“In our roles as theology professors we can no longer remain silent,” began 144 leading Catholic theologians from Germany, Switzerland and Austria in a bluntly frank open letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy….
Among other demands, the statement calls for ending celibacy requirements for priests, opening the priesthood to women, and in general introducing significantly more democracy into the church’s structures in the German-speaking world and beyond. “We feel that we have the responsibility to contribute to an authentic new beginning,” the theologians continue, referring to the “unparalleled crisis year of 2010.”
If you read the document itself (now online, and collecting additional signatures) it's quite remarkable. (My emphases.)
The appeal for an open dialogue on structures of power and communication, on the form of ecclesial office, and on the participation of the faithful in taking responsibility, on morality and sexuality have awakened expectations, but also fears. Could it happen that what might be the last chance for a departure from paralysis and resignation be missed by sitting out or minimizing the crisis? ….
In the past year, more Christians than ever before have left the Catholic Church. …The Church must understand these signs and must itself depart from ossified structures in order to recover new vitality and credibility….
The faithful stay away when they are not trusted to share responsibility and to participate in more democratic structures in the leadership of their parish communities. Ministry within the Church must serve the life of the communities – not the other way around. The Church also needs married priests and women in ordained ministry….
The Church’s esteem for marriage and for the unmarried form of life goes without saying. But this does not require the exclusion of people who responsibly live out love, faithfulness, and mutual care in same-sex partnerships or in a remarriage after divorce….
The Church cannot preach reconciliation with God if it does not create by its own actions the conditions for reconciliation with those whom the Church has wronged: by violence, by withholding law, by turning the biblical message of freedom into a rigorous morality without mercy…..
Through a free and fair exchange of arguments solutions have to be sought that lead the Church out of its crippling preoccupation with itself.
What about the response to it? The National Catholic Reporter tells us,
The German bishops welcome the contribution of the theologians to dialogue about the future of the church, said a Feb. 4 statement released by Jesuit Fr. Hans Langendörfer, secretary of the German bishops’ conference….
He noted that several issues raised in the letter are in “tension” with core church theology and teaching and these will “require urgent further clarification.”….. Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg, Germany, spoke out sharply against any attempt to apply pressure on the Catholic church from outside of its structures. Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany, argued for maintaining the celibacy requirement as it uniquely binds priests to Christ.
And the Pope apparently also proposes increased monitoring of theologians, tightening up the party line for his smaller, purer church:
The Pope also commented on the fact that the participants have begun a revision of the Apostolic Constitution "Sapientia christiana" on ecclesiastical universities and faculties. "One sector meriting particular attention is that of theology", he said. "It is vital for theology to remain closely linked to individual and community prayer, especially liturgical prayer…. To reach these goals, particular attention must be paid to the education of directors and formators, not only from a professional, but also from a religious and spiritual standpoint so that, through coherent lifestyle and personal involvement, the presence of Christian educators may become an expression of love and a witness of truth".Can a night of the long knives be far behind?
Still, knowing (as I'm sure you do) many fine Roman Catholics, I'm glad to see the pushback moving up the ranks.