US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pope Benedict five years on

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Hans Kung has thrown down the gauntlet with his open letter to the world's Catholic bishops, including a six-point plan for reforming the church. Kung's advice, which culminates in a call for a new council, is wise and even, despite his reputation, much of it undeserved, as a theological renegade.

More controversial will be his account of the pope's five-year tenure, which he catalogs as a series of missed opportunities on ecumenism, relationships with Jews and Muslims, a revisionist interpretation of Vatican II and its liturgical reform, and now most seriously with the sex abuse crisis.

Kung's critique is a fair one, and I'd go as far as to say that in these five years the Ratzinger papacy has lurched from catastrophe to catastrophe, beginning with the Regensburg speech of 2006, continuing with the unconditional rehabilitation of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, and culminating in the international sex abuse crisis, which is only going to get bigger.

Kung points his finger directly at the Roman Curia, and its reform is certainly number one on the to-do list. Its members have usurped the proper authority of the college of bishops and has stifled any attempt at regional approaches to problems facing the church. The fact that many dicasteries are headed by men far outside of the mainstream of the people of God--all on the extreme far right--practically guarantees no movement in the direction of reform and more retrograde movement in the areas of liturgy, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue.

But now we must ask: Where are the world's bishops? Why won't anyone offer an alternative approach? What do they have to lose in speaking their minds from their experience as pastors? The church is foundering and about to hit the rocks, and too many of us are arranging deck chairs.

Kung raises good, hard questions, but I fear his letter will fall on deaf ears. Now is the time for openness, for public discussion, and for a new beginning, but no one in power seems to have the nerve. The fact of the matter is that the church is now too large and too diverse to be run by a medieval bureaucracy in the capital of an ancient empire. The gospel and the disciples called to proclaim it deserve better.