IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NEED OF REFORM?

Geoffrey Robinson, 70, the retired auxiliary for Sydney, a former lecturer in canon law is one of the most intelligent and capable of the Australian bishops. Bishop Robinson has just published a devastating critique of the Catholic Church in Australia. It is called Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: reclaiming the spirit of Jesus. A major Australian newspaper, The Age, has, with some reason, compared Bishop Robinson to Martin Luther.

For openers, the bishop charges that Pope John Paul 11 and the Roman curia failed to give leadership in the priest sex abuse crisis. Their whole strategy was not to support the victims but to protect the institutional church and its male celibate power structure. Bishop Robinson has had much hands on experience dealing with priest sex offenders and he is convinced that there is a strong case to be made that mandatory celibacy triggered the abuse crisis, though it is not the only cause.

But Bishop Robinson believes the deepest source of the sex abuse crisis are embedded in the power structures of the Church. He calls for a major corporate restructure, including a constitutional papacy: “Papal power has gone too far and there are quite inadequate limits on its exercises.” For all practical purposes, the College of Bishops. against the spirit of Vatican 11, has been marginalized. The Bishops, far from being a co-holder of supreme power, are seldom consulted.

Bishop Robinson says that “many bishops are uneasy” about the Church’s teachings on marriage and divorce. Furthermore, he says the arguments put forward in 1870 in support of the doctrine of papal infallibility were “flimsy”. There is no evidence of an explicit order by Jesus that there must be successors to Peter and the 12 apostles.

Bishop Robinson’s new book reflects much that is going on in the Australian church and indeed I might say in Canada and the United States too. Calls for the ordination of married men and women priests are becoming more and more urgent in Australia, and they are coming from ordinary Catholics who want priests, more articulate sermons and less of the second-rate shambles they fear is probably in store for them.
Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church has unleashed a powerful debate in Australia and beyond about the future of the Church. It also begs the question why so few bishops are prepared to put their heads above the Roman parapet and share their own concerns about the Church. The short answer is that their career path would take a dive.

The prestigious and influential Catholic journal, The Tablet (London) concludes their leader on Bishop Robinson’s book this way: “Bishop Robinson will have made a major contribution to the Church if his book reopens the debate about the kind of institution it needs to be in the twenty-first century – and not a moment too soon.” (Italics mine).

Do you think the Catholic Church is in need of reform?

Update –

A new poll shows that 53 per cent of Canadians want the country to drop the monarchy.

22 Comments »

  1. 1
    Chimera Says:

    “…there is a strong case to be made that mandatory celibacy triggered the abuse crisis…”

    I wonder if this thought is actually 180 degrees from what’s really happening?

    What if the mandatory celibacy and chastity are functioning as magnets for the types of men who see their own sexual urges as being abnormal or sinful; and they hope that somehow the discipline of the Church will prevent them from acting upon their urges? Then, of course, they get thrown into the very situations they should be avoiding.

    That would be like giving an alcoholic a job as wine taster.

  2. 2
    Barbara Says:

    I have long suspected that to be the case, Chimera.

  3. 3
    jeremy Says:

    I agree. If you read “The Power and the Glory, Inside the Dark Heart of John Paul II Papacy” you will see just how blind and out of touch the church was to many issues. Reading the text made my stomach churn. I also believe that to act morally wrong and to sexually abuse children and people was a choice. But I know from addiction because I am also in recovery.

    It is true that the Church needs to be restructured. That the hierarchy needs to be toppled and reseated. The Church had done a major cleaning of seminaries in the last five years, with their Seminary Review Council set forth by Benedict after his installation.

    Having survived seminary myself, it is hard to “cleanse” the church of sexual impropriety. But men have a choice, yet the church needs to change in MANY areas. Abortion, Abstinence teaching, homosexuality, marriage, we could go on and on.

    I think that moderate and skeptical bishops and priests see the writing on the wall. In 10 to 15 years the church will be faced with the dilemma of low numbers of officiating clergy and something will have to be done.

    Let priests marry, ordain women, help the sexually challenged and stop hiding behind the frock and start dealing with what is true. John Paul II has been criticized greatly by his ineptitude and one sided head. (What works for one region works for all) which was the case in many situations. I know this, I study Papal history.

    The church, as a whole, is in dire straits even if enrollment numbers are up parish wide, servant population is falling, and people may be going to church but they are surely not “following the law to the letter.” However we want to paint the picture.

    I don’t believe God is happy, and I surely am not pleased with Benedict in the drivers seat. He won’t do anything but uphold the laws set by JP, because you know, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote most of JP’s verbage and laws. So he isn’t going to change too much.

    But we know how he thinks about certain subjects. It is written in Power and Glory that celibacy was a trigger for the MASSIVE sexual abuse problem. I think that is a cop out. Those men had a choice, and they acted as they did. I never witnessed sexual abuse until I was in Seminary. Then I got out.

