Some 144 German Catholic theologians, along with a handful of colleagues from Austria and Switzerland, recently issued a public declaration calling for reforms on matters such as celibacy, women priests and homosexuality. The list of signatories represents roughly one-third of Germany’s professors of Catholic theology. The letter also touches upon lay participation, styles of leadership, the liturgy, and the legal culture of the church. While most bishops and remarkably the secretary of the German Bishops Conference welcomed in principle a debate about burning issues of the church, the chair of the German Bishops Conference, Archbishop Zollitsch set a different tone today writing an article for “Die Welt”.
He questioned the public declaration by saying, that even having benevolence for the authors of the declaration, nobody would think seriously that the list of reforms would lead to a new flourishing church and faith in our days. For him, the question rather is how to keep alive in our society the question for God and a convincing Christian answer.
I understood the declaration differently and I never assumed that anybody will think that with the requested reforms the church will directly be beamed into a new spring with people flocking to become active Catholics again. But something else would happen: Getting rid of the relics which borders us since ages could free our thinking and acting to follow the question of God and faith in our world. All these topics we discuss in our church since the last century – and it was widely reported that even Benedict XVI in his earlier time signed a declaration lamenting the situation of the church and calling for a rethink of celibacy.
HIV & AIDS are practical examples. We hardly have time to think of new strategies how to approach people in this regard and to change the habits of people because every discussion with the secular world ends that we have to defend the stance on condoms and sexuality. Additional for all those who want to have a career in the church, there is the constant anxiety to keep the official line. This stance has given away lots of credibility – we are simply not relevant anymore in these questions. Reconciling us with modern sciences in these fields and getting rid of the relics would free us to be able to think constructive and to deal honesty with the people concerned. It would enable us to give the answers of the questions of today and space for new considerations and a development of theology and spirituality.
So to answer the question of the article: how to keep alive in our society the question for God and a convincing Christian answer is to free ourselves from stances which are not essential for the church and to allow then a real debate to answer from a Christian point of view the questions really asked by modern society and its people.