|Professor Leonard Swidler was a former teaching colleague with Pope Benedict at the University of Tubingen. Professor Swidler, like many people today who were excited and energized by the Second Vatican Council, has become increasingly disturbed in recent times by the endeavours to turn back the insights and reforms of that Council. Headlines over Easter generated by Pope Benedict have drive Dr Swidler to address this open letter to his former colleague.|
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part I
Catholica Australia is pleased to be able to publish for the first time in English the text of an extensive series of lectures by Dr Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia, examining the place of democracy in the Catholic Church as a matter of theological principle, as a matter of simple justice, and as a mechanism for protection against the sort of scandals stemming from the abuse of power exercised by ecclesial leaders which we have witnessed in recent times…
These commentaries took shape as a result of a series of six Lenten Lectures I was invited to give at Old St. Mary's Church in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the Spirng of 2006, at the invitation of the pastor, Father Dominic Chiaravalle.
A word should be said about how the invitation came to be extended. In the fall of 2005 a report on the very extensive clerical pedophilia scandal was handed down by a Grand Jury of Philadelphia. The extent of the crimes committed by many priests over many decades stunned the Catholic public of Philadelphia. Some 63 priests were accused in 423 pages of having abused children. The two previous archbishops were severely criticized for having knowingly covered up the crimes. (See news report [subscription req'd] as well as the full text of the Grand Jury Report.)
In the wake of this staggering report there was a loud outcry on the part of many priests and laity. One such response was by Father Chiaravalle, who decided to celebrate a special Sunday Eucharist as both a public statement of repenitence to the victims and a commitment to work to eliminate such travesties in the future. In so doing, Father Dominic invited the known Catholic reform organizations which had chapters in Philadelphia to co-sponsor the Eucharist and the discussion afterward. The organizations which responded were Call to Action (CTA), Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), Catholics Organized for Reform (COR), and the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC).
The Eucharist was celebrated by Father Dominic Chiaravalle on Sunday, October 30 (Reformation Sunday!). It had a special two-fold focus:
Recovering a sense of democracy in the Church…
It is especially appropriate that this Eucharist of penitence and commitment take place at Old St. Mary's Church, which was one of the vital centers of lay responsibility at the very beginning of the Catholic Church in the United States-under the leadership of John Carroll, our first U.S. Bishop (who was elected by all the priests of the U.S.), who charted a course of future election of bishops and shared decision-making responsibility among laity, clergy, and bishop. That vision and initial reality needs to be recovered and advanced. What better place to start than Old St. Mary's Church!
In my remarks that Sunday as Co-founder (in 1980) and current President of ARCC, I spoke about the need for reform in the governance of the Church which had to come from the bottom up, and that the way to begin was to work to get one parish at a time to go through the process of creating its own Parish Constitution. Father Dominic was especially struck by that idea and invited me to work with him to try to make it a reality in Old St. Mary's Church.
Patron Saints of Democracy…
Something further ought to be noted about Old St. Mary's Church, and its Partner Parish Holy Trinity Church. Both these churches were founded in the 18th century and are now Historic Landmarks. However, their historical importance lies more in their actions back at the beginning of the American Catholic Church than in the two buildings, beautiful architectural specimens though they are. (Father Dominic is the pastor of the two neighboring churches.)
They were are the headwaters of the Trustee System which placed the ownership of church property in the hands of the lay trustees of the parish. There were several disputes in the early period at both Holy Trinity and St. Mary's, but both were settled creatively. Both those churches and the entire Trustee System have been defamed in subsequent centuries, doubtless largely to prevent the resurrection of a more democratic Catholic Church governance, which prevailed under our first American bishop (elected at his insistence to Rome by all the priests of America), and was creatively expanded by that other early giant of the American Church Bishop John England. It is for these reasons that later in these commentaries I urge the traditional popular proclamation of the two as Patron Saints of democracy!
ARTICLE NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part I
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Catholica Australia would like to extend our thanks to Dr Swidler for allowing us to be the first to publish the text of these lectures in the English speaking world. A translation of the lectures has already been published in Japanese.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?