Irish, German Statements Seek Church Renewal

A “listening program” has been launched across the 88 parishes of the Diocese of Down and Connor, near Belfast in Northern Ireland, intended to draw the counsel of parishioners in church affairs. Noel Treanor, the diocesan bishop, said, “The history of the church includes moments when the people of God are called to reform and renew the church. This is one such moment.” While the program is seen as a response to the widespread disappointment and anger felt by Irish Catholics in the wake of the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, Bishop Treanor insisted that “even if the scandals didn’t happen, even if there were just as many priests now as there were 50 years ago, this process would still be necessary.

“We have been grappling since the 1960s with the whole idea of how we make the church more participative,” he said. “This will be a step toward that, a step toward a church that is more open, transparent and where there is accountability.” Bishop Treanor said he wanted “to live in a church where someone can feel free to say exactly what they think to a bishop and where a bishop can be free to say exactly what he thinks.”

The call for such active listening was not limited to Northern Ireland. On Feb. 3 an Irish priests’ association issued a statement proposing a delay in implementing the new translation of the Roman Missal. Meanwhile, on the continent a statement was signed by more than 200 theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland calling for the church to address the problems of the priest shortage by allowing married priests, permitting women to have more active roles in church ministry and letting laypeople help select bishops and pastors.

The theologians said on Feb. 4 that they could no longer remain silent in the face of a lingering crisis within the church because of the sexual abuse scandals, the priest shortage and the increasing rate of Catholics “terminating” their relationship with the church. They said the church should “trust in people’s ability to make decisions and carry responsibility” in their own lives and that it should “not revert to paternalism.” They praised the church’s esteem for married and unmarried lives but said this should not exclude same-sex couples and divorced and remarried couples, though the statement stopped short of asking the church to officially sanction same-sex unions.

At a news conference in Dublin on Feb. 3, representatives from the Association of Catholic Priests appealed for a five-year postponement of the introduction of the new missal to allow further consultation with priests and the laity. They said the proposed literal translations from Latin had produced texts that were “archaic, elitist and obscure and not in keeping with the natural rhythm, cadence and syntax of the English language.”

“We are saying very clearly that this new translation of the missal is not acceptable,” said the Rev. Gerard Alwill, pastor of a rural parish in the Diocese of Kilmore, during the news conference. “We are deeply concerned that if these new texts are imposed, they could create chaos in our church. Our church doesn’t need chaos at this time.”

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