It was most gratifying that the chairman of the Protestant Churches in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, accompanied by the president of the German Catholic bishops' conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, officially visited Pope Francis in Rome together on the occasion of the Reformation Jubilee. The Pope spoke of "an already reconciled diversity." He said he greatly appreciated the spiritual and theological gifts that the Reformation had given us and that he wanted to do everything he could "to overcome the obstacles that still remained."
Already in September 2016, Bishop Bedford-Strohm and Cardinal Marx presented their "Common Word" entitled "Healing Memories — Bearing Witness to Christ." After five centuries of condemning and inflicting wounds upon each other, both the two leading Churches in Germany declared that they intended to celebrate the Reformation anniversary together as a "Feast for Jesus Christ."
A further pivotal point in the commemoration process will be the main Service of Repentance and Reconciliation that the Council of the Protestant Churches and the Catholic bishops' conference will celebrate together at Hildesheim on March 11, 2017.
We Are Church International is deeply disturbed by the ongoing difficulties faced by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which have led to the resignation of Marie Collins, an outspoken survivor of clerical sexual abuse.
Statements made by Ms. Collins following her resignation indicate that the Commission lacked the resources, respect, and responsiveness needed for their work to be effective. This is a tragic affront to the victims, survivors, families, and parishes impacted by decades of clerical abuse and hierarchical cover up. It indicates that, despite numerous claims of concern and repentance, leaders of the Catholic Church still do not believe that addressing the damage done to so many for so long needs to be a top priority for our Church.
We Are Church International extends its profound respect and gratitude to Marie Collins, and to many others who have fought for justice for clerical abuse survivors, victims, and their families, and for implementation of Church policies and practices that protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.
We Are Church International further calls on Pope Francis to personally address the issues that have undermined the Commission’s work. The Commission needs an adequate budget and staff to support their work. The Tribunal to hold bishops accountable for protecting abusers and putting additional children at risk must be established, and given the authority to conduct authentic investigations and enforce substantive consequences for those found to have engaged in cover ups of abuse. Most importantly, the Commission needs unfettered access to documents and individuals that have information about past abuse and current practices. The opaque culture of the Vatican and Catholic chanceries around the world must be transformed by a commitment to accountability for any meaningful work to be accomplished.
The abuse of children and vulnerable adults by clerics and the cover up of abuse by Catholic hierarchs is one of the most shameful events in our Church’s history. It has alienated thousands of Catholics around the world and seriously undermined the Church’s moral authority. We Are Church International calls for authentic repentance and a radical transformation of action and belief on the part of our entire Church.
We Are Church International, founded in Rome in 1996, is a global coalition of national church reform groups. It is committed to the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church based on the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the theological spirit developed from it.
From the statement of Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta at the Royal Commission into Institutional response to child abuse in Australia - February 2017
I do believe that the marginalisation of women and the laity is part of this culture of clericalism that contributes not insignificantly to the sexual abuse crisis, and I think if we are serious about reform, this is one of the areas that we need to look at.
Accountability in that perfect Church model only works upwards. You’re accountable to the person above you. As long as the bishop has the backing of the Pope, he’s safe. As long as the priest has the backing of his bishop, he’s safe. There’s no accountability that reaches outwards or downwards, and that’s the critical problem, as far as I see. That discipleship of equals calls into question that upward accountability that is in operation as a result of that ecclesiastical model of a perfect society where everyone knows their place and the pecking order is strictly dictated by ordination.
The laity have no meaningful or direct participation in the appointment, supervision and even removal of the parish priest. I think that needs to change. Or even at the episcopal level, the appointment, supervision and removal of a bishop is virtually excluded from the faithful. The Morris affair is a typical example of that. There’s no accountability to the faithful there. So that needs to be examined if we are serious about creating a new culture of accountability in the Church today.
From the statement of Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta at the Royal Commission into Institutional response to child abuse in Australia.
I see the clericalism as a by-product of a certain model of Church informed or underpinned or sustained by a certain theology. I mean, it’s no secret that we have been operating, at least under the two previous pontificates, from what I’d describe as a perfect society model where there is a neat, almost divinely inspired, pecking order, and that pecking order is heavily tilted towards the ordained. So you have the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, religious, consecrated men and women, and the laity right at the bottom of the pyramid.
I think we need to dismantle that model of Church. If I could use the biblical image of wineskins, it’s old wineskins that are no longer relevant, no longer able to contain the new wine, if you like. I think we really need to examine seriously that kind of model of Church where it promotes the superiority of the ordained and it facilitates that power imbalance between the ordained and the non-ordained, which in turn facilitates that attitude of clericalism, if you like.
A People not a Pyramid
Christianity: Leadership in a Society of Equals
One of the most significant shifts in theological thinking resulting from the Second Vatican Council was the movement away from the stratified, hierarchical model of Church to a reclaimed ecclesiology of the People of God. It had a decisive influence in the way that Catholic women and men conceived of the way they related to one another first and foremost as sisters and brothers in a community of equals and not as members of a highly structured organisation in which everyone ‘knows their place’. The Council also invited the Catholics to embrace their calling to evangelise the modern world from within and to conduct themselves as honest citizens of the human community in a spirit of decency, confidence and hopefulness. (Gaudium et Spes, # 1)