Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013.07.31 Call To Disobey—Another Reformation?

There is a great rummage sale going on in the Roman Catholic Church in Austria–and it’s spreading like an inchoate brushfire—not wild but steady.

Because all things are interconnected this affects all Christianity at the very least.

According to many observers of developments in Western Christianity, every 500 years there occurs an enormous transformative change, something like a grand rummage sale in which everything is emptied out of the attic and basement. Some treasures are tossed, some refurbished and renewed, and the rest—rummage.

The name for this “rummage sale” so far is The Great Emergence; the name of the last “rummage sale” was The Reformation, tellingly also cradled in Germany.


Helmut Schüller, a parish priest who represents the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, Call To Disobedience, founded in 2006, spoke recently in Dedham, MA. I went to hear him chiefly because I am supportive of the ordination of women in the RC Church and I remember the pain of being found unfit in one's Church, by virtue of gender—also I love the idea of being called to disobey Church doctrine and practice for the sake of justice and the inclusivity Jesus practiced and preached.

The Austrian priests involved number 430, which is 15% of all priests in Austria; 70-80% of other priests agree but are afraid to join on. No sanctions against the movement have been levied. Schüller said that it is crucial that the clergy become involved to add official impact to the call for reforms. He added that the Eucharist should never be used as a political sanction.

Women in the Episcopal Church would not have been ordained back in the 70s without the support of some male bishops. The most effective reformations work because of collaboration, and in the Church the best collaboration happens in communities of prayer, word and sacrament. Isolated actions are too easily ignored.

Schüller’s group strongly advocates for a new image of the priest, rather than consolidating and closing parishes as a way to deal with the shortage of male priests.  He noted that the present hierarchy of authority is: 1) God 2) conscience 3) external authorities. (Now there’s an attic treasure to keep.)

The Austrian group is fueled not just by discontent about abuses of power or a shortage of priests but by a re-discovery of Vatican II documents in which most of the changes were already proposed. Schüller said that the whole system of Church structure must change—and that women must be brought into the center of ministry.

He spoke to a gathering of about 600 people, gathered in a non air-conditioned UU Meeting House in sweltering July heat. An RC deacon from the sponsoring church, St. Susannas’s, introduced Schüller and quipped that we owed a debt of gratitude to Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley for the fabulous publicity he’d spawned by notifying St. Susanna’s that the event could not take place in their parish church.

Reforms called for include:
    -Open the office of priesthood 
    -Advocate an end to the narrow exclusivity of the celibacy requirement
    -Open communion
    -Restore the dignity of the baptized; allow competent trained laity to preach
    -Recognize all Christians as CITIZENS of the Church, not just sheep. I say: baaa-yes to that!
    -Create a healthy system in which congruent behavior is the norm for clergy
    -Allow “Priestless Eucharistic Celebrations” for a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Communion when priests are in short supply, to fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation.
    -Revise and rework the language of prayer and faith. The newly imposed Roman Missile represents a step backwards. The German version is in preparation.  Give the people and their priests a say workig together to write liturgies.
Schüller observed that modern society had made advances and the Church should exercise the same moral authority. Example: UN declaration that every human being should have a full chance to develop her/his own life.

There was much more but these are the basics. I was impressed with Schüller’s charm, wit and passion in the presence of great hungry crowds and stultifying heat. Many of the usual questions were asked and he fielded all questions with skill and humor. My favorite: If the Church did everything exactly the way Jesus did it, we’d all be fishermen! (This in answer to the rigid literalist official stance that Jesus picked male disciples, therefore.........)

The Austrian Priests will meet in October with priests from other nations including the US to plan to further the Initiative. I wonder if a busload of nuns will arrive!? :0) 
“Disobedience is irritating and provocative and we’ll keep it up,” Schüller concluded to a roar of applause.  

So what does this matter to me, all Christians, and people of other faiths???  Well................

Roman Catholicism is the largest  religion in the world (1.2 billion members.)
Transformation there will affect ongoing and needed transformation and revitalization in all religions and in Christianity in particular—and perhaps in secular societies as well

This movement could open the way to fruitful interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, much needed for the healing of religion for the sake of spirituality.

The question that faces Western Christianity in this era is: Where will religious authority reside for this next period of time before the next rummage sale?

My vote goes to Christ Sophia, the world-traveling, ambassador of goodness and divine grace, the Great Connector. 

She’s removing the toxins from the institutional “Kool-Aid.”