Archbishop of Westminster Urges Vatican Reform

By Tom Heneghan
Reuters [Paris]
March 19, 2004

PARIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church, tightly centralised under Pope John Paul, should open up to share power more among its bishops, priests and people, the Archbishop of Westminster has written in a new book.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also urged the world's largest church to show more humility with its own flock and take more risks in seeking understanding and unity with other Christians.

"At the Heart of the World," a short volume just published in London that reflects on the challenges facing Catholicism, comes as the 125 cardinals due to elect the next pope look ahead to the era after the ailing Polish pontiff, now 83.

Some thoughts are openly stated, others posed as questions that hint at critical answers. All show a moderate keen to see his 2,000-year-old church march more in time with the times.

Citing reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he writes: "We need to discover ways of fostering the effective participation of clergy and lay people in synodical or representative bodies within the Roman Catholic Church."

How far this should go is a sensitive issue under such a strong pope and Murphy-O'Connor, 71, approaches it cautiously.

"Has sufficient provision been made to ensure consultation between the pope and local churches before important decisions are made at international or local level?" he asks.


Power-sharing, or collegiality, is a signpost issue in the Church and could play a role in the election of the next pope.

The pontiff is supposed to be "primus inter pares" (first among equals) but John Paul has so dominated the Church during his 25-year reign that critics say that consultations between the Vatican and local Church leaders are mostly a formality.

Staunch conservatives in the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, have guarded traditional dogmas and rolled back some reforms.

In one decade-long struggle, Rome has banned the non-sexist "inclusive language" English-speaking bishops have allowed in prayers and insisted Catholics cannot substitute "humanity" for "mankind" or say "brothers and sisters" instead of "brethren."

Murphy-O'Connor criticises the form rather than the content of Vatican leadership. He avoids hot-button issues such as female ordination, for example, saying only that the Church should promote more women "at some levels in Rome".

But he is clear about misuse of power, either in very public scandals such as the sexual abuse cases haunting the Church in the United States and other countries or in the way the Vatican exercises its authority internally.

"People are increasingly and rightly intolerant of the abuse of power or the perceived abuse of power in any context," he says, including in the Church.

Murphy-O'Connor praises the pope for reaching out to other religions but wants the Church to go further. While John Paul has been exceptionally open, Vatican officials have put off some other Christians by stressing what separates them from Rome.

"I long to see Church leaders taking more risks and creating the space for Christians to grow together and to be reconciled," the cardinal writes.


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