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On Monday Pope Benedict XVI will mark five years at the helm of a Roman Catholic Church deep in crisis.  Like many, I was hopeful that a brilliant writer and thinker like Joseph Ratzinger could change the direction of the church.  I recall that early on he had a meeting with his old friend Hans Küng, a great theologian who was forced from the church because of his heretical writings.  I viewed this meeting at the time as a sign of reconciliation and change.  How these hopes have been dashed in the ensuing five years.

Today Hans Küng published a devastating letter to the bishops of the church where he urged them to take action.  The Open Letter appeared in several major newspapers, including the Irish Times and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (deutsche Version hier). Some key excerpts below.

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and I were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Now we are the oldest and the only ones still fully active. I have always understood my theological work as a service to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I am making this appeal to you in an open letter. In doing so, I am motivated by my profound concern for our church, which now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation. Please excuse the form of an open letter; unfortunately, I have no other way of reaching you.

Küng then cites the numerous "missed opportunities" of Benedict's tenure thus far:

   Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches: Instead, they have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term and, for that reason, their ministries are not recognized and intercommunion is not possible.

   Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews: Instead the pope has reintroduced into the liturgy a preconciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews, he has taken notoriously anti-Semitic and schismatic bishops back into communion with the church, and he is actively promoting the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not offering sufficient protections to Jews in Nazi Germany.

   Missed is the opportunity for a dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust: Instead, in his ill-advised but symptomatic 2006 Regensburg lecture, Benedict caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity and thus evoked enduring Muslim mistrust.

   Missed is the opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America: Instead, the pope asserted in all seriousness that they had been "longing" for the religion of their European conquerors.

   Missed is the opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.

   Missed is the opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.

   Missed is the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.

Then comes the serious indictment of Ratzinger/Benedict with respect to the child sex abuse scandal that is destroying the church:

There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005). During the reign of Pope John Paul II, that congregation had already taken charge of all such cases under oath of strictest silence. Ratzinger himself, on May 18th, 2001, sent a solemn document to all the bishops dealing with severe crimes ( "epistula de delictis gravioribus" ), in which cases of abuse were sealed under the "secretum pontificium" , the violation of which could entail grave ecclesiastical penalties. With good reason, therefore, many people have expected a personal mea culpa on the part of the former prefect and current pope. Instead, the pope passed up the opportunity afforded by Holy Week: On Easter Sunday, he had his innocence proclaimed "urbi et orbi" by the dean of the College of Cardinals.

Hans Küng has a more positive assessment of the bishops than I do if he believes that they will hear his criticism and take action.  In the US, at least, the bishops are sheep who happily conspired with the Vatican in covering-up crimes.  Today they are a reactionary force that impedes any positive change.  Over and over the bishops have demonstrated that they have nothing but contempt for their flock.

Originally posted to DowneastDem on Fri Apr 16, 2010 at 03:12 PM PDT.

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