We Are Church was profiled today in The Washington Post. The group states that their mission is to work for “the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the theological spirit developed from it.” They have brought leading Roman Catholic “dissidents” together in Rome to press for changes in the church as Cardinals gather to select a new pope. Leaders of the group want more progressive stances from the church on issues ranging from birth control use to the ordination of women.
"Suppression of thought, loss of ideas, closing down of discussion -- that's not an act of faith. That's not of the Holy Spirit," said Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Erie, Pa. "Unity is good, but it has a dark side."
Critics of the late Pope John Paul II say he stifled debate. Over 100 theologians were sanctioned by the pope for disagreeing with him on difficult theological issues. Many Roman Catholics believe the church must become more open to debate.
The Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, published an essay today reflecting on the changes taking place in the Roman Catholic Church after the passing of Pope John Paul II. He outlined his thoughts on the current difficulties in ecumenical relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations:
During this papacy many of us in the Protestant community have sensed a waning of commitment to the ecumenical enthusiasm of the Second Vatican Council. While important agreements were reached and historic personal encounters took place, and while most of us personally enjoy significant collegial friendships with Roman Catholics, many episcopal appointments, a number of statements from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a pulling back from important liturgical agreements have been troubling. I yearn for a pope who can revitalize a more open and hospitable Catholic ecumenical engagement both at the international and local levels.
Protestants must understand the inherently conservative character of theological work in the Catholic Church. Its work is carried out with a very different understanding of the relative weight of Tradition and contemporary context in theological inquiry from that of the Reformed churches. Nevertheless, there has been a disturbing trend marked by celebrated early confrontations with theologians like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff and Charles Curran and continuing throughout this papacy that has increasingly limited the parameters of acceptable theological investigation in the Church. I yearn for a more intellectually venturesome pope willing to encourage the creativity and risk-taking of the Catholic theological community.
Throughout John Paul's papacy the Catholic Church's readiness to hear the voices of women among the baptized has remained limited. To women who have testified to their sense of God's call to ordained ministry the Church has spoken a consistent "no." I yearn for a pope whose devotion to Mary is matched by a commitment to the bold claims of the Magnificat that upend convention, for a pope who might help the Church begin to recover in the ancient texts of Scripture and the earliest experiences of the Church an affirmation of the ministry of women and of their equality in the Church, texts and experiences all too often obscured by centuries of patriarchy.
Churches throughout the world are torn by disagreement over the membership and ministry of gay and lesbian persons. With many other churches, the Catholic Church has tried in vain to express compassion and care while at the same time voicing traditional theological judgments that demean and exclude. I yearn for a pope prepared to risk for the sake of inclusion, who will ask the Church to enter into a time of self-reflection and pastoral listening with its gay and lesbian members that might shape new and welcoming moral and theological understandings.
Protestants should not yearn for a "Protestant Pope." What we should yearn for is a "catholic" pope in the best sense of that word, a pope with a universal horizon of compassion and commitment, a pope attentive to the widest range of voices yearning for a place of responsibility and discipleship in the church, a pope loyal to the whole historical sweep of Christian faith and practice, not just to certain aspects of it. Above all, we should yearn for a pope committed to living out the ancient title of "servant of the servants of God," a vocation to which John Paul II throughout his papacy was so deeply and wonderfully devoted.
Click here to read his full essay.
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