Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Church Is Sick" (Hans Kung)

Even if you don’t accept everything he says, you have to admit that Hans Kung makes a strong case for his diagnosis that the Church is sick. You may not agree that it has “a debilitating and potentially terminal illness,” but you will have a hard time disproving his contention that “the Catholic Church is in its deepest crisis of confidence since the Reformation.” Pope Benedict  XVI said the Church has a disfigured face.

His book Can We Save the Catholic Church? (William Collins, 2013) spells out Kung's diagnosis, points to “the Roman system” as the major cause of the Church’s illness, and offers a prescription for recovery. The accumulation of power and prestige in Rome led to what Kung calls "the Roman system."

Kung is 86 years old. He served as a peritus (expert theological adviser) at the Second Vatican Council, lost his license to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian in 1979 when he publicly rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility, and has continued to criticize the “Roman system” as the major flaw in the Church’s mission to represent Christ.

After more than 50 years of study, experience and pleading, Kung says he has published his diagnosis “only to fulfill my duty in conscience to offer this service (possibly my last) to my Church, a Church which I have endeavored to serve all my life.” Can We Save The Catholic Church? may well be his final effort to spell out what he sees wrong with the Church and once again urge its members to seek reform.

In this book he reviews Church history, summarizing here the “critical, historical account of twenty centuries of Christianity” which he published in 1994 under the title Christentum: Wesen und Geschichte (published as Christianity: Essence, History and Future in 2004 by Continuum).

Reviewing various historical and defining moments in the Church’s history, Kung keeps asking whether the Church faithfully reflects the original Christian message “which to all intents and purposes is Jesus Christ himself” (57). 

He decries the Inquisition of the past, but insists that it is still operative today even if in a less physically violent form. He notes the name change, from “Holy Office (of the Inquisition)” to the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (CDF), but explains that it “now practices more subtle forms of psychological torture, and its proceedings continue to be secret, which is one of the reasons why the Vatican was not permitted to join the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, which demands certain minimal human rights” (290).

Kung, of course, has himself been subject to investigation by the CDF because of his book questioning papal infallibility. Just six years after the close of Vatican II Kung was writing in Infallible? An Enquiry (Collins, 1971) that “the Council put forward a magnificent programme for a renewed Church of the future” (15), but “the people of God are being deprived of the fruits of the Council” (22).

In his Disputed Truth – Memoirs II (Continuum, 2007), Kung explained why he refused to go to the “colloquium” to which the CDF had called him, describing its style as "hierarchical and heartless” (266), adding, “I will in no way submit to an inquisitional procedure disguised as a ‘colloquium’ in which in the end there is no other possibility for me of safeguarding my rights (something that is granted even criminals in civilized states) than ultimately to subscribe to the Roman dictate if I don’t want to fall victim to Roman sanctions” (268).

In effect Kung argues that the CDF will not discuss but only condemn what it deems contrary to Church doctrine. Kung believes that theologians need to be given an ear, an opportunity to explore, to seek the truth. He believes that over the centuries Rome has shown itself capable of learning, and he hopes that someday the organ of the inquisition will become an organ of  proclamation of the faith. “The protection of the faith is better served today not through the exclusive persecution of errors but through the positive promotion of Christian doctrine” (266).

Inquisitorial practice, however, is only one of Kung’s criticisms. Among other ailments of the Church are: 1) the Roman monopoly of power and truth; 2) juridicism and clericalism; 3) hostility to sexuality plus general misogyny; 4) theological vindication of the use of force and war; 5) great financial power; 6) refusal to reform. All these ailments are contrary to the Gospel and the health of the Church. 

Failure to acknowledge the problems and refusal to speak up exacerbates the illness. Denial is not a redeeming or curative factor.

