Splits between reformist lay Catholics and bishops loyal to the Vatican have resurfaced at a conference in Mannheim, Germany. Organizers say there are "great discrepancies" between papal doctrine and everyday realities.
The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) has demanded the Vatican make "improvements" by opening the church's leadership to women and ending the "exclusion" felt by divorcees and couples in mixed-faith marriages during Mass.
The so-called Mannheim Appeal issued by the committee, which has organized the annual five-day festival-like gathering in the southern Rhine river city, says reforms within the church of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide are "overdue."
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck rules out female priesthood
The call was promptly rejected by Ruhr District bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, who told the Rheinische Post newspaper on Thursday that "the Church has no authorization to allow women into the priesthood." Overbeck added that he saw "little point" in making the issue public again.
Organizers expect at least 33,000 participants daily at the five-day lay conference, which on Thursday began its full program of discussions and workshops. Debate and prayer services will be spread across 76 locations within Mannheim, under the organizers' motto "dare a new beginning."
Guestlist includes parliamentarians
Guests invited on Thursday include the leader of conservative Bundestag parliamentarians Volker Kauder and opposition Social Democrat party leader Sigmar Gabriel as well as Auma Obama, the Kenya-born sociologist and German language scholar, and half-sister of US President Barack Obama.
At an open-air church service early Thursday, which is an Ascension Day public holiday in Germany, the chairman of the German bishops' conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, condemned adherence to the ideal of economic growth.
Zollitsch said the repeated call for economic growth was not the correct recipe against the injustices of the world.
"We sense it. Our lifestyle is not sustainable. It can't go on like this," he said. "Must it always be the best mobile phone or the newest fashion?"
Central ZdK committee president, Alois Glück, said pressing issues in society, the secular state, and the church had converged and required "urgent action."
Industrial society had reached "a phase of important cross-roads decisions" with long-term consequences, Glück said.
"To not decide also generates its own dynamic."
Scandal resolution sluggish, say critics
A spokesman for one of several dissenting Catholic lay movements, Christian Weisner of "We are Church" said the church's sexual abuse scandals worldwide in recent years had prompted German bishops to launch a public discussion process a year ago, "but the bishops are still not really moving it forward."
"That burdens the Catholic conference," said Weisner,
Another spokesman, Bernd Göhrig for the "Church from below" movement, accused bishops of "failing to grasp the seriousness" of the scandal and its roots, which Göhrig said, lay within church teachings on sexual morality.
Göhrig also accused organizers of overlooking Pope Benedict XVI's recent bids to reintegrate strict traditionalists of the Society of Catholic Saint Pius X. They opposed liberal reforms of the 1960s; broke with Rome in the 1980s; and include the controversial British bishop Richard Williamson.
Leading Frankfurt Jesuit theologian, Professor Friedhelm Hengsbach, accused ZdK conference organizers of behaving submissively in search of harmony. The conference was once a liberation movement, launched during Europe's revolutionary year of 1848, but it was now "totally dominated" by the bishops, Hengsbach asserted.
ipj/ai (epd, kna, dpa, AP, AFP)