UCA News
Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
Reforming the Catholic Church
In spite of great diversity, there’s fairly unanimous agreement about what needs to be done
August 16, 2022 10:32 AM GMT

December 29, 2022 10:14 AM GMT

One of the descriptions of the Catholic Church during the years of the Vatican Council II was “the Pilgrim Church.” This referred to the struggles of the Christian community to become better disciples of Christ as they moved together, as pilgrims do, towards a holy place.

It was related to yet another description popular at that time: ecclesia semper reformanda — “a Church always in need of reform.”

Catholic Church Reform International (CCRI), a network of Catholic groups from 65 countries, takes this motto seriously. It has been working since 2013 to identify issues in the Church which need changing, and to involve as many as it can in bringing this about.

Reflections and responses from a series of gatherings worldwide have been compiled into a document, to be submitted to Rome as a preparation for the Synod of 2023.

The document reflects the extensive knowledge of CCRI member organizations as they report on the relationship (or lack thereof) of bishops with the people in their own country.

What the Catholic laity want

Common concerns expressed in these synodal gatherings were:

• The swelling numbers of Catholics leaving the Church, particularly young people;

• The dysfunctional governance of our Church.  Far too many bishops regard their roles as autocratic in nature, and seek little or no engagement with the people of the Church for whom they are pastorally responsible;

• Patriarchal dominance in the Church, with women excluded from important administrative and ministerial roles; and

• A number of deeply flawed official teachings are currently rejected by the sensus fidelium, especially regarding sexuality and reproduction, which fail to reflect authentic natural law.

Participants in this series of global synodal gatherings strongly support Pope Francis’s efforts to implement a synodal church, one where bishops and people “walk together” to make decisions for the whole community.

The failure of most bishops

The Catholic tradition — as distinct from the Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal traditions — has always emphasized the role of its hierarchy. It sees it as a symbol of apostolic succession, with its emphasis on the role of the magisterium. Therefore, bishops have always demanded respect and obedience from the faithful.

So, it is sad that this respect has been almost entirely forfeited today, especially in the West. In fact, bishops are seen as the main obstacle to synodality and ecclesial reform.

Partly this is due to the pedophile scandals of the last 50 years, and the lies and prevarications which went into the cover-ups, all of which were manipulated by the episcopacy.

But it is also because of the aristocratic lifestyle of so many bishops, their distance from ordinary folk and their misogynist attitudes. 

Relationships between bishops and the clergy and the faithful are at a low ebb. Most bishops do not visit parishes once in five years as canon law requires. The majority of dioceses and parishes do not have pastoral plans.

No wonder then that ‘collegiality’ — the in-word of Vatican II — has been dumped in favor of ‘synodality.’ Church reform is not a task just for bishops, but for everyone, especially the laity. It’s they who now take the lead.

The Indian scenario

To focus more specifically on India, we dwell on just two issues: gender injustice and caste.

Numerous reports over the years have lent credibility to the statement that India is probably the worst place in the world for women, so rampant are the crimes against them, especially against the poor and defenseless.

The plight of Catholic women — whether single or married, lay or religious — is no different from that of the general population. In some respects, it may even be worse.

This is because religious indoctrination keeps women meek and humble and does not allow them to assert themselves.

It’s High Time, a recent publication of the Conference of Religious in India, surveys the numerous ways in which priests and bishops demean and belittle religious sisters, and harass them in private and public, especially over matters of property. The very title of the booklet suggests that “it’s high time” that women religious spoke out.

And yet, astonishingly, many women religious superiors are reluctant to let their own communities read this report, as they are afraid “the bishops will be offended.”

And yet, the report stays silent on one important crime that has increasingly come to public attention these days: sexual assaults on religious sisters by priests and bishops.

No wonder most educated Catholic women feel that they have no future in a Church that does not respect them. This correlates with the findings of the CCRI: young people, both men and women, are leaving the church in droves.

Caste in the Indian Church

The other major issue in the Indian Church is caste. It continues to divide not just Indian society, but the Indian Church as well, and provides the pretext for the worst human rights abuse anywhere.  Dalits who converted to Christianity find their lot has not necessarily improved. They are still despised and discriminated against.

To free ourselves of caste prejudice requires the economic uplift of the whole community, not an easy task by any means. It also requires an equal opportunity to office in the Church, from which Dalits have hitherto been precluded.  Both are huge challenges.

And finally

The CCRI concludes its report with a significant comment.

Our understanding of Christianity is less about time spent in church, and more about realizing that being Christian means showing our love for God through loving all those who are in our lives — our family, friends, enemies, and those not easy to love.

This means standing in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants and the less fortunate who most need us in society.

We may be culturally different and regionally diverse, but we are one in thinking that these reforms are essential — to sustain the Church today, and to offer it a hope-filled future.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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