed for centuries and replace them with centres of worship staffed by the few remaining priests. This means that the diminishing numbers of practising Catholics must make ever-longer journeys to receive the sacraments at these centres.
Surely, one can understand the cry for help from the priests affected by such policies. In their open letter to their bishop they wrote:
Are we old-fashioned models that are being phased out? We are pastors who wish to be close to and truly share in the lives of the people in their parish; priests who have come to love their parishes and who do not want to change and accumulate parishes as you would change your shirt; who are committed to a loving community of discussion and prayer …; who are involved in parish councils; who have taken on responsibility and are increasingly finding themselves relegated to the margins as though they were just pieces of furniture …; artists and intellectuals who perceive very clearly that their world is not the world of finery and tassels once again used by the Church for embellishment and adornment nor the world of glossy, puffed-up kitsch expressed in empty phrases …
The letter could equally have been addressed to Bishop Georg Ludwig Müller of Regensburg, a former professor of dogmatic theology and friend of Ratzinger, who enjoys an even worse reputation than his colleague in Limburg, thanks to his authoritarian, anti-ecumenical church policies and hostility to the laity. But, already in February 2010, Müller was declaring that the Church had everything under control. He has repeatedly taken action against critical journalists, and, in August 2010, he denounced the public discussion of clerical sex abuse as ‘stage-managed public criticism’. After all, he claimed, everything possible had already been done for the victims of abuse. In January 2013, Müller, now cardinal archbishop in Rome and Ratzinger’s successor as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had the audacity to suggest that the ongoing criticism of the ‘Catholic Church’ – by which he means the Catholic hierarchy – harks back to the former campaigns of the totalitarian ideologies against Christianity and evokes ‘an artificially generated outrage these days that already reminds one of a pogrom atmosphere’ (interview with Archbishop Müller: ‘Deliberate discrediting of the Catholic Church’, Die Welt, 1 February 2013). Not surprisingly, Bishop Müller showed little or no concern for the victims of sexual abuse in Catholic institutions when their representatives rejected the bishop’s offer of monetary compensation. Instead of a four-digit lump sum paid out quickly, the bishops’ ‘round table’ proposed a long, drawn-out, petty examination of every individual case.
On the other hand, the conservative wing of the German episcopate lost one of its most outspoken spokesmen in April 2010, when Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg was forced to resign under a cloud after a string of press reports exposed not only homosexual and alcohol abuse among his notoriously conservative seminarians but also a long list of personal failings, including child-beating, alcohol abuse, financial malfeasance, abuse of authority, etc., going back as far as his earlier years as parish priest and later as bishop in Eichstätt and Augsburg. When attempts to deny the charges and squash the reporting failed, the German bishops and even Pope Benedict XVI dropped him like a hot potato. His subsequent struggle for rehabilitation revealed a complete loss of any sense of reality. (For a summary of this sordid affair see the article by Anna Arco in The Catholic Herald, Friday 2 July 2010.) Statistics indicate the gravity of the crisis in his diocese: whereas in 2009 some 7,000 people left the Church in his diocese, as a consequence of the sordid affair surrounding his retirement the figure rose to 12,000.
In the wake of these recent scandals, resistance to any form of dialogue or reform by the conservative bishops in Germany seems to be weakening. Still, too many bishops hope to follow Rome’s example and sit out the deep-seated church crisis as though it were a mere media smear campaign; with the blessing of the pope, they continue to rule as before. By acting in this manner, however, they are only making their Church more and more sick.
Unfortunately, in other countries, for example in the United States, the situation created by the papal policy of replacing independent-minded liberal bishops by line-toeing conservatives has produced similar disastrous results. In the words of the distinguished Jesuit Thomas J. Reese (see his report in the Washington Post, 16 November 2010), the Conference of Catholic Bishops in America has increasingly ‘tilted to the right’. The former vice-president and current president of the American Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, now plays a particularly nefarious role. Already as a leading member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), he had successfully edged out opposition to the new slavishly word-for-word translation of the Latin Mass into English. Cardinal George has also led the attack on President Obama’s healthcare reform, claiming it would fund abortions, even though the Catholic Health Association disputes this claim.
In previous years, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had had a number of outstanding presidents such as Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of Chicago, who worked in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. But, under the bishops appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the direction taken by the Bishops’ Conference has shifted radically to the right. Contrary to previous custom, these bishops successfully prevented the moderate vice-president of the conference from being elected the next president. Instead of reflecting the full range of Catholic social teaching, the American bishops now focus their attention almost exclusively on two moral questions: abortion and gay marriage. Ignoring the social issues emphasized by the Democratic Party, they have no scruples about supporting the Republican obstruction of all policies of the Obama administration. Like so many episcopal conferences, the American episcopate overlooks the need for fundamental changes in the crisis-ridden American Church, changes that would halt the general decline and end the self-chosen retreat into a ghetto situation.
In short, there is little or no hope that the illness affecting the Church will manage to heal itself without a radical turnaround on the part of the episcopate.
Diagnosis and Therapy
Given that the illness of the Church is hard to ignore, one might expect that within the worldwide Catholic episcopate, which together with the pope is responsible for the direction and ‘cure’ (possibly also the curative surgery) of the Church, there would be a widespread public debate about the principles which must guide such a radical cure, i.e. a debate which would go beyond mere superficial comments about mandatory celibacy and the like.
But we have not yet reached that point. In 2010, I had the same disappointing experience that Karl Rahner had had decades before, when he waited in vain for a response to his (confidential) 1970 letter to the German bishops. In 2010, I wrote an open letter to the bishops of the world. Copies were duly sent to each bishop, and the letter was widely publicized in the media worldwide and was endorsed by many readers. Not a single one of the approximately 5,000 bishops, some of whom I know personally, dared to answer, either in public or in private. Not only was there no positive reaction, but also no negative reaction, only complete and utter silence. Later on, I will attempt to explain the reasons for this silence.
Admittedly, people will ask me: what can individual bishops or theologians do, considering how gravely ill this Church is? I can only answer for myself: I am not a prophet or a miracle healer and I never wished to become a political agitator. So what can I do – I, who have always viewed myself as a professor of theology, philosophy and religious studies? I can, perhaps, offer services similar to those of a doctor or physician. Better yet – as suggested in the introduction to this book – those of a therapist who can help a critically ill patient, in this case the Church, not by offering superficial explanations and excuses but by providing a fundamental diagnosis that goes to the roots of the illness and by suggesting an effective therapy which will contribute a little to the patient’s recovery.
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