What Are You Still Doing in This Church?

A good number of influential Belgian Catholic theologians published a protest in the pressstating their concerns at the direction in which the Vatican is leading the Church away from Vatican II. (April 21, 2009)

For several weeks now we, the undersigned Catholic theologians, both men and women, have had this question thrown at us: What are you still doing in this Church of yours?

This question comes as much from those who are close to the Church as from those who are far from removed from it. Many Catholics who are actively involved in the Church have also been asked this same in-your-face question, at times rudely.

This is truly a crisis situation; indeed for many it is a time for asking fundamental questions. Faith itself comes under suspicion as being incompatible with an authentically human point of view

Various and repeated initiatives by Pope Benedict XVI himself and other responsible Church leaders give the impression that the Church wishes to sever its ties with the world of today. It stigmatizes it as a world of relativism and talks down to it from on high while judging and condemning it. The deadly divorce between the ideals of freedom in the modern world and in the Roman Catholic Church is happening once again.

And yet the awakening of true freedom is at the very heart of the Gospel of Christ: “You were called to be free,” claims the Apostle Paul to the Galatians. (1)

The Gospel of freedom drives us to enter into conversation and dialog with our contemporaries’ quest for liberty, a quest that is ours as well. There are numerous risks today of falling back into all kinds of slavery. The absence of financial regularization has made this tragically apparent. The paths of liberty are strewn with challenges in every aspect of life: education, social relationships, healthcare, and the environment. The Gospel is not a reservoir of principles or solutions that would place us out of touch with the challenges the rest of the world faces.

It would be a precious contribution if Christians who make up the Church would show themselves to be men and women of dialogue.

A profound and loving solidarity with the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted allows us only to make suppositions and even to be critical. The voice of the Church can only touch the hearts of people if it is a voice of humanity and freedom. This means today that it cannot impose itself as an exclusive voice from above. (2)

In a world that is both united and divided the Church will not be able to show itself to be catholic, that is universal, unless it expresses itself in multiple colors that manifest the Gospel according to various continents, cultures and sensitivities.

This is what the Spirit of Christ requires: a Spirit that breathes where it wills and a Spirit that is widely given to the whole Church and beyond, and not simply to a few.

It has been almost fifty years now that the Second Vatican Council was for the Catholic Church an event that opened a new page to the future. It found the right attitudes and words to enter into a rich, not demanding, dialog with the contemporary world.

What is at stake here is to follow through and put into practice the truly doctrinal and pastoral turning point that this historic council represented. By clearly embracing the dynamic character of Revelation and Tradition, while at the same time advocating freedom of conscience and religious liberty and engaging in ecumenical and inter-religious dialog, this council signaled a complete break from the attitude of condemning the modern world.

We cannot believe or even imagine that this page has been turned back.

If we are theologians, it is because we deeply believe that the Gospel of Christ is the bearer of an extraordinary force for humanization. Christ set us free, so that we should remain free, Paul says once more to the Galatians. (3)

What animates our work is this invitation of the Apostle Peter to the first Christians: Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have, without forgetting that he also adds, but give it with courtesy and respect. (4)

If we speak out today in this crisis, it is in the hope of sharing with gentleness and respect. In this Easter season our words are simply meant to be a fraternal witness to those who are near as well as to those who are far.

(1) Galatians 5,13.

(2) Vatican Council ii Passtoral Constitution Gaudium et spes,1.

(3) Galations 5,1

(4) 1 Peter 3,14,16


Philippe Bacq (Lumen Vitae), Ignace Berten (Dominicans, Brussels), Alphonse Borras (Vicar General Diocese of Liège), Benoît Bourgine (University of Louvain), Jean-Claude Brau (Christian Worker priest, Diocese of Namur), Maurice Cheza (University of Louvain), Paul De Clerck (Friends of the Earth, Brussels), Alice Dermience (University of Louvain), Eddy Ernens (Religious Educator), Joseph Famerée (University of Louvain), Camille Focant (University of Louvain), André Fossion (Lumen Vitae), Jean-Pierre Gérard, Omer Henrivaux (Vicariate of French Brabant), Florence Hosteau (University of Louvain), Francis Hugon (Lumen Vitae), Jean-Philippe Kaeffer, Brigitte Laurent, Walter Lesch (University of Louvain), Etienne Mayence (University of Louvain), Paul Scolas (University of Louvain), Claude Soetens( University of Louvain), Paul Tihon (Lumen Vitae), Jacques Vermeylen (University of Lille), Catherine Vialle (University of Lille), Bernadette Wiame (University of Louvain

Original text translated by Richard Cross from La Libre Belgique, April 21, 2009