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Baroness Helena Kennedy QC is calling for major changes in the Catholic Church and says the current crises are in large part the result of church power being invested in one gender, which is wholly unacceptable in the 21st century.
Lady Kennedy joined forces with Lord Hylton and feminist and spiritual writer Professor Ursula King at the Houses of Parliament (Tuesday March 5) to sign the Catholic Scholars’Declaration on Authority in the Catholic Church.
The Declaration, calling for a more collegial system of church governance in the church, has already gained the backing of 180 leading theologians and Catholic Scholars worldwide. It has already been submitted to more than 20 cardinal electors in Rome this week.
Professor King signed the Declaration on behalf of women in the church, Lord Hylton signed on behalf of the underprivileged and marginalised, and Lady Kennedy added her signature for all men and women suffering from misguided church rulings on sexual ethics including contraception, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage.
Lady Kennedy said there had been serious crises in the Catholic Church and it faced issues of transparency, accountability and governance.
“The Church has existed for millennia and, like all ancient institutions, it is very slow to change and it is confronted with a number of problems. It is almost exclusively run by men and that is how the world was – we don’t have to see it is as a conspiracy – it was the nature of things.
“The power of the Church is located in one gender. We might dress up the story of women playing important roles in the Church but it is actually a fiction. That is unacceptable in a modern world. I do think it creates a serious dysfunction for the Church.”
Lady Kennedy also called on people in the Church to recognise there is a wholly disproportionate distraction about sex and an unwillingness to accept that in relationships people give expression to their love in many different ways.
She said: “There is nothing unhealthy about having a sex drive. Unfortunately, we still cling to this idea that sex is only about reproduction.”
Lady Kennedy added that in her opinion too much of church culture was based on double standards and she called for the church to enable women to become priests and hold positions of power.
Professor King too demanded changes in church attitudes to women.
She said: “The 21st century is the century for women. In all religions, worldwide, women are beginning to assert their rights. Most religious practitioners are women and they are the ones who pass that practice on to future generations. They need to be able to hold positions within the church authority.”
Representing the underprivileged and marginalised worldwide, Lord Hylton called for the church to actively follow the Second Commandment.
He said: “Loving our neighbour is fundamental – it is a commandment which must be right in the mainstream of the Catholic Church.”
The Declaration on Authority, which opened for endorsement late last year, is demanding a return to the principles of the Second Vatican Council and for a reform of church governance to ensure that the church can meet the spiritual and pastoral challenges of today.
John Wijngaards, Declaration co-ordinator and a leading Catholic scholar, said: “The role of the Pope needs to be re-defined from him being an autocratic top-down manager to a spiritual collegial leader empowered to heal, guide and unify. The central synod of bishops should assume its intended tasks in church-wide leadership. Local bishops’ conferences should be more autonomous. Clergy and laity should have real decision-making powers on diocesan level.
“The election of a new pope is a rare opportunity for the Church to reconsider its systems of governance, to introduce a more democratic system of electing leaders and to reassess the leaders’ accountability to the faithful.
“The Declaration has been signed today for groups of people who have particularly suffered from the systemic failure in church governance. Now is the time for change.”
While most commentators are debating about how the next Pope should be elected or who should fill those shoes, Eduardo Hoornaert, a Brazilian married priest and church historian, suggests it might be time to question the entire institution of the papacy. Hoorneart, one of the founders ofComissão de Estudos da História da Igreja na América Latina (Study Commission on the History of the Church in Latin America), is author of The Memory of the Christian People (Burns & Oates,1989). For those who speak Portuguese, Hoorneart maintains a blog,Textos de Eduardo Hoornaert. This article, translated here into English by Rebel Girl, is available in its original Portuguese on Amerindia and in Spanish on Adital.
by Simon Bryden-Brook
We are all familiar with the fact that religion appears at times to conflict with human rights. It seems wrong that churches may not be built in Saudi Arabia. It seems wrong that religion is used as an excuse for female genital mutilation by some cultures. But is it wrong that little boys should have their genitals mutilated in the name of religion with no medical reason? One German court certainly thought so. Is it wrong that religions should be allowed to set up their own courts (under the pretext of it being 'mediation' implicitly consented to by the parties) which may result in decisions being reached without the accused being given details of the accusations or the accuser or sentences being imposed which result in limbs being amputated?
There is another side to the coin too. If religions should be made to uphold human rights, then should they not also remain aloof from the political process? Many Arab states are keen to insist that once a fundamentalist Arab government is in power, then the political process must be subservient to religious requirements. The Roman Catholic Church until recently detested the idea of the separation of church and state and in countries like Spain, sought to impose its views on Protestants, Jews and other unbelievers. I can see no objection to a pope addressing the United Nations. They can listen politely and decide whether he has said anything constructive, but I do not want to live in a society where the political processes are governed by secret meetings between bishops and their representatives and politicians any more that one governed by an Ayatollah.
These points were brought home to me when at the Conference of INGOs at the Council of Europe considered a paper which had been three years in the making on 'Human Rights and Religions'. In RENEW 163 (June 2012) I described my attendance at the Council of Europe last June. Readers may be interested to hear of my conclusions after a second visit this January.
The paper in question contained a series of recommendations which it was hoped would be approved by the Conference of INGOs and passed to the Council of Europe for its consideration. The recommendations are based on a 140 page report produced by a working party led by Professor François Becker of the European Network Church on the Move, to which CCC belongs. They seemed incontrovertible to the majority of delegates present but they were mysteriously sidelined after procedural manoeuvring by those entrusted with the management of the conference.
The European Network, and those in the Conference of INGOs who believe the place of religion in the matter of human rights is one which must be faced, will not relent. We are determined to see that the matter is brought up again at the June 2013 conference. Some people in the UK appear to believe that human rights should not apply to everyone (such as immigrants) and there are people in European institutions who would like to exempt religions too.
At the conference I found myself surrounded by some two hundred delegates representing INGOs in such diverse fields as law, education, relief of poverty, youth, women, communications, health, environment and housing to name but a few. Presentations were made about new Russian laws designed to label INGOs operating in Russia as 'foreign agents' and subject them to controls, about failures by some member countries to ban torture and degrading punishment (France being a major violator), about violence against the elderly, climate change, extreme poverty and living together in diversity. In all these areas of human activity your delegates seek to discern what the demands of the Gospel are and to present them to others. In fact, making common cause with such people of good will is easy and one feels at home among them. Where would Jesus stand on these issues? “I was hungry, homeless, sick and in prison and you did not recognise me!” One can see why so many people find religion oppressive and threatening to their rights and we aim to be a different Christian and Catholic voice at the Council of Europe.