This is an article wrote for the Journal, Soul and Vision, by Father John K. Thekkedam (also known as Swami Dr. Snehananda Jyoti). With the permission of Soul and Vision we are publishing this article in three parts.
The Journal, Soul and Vision, provides a very necessary and important service in conscientizing Catholics for the Reformation of the Catholic Church, especially in Kerala, through challenging and enlightening articles. Now the primary question is: What are we reforming the Church into? In other words, what do we envision it to be? what is its new shape? How will it look when it is finally reformed? Using a simple metaphor to illustrate the point, when we embark on rehabilitating an old house we have a plan or blueprint in our mind as a model for the outcome - the newly rehabilitated house. We know what are the portions to be torn down, what are the parts to be preserved, and what are the additions to be made. Putting new wine into old wineskins (Mathew 9: 17) will not do. An old Latin saying ecclesia semper reformanda est (the church is to be always reformed) is very relevant here. Let us briefly look at the universal Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council, the most important council of all time, called by Pope John XXIII, perhaps the most important pope in history, and attended by 2625 bishops and their experts for theological consultation from all over the world besides observers from Orthodox Churches and Protestant Denominations, was to usher the Catholic Church into the modern world from the dark middle ages. Bishop Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II, attended the council. And so did Father Josef Ratzinger, the present Pope, Benedict XVI, as a theological consultant. Pope John Paul II through his benign neglect of the spirit of the council turned the clock back, managed the Church in an autocratic way by appointing hand-picked bishops and Cardinals to very responsible positions in the church and by censuring and disciplining creative theologians mainly through Cardinal Ratzinger, and failed to usher the Church into the 21st century. After the death of John Paul II, out of the 115 Cardinals who assembled to elect his successor 113 were appointed by Pope John Paul II. A reporter in the Time magazine quipped after the election that Cardinal Ratzinger was as close to cloning Pope John Paul II as the Catholic Church could get. And so it was. The Catholic Church is languishing without a bold and visionary leader at the helm of the church affairs. The time for a third and fourth Vatican Council is long overdue considering the rapid changes that are taking place in the fields of theology and medical ethics. Moral issues related to marriage, divorce, re- marriage, family planning, death penalty, and celibacy for priests, poverty, unbridled capitalism, social justice, and human rights need to be dealt with in the light of the Gospels. Many churches are being closed or combined in the United States for lack of priests. Vocations to priesthood and religious life are abysmally low. The credibility of the church is all-time low especially at the wake of child sexual abuse by so-called celibate priests. Exodus from the Catholic Church is increasing. Quite a few Catholics are joining other Christian denominations. In the last interview given two weeks before his death on August 31, 2012 Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan and a Jesuit biblical scholar, who was favored by progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II until he revealed he had a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, portrayed Catholic church as a bureaucratic, pompous institution failing to move with the times. He stated in the interview: “The Catholic church is two hundred years out of date. Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous. The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation. A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children. The church loses the next generation” (Posted on September 1, 2012 by Reuters). While I appreciate his views on the church at this late hour, I wonder why he was silent all this while. As a Jesuit he could not have been free, while alive, to talk publicly against his superior, the pope, because of his vow of obedience. I would not have been able to write what I am writing now had I continued as a professed Jesuit. A vow of obedience where a person cannot express his legitimate views in public does not serve God who gave us freedom, the most precious gift. A self-serving theology that justifies that kind of obedience needs to be confined to the dustbin of history. In no uncertain terms Paul opposes Peter to his face and condemns him for his insincerity and double standard with the gentiles and the Jewish circumcision party (Galatians 3: 11-21). The noteworthy thing is that Paul did not have any problem in exposing the first Pope’s (Peter’s) condemnatory behavior to the Galatian Christian community by writing about it in his public letter to them. So who the church leaders think they are? Are they above Peter and Paul of the early Christian community? What are they afraid of? Why every dissent has to be shrouded in secrecy? Jesus said: “..Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known..” Mathew 10: 26-27). A church that is not transparent cannot bring it out of the wilderness and achieve its spiritual destiny. A church leadership that is autocratic is incapable of bringing its members to full spiritual development. Only truth can set us free (John 8: 31-32). No secrecy, no obedience can set us free. Any serious searcher who discerns God’s will and follows it knows obedience to God’s will. No further obedience to a human being is required. Certainly we need to obey legal rules that are also moral. All who follow the teachings of Christ are representatives of Christ, nay, they are other Christs. Christ has mediated for us once and for all. We do not need any other authority of mediation and create a glorious theology to support it. Autocracy is about power and control. It does not trust others. It does not disseminate information. It controls knowledge and information, and decides who receives them. In olden days the high castes in India deprived the low castes of education. The whites in USA forbade education to the blacks during the days of slavery. They knew knowledge was power. Now the autocrats know information is power. Autocracy makes persons dependent, anxious, oppressed, unsure, and unfree. It creates a class system, a hierarchy. Christ came to free us (Luke 4: 18-19), to serve not to be served (Mathew 20: 28), to provide a model of service (John 13: 14-15). His authority came from serving others. He came to set us free from bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21). For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians, 5:1). Autocracy, a fall-out of the discredited, convoluted theology that advocated the divine right of kings in the days when the pope was also considered to be a temporal ruler in the mode of an emperor, has no place in Christian theology or spirituality. The dogma of infallibility for the pope, that smacked of the times when the Roman emperors who persecuted Christians were considered to be gods, and the Supreme Pontiff (pope) as the spiritual and temporal emperor of not only the Holy Roman empire but of the entire world with no restriction in power and authority modeling their life on the power, pelf, titles, and visible display of the power Roman emperors, was imposed on the Church in 1870. This dogma served no useful purpose, and did more harm than good. It further burdened the faith of a Christian who already had great difficulty in believing the Incarnation of Christ as God and his resurrection from death. It only exposed Church to ridicule through such an unreasonable demand. I was appalled by the recent news (September 24, 2012) coming out of Germany that German Catholics lose church rights including Holy Communion or church burial if they stop paying a special church tax. In this modern age this position of the church seems to be even more serious than the one on indulgences which Martin Luther denounced at the start of the reformation. This kind of position on the part of the official church leaves no doubt in my mind for the need for urgent reformation as the foremost priority. We who love the Church as much as anyone including the pope cannot allow the Church to be hijacked by a particular view. We need to awake from years of slumber wherein we followed church authorities unquestionably. The time has come to learn our history and reflect on it prayerfully so that we can form enlightened opinions based on facts.
(to be continued)