    We all have a choice, to act or not to act. We can’t just lump all actions and blame it on celibacy, because gay men under the cloth are acting gay men. The church needs to look at the root problems and find solutions. The church is also in financial straits too because of all the pay outs. As well, in Power and Glory one reads about the Mafia in Italy and who really controls the Vatican purse strings and that John Paul I was murdered to keep the Vatican bank secrets from going public. It was a literal bloodbath on the streets of Rome as the demise of John Paul took place.

    The church is hiding behind a huge smoke screen of their own making because of their failure to root out impropriety and stop the pilfering of finances and continuing sexual abuse claims.

    The Power and the Glory, was written by David Yallop and it is a no holds barred scathing report of the Vatican from the Papacy of Albino Luciani through John Paul II.

    Jeremy

  4. 4

    Chimera,

    Of course mandatory celibacy is only a minor element in Bishop Robinson’s larger vision for the church of the 21st century. But don’t you and Barbara confirm the Bishop’s point. In the cases you cite, you illustrate a kind of diseased celibacy, a state bound to cause more problems which it did. Although I should point out that pedophiles are for the most part heterosexuals.

  5. 5

    Jeremy:

    Thanks for bringing to our attention The Power and the Glory by David Yallop. I will keep an eye out for it.

  6. 6
    jeremy Says:

    You can get it at Indigo in Montreal.

    J.

  7. 7
    SUZANNE Says:

    They’ve tried everything mentioned in the list in other churches.

    How’s it working? Do Anglicans have more vocations? Do Evangelicals have no child-molestation issues?

    And a constitutional papacy? Bishop Robinson, conciliarism died in the 16th century or so. Get with the times.

    Faithful, church-going Catholics belong to the church because they want the papacy, they want the hierarchy, celibate priests, the sacraments, etc.

    If people don’t want that, and if they’re so certain the Catholic Church is not fallible, why don’t they just change churches?

    Read the history of the church. Any movement that tried to undermine the fundamental core doctrines of the church has failed. You can’t fight City Hall, and you can’t reverse Catholic doctrine.

  8. 8

    Suzanne:

    Does it really advance the discussion very much to say that Catholics who want responsible reform should just bail out and join another church? Many “faithful, church-going Catholics …” want a constitutional papacy, they want a hierarchy that has more input into church governance (as Vatican11 wanted) and they want the regulations on a male celibate priesthodd modified so that more faithful Catholics have easy and regular access to the Eucharist.

    You can’t fight City Hall. Really? Luther did and he provoked the counter-reformation and the Council of Trent. Maybe we need another Luther.

  9. 9
    Chimera Says:

    “Maybe we need another Luther.”

    Yup. And maybe this time, somebody will listen?

  10. 10

    I am not so concerned about reform and “modernization” of what is largely a man-made institution.

    I came back to the Catholic church after many years because I had a personal “conversion” moment that made me realize a) Jesus loves me just as I am b) the mass is the perfect prayer and c) I don’t have to like my priest, he is an instrument of God, nothing more, nothing less.

    All the churches in the world could burn down (I wish they would when I’m pressured yet again to contribute to our parish heating fund), the treasures of the Vatican disappear forever and the Church organization fall apart and it would not change one iota of my faith which basically has saved my life.

    Other than that,I find Church politics interesting, amusing and yes, distressful, but in the end, I do not take it seriously.

  11. 11

    Brenda:

    What a marvellous comment. You have cut through all the persiflage and right to the chase. What matters is the love of Jesus incarnated in the Eucharist and the rest is pretty much non-essential trappings. Thanks.

  12. 12
    SUZANNE Says:

    Does it really advance the discussion very much to say that Catholics who want responsible reform should just bail out and join another church?

    I don’t want them to leave, but it is a question to raise: if the Catholic Church isn’t more credible or authentic or truthful than other churches, what is the point of staying? I wouldn’t remain a member of an institution I believed oppressed me. I suppose some people get a kick out of fighting “oppression”, but that’s not the point of a church.

    Many “faithful, church-going Catholics …” want a constitutional papacy, they want a hierarchy that has more input into church governance (as Vatican11 wanted) and they want the regulations on a male celibate priesthodd modified so that more faithful Catholics have easy and regular access to the Eucharist.

    I don’t know too many orthodox Catholics who want a constitutional papacy or relaxation of male celibacy. By the way, having or not having male celibacy does not affect vocations. Other churches have married clergy and they have trouble attracting people. It’s not a function of marriage but of how well you instruct the faith.

    You can’t fight City Hall. Really? Luther did and he provoked the counter-reformation and the Council of Trent. Maybe we need another Luther.

    Luther didn’t accomplish his goal which was to change the Catholic Church. How did that work? It made the Church more conservative.

  13. 13
    Jay Kershaw Says:

    Bishop Robinson is right.

    Read David Ranan’s radical ideas (Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church). You can find it at amazons.