Kung goes on to list therapies for restoring the Church’s health; among them are 1) exercise of  pastoral leadership by office-holders, not a ruling dominium (often a dictatorship) but rather a ministerium (healing service); 2) reform dictated by the testimony of the Gospel not by canon law; 3) a papacy which maintains community with the Church (an idea that seems part of Pope Francis’ style of ministry); 4) development of a Curia in accord with Gospel values; 5) appointments based on competence rather than cronyism; 6) openness in and restructuring of Vatican finances (another concern of Pope Francis); 7) allowing priests and bishops to marry; 8) opening Church offices to women; 9) inclusion of  laity and clergy in election of bishops.

Kung concludes his diagnosis, therapy and prognoses of an ailing Church with these remarks: “I have once again --this time at a very advanced stage of life--  set forth in summary fashion my vision of a Church which could fulfill the hope of millions of Christians and non-Christians alike. It is a vision based on my experience over decades of careful study, and my experience of struggling and of suffering for it. It is a vision of how the Church could not only be saved and survive but also flourish once again” (331).

Offering his prognosis Kung said, “I hope very much that this book will assist the English-speaking world in supporting Pope Francis’s reforms by offering a precise historic and systematic analysis and viable, practical proposals for reform” (xii)…Doubtless, Pope Francis will awaken powerful hostility, above all in the powerhouse of the Roman Curia –opposition which is difficult to withstand. Those in power in the Vatican are not likely to abandon the power that has been accumulated since the Middle Ages” (337).

“Can we save the Catholic Church?” Kung asks, and then provides a positive answer, “…sooner or later, we will once again become what Christ founded us to be” (338).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Synod on the Family

The Vatican’s General  Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops released on June 26, 2014, a summary of  input concerning the pastoral challenges facing families in preparation for an Extraordinary Synod  to be held in October. The document is described as instrumentum laboris, a “working document.”  

A Preparatory Document issued in November, 2013, posed questions to allow “particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod.” Bishops from around the world were invited to send their experiences and opinions about the social and spiritual crises of families and to suggest how the Church can better respond to them and to new family-related situations “requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care.”

The summary of the world-wide consultation (the instrumentum laboris) has been given to the members of the upcoming Synod “to define the ‘staus quaestionis’ and to collect the bishops’ experiences and proposals in proclaiming and living the Gospel of the Family in a credible manner.” A second meeting, the Ordinary General Assembly in 2015, will focus on “working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family” according to the Preparatory Document of November, 2013.

World-wide Consultation

The committee charged with developing the instrumentum laboris  faced the mammoth task of collating observations and recommendations from dioceses all over the world, input which on occasion offered culturally-based and sometimes conflicting conclusions.

The document notes, for example, that “the responses indicate that in Europe and across America a very high number of persons are separated, divorced or divorced and remarried; the number is much lower in Africa and Asia” (paragraph 86).

In the discussion about natural law (a concept often quoted in Church teaching) the feedback from the bishops indicates “large scale perplexity surrounding the concept of natural law” and affirms that “the concept of natural law turns out to be, in different cultural contexts, highly problematic, if not completely incomprehensible” (20, 21).

The summary says that “several Episcopal conferences in Africa, Oceania and East Asia, mention that, in some regions, polygamy is to be considered ‘natural,’ as well as a husband’s divorcing his wife because she is unable to bear children –and, in some cases, unable to bear sons” (25).

The survey results garnered from the preparatory document of November, 2013, confirm that the Catholic Church is truly worldwide and multi-cultural.

Difficult Situations

In addressing the question of same-sex unions or marriages the instrumentum laboris explains that in some cultures homosexuality is prohibited by civil law, while in other cultures homosexual behavior is not punished but simply tolerated, and still other cultures have introduced legislation to recognize civil unions of homosexuals (110-112).

The input from Catholic bishops insists that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions” but “according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’” (110).

Of special concern to many is the question of admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to the sacraments. In Europe and in some Latin American and Asian settings, “the prevailing tendency among some of the clergy is to resolve the issue by simply complying with the request for access to the sacraments” (93).

