Europe: The Progressivist Schism Grows Less and Less Latent

Filed under News, The Church in the world

crise_egliseOn March 23, 2012, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps published a study penned by journalist Patricia Briel on the demands of Catholic progressivists.  After Austria, Germany, Ireland and Great Britain, the “progressivist revolt” has won over Belgium, she points out, recalling that last fall, a priest from Courtrai launched a manifesto entitled “Believers Speak Out”, that questioned why laymen couldn’t preach to make up for the lack of priests.  The text also demanded that women and married men be admitted to the priesthood.  It gathered almost 8,000 signatures of support, and its complaints have been heard by the Belgian bishops, who received representatives of the petitioners in early February 2012.

For a year now, priests and theologians from several countries of Europe, the United States, Brazil and Australia have been multiplying appeals for the admission of women and married men to the priesthood, and for remarried divorcees to be allowed to communicate.

The Catholic basis also made known its demands, for example in the manifesto Kirche 2011, published in the Bavarian newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and initially signed by 150 German-speaking theologians, who have since been joined by many laymen.  Realizing that there is “an unprecedented crisis” in the German Catholic Church, the signatories invite the universal Church to leave behind “certain sclerotic structures in order to win back its credibility and a new vitality.” Besides a participation of the faithful in the nomination of bishops and parish priests, a greater openness towards homosexual couples and an end to the Church’s “rigorist and pitiless” morality, the demands are the same as those expressed in Belgium.

Today, this text has gained the support of 315 persons in France, Spain, Canada, Brazil, the USA and Switzerland.  In the columns of Le Temps, one of these persons, Michael Felder, professor at the University of Fribourg, denies any accusation of a will to “protestantize” the Church.  He deplores above all the bishops’ lack of power.  “There reigns at present within the Church a climate of mistrust. We must come back to a culture of dialogue,” he points out. – In late September 2011, it was the Community of Catholic Women of Germany (KFD) that launched a petition in favor of remarried divorcees being allowed to communicate.

In France, many priests and laymen think that Rome should worry more about the “silent progressivist schism” that is “shaking” Europe, than about getting closer with the Society of St. Pius X.  The Church is “too cautious” to undertake any reforms, was the judgment of 170 officials, clerics and laymen, who signed an Open Letter to the Christians of the Diocese of Rouen.

This letter was a call to disobedience, like the one written in June 2011, by about 300 Austrian priests.  Indeed, in a Pfaffer-Initiative (Priests’ Initiative), these latter made it known that they would no longer follow Rome’s directives concerning the communion of remarried divorcees and that they would henceforth support the ordination of women and of married men. According to a survey, 30% of the country’s Austrian priests agree with this text.  Which is why the Austrian bishops were called to Rome on January 23.

In Australia and Ireland, the ordination of women and the marriage of priests have also become a theme for demands. Le Temps quotes a survey published on February 29 on the Association of Catholic Priests website, according to which 61% of the ecclesiastics questioned believe that the Catholic hierarchy does not understand the work and the challenges that priests have to face these days.  67% think that the bishops are too submissive towards Rome.  78% claim to be for the marriage of priests and 60% for the ordination of women.

According to the Swiss Jesuit Jean-Blaise Fellay, we are witnessing a sort of “Catholic Spring”, rising from below, because of the bishops’ loss of authority in the Church and in society.  When questioned by Patricia Briel, he said he considers the bishops to be “high officials and ecclesiastical managers.”  And he denounces the failure of Vatican Council II, one of whose goals was, according to him, to restore the bishops’ role.  “The synods have turned into suffocation chambers rather than places of creativity.  The public interest in the synods has dropped because nothing or so little comes of them.  Anything new or salient has been erased, flattened in the final texts,” he explains.

For Fr. Jean-Blaise Fellay, today’s ecclesiastical system is closer to the royal absolutism of the 18th century than to the 20th century liberal society.  A context favorable to the impulses that come from below, since the laymen are now the only ones able to expose requests and demands. He concludes: ‘the present problems call for a far more radical return to evangelical sources and not simply an ecclesiastical mending.  I am not sure that, in this context, the ordination of married men and women would be the full solution.” –  No comment. (sources: Le Temps/apic – DICI#252, March 30, 2012)

You can also read :
Belgium: A manifesto for “the reform of the Catholic Church”
Austria: The Bishops Refuse to Let Laymen Celebrate Mass
Austria: Catholics Denounce Dissenting “Priests’ Initiative”
Germany, Austria and Switzerland: More than 200 progressivist theologians demand a series of reforms in the Church

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