Catholic campaigners seeking reform within their Church have published six questions for the Pope to consider during his visit to the UK next week.
They include questions on the “present over-centralised Church structure” and the lack of accountability highlighted by the child abuse crisis. There are also questions on women's ordination, sexuality, priestly celibacy and the Church's new English-language liturgy.
Catholic Voices for Reform, an umbrella organisation for pro-reform groups, delivered the questions yesterday (7 September) to Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. They asked him to pass them to the pope during his trip.
Benedict XVI will visit Glasgow, London and Birmingham during his state visit to the UK from 16 – 19 September.
Speaking at a press conference prior to handing in the questions, Simon Bryden-Brook of Catholics for a Changing Church urged the Pope to listen more carefully to his flock. He said, “A pope who does not listen to the sheep is not doing his job properly”. Pat Brown of Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO) added, “If the institution doesn't start listening, I really don't see a future for it”.
Bernard Wynne of the group Stand up for Vatican II added, “Lay people are denied a role in the central government of the Church. They're also denied a role in the diocesan and sometimes the parish government of the Church.” Bryden-Brook criticised a system that allowed power to be concentrated in “one person and his cronies”.
Bryden-Brook described the requirement for priests to be celibate as "incredibly damaging" and pointed out that it appears to be waived when it comes to Anglican clergy converting to Rome. He emphasised that "we do not denigrate celibacy for those priests who wish to adopt it,” but argued that it should not be compulsory.
Empowering the laity is a central theme of the reformers' agenda. Valerie Stroud of the group We Are Church bemoaned the lack of adult education in the Roman Catholic Church and suggested that there is a “vast swathe of Catholics who've never learnt any more about their faith than what they learnt when they were seven years old”.
Asked if they were abandoning church teaching in favour of secular notions of human rights, Bryden-Brook insisted that Christianity is about the incarnation and “God being revealed in humanity”. He said that such Christian teaching fitted naturally with a commitment to human rights.
Brown was challenged on the level of support for the ordination of women. She insisted that it is not only a western concern and that she has worked with Catholics from various parts of the global south calling for women's ordination. She admitted that CWO could not give a precise membership figure because of the fluid nature of its membership, but Wynne said that they would welcome an independent opinion poll to measure support.
The panel were asked by Ekklesia's reporter if they also wished to see change in the Vatican's approach to economic justice, given the current Pope's campaign against liberation theology in his previous role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Wynne admitted that, “The Church was very peremptory in the way it handled liberation theology” but argued that “compared to many governments”, the Church's position on social justice has been “pretty good”.
The groups that make up Catholic Voices for Reform are keen to emphasise that Catholic opinion is much broader than the views promoted by the Vatican. Bryden-Brook yesterday encouraged grassroots Catholics to take the initiative, insisting that, “change at the top will only come from pressure from below”.