Liberals, women advocates urge change after BenedictBy: Catherine Hornby
VATICAN CITY - Supporters of liberal reform in the Catholic Church said on Monday they hoped Pope Benedict’s successor would give a greater voice to women and reconsider rules on priestly celibacy, women priests and same-sex couples.
Benedict, who, like his predecessor John Paul, firmly opposed the ordination of women priests and described gay marriage as a threat to humanity’s future, said on Monday he would resign at the end of February, announcing the first papal abdication in 700 years.
The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), an advocate group for female priests, said the Church was crying out for a leader who would give women a greater role in decision making.
“The current system remains an ‘old boys club’ and does not allow for women’s voices to participate in the decision of the next leader of our Church,” said WOC director Erin Saiz Hanna.
“The people of the Church are desperate for a leader who will be open to dialogue, and will have the courage to create systems that will address the sexism, exclusion, and abuse in our Church,” she said.
WOC said it respected Benedict’s decision to resign and was concerned for his health, but it said the 85-year-old pontiff had taken what it called “significant steps backwards” for women during his papacy.
Last year, the pope restated the Catholic Church’s ban on women priests and said he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings.
Under his leadership, the Vatican cracked down on advocates of female ordination, disciplining Austrian priest Father Helmut Schueller for challenging views on women priests and dismissing American priest Father Ray Bourgeois for similar activism.
The Vatican says women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus Christ willingly chose only men as his apostles.
Advocates of a female priesthood reject this position, saying Jesus was merely conforming to the customs of his times.
The Vatican reprimanded a US Catholic nuns group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, last year for promoting ‘radical feminist themes’ and expressing positions on political issues that it said differed at times from views held by American bishops.
Liberal groups said that it was time to broaden discussions in the Church and share power more widely.
“The Roman Catholic Church needs a pope who does not always decide everything by himself alone,” said the Austrian movement We Are Church, adding that the next pope should give more responsibilities to local churches and bishops.
The group called for ‘the full recognition’ of same-sex couples, the relaxation of celibacy rules and allowing women and lay Catholics to hold more positions in the Church.
Meanwhile, groups representing some of the sexual abuse victims said on Monday Pope Benedict leaves office having failed to stamp out the abuse of children by priests and the culture of secrecy that fostered the scandal is still in place.
Bishops Accountability, a US pressure group, said the pope had apologised frequently for the harm done by priests but had never taken effective action to rectify the ‘incalculable harm’ done to hundreds of thousands of children by predatory clergy.
“Benedict’s words rang hollow. He spoke as a shocked bystander, as if he had just stumbled upon the abuse crisis,” Anne Barrett Doyle, the group’s co-director said in a statement.
The festering child abuse scandal broke out well before the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took office in 2005 but it overshadowed his papacy from the beginning, as more and more cases came to light in dioceses across the world.
Hundreds of victims came forward with devastating accounts of abuse suffered at the hands of priests sometimes over years that left them with deep psychological wounds.
The scandal broke in Boston in 2002 when reports emerged of the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse, with guilty priests being quietly transferred between dioceses instead of being stripped of their office and handed over to civil authorities.
The Irish church was also shaken by the revelations of years of abuse and denial in children’s homes, which led to a diplomatic breakdown between Dublin and the Holy See.
Benedict spoke of clearing out the ‘filth’ in the Church just before he took office in 2005 and subsequently expressed ‘deep remorse’ for the damage. But the shock felt throughout the Catholic world contributed to a steady haemorrhage of members.
“He publicly spoke about the crisis more than his predecessor but that alone is no achievement,” SNAP, another abuse victims’ advocacy group said in a statement.
“That’s simply because disclosures of cover-up at the highest levels became widely documented during his tenure.”
The scandal continued throughout his time in office. As recently as last month, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was stripped of all public and administrative duties after a thousands of pages of files detailing abuse were made public.