How did the Declaration on Authority come about?
A group of theologians met at an international conference on ‘Handing On the Torch’ (Utrecht 2010). They concluded that in many areas of the Church’s life progress is blocked by an imbalance in the exercise of authority. John Wijngaards, representing Housetop in London, volunteered to further research this area and collect documentation.
On the 11th of October 2012, the 5oth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, we opened the Catholic Scholars’ Declaration on Authority for endorsement. On the 5th of March 2013 we publicly launched the Declaration for the media at a press conference in the House of Commons in London.
We are a network, not a structure. Under leadership of John Wijngaards a small core group of scholars was formed. They hailed from the UK, Germany, Switzerland, the USA and the Netherlands. As a piece of ice grows by more particles crystalizing on to it, so more and more academics joined the cause . . .
Yes. Administrational support for www.churchauthority.org is provided by the UK Catholic Charity the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.
How are the Academic Sponsors chosen?
By invitation and acceptance. Sponsors are invited by other Sponsors. We only invite persons who possess the academic qualifications and the experience of Catholic life that enable them to endorse the Jubilee Declaration responsibly. No one is put on the list unless he or she has clearly indicated his/her endorsement of the Declaration.
Yes, they can. Suggestions about other potential sponsors should be sent to feedback[at]churchauthority.org with the person’s name, a brief indication of his or her background & position and, if possible, their email address.
THERE ARE DISSIDENT THEOLOGIANS AMONG THE SPONSORS . . .
We have critical theologians among them, theologians who had and have the courage to honestly express the findings of their studies. Using the term ‘dissident’ about a scholar is a ploy by traditionalists to discard or ignore that person’s criticism.
What exactly are you asking for in your Declaration?
We have purposely omitted listing detailed reforms in traditional beliefs, life and practice that need to happen. We are seeking the crucial reforms in the authority system that will make other specific reforms possible. Like repairing electrical power cables to a house, without determining how exactly the electricity will be used. Like providing a town with proper road, rail and air transport without determining the exact use local industry and commerce will make of this infrastructure.
DON’T WE NEED ACTION RATHER THAN JUST WORDS . . . ?
Action will not be possible without a general realisation of what is wrong. People on all levels of the Church need to realise that the present exercise of authority is wrong: like recognising dry rot in the timbers of your roof; like discovering the car you are driving in is no longer safe. What will make reform inevitable is such a level of general awareness of what is wrong, and such a loss of credibility of the official authority, that the present system will implode. This is what took place in Eastern Europe at the collapse of communism which was no less totalitarian than the Vatican is today.
Therefore, to move the process forward we need to produce strong statements, supported by documentation, and publicise them widely. The vision of how things could and should be has to be put clearly on the table for all to see. That is what the Declaration is trying to do.
Will the Declaration produce any results?
According to Catholic belief, the judgement by theologians carries weight. Scholars exercise the ‘charism’ of both teaching and, occasionally, prophecy (1 Corinthians 12,4-11). This charism of theologians is another source of ‘authority’ in the Church – next to the authority of popes and bishops. Karl Rahner explains this fully in his book The Dynamic Element in the Church (Herder & Herder, New York 1964).
In our own days the word ‘Magisterium’ is usually reserved to the teaching authority of the Pope and Ecumenical Councils. It was different in the Middle Ages. The 13th-century Thomas Aquinas recognised the ‘academic magisterium’ of university professors next to the ‘pastoral magisterium’ of bishops (Quodlibet 3.4.1 ad 3 [Parma ed., 9:490-491] and Contra Impugnantes cap 2 [Parma ed., 15:3-8]). Medieval scholars were voting participants of Ecumenical Councils – see Avery Dulles, “The Magisterium in History” & “The Two Magisteria” in A Church to Believe in (Crossroad, New York 1983, pp. 103-133). Theologians played a crucial role at Vatican II. That role continues.
Yes, many will. Present-day Church leaders are chosen because of their conservative views. The redeeming fact is that most of them are intelligent. Though some will hang on unthinkingly, others will come round. Intelligent leaders can change when faced with undeniable facts, solid arguments and substantial professional opinion.
And even if some of the leaders remain deaf and blind, the Declaration will help focus the minds of the whole church community. The truth will sink in. The focus of attention needs to be set firmly on the whole issue of authority itself. Many decisions and actions by church authorities at the moment are illegitimate. They overstep their bounds. That is the hub of the problem.
Are there flaws in the wording of the Declaration?
The historical Jesus, no. However, the text does not say “Jesus’ intentions”, but “Christ’s intentions”. In theological parlance, Christ is a much wider concept than Jesus. It takes into account not only the theological development in the later New Testament Scriptures, but also in Church tradition – on the lines of John 16,12-13. Christ is still speaking today . . . .
ARE YOU NOT WRITING OFF ALL PRESENT-DAY BISHOPS?
We are not. Indeed, some open-minded bishops are still being appointed. Thanks be to God! They slip through the net – no doubt with the help of the Holy Spirit. Let us hope a future Pope is among them. However, the norms for election are wrong. They demand the mindset in candidates. And the process of election should be shifted to the local church.
DO YOU WANT TO IMPORT WHOLESALE DEMOCRACY INTO THE CHURCH?
No, we don’t. We should not import secular democracy wholesale into the Church. Right. We fully agree. But the Church should be much more democratic in its decision making. That’s what we are saying.