    Get ideas at http://www.doublecross-theopress.co.uk

  14. 14
    Mark S Says:

    Pope Ratzinger is attempting to solve the Catholic Churches problems by a return to the Glory Days(?) of the 1940s. ie Latin Mass, magic mystery and absolute authority, It won’t work.Times are different. This is the 21st century not the 12th. Given the dictatorial use of power by the Vatican, it is rare to find a cleryman willing to stand up to bullies. Bishop Robinson has vision and courage. He should be canonized! Let’s call a Second Council of Constance and clean up the church.

  15. 15

    Mark:
    Thanks for your comment. There seems to be a general consensus that the institutional church is in big trouble. And there are so few Bishop Robinsons.

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  17. 17
    Nduscott43 Says:

    If you dont think the Church needs reforming watch this documentary called “Deliver Us From Evil”. It can be found in any Blockbuster. If you consider yourself a concern Catholic like me, you go get watch it the first instance you can. 90% of the facts are correct, I cross checked all the cases myself. I feel all Catholics need to take against tolerance of child sexual abuse in the Church. If you have a younger sibling or child, keep a close watch for the signs of this kind of abuse. Just because the person claims to be a man of God, doesnt mean he truly is, so dont put complete trust into any clergyman. Again, the film is called “Deliver Us From Evil” by Amy Berg.

  18. 18

    I take offense to someone in Signey talking about what our Holy Father can and can not do. If these men felt so strongly about the sexual abuse, then why didn’t they stand up and say so? Why is it now, after the fact that some people are speaking out? Is it because now it is so much easier than when it was happening? Or, is it because now people want to make a name for themselves. Either support our Holy Father or get out. It doesn’t take a rocket genius to know that when the people asked GOD for a king, he gave them one; and, he continued to give them one. The chain was never broken. Therefore, if GOD provided the map for His son Jesus; then, it only makes common sense to acknowledge Jesus would expect the same from Peter, his successor who has control of the keys. These keys would be passed down to others until and such time as our Lord come back to claim them. During that time, we have to protect and adhere to all of the commandments he left for us to live by. Again, if you don’t want to live by the law, then you shall die by it. Plain and simple. Grow up and act like men instead of wimpering children. I am so sick of hearing grown men belittleing other men who are trying to obey GOD’s laws and live by the Holy Scripute.

  19. 19

    People need to further investigate the sexual abuse scandal. If all of your readers believe that this is only happening in the catholic church; then, you have a lot of ignorant readers. All of the statistics bear witness to the fact that out of ten sexual abuse cases, only .01 were by priests. Unfortunately, the catholic church allowed a large number of homosexual priest under the administration of Bernardin. Unfortunately, these priest went on to abuse children; and, covered it up. What is even harder for catholic to agree to is that most of these priest were protected; therefore, to all of you fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nephews, neices, friends, and so forth, what did you all want the church to do, crucify them, kill them, what???????? All of you are so ready to judge all these individuals, but what should have happened to them. If the Church had acted and exposed of these individuals prior to having the evidence in hand, society, as a whole, would have condemned the Church. People always have to hate something or someone; and in this case, it usually is the Catholic Church. All in all, regardless of what people say, we have GOD’s promise that satan will not prevail. I believe! This is the year 2008; and, the Catholic Church is still standing. Woe to those when the Catholic Church falls, that will be the end.

  20. 20
    Barbara Says:

    Cecelia, all people want is for the hierarchs not to blame the victim in an attempt to cover up the sins of priests and maintain a Potemkin village of perfection. We were never promised a perfect Church. Is it so unChristian to be compassionate, to cooperate with police who will determine if a crime has indeed taken place? To the extent they protected priests against prosecution and persecuted the victims, the hierarchs have something to answer for. They have prioritized the appearance of perfection over the welfare of the most vulnerable in the Christian community. I can’t imagine Jesus approving that.
    Of course, it does not only happen in the Catholic Church. But the Catholic Church should be the LAST place where it is tolerated, if the Church strives to be a moral beacon.

  21. 21

    Cecelia Tkach:

    Thank you for your interesting comments.

    You seem to equate pedophile priests with homosexual priests. They are not necessarily the same at all. Quite a few studies show that many pedophile priests are heterosexuals.

    I am sure you are aware that when the Pope was in the US he apologized for the sex scandal and admitted it was badly handled. Too bad he did not go further and ask for the resignations of those bishops who aided and abetted the sex scandal by protecting the priests instead of the victims.

  22. 22
    Heidi Gulatee Says:

    I find it amazing that because other churches had sex scandals the catholic church has an excuse to have some too.
    I also find it amazing that homosexuals are blamed when pedophiles are risponsibel.
    Jesus once said: ” A millstone should be put around any that harm the least of them.” I guess after that they would be drowned. Jesus was talking about his children, any that cannot protect themselves. They all are important.
    If the pope were infallabel I would expect that his church would have no scandals. But I believe that he is the leader of the Catholic Church. I also
    believe all churches are equal in the eyes of God.


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