Seewald denounces Memorandum
as a rebellion of retirees
who have no following
MUNICH, Feb. 8 (kath.net) - In an interview with KATHNET, journalist and papal biographer Peter Seewald said that the 'Church 2011' memorandum from 143 German-speaking Catholic theologians represented a rebellion by people who should be in retirement homes! And that they have laid down a challenge to the German bishops. He also notes that the Pope has always been well aware that the worst attack on the Church come from within the Church herself.
Mr. Seewald, what do you think about the celibacy issue raised in the theologians' memorandum?
We are all striving for the right path. The Church cannot remain as it is. But it has to do with purification, with a renaissance of values, with presenting a clearer profile of the Church in the modern world, and ultimately, to make the message of Christ clearer. But the Memorandum leads in the opposite direction.
How and why?
This is a concerted action by neo-liberal forces at work who wish to force a deconstruction which would rob the Catholic Church of her essence, and therefore of her spirit and strength. In the end, they want to see one world church, in which not God nor the Gospel is the measure for all things but rather the autonomous individual member of the community, led by the high priests of the Zeitgeist.
As St. Paul said, "The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers, and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths" (2Tim 4,3-4).
The promoters of the Memorandum say that they have hit a nerve ...
One can say that - a nerve in the millions of Catholic faithful who are sick and tired of a discussion that we have patiently tolerated for numberless years! Replete with crocodile tears, they claim that they want "to lead the Church out of her crippling self-preoccupation". Absolute madness!
It is these very same grouplets whose self-absorption has become a mania who, for over 25 years, have prevented the Church in Germany from confronting its problems as it should. And I am still astounded by the dishonesty of their presentation, by their cock-eyed arguments, by the excess of demagoguery demonstrated in this memorandum.
But this campaign could also result in mobilising and consolidating the faithful in ways that its initiators have failed to reckon with.
Who is behind all this?
It certainly is not an uprising by young people! It is a rebellion from people who should all be in retirement homes by now. The theological establishment has joined up with some politicians like Althaus and Schavan [German cabinet ministers]
with a front man like Norbert Lammert [president of the German Parliament, who last month led a group of Catholic politicians in calling publicly on German bishops to work for the abolition of priestly celibacy in order to remedy the priest shortage]
- who invited the Pope to Berlin, it seems, only to have a chance to pull down his miter over his ears! What a shabby trick!
Not to forget those agitators who lost their licenses to teach Catholic theology because day and night, they left no stone unturned to portray the Son of God as nothing more than a Robin Hood.
These are truly yesterday's wares. They do not lead to the future because they have no future. They wish to be green again, but they can never blossom again. They can gather functionaries behind them, but they will never stir any crowds to enthusiasm, and probably not any young people at all. But as rotten branches, they can still do harm by hitting someone as they fall off the tree.
You are very worked up about this...
Because it is such shoddy behavior. And it is appallingly sad when even Cardinal Lehmann attacks the brave Cardinal (Walter) Brandmueller [former president of the Pontifical Academy for Historical Sciences, who was made a cardinal last November)
for writing a defense of celibacy in response to the demand made by the German politicians, saying he (Lehmann) was 'shamed' by it. [He claimed, in effect, that Brandmueller had committed an offense against politicians who were merely saying what they thought.]
This is a challenge for every Catholic theologian who still stands firmly by the Church position to profess himself. This is also a challenge to journalists who believe in truth and justice to demonstrate it now. The happy note about all this is some are doing just that.
Above all, the German bishops are challenged. They must make it clear: The Church is not where the anti-papists are in the media. She is not where the political strategists are.
The Church is where praying people are, where Mary is, where Peter is. Where Jesus is, who said, "You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church". He did not say he was building on sand.
What does the Pope say to all this?
