Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
This question has been asked by one of the most renowned and prolific theologians in the area of Catholicism, the German Swiss Hans Küng in a recent book that bears the same title, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? ("Can the Church still be saved?" - 2012). He enthusiastically promoted the renewal of the Church together with his colleague at the University of Tübingen, Joseph Ratzinger. He has written a vast work on the Church, ecumenism, religion and other relevant topics. Because of his book questioning papal infallibility, he was severely punished by the ex-Inquisition. He didn't leave the Church, but devoted himself as few have to its reform through books, open letters and appeals to bishops and to the Christian community to open themselves up to dialogue with the modern world and the new global situation of humanity. People, sons and daughters of our time, cannot be evangelized by being presented a model of Church, made a bastion of conservatism and authoritarianism and feeling itself a fortress besieged by modernity, which is held responsible for all kinds of relativism. Incidentally, the fierce criticism directed by the current pope against relativism is made from its polar opposite, an invincible absolutism. This is the tone that has been imposed by the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI: a "no" to reform and a return to tradition and great discipline, orchestrated by the church hierarchy.
The current book, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? (2012), expresses an almost desperate cry for transformation and at the same time, a generous expression of hope that it is possible and necessary, if we don't want to go into an unfortunate institutional collapse.
Let it be clear, to begin with, that when Küng and I myself talk about the Church, we mean the community of those who feel committed to the figure and cause of Jesus, whose focus is on unconditional love, the central place of the poor and the invisible, the brotherhood of all human beings and the revelation that we are sons and daughters of God, it being Jesus himself who let us glimpse that he was the Son of God himself who took on our contradictory humanity. This is the original and true meaning of Church. But historically the word "Church" has been appropriated by the hierarchy (from the Pope to the priests); it identifies itself as Church in one word and presents itself as the Church.
Well then, what's in deep crisis is this second concept of Church, which Küng calls "the Roman system", that is, "the insitutional-hierarchical Church" or "the absolute monarchical command structure". whose headquarters is in the Vatican and centered on the figure of the Pope and the bureaucracy that surrounds him -- the Roman curia. This crisis has lasted for centuries and there has been clamor for change throughout the history of the Church, culminating in the Reformation in the 16th century and the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) today. In structural terms, structural reforms were always superficial or postponed or simply aborted.
Lately, however, the crisis has taken on a special gravity. The institutional Church (the Pope, cardinals, bishops and priests, I repeat, not the great community of the faithful) has been stricken in its heart, in what was its great pretension -- being the "moral guide and teacher" for all humanity. Some already known facts have jeopardized this claim and have led to the discrediting of the institutional Church, which has caused a great emigration of the faithful: the financial scandals involving the Vatican Bank (Istituto per le Opere di Religione – IOR), which became a sort of off-shore money laundering outfit; the secret documents stolen, who knows, maybe even from the Pope's desk, by his own secretary and sold to the newspapers, revealing the power intrigues among the cardinals; and especially the issue of pedophile priests, thousands of cases in various countries, involving priests, bishops and even Hans Hermann Groer, the Cardinal of Vienna. The instruction given by then Cardinal Ratzinger to all the world's bishops to cover up, under pontifical seal, the sexual abuse of minors to prevent pedophile priests being reported to civil authorities, was extremely serious. Finally the pope had to acknowledge the criminal nature of pedophilia and accept its prosecution by the civil courts.
Küng shows, with irrefutable historical scholarship, the steps taken by the popes to go from successors of Peter to vicars of Christ and God's representatives on earth. The titles that canon 331 gives the Pope are of such magnitude that, in fact, they are only fit for God. An absolute papal monarchy with a golden crozier doesn't match the wooden crook of the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep with love and strengthens them in faith, as the Master asks (Lk 22:32).