Already this year, we have had a statement signed by German speaking theologians calling for fundamental reform of the Catholic Church’s culture of clericalism, and a fundamental reform on many details in church rules and teaching. Austrian priests, backed by lay Catholics, have made a well-publicized “Call to Disobedience”. The Irish clergy have formed a strong, reform-focussed association of priest. Now the Belgians have followed suit.
What strikes me about these countries in particular, is that they all figure among the European churches most affected by the stories of clerical sexual abuse. Catholics in the Netherlands have been relatively quiet this year – but Dutch Dominicans made a similar call, for lay Catholics to lead services in the absence of priests, back in 2007. (Expect a renewed call for reform, and even open rebellion, from them too, sometime soon).
The Belgian reformers’ demands are similar to those from elsewhere:
- Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;
- Communion services be held even if no priest is available;
- Laypeople be allowed to preach;
- Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;
- “As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.
Empirical research shows that these ideas are supported by a clear majority of Catholics in many parts of the world. How long can the oligarchs resist (especially as many of them in fact agree with the ideas, but dare not say so publicly?)
The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.
By the week’s end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the “Believers Speak Out” manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.
Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.
“These are not ‘protest people.’ They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening,” said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.
“Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership,” said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. “Is this being a dissident? I don’t think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don’t do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. … I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers.”
full report at National Catholic Reporter.
- “Occupy the Church”: Austria’s Catholic Rebellion Gathers Strength, (queeringthechurch.com)
- In Austria Bishops Call For More Dialogue (Enlightened Catholicism)
- Belgian Catholic reformers want laypeople to run parishes that have no priests (Reuters)