A significant number of responses recommended consideration of  “the practice of some Orthodox Churches, which, in their opinion, opens the way for a second or third marriage of a penitential character” (95). It was noted that “in some cases, Catholics in countries with a major number of Orthodox Christians remarry in the Orthodox Church following their customary ritual and then ask to receive Communion in the Catholic Church” (96).

Long List of Challenges

I cannot in this blog touch on all the elements under consideration for the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod based on the instrumentum laboris. The Vatican’s English translation of the document is 48 pages long. Other areas of concern include communication (64), abortion (65), sexual violence (66), trafficking (67), drug abuse (68), migration (72), pedophilia (75), impact of war (77), cohabitation (81), and more.

My reading of the document leads me to believe that the Bishops will be tempted to initiate a large number of new programs and/or promote existing ministries for the support of family life. Among the recommendations are: 1) formation of the clergy in presenting better homilies; 2) ongoing catechesis of the families; 3) using language which is accessible to all, especially in liturgy; 4) parish programs to support married life; 5) ministry to those in irregular marriages; 6) more pastoral approach to the marriage “annulment” process; 7) programs to offer spiritual care for single, homosexual people; 8) programs to promote openness to life; 9) formation-aid to assist parents in the education of their children; and several more.

I suspect that genuine, effective response will require more than implementation of new programs. Talking about the challenges must be only a start. Development of programs can help. But true pastoral response to the need of today’s families will require conversion both in the thinking of the hierarchy and  in the lives of the faithful.

One element I do not detect in the instrumentum laboris is the need for a review and self-analysis of Church discipline and teaching to render them more pastoral in meeting the challenges of the modern family.

Cardinal Kasper’s Input

In February of 2014 Pope Francis called together an extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals, and part of their agenda included an address by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. His topic, The Gospel of the Family, was clearly preparatory for the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

Cardinal Kasper caused a stir when he questioned how the Church could best respond to Catholics who have divorced and remarried without a Church “annulment.” He acknowledged that the Church cannot propose a solution that is contrary to the words of Jesus, but also acknowledged the  wideness of God's mercy and asked “how the Church can conform to the indissoluble cohesiveness of fidelity and mercy in its pastoral practice with civilly remarried, divorced people.”

He recalled the address of Pope Francis to the Roman Rota on January 24, 2014,  in which the Holy Father emphasized that the juridical and the pastoral dimensions are not in opposition to each other. “Mercy does not exclude justice,” Kasper said, emphasizing that  “pastoral care and mercy are not contradictory to justice.”

He reminded the bishops about the response he found in his study of the Church Fathers where “in individual local churches there existed the customary law, according to which Christians, who were living in a second relationship during the lifetime of the first partner, had available to them, after a period of penance, admittedly no second ship –no second marriage—but indeed a plank of salvation through participation in communion. Origen reports on this custom and describes it as ‘not unreasonable.’”

Concluding his address, Kasper noted that “we may not limit the discussion to the situation of the divorced and remarried or to many other difficult pastoral situations that have been mentioned in this context. We must begin positively, discovering and proclaiming again the gospel of the family….families are the test case for pastoral care and the most serious test case for the new evangelization.”

Kasper did not provide the answer to the questions he raised, but he raised the questions in response to the problems and needs faced by families today. It is his hope that the “forthcoming Synod, guided by God’s Spirit and after consideration of all points of view, can point out a good path that all can endorse” (The Gospel of the Family by Cardinal Walter Kasper, Paulist Press, 2014, p.p. 52-53).


As I read the instrumentum laboris, as I reflect on Cardinal Kasper’s Consistory Address on the family, as I recall the hundreds of responses we received in our archdiocese when Archbishop Schnurr chose to consult with his Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and with the faithful of the Archdiocese by means of the online survey, and when I think of the challenges to the family I see in our parishes, I am more than convinced that we must (all of us) pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the bishops when they gather in Synod.

Pope Francis has asked the faithful to pray to the Holy Family, and he composed this prayer for our use:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. 

Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer.

Let us pray.