International Federation for a Renewed Catholic Ministry
Executive Committee Meeting, Mahwah NJ, Friday 31 May 2013
Opening Remarks by the President
The role of the papacy post Vatican II
It would be delightful if it were true that the new bishop of Rome had indeed told the papal master of ceremonies, when offered the velvet and ermine mozetta to wear immediately after being elected earlier this year, “Carnival's over – you put it on!” He may have put it more politely but the gesture itself was eloquent whatever he said. Things are going to change, perhaps if only because we shall never have another pope ordained before the Second Vatican Council.
I am reminded of another papal remark, this time to Bishop Remi de Roo, recounted in his memoirs, who pressed the soon to be sainted Polish pope at the lunch table about the need to provide presbyters to ensure Eucharist for the people, “Deus providebit!” (“God will provide!”) he roared, banging the table, totally ignoring the fact that he was the instrument effectively appointed by God to make the necessary change and effect the provision.
It was the summer of 1968 that I abandoned studies for ordination after the then bishop of Rome, autocratically and disastrously for his own credibility and that of the papacy, ignored the commission he had set up to consider the matter of birth regulation. “Nolite confidere in principibus,” insists the psalmist, “Don’t rely on the powerful!” (Psalm 145 )
Since then I have not wanted to set foot in Rome, although I have remained adamant that I on my part would not sever communion with the Apostolic See. It has been a long Exodus, lasting at least forty-five years, if we take the publication of Humanae Vitae as the starting point, for those of us enthused by the vision of the Church offered us by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
This Easter we seem to have been offered some hope. It remains to be seen yet whether the Carnival, with all its distasteful and sometimes even criminal distortions of Jesus' message, is actually over. As has been recently pointed out again bny Gary Wills (Why Priests? A failed tradition. [NY: Viking Penguin, 2013]), it is surely on the following understandings that Catholic ministry must be renewed:
- Jesus never claimed to be a priest – despite the Letter to the Hebrews
- there were no priests in the early Church, but a variety of ministries, elders and overseers
- our current Christian often dysfunctional cultic priesthood with magical powers was a later development
- the Church developed the Eucharist as we know it from its origins in Jesus' table fellowship into the 'Sacrifice of the Mass'
Let us in the International Federation for a Renewed Catholic Ministry be clear what we feel is needed:
- dismantling of clericalism. Much is being done here by individual presbyters and bishops, not least many of our married presbyters, but repeal is essential of the canons which insist that lay people cannot be involved in the governance of the Church, that this is entirely a clerical preserve. Only a small change is needed to canon 129 which states that sacred orders are required for governance but that the laity can co-operate.
- admission of women to the clerical order, as deacons, cardinals, presbyters and bishops (Canon 1024 [“Only a baptised man can validly receive sacred ordination.”] must be corrected as wrong).
- the presbyterate, must be clearly understood as servant-leadership rather than governance, and must be made available more widely, to married men and to women. (I remain impressed with the proposals made by the German missionary Bishop Fritz Lobinger in his book Like his Brothers and Sisters – ordaining community leaders [NY: Crossroad, 1999] and urge us to see how we can implement his proposed solutions.)
- lay ministry must be encouraged and not subject to arbitrary control by unaccountable clerics
Until necessary changes are implemented, we must in conscience flout church law on the canonical principle that salusanimarumsupremalex (Canon 1752). The challenge is to do this and yet remain in communion. This is not so difficult in such a matter as allowing the remarried divorced to receive the Eucharist but becomes more painful when we insist on ordinations to the episcopate without a pontifical mandate (Canon 1013).
We must be inspired by luminous Christians such as Jeanne d'Arc, Franz Jägerstätter and Mary McKillop to mention only three, who in defiance of ecclesiastical authority, involving even excommunication and death in some cases and persecution by the ecclesiastical authorities in all, kept their eyes on what they knew was right and fought against or disobeyed lawful authority.
If I may be allowed a rather bathetic parallel from my own life, prior to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 in the United Kingdom, homosexuals who knew that the law was an ass ignored its perverse and cruel provisions in the search for personal fulfilment in rewarding human relationships. I am proud to have been one of those criminals, vindicated by subsequent legal change. So too IFRCM must defiantly blaze a trail in defying the law.
We can also bear in mind the courageous stand of the Austrian PriesterInitiative who have defiantly insisted on the need for their 'Call to Disobedience'. There is also the possibility that the LeadershipConferenceofWomenReligious in the USA may also feel they are forced to take a stand against misuse of clerical power. Perhaps we should also seek to establish links with the non-canonical Immaculate Heart Community, born in 1970 out of the gross abuse of power by the reptilian Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles.
Hans Küng has recently said (NCR 24 May 2013, 'The paradox of Pope Francis'):
Faced with a lack of impulse toward reform from the top down, from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pushing for reform from the bottom up. If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic church. However, if he just lets things continue as they are, without clearing the logjam of reforms as now in the case of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of “Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!” will ring out more and more in the Catholic church, provoking reforms from the bottom up that will be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case -- as I already wrote before this papal election -- the Catholic church will experience a new ice age instead of a spring and run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.
Under Michaelita Quinn’s skilled guidance the IFRCM will be seeking to clarify our objectives and thus our strategies. We are aware that numerous associations within the Catholic Church are working for some of the same objectives as ourselves. Let us continue our witness and seek to make common cause with all those who believe that a renewed ministry is needed in the Catholic Church and is indeed being developed.
If Carnival is over, then Lent has begun, so let us pray that the Spirit may be with us, poured out in abundance and that we heed her call to serve, willing to pay the price, confident in the hope that Easter will follow.