We can well imagine! But he as always known that the worst attacks on the Church come from within The Church herself. On January 2009, there was the episode with the Lefebvrian bishops. In January 2010. there was the disclosure of the terrible abuses committed by priests in German schools. And In January 2011, we have this warmed-over offensive by theologians against essential features of the Church, intending to wound her in the very heart.
Of course, not all critics of priestly celibacy are necessarily enemies of the church. Priestly celibacy is not a dogma, but no other rule has been so intensively put to the test. As a young professor, the Pope himself looked at it with a critical eye. In the three book-length interviews we did together, we spoke about this issue in great detail.
He did not make this a major issue in his Pontificate for the universal Church to decide upon! Instead, he has given a great many persuasive arguments for priestly celibacy. His opponents know that, and that makes them even more enraged.
So should we stop discussing this issue?
No, but not always and not at every opportunity! Perhaps one should check it out again after ten years. But for now, the issue is closed. Period. And that means it should be accepted. For the good of the Church, for the good of all.
We cannot be like an Alzheimer's patient repeating the same question that has already been answered again and again. It's as if political party members insist on asking the same question that the party has already decided.
Whoever persistently opposes priestly celibacy promotes rupture. He deliberately risks the unity of the Church for the sake of a cause which lacks both a persuasive rationale and majority support.
There will not be any softening on the part of this Pope, who has said that "Celibacy is a great sign of the faith, of the presence of God in this world".
It would be utter nonsense to give up this sign in a world alienated from God, and that so urgently needs such signs....
Here is the rest of the interview that I missed translating at first. It starts with the rest of Seewald's answer to the last question above: :
...Furthermore, no one has asked those directly concerned themselves – the more than 400,000 priests and members of religious orders worldwide who in their continuing mission as followers of Christ have been doing remarkable work.
Already, the term ‘enforced celibacy’ is misleading and insulting. It shows the inability of the dissenters to pay due esteem and respect for the praiseworthy holy ‘evangelical counsels’ of chastity, poverty and obedience, and for the men who answer this special vocation.
No one is obliged to be a priest, just as no one is obliged to be a fireman or whatever occupation. But when one is truly ‘called’, then he will respond without fear of fire or flood!
You have said that the critics’ arguments are dishonest…
Their memorandum is not simply dishonest. It is of the lowest intellectual level and deceives the public. Its very premise is questionable. They refer to ‘reform’ which is no reform at all.
It’s a bit like saying that the Eiffel Tower must be razed because it is anachronistic, and then accuse others who do not agree with you that they are obstacles to reform. Or as if one would ask a football club to get rid of its top player in the name of a ‘cleansing’ reform when the aim is simply to make room for amateurs.
Let us examine some of their arguments:
- ‘Church crisis”: These people know very well that priestly celibacy is not the reason for a crisis but rather the dramatic decline in faith overall.
- ‘Lack of priests”:: Compared to the number of active Massgoers, there are more priests today than ever. In fact, in some areas of the world there is an excess of priests. [Which makes the Church’s missionary work possible, to begin with!]
The reason for the consolidation of many parishes is financial, above all. You cannot hire more priests when churches have to be torn down or closed because they are not financially viable.
- ’Appeal and being up to date’: A church that renounces priestly celibacy, ordains women and does not recognize any saints does not have to be ‘built’ – it has existed for a long time. Indeed, the EKD [German acronym for Evangelical Church of Germany – the Lutherans]
should copyright itself against all its imitators.
However, the Lutheran model is not necessarily a model of success. Since 1960, the EKD has lost more members than the Catholic church has in Germany. They were always larger in absolute numbers but they are no longer so. But seldom does anyone say this out loud.
Then, the memorandum uses the problem of sexual abuses by priests as as argument. This is absolutely unfounded. This cause and effect chain – Catholic sexual morality plus celibacy equals sexual abuse – has been suggested by Church haters from the first time this problem first came to light. But it falls apart in the light of many more sexual abuses occurring in non-Catholic environments as in the Odenwaldschule. Those who are renewing this argument today make themselves not just untrustworthy but also have a demagogic purpose.
