Dr John Wijngaards appeals for systemic reform in the Church

 The Pope's letter to the people of Ireland, while decrying the sins of individual priests, bishops and even secular society, completely fails to address the systemic failings of the Church itself, including the Vatican. The 'tsunami' of child abuse cases in a dozen western countries clearly shows there is a need of structural reforms. I will highlight four of them.

Co-responsibility of the laity in Church governance should be introduced as intended by Vatican II. This means that dioceses and parishes should have pastoral councils with real decision-making power, not the emasculated 'deliberative' councils sanctioned by the 1984 edition of Canon Law.

Secondly, the appointment of bishops should take place through an objective selection of capable spiritual leaders who put matters of truth, justice and conscience above loyalty to the Church. It is not fair to blame present-day bishops for 'a misguided sense of loyalty' if in the secretive process by which they were chosen, the norms of 'obedience to authority' and 'loyalty to the Church' were major criteria to which they had to swear allegiance by oath.

Moreover, women should be given leadership functions throughout the Church, including in the ordained ministries. The exclusion of women from the priesthood can be shown to be due to cultural bias not to valid theological reasons. One consequence of this theological anachronism is often overlooked. Present Church Law restricts all jurisdiction, that is: authority in the Church, to ordained clerics, so that women ipso facto lack all authority.

Last not least, the Church must adopt a healthy culture of sex and abandon the negative sexual ethics that leads to repressed excesses. Optional celibacy for the clergy, a celebration of intimacy and sex in marriage including the responsible use of contraceptives and the fair treatment of homosexuals give us a better chance to face the challenges of today's permissive society. Unless the Pope and his Vatican advisers are prepared to honestly examine the systemic failings in the thinking and functioning of our Church today, paedophilia and other abuses will remain with us.

Dr John Wijngaards
Amersham, Buckinghamshire
Dr Wijngaards runs  www.womenpriests.org

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