Monday, February 18, 2013

Catholic Scholars' Declaration on Authority in the Catholic Church

I somehow missed covering this declaration when it was first publicized in October 2012 -- probably because, like a number of its signatories, I was heavily immersed in the Continental Theology Congress in Brazil that month. In this declaration, theologians and other leaders in the Church across the world lay out their suggestions for how the administration of our Church needs to change.

History and Process

The history and process behind this declaration are fascinating and explain, perhaps, why it has had so little real publicity. According the website devoted to the Declaration, "a group of theologians met at an international conference on 'Handing On the Torch' Utrecht, 2010). They concluded that in many areas of the Church's life progress is blocked by an imbalance in the exercise of authority." Theologian and former Catholic priest Johannes Wijngaards spearheaded the effort to gather more information and documentation. Wijngaards, who returned to lay status in 2000 and subsequently married, is primarily known for his early and consistent advocacy of women's ordination. He is the author of multiple books on the subject, the most recent of which is The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium (Canterbury Press, 2012). He is also the mastermind behind, a major academic resource collection on this topic.

The gathering of support for the declaration was done through networking. The academic signatories, or "sponsors" as they have been called, were generally invited by other sponsors. "We only invite persons who possess the academic qualifications and the experience of Catholic life that enable them to endorse the Jubilee Declaration responsibly. No one is put on the list unless he or she has clearly indicated his/her endorsement of the Declaration." There are 160 academic sponsors, according to the site. Subsequently, a web-based signature gathering form was added for "co-signatories", of which there are 2,032 to date.

The website also contains a more developed blueprint of what the proposed authority structure would look like, a discussion of the values reflected in this process, and "case studies" on the main "hot button" issues in the Church: the sex abuse scandal, contraceptives, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy, women priests, and divorced and remarried Catholics.

The Declaration

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) we call on all other members of the People of God to assess the situation in our church.

Many of the key insights of Vatican II have not at all, or only partially, been implemented. This has been due to resistance in some quarters, but also to a measure of ambiguity that remained unresolved in certain Council documents.

A principal source of present-day stagnation lies in misunderstanding and abuse affecting the exercise of authority in our Church. Specifically, the following issues require urgent redress:

The role of the papacy needs to be clearly re-defined in line with Christ's intentions. As supreme pastor, unifier and prime witness to faith, the pope contributes substantially to the health of the universal church. However, his authority may never obscure, diminish or suppress the authentic authority directly given by Christ to all members of the people of God.

Bishops are vicars of Christ, not vicars of the pope. They carry immediate responsibility for people in their dioceses, and joint responsibility, with other bishops and the pope, for the world-wide community of faith.

The central synod of bishops should assume a more decisive role in planning and guiding the maintenance and growth of faith within our complex world. To execute its task, the synod of bishops needs to be given appropriate structures.

The Second Vatican Council prescribed collegiality and co-responsibility on all levels. This has not been realised. Priestly senates and pastoral councils, as envisaged by the Council, should involve the faithful more directly in decision making concerning the formulation of doctrine, the running of the pastoral ministry and evangelization in secular society.

The abuse of choosing for leadership offices in the church only candidates of a particular mindset, should be eradicated. Instead, new norms should be laid down and supervised to ensure that elections to such offices are conducted in a fair, transparent and, to the extent possible, democratic fashion.

The Roman curia requires a more radical reform, in line with the instructions and vision of Vatican II. The curia should be retained for its useful administrative and executive roles.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith should be assisted by international commissions of experts who have been independently chosen for their professional competence.

These are by no means all the changes that may be required. We also realise that the implementation of such structural revisions will need to be worked out in detail according to the possibilities and limitations of present and future circumstances. However, we stress that the seven reforms outlined above are urgent and their implementation should be started immediately.

The exercise of authority in our church should emulate the standards of openness, accountability and democracy achieved in modern society. Leadership should be seen to be honest and credible; inspired by humility and service; breathing concern for people rather than preoccupation with rules and discipline; radiating a Christ who makes us free; and listening to Christ's Spirit who speaks and acts through each and every person.

The Sponsors

This project is notable for the names associated with it. Indeed, except for a handful, many of the world's best known progressive theologians have signed on. The website helpfully also makes space for biographical information on each sponsor -- making it also a great starting point for building up a progressive theological library!

