Sunday 17 May 2015

Catholic Church's Exquisite Paradox

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, "Theologically unacceptable"
Top German Lay Catholic Group Pushes Communion for Civilly Divorced-Remarried and More - National Catholic Register.

The Catholic Church in Germany, as elsewhere, faces a nightmare paradox - give up being Catholic to retain members and a degree of authority, or remain Catholic and cease having any relevance to people.

The panic spreading through the Catholic Church as it crumbles under the assault of secular Humanist ideas and becomes ever less relevant to the lives of decent, ordinary people throughout the developed world, can be judged from what's going on in Germany, where the Catholic Church is teetering on the brink of collapse.

The Catholic Church in Germany has been haemorrhaging members not only as secular Humanism grows throughout the European Union but as a reaction to the scandal of 'Bishop of Bling', Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst who 'resigned' after being found to have spend millions of Euros of Church money on his own house and for his own self-aggrandizement. An astonishing 65% of Germans now regard the Catholic Church as untrustworthy.

Germany is following the now familiar pattern of loss of congregations and lack of new recruits to the clergy leading to church closures and amalgamation of parishes, leading to a further loss of congregations, etc., etc. This pattern is seen throughout Europe and even in New York and other parts of America.

Now a committee of lay Catholics in Germany has put forward ideas for reform of pastoral practices which amount to an abandonment of traditional medieval Catholic theology and adoption of a great deal of modern Humanism. The Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (Central Committee of the German Catholics, or ZdK) has put forward a program in a report entitled, "Between Teaching and Building Bridges With the Living World — Family and Church in the Modern World", which recommended:
  • Allowing civilly remarried divorcees to take communion.
  • Recognising all forms of co-habitation (including non-married couples).
  • Blessing of same-sex marriages.
  • Revising the Church's views on contraception.

Abandonned Church, Dusseldorf, Germany
This last recommendation is interesting because it highlights the widening gap between what the Church teaches and what Catholics do, as they de facto reject papal authority and the doctrine of infallibility. The reason give for it couldn't have stated this more clearly - "[because of a] great discrepancy between the papal magisterium and the personal conscientious decisions in the daily life of most faithful Catholics." In other words, "the people are ignoring us anyway so we need to catch up with them f we are to keep any semblance of control."

This report was adopted unanimously by the ZdK, which is financed by the German Bishops Conference and overseen by Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, and comes on top of the Catholic Church in Germany recently announcing that it had abolished the prohibition on remarried divorcees and homosexuals working in and for Church institutions.

Clearly, the Catholic laity in Germany is finding traditional Catholicism more and more unacceptable and anachronistic as Humanist ideas penetrate further and Papal authority is increasingly being rejected, and is calling for the Church to adopt many of Humanism's principles in order to remain relevant and to stop looking quite so hateful, bigoted and controlling. The theological argument that God ordered this divisive bigotry in the Bible or by revelation, is having a greatly diminished impact as people recognise so much of it as socially unacceptable nowadays, no matter what the Pope says.

Measured against what they think is right, what the Pope says is increasingly perceived as wrong by ordinary people, just as we now reject as wrong the misogyny, casual brutality, genocide, child abuse, racism and endorsement of slavery and imperialism that have equally sound theological backing in the Bible for those who wish to find them there.

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau
Not surprisingly, although maybe significantly not unanimously, some of the Church establishment has rejected these recommendations as not being theological, apparently missing the point that it's theology which is increasingly the problem. Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, for example said:

[the document was] incomprehensible... [It would be a] dramatic change of much that has been valid concerning marriage and sexuality based on holy Scripture, Tradition and the magisterium... [The Church has always taught that] lived sexual practice has its only legitimate place within a marriage between a man and a woman, both of whom are open to the procreation of life and both of whom have made a bond that lasts until the death of one of the spouses. This bond is called a sacrament and is strengthened with the help of God’s explicit promise to be the third party in this bond between the two. He is the one who binds this relationship, who sanctifies it, makes it indissoluble and who is also again and again the source of salvation for them.

Even the president of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, condemned the report as "theologically unacceptable" - which missed the point entirely. What the ZdK were in effect saying is that Catholic theology is unacceptable.

'God' is no longer the fount of human morality - humans are. Humanist morality is advancing ahead of the Catholic Church, which is going to need to follow along, no matter how reluctantly, or fizzle out altogether as an anachronism - merely something people used to believe before they knew any better. Even the threat of 'dire consequences' in an assumed afterlife is no longer having the effect it once had and which still appears to be the Church's fall-back argument when appeals to an outmoded morality fail.

The changing mood in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, and how this is forcing the Catholic Church into a corner, is probably best summed up by one of the reactionary diehards of the Catholic Church, Mathias von Gersdorff, who criticised the ZdK report with:

No one needs a Catholic Church that falls to this level. No one needs a ‘Central Committee of German Catholics’ that is no longer Catholic.

Well, clearly the German Catholic laity needs such a Church.

What von Gersdorff is admitting here is that to modernise and reform itself so it becomes relevant once again to ordinary people, the Catholic Church must cease to be Catholic. The alternative is that the people themselves will cease to be Catholic. The Vatican's silence on this issue is telling. A supposedly reforming, modernizing Pope feels unable to come down on one side or the other because he no longer commands the support and respect even of his own inner circle and probably realises too that modernization actually means the Church itself ceasing to be Catholic. To modernize the church means abandoning centuries of doctrine but failing to reform means the people abandoning the Church.

For many people in Europe, their lives are as unaffected by the Pope's pronouncements as they would be by those of any high priest of Juno or Zeus. It the Catholic Church can no longer command and control people, even through fear of Hellfire, and people are increasingly ignoring the Church, what on Earth is the Church for any more?

Credit to The Freethinker for the tipoff.

'via Blog this'

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1 comment :

  1. It's a delicious dilemma. What remains far too radical for the reactionaries is still not enough to regain an audience in the real world. The social acceptability of divorced people remarrying has been uncontroversial for decades, for example, but abandoning efforts to stigmatize them is still too extreme for the Church.

    My guess is, they'll end up with the worst of both worlds. Even if they push reform to the limit of what they can get away with without triggering a schism, they'll still seem too backward to be relevant to modern society (which continues to evolve, so they're chasing a moving target).

    Christianity is reverting to what it was in Roman times -- a minority group in a pluralistic society.


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