It is equally unheard of that the superior of the Jesuits would rail against Catholic ‘sexual morality’ as if the Vatican itself was responsible for the unbelievably piggish actions in their schools by their own priests who have betrayed their priesthood.
The critics see it otherwise…
Of course. The ‘reformers’, for instance, always cite Vatican II – even if it wrote about the ‘honorable tradition of priestly celibacy’ – but they only accept of Vatican II what fits into their mindset. Basically, they are behaving no differently from the schismatic bishops of the reactionary FSSPX. Both factions have entrenched themselves in a childish position and in rabble-rousing against the Pope.
The aggressive presentation of some theological statements in the last few decades have left many Christians faithful to the Gospels dumbfounded. We are observing the attempt by a minority to impose a dictatorship over the majority – over the many who are still churchgoing Christians, who earnestly celebrate the Eucharist, and for whom piety is not a taboo word. This attempt is a sort of theological Stalinism.
Why has the celibacy question been revived?
The critics feel themselves publicly provoked. 2011 will be a power year for the Pope. In March, his new book on Jesus will be published. In May, he will preside at the mega-event of John Paul II’s beatification. In August, there is World Youth Day where he will draw millions of people. And in September, he will visit Germany. Meanwhile, Light of the World
has been a worldwide success. It must hurt these critics that the Pope is on the bestseller lists.
As we know, confrontation of ideas is important. And not all theologians who signed this shameful memorandum, have internalized Hans Kueng’s appeal in April 2010 for an open resistance by priests and bishops to the Pope. [[I had even forgotten he made it! - this was shortly after the letter to Irish Catholics. The things Hansie does to ride on Joseph's publicity!]
At least I hope not. I know a great number of professors who have remained authentic Catholics and who have provided spiritual guidance for countless believers.
But we also have these theological fops, Philistines and busybodies who preen before every microphone thrust before them; the feminist leaders who work on their trendy ‘impulse documents’ since they consider rosaries and prayer so terribly old-fashioned; and finally, the wolves in sheep's clothing, the true hardliners, who cannot bear it that the Church is Catholic! As typical 68ers, they have a problem with authority when it is not theirs
]What legitimacy do these groups have?
Yes, one must ask that. Is it a lifetime tenure in a professorship with a princely salary for which they must sow dispute and doubt? Or are they taking the torch from professional demonstrators who show up with their streamers wherever a bishop speaks?
They have no ‘following’ worthy of the name. In two decades they have not created a following based on their sectarianism. And yet they call themselves with the schizophrenic and absolutist label ‘We are Church’. What is that? Being out of touch with reality? A fantasy of omnipotence?
Has anyone ever heard any of them express joy in their faith, joy in the greatness and goodness of the one God that one finds in the Catholic Church and her tradition?
But they consider themselves modern…
Modern is something else now. Is the cold professorial religion of the 1970s really modern? Or is it not really the classical which is modern: the return to roots, to the original, to one’s own core competence, to one’s assignment. What is truly progressive is whatever points to the future. And the prescriptions of the religious-pedagogical era don’t. Their memorandum reeks of musty and dusty cassocks.
I ask myself whether these groups have brought anyone back to the Church – even as just a tiny counterweight to the hundreds of thousands who have left the Church.
Have they harvested any fruits? Their lecture halls are empty. They carry not fire, but ashes – and that is the difference between them and Pope Benedict XVI. They remind us of the Biblical ‘salt of the earth’ that has lost its flavor. Jesus asked. “When the salt loses its flavor, how can one make it salty again?” Nothing really. It is reduced to nothing.
Let us consider the ‘action’ of the German professors against John Paul II in the so-called Cologne Declaration of 1989. They faulted Papa Wojtyla for his leadership style, for being 'retrograde', and God knows what else. They called him the gravedigger of the Church. Well, millions of even non-Catholics followed that ‘gravedigger’ to his grave.
