Representatives from 22 international Catholic groups working for a more just and compassionate church have written an open letter to Pope Francis asking him to focus his attention on the task of revitalizing local parishes as a way to allow for joint decision-making and greater accountability of church leadership.
The letter, signed by lay leaders, priests, nuns, and theologians, was developed during a meeting in Limerick, Ireland, in April which drew Catholic reformers from four continents, addresses the management issues which have hampered the church over the past several decades and which have resulted in pastoral alienation and the closing of parishes.
Calling for a radical equality between the different levels of hierarchy in the Church, the letter writers ask Pope Francis: "We appeal to you to clear the way for new forms of parish life, their ministry and management. Let us open the priestly office to everyone who has the charism. Let us develop new management models and forms of pastoral ministry so that parishioners can participate according to their charisms. Let us establish a new culture of co-responsibility and joint decision-making in all structures of our Church."
In addition to sending the letter to Pope Francis, copies are being sent to the heads of national bishops' conferences for each of the signatories.
The full text of the letter, with a list of signatories, can be read in English at www.wir-sind-kirche.de/files/2342_Open%20Letter%20to%20Pope%20Francis_engl_final_.pdf and in the accompanying PDF.
The letter was signed by representatives from Austria, Australia, England, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the United States. The U.S. signers were Sr. Jeannine Gramick S.L., National Coalition of American Nuns; Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry; Deborah Rose-Milavec, FutureChurch; Kate McElwee, Women's Ordination Conference.
The letter outlines some of the problems that parishes face world-wide, as well as some of the failed attempts by church administrators to remedy these: "Around the world, our bishops increasingly respond to the priest shortage by merging active and vibrant parishes into anonymous and unmanageable superstructures. Merging seems to be the formula of the hour. But in the new mega-parishes, personal contact between people and ministers is lost...In such parishes, the living breath of Jesus cannot be found."
The letter presents a new vision of what the Catholic Church can be by including those traditionally alienated, and incorporating a wide diversity of people into leadership roles: "There are women and men, married couples, divorced and remarried, homosexual and heterosexual partners, young and old, those in the center and those who have been pushed to the side...By their personal dedication, by the strength of their baptismal calling, they assist in relieving the priests of their increasing responsibilities in order to continue offering vital services to the people.
The Limerick conference was convened by Father Tony Flannery, CSsR, and the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, a grassroots movement of priests concerned about justice in the church.