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Catholics urge revolution, reform and rebirth if Church is to be relevant in the new millennium

October 10, 1999

(Rome, Italy, Monday 11th October 1999.) The lay Catholic movements in Europe said today that revolution, reform and rebirth within the church must be the watchwords of the new millennium if the Catholic Church is to be relevant in the lives of ordinary men and women.

Speaking at a news conference to release the conclusions of the Forum of European Catholics (October 7-10, 1999) Elfriede Harth, spokesperson for the International Movement We Are Church, said, “ If we are to bridge the gulf that has developed between the hierarchy and the Catholic people and prevent it from developing into a chasm, there must be fundamental change in the decision making structures of the church.”

“At the Forum, Catholics from all over Europe were clear about what they want. The change the church needs is not a cosmetic one. We need a fundamental turnabout or revolution in the hearts and minds of the hierarchy.”

“The Catholic hierarchy must embrace a more inclusive model of governance if it is to regain the trust and respect of Catholics in Europe who feel alienated by high handed decisions from the church leadership. The style of “leadership” we now experience from the Vatican is more commonly associated with multi-national corporations than with the family of God,” Harth said.

Isaac Wust, speaking for the European Network/ Church on the Move, said, “ We do not come from our Forum with a litany of demands. We come to offer a new vision of church. We envisage a church that shares responsibility and is defined by openness and equality. We do not see Jesus in a church in which relationships and roles are determined by who has power and who does not.”

Mr. Wust continued by saying, “ Much has changed among the people in the pews over the years. The Catholic faithful are no longer little children, to be dismissed by bishops and cardinals with a wave of the hand or a papal pronouncement. We have grown into mature and responsible adults in the faith, ready and willing to share both the burden and the responsibility of decision making in the church.”

The idea of a Catholic European people’s synod was inspired by the people of Asia who last year organized their own meeting when they were excluded from their own bishops Synod. The European Bishops’ Synod is the last in a series of synods the Pope convoked to prepare the Church for the third millennium.

The Forum of European Catholics served as a parallel or “shadow synod”, which challenged the exclusion of lay Catholics from the proceedings of the II Special Assembly of the European Bishop’s synod now meeting in Rome.

The one hundred participants in the people’s Forum came from across Europe representing church reform groups in Austria, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Malta and Italy. Participants discussed the structure of the church and participation by the faithful in decision-making, the position of women in the church and society and conflict and reconciliation in Europe. The conclusions of the Forum of European Catholics will be shared with Catholic communities, the bishops at the Synod including the Pope and democratic institutions in the European Union.

The Forum also dealt with a number of contentious issues in current church teaching. The Forum condemned the hypocrisy of the annulment process following divorce because it, “denies the truth that marriage sometimes fails and forces individuals and couples to engage in a dishonest charade. We call upon the church leadership to recognize the tradition of the early Catholic Church and the current Orthodox Church which allows for far more humane, compassionate and just divorce solutions within the Catholic tradition,” Ms Harth said.

“The hierarchy’s ban on contraception makes the Catholic Church the ‘laughingstock of the world,’” said Ms Harth. “It is one example of the narrow definition of morality we constantly hear from the hierarchy and one that keeps many people and especially younger people, out of Church.”

“It is no secret that in countries with large Catholic populations from Italy to Ireland, Spain to Mexico, Portugal to the Philippines, the majority of Catholics totally disregard this ruling. It denies couples the right to control their own fertility in the way they find most appropriate. The tragedy is that the hierarchy uses discredited teaching to influence public policy, especially in developing countries where women die as a result of such policies,” Harth continued.

On the question of priests, the Forum said, “In many northern countries the Catholic press is filled with reports about a so-called priest shortage. This Forum has news. There is no priest shortage. There are plenty of women and men, ready to serve in a priestly ministry once the hierarchy accepts the ordination of women and realizes that priestly celibacy should be optional.”


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