Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pope Denies Need for Structural Change: Paul Knitter Responds


Not So Easy, your Holiness!

Pope Bendict XVI’s recent efforts to deal with the clergy sexual abuse problem are not only too feeble; they’re downright dangerous.
The National Catholic Reporter reported on Benedict’s sermon for his general audience on Sept 8 with this lead: “The problem of abuse by clergy is solved more by a spirit of penitence and conversion by its members than by a radical change of church structures, Pope Benedict XVI said.”
The Pope’s own words were: “a true renewal of the ecclesial community is not achieved so much with a change in the structures as much as with a sincere spirit of penitence.”
Your Holiness,  that approach not only lets you and the bishops off the hook.  It allows the conditions in which this problem bred to endure.
Maybe it’s because the Pope doesn’t like liberation theology that he won’t accept one of its central claims:  sin may have its roots in the human heart, but it can take on an independent reality of its own in the structures of institutions and laws.  To confront sin and evil, a change of heart is always necessary.  But often it is not enough.
And that certainly pertains to the problem of priestly and episcopal pedophilia, and its cover up.   The actual acts of sexual abuse of children may not be directly linked to obligatory celibacy. But it does have to do with the clerical ethos or culture that results from the all-male, all-celibate (supposedly), and all-powerful structures of authority in the Catholic Church.
Even more clearly, the sad cover-ups and the persistent refusal to admit complicity by most bishops (especially in the USA) have to do with the patriarchal structures that place absolute power of authority in the hands of one bishop in each diocese and in the hands of one bishop over all the Catholic Church.
Unless these structures are changed according to the spirit and I dare say mandates of the Second Vatican Council – which called for greater power sharing between bishops and pope, and between laity and clergy – there will be no “true renewal of the ecclesial community.”
Your Holiness,  Please change your heart so that we can change our structures.


Paul Knitter is a world-famous theologian, currently a professor at Union Theological in New York. He has written that he could not be a Christian with the Buddha. The above article recently appeared in his blog, http://unionindialogue.org/paulknitter/

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