And what following do these professors have? John Paul II through his firm faith and his experience and example of suffering gave new strength to the Church. Whereas his opponents can only seek bit by small bit to chip away at the Rock.
The memorandum earned the approval of the Central Committee of German Catholicism?
Is anyone surprised? But even in this case, one must ask: What legitimacy does a so-called Central Committee have, whose members spend their retirement time in activities seeking to show they are still ‘young’ and ‘decisive’? As longtime functionaries, they have become so far removed from the people, just as the Central Committee of the Communist Party was in the German Democratic Republic.
What's certain is that this discussion which has gone around in unending circles in the past few decades has been an obstacle to real progress by covering up the real problems of the Church. Its advocates have hardened perversely in an argument that does not hold. They operate according to criteria that are diametrically opposed to what the Catholic Church stands for.
It is scandalous when one Dr. Hans Langendorfer, SJ, secretary to the German bishops' conference, then remarks that the Memorandum does indicate ‘a necessary new beginning’ (Aufbruch). Perhaps he meant a rupture (Abbruch).
He says, as though speaking for the German bishops, that the German bishops must now “work through these proposals which, hopefully, will be stimulating and far-reaching”. Someone who says that can no longer hold that position. The bishops’ conference must take the consequences for his statements.
What would Jesus say about all this?
I wouldn’t know. Perhaps he would recommend a knowledgeable examination of the issue. Or perhaps he would leave it to the vigilance and the resistance of the true and trusting believer, who trusts in the legacy that he left. He warned against letting the dogs loose. In any case, he would have his followers announce the Word of God and the Church of Christ, not their own.
And he would ask the bishops to tend to their flock as they were assigned to do.
Will this confrontation harden"
One must fear that. A line has been drawn that makes priestly celibacy a measure for Catholicity. On which side does one stand? And one can only say, “Be careful whom you trust!”
Who has the real charism? Who is truly honest? Who stands on the basis of the Gospel? Who is with the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church – and who is against it?
In these times, the importance of the papacy will be even greater. Benedict’s visit to his homeland is seen, in this respect, as a great test. It will show us (Germans) where we really stand.
One thing must be established. Has not chastity produced great priest models and members of religious orders that have not been seen in other faiths? Models like Don Rosco, Edith Stein, Karol Wojtyla, to name just a few.
There have always have been men who have come to the Church on their own, who have even rescued her, saints like Francis, Bernard of Clairvaux or Mother Teresa, but none of any so-called progressive ‘masterminds’ in the history of the Church.
Sigrid Grabner recently quoted Mother Teresa in Vatikan-Magazin. When she was asked by a journalist what she thought ought to change in the Catholic church, Mother Teresa answered simply, "You and me”. [What a beautiful Christian answer! All these do-gooders and bleeding-hearts running round asking 'the Church' to reform, when they should first look to their individual self!]
In fairness, I should post a translation of the 'memorandum' on this Forum even if it is not worth my time to translate it. but perhaps I'll find a link to a readymade translation....
Meanwhile, Jose Luis Restan does well as usual as he deftly pricks the inflated egos of those behind the infamous Memorandum!
That necessary new start?
It needs to be made by those
theologians who are demanding it
February 8. 2011
In 1989, when Papa Wojtyla was still at full strength, 220 theologians from the German-speaking countries signed the so-called Cologne Manifesto.
Twenty-two years later, as if nothing had happened since then in the Church and in the world, 143 theology professors from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, have published a new text entitled 'Church 2011: A new beginning is needed'.
Well, nothing is new under the sun. Except that to the list of reforms - all structural, disciplinary or having to do with morality - demanded of the Church by these theologians (less in number now and much older), they have added acceptance and blessing of same-sex unions.
But their document once again demonstrates that habitual 'prophetic' tone, characterized by reverent emulation - almost on tiptoes - the dominant mentality.