  1. Kochurani Abraham
  2. Subhash Anand
  3. Mario I. Aguilar
  4. Xavier Alegre
  5. Francis Ambrosio
  6. María Pillar Aquino
  7. Edmund Arens
  8. Simón Pedro Arnold
  9. Ann Marie Bahr
  10. Juan Barreto Betancort
  11. Dom Marcelo Barros de Souza
  12. Gregory Baum
  13. Michel Beaudin
  14. Peter Beisheim
  15. Leonardo Boff
  16. Sharon Bong
  17. Kari Elisabeth Børresen
  18. Raymond Breton
  19. Johannes Brosseder
  20. Eugene C. Bianchi
  21. Hugo Cáceres Guinet
  22. Deirdre Carabine
  23. Yves Carrier
  24. Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga
  25. José Marías Castillo
  26. Adela Yarbro Collins
  27. John J. Collins
  28. Paul Collins
  29. Luca Badini Confalonieri
  30. Gabriel Daly
  31. Margaret Daly-Denton
  32. Paul Dinter
  33. Donal Dorr
  34. John Esposito
  35. Juan Antonio Estrada
  36. René van Eyden
  37. David DeCosse
  38. Marianne M Delaporte
  39. Seán Fagan
  40. José Ignacio González Faus
  41. Teresa Forcades i Vila
  42. Benjamin Forcano
  43. Manuel Fraijó
  44. Sean Freyne
  45. Joaquín García Roca
  46. Mary Grey
  47. Gerald Grudzen
  48. Christine Gudorf
  49. Bishop Tom Gumbleton
  50. Hermann Häring
  51. Wilfrid Harrington
  52. Gotthold Hasenhüttl
  53. John F. Haught
  54. Bishop Heriberto Hermes
  55. Linda Hogan
  56. Toine van den Hoogen
  57. Michael Hornsby-Smith
  58. Jan Jans
  59. Martin Jäggle
  60. Gertrud Jaron Lewis
  61. Marie R. Joyce
  62. Erik Jurgens
  63. Manuela Kalsky
  64. Leo Karrer
  65. Othmar Keel
  66. Guillermo Kerber Mas
  67. Ursula King
  68. Walter Kirchschläger
  69. Paul Knitter
  70. James Kottoor
  71. Hans Küng
  72. Gerhard Kruip
  73. Karl-Josef Kuschel
  74. L. Laeyendecker
  75. Paul Lakeland
  76. Bernhard Lang
  77. André Lascaris
  78. Michael Lawler
  79. Michel Lejeune
  80. Roger Lenaers
  81. Bernard Linares
  82. Eleazar López Hernández
  83. Gerard Loughlin
  84. Kathleen Maas Weigert
  85. Gerard Mannion
  86. Joseph Martos
  87. Juan Masiá Clavel
  88. Joseph Mattam
  89. Mary McAleese
  90. Michael McKale
  91. Charles McMahon
  92. Norbert Mette
  93. Dietmar Mieth
  94. Paul Misner
  95. Albert Moliner
  96. Bishop William Morris
  97. Inácio Neutzling
  98. Rui Manuel Grácio das Neves
  99. Peter Nissen
  100. Joseph Adero Ngala
  101. Joseph Stephen O'Leary
  102. Thomas O'Loughlin
  103. Francis C Oakley
  104. Anthony T. Padovano
  105. Luis Augusto Panchi
  106. Joseph Pathrapankal
  107. Jesús Peláez del Rosal
  108. Richard Penaskovic
  109. Peter C Phan
  110. Xabier Pikaza Ibarrondo
  111. Margarita Maria Pintos
  112. Bishop Pat Power
  113. Kim Power
  114. Gunter Prüller-Jagenteufel
  115. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson
  116. José Amando Robles
  117. Susan Roll
  118. Patricia Rumsey
  119. Rosemary Radford Ruether
  120. Todd Salzman
  121. Joseph Selling
  122. Sandra Schneiders
  123. Helen Schüngel-Straumann
  124. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
  125. Ingrid H.Shafer
  126. Thomas A Shannon
  127. Thomas Sheehan
  128. Fernando Silva
  129. David Stronck
  130. Denise Starkey
  131. John Sullivan
  132. Jung Mo Sung
  133. Luiz Carlos Susin
  134. Leonard Swidler
  135. Juan José Tamayo
  136. Faustino Teixeira
  137. Samuel J. Thomas
  138. Margaret Susan Thompson
  139. J Milburn Thompson
  140. Teresa Toldy
  141. Luiza Etsuko Tomita
  142. Andrés Torres Queiruga
  143. John Trumpbour
  144. Carmelita (Lilith) M. Usog
  145. Juan Martín Velasco
  146. Bishop José Raúl Vera López
  147. José Vico Peinado
  148. Marciano Vidal García
  149. José Maria Vigil
  150. Evaristo Villar
  151. Francisco Javier Vitoria Cormenzana
  152. Marie-Theres Wacker
  153. Michael Walsh
  154. Andrew Weigert
  155. Michael Winter
  156. Werner Wolbert
  157. Lode Wostyn
  158. Aloys Wijngaards
  159. John Wijngaards
  160. Hans-Georg Ziebertz


  1. I looked at the list of signatories, and it gave me hope that there are so many educated men and women trying to call the Church to re-examine its authority and live it more authentically. But will the new pope hear them??? Come Holy Spirit.

  2. When I read this, I somehow feel the breeze of inspiring hope for the brighter and more vibrant Church in the near future. May the Holy Spirit continue to blow to the right direction.