For the rest of the memorandum, let us not waste any time. The 143 signatories represent about one-third of all theology professors in the Germanophone countries, and we may assume that they have had and continue to have nefarious influence on Catholic publications there, in the formation of new priests, and in the general climate of Catholic opinion in their respective countries.
There is no doubt that there is no lack of talent among these 'wise men', but as Hans Urs von Balthasar once said, "How much talent is wasted in our time!"
Nor is there any doubt that many of them are acting in good faith, but under the weight of their ideological prejudices which induce a terrible case of myopia. And all this cannot be healed through decrees or being rapped by a pastoral staff!
These are people who, for the most part, lacked the right guidance, discernment, initiative and creativity, along the way, not to mention patience, dialog and reflection which are just as necessary.
But let us go to the root of the problem. One understands that alienation from God, anthropological disorientation, and the cultural crisis which has most of Europe in its grip, do produce anguish, and often, a crutch for blind men.
But to claim that the proposed reforms (ordaining married men as well as women, democratizing the choice of bishops, and granting Communion to remarried divorcees whose first marriage remain valid) could possibly bring about a new spring for the faith is just too much to take!
In the well-trodden and worn-out text of the Memorandum, I cannot find a single word addressed to the concerns of contemporary man, his quest, his need, his cry for help. Everything about it is in an asphyxiating internal key, so incapable are the signatories of abandoning the navel-gazing they have indulged in for the past four decades.
Indeed, these theologians demanding reforms from the Church hierarchy seem to be almost autistic. The questions they raise have been debated widely - even discussed to death - in every imaginable forum.
Vatican II itself (which they always invoke according to its 'spirit' but never by its letter, by what it actually said), various synods, and the Magisterium of the Popes from Paul VI to Benedict XVI have all pronounced the Church position unequivocally about all these issues. [i.e., What is it about NO that the dissenters don't understand?]
To choose to bring them up again at this time with the old method of gathering signatures, and with all the pomp and circumstance of the good press they enjoy, has more to do with their desire for internal power rather than going to the sources of Christian experience.
Curiously, the new manifesto coincides with the peevish appeal by a group of Catholic politicians from Germany's Christian Democrat party who demand some sort of 'German exception' to the rule of priestly celibacy. All this, quite well-orchestrated in advance of Benedict XVI's visit to Germany later this year.
More than 30 years ago, a young theologian called Joseph Ratzinger reflected about the face that the Church would show the world by the year 2000. He wrote: "The future of the Church will not come from those who simply accommodate themselves to the moment, to those who can only give prescriptions, to those who only choose the easier road, and consider false and outmoded, tyrannical and legalistic, anything that demands some effort from man, anything that may require self-renunciation".
Rather, he said, "the future will come from those who have profound roots in and live the fullness of the faith".
And just a few months ago in the interview-book Light of the World
, the same man, now the Successor of Peter, said that "even if the bureaucracy is worn out and exhausted, a totally new creativity is developing within the Church... which comes from within, from the joy of young people".
According to recent data, some 17,000 young people from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have formally registered so far to be with the Pope in Madrid for World Youth Day. It would be good for those 143 theologians to approach these young people, listen to their concerns and questions, and set aside for once the manual of perpetual protest.
Let them walk alongside them, helping them to accept the offer of faith lived within the Church as a response to their most profound desires.
That would be a necessary beginning - the one that for forty years, they have refused to make!
Perhaps many of these smug, navel-gazing 143 professors have never had to do any pastoral work, and have been exclusively academic. I wonder, as I always do about Hans Kueng, how much of the priest's life they even live (though I understand that not all of them are priests- some are even women). I have never forgotten one of the earliest comments I ever read about Joseph Ratzinger by someone who knew him when he was a professor in Bonn - that 'unlike most theology professors', he never forgot that he was a priest first and therefore always began his day with celebrating Mass.