Ed Palattella: Erie manifesto calls for church to change [Opinion]
By Ed Palattella
September 30, 2018
|The interior of St. Peter Cathedral in Erie, the mother church of the Catholic Diocese of Erie, as seen in August. An anonymous activist posted what are called 21 Theses for change on the doors of the cathedral in mid-September. The posting was in response to the child sex abuse crisis.|
Photo by CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE
An anonymous author posted 21 Theses on the doors of St. Peter Cathedral. The message, made in response to the abuse crisis, has gained support.
More than 500 years after Martin Luther, a like-minded activist is at work in the Catholic Diocese of Erie, trying to ignite reform in response to the child sexual-abuse crisis.
Luther in 1517 sparked the Reformation by posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther put his name to the earth-shaking document.
The local activist is operating on a more localized scale. And the person is doing so anonymously.
The person taped a document called the 21 Theses to the doors of St. Peter Cathedral in downtown Erie on Sept. 13, according to the Twitter account @21Theses.
The document, though unsigned, already has gained some traction.
Monsignor Henry Kriegel, the well-known pastor of St. Patrick Church, received a copy of the 21 Theses in the mail on Sept. 17. He had the 21 Theses reprinted in full in the parish’s bulletin for Sunday, Sept. 23.
“When I read them,” Kriegel told me, “I said, ‘Wow, this is what I am hearing everyone talk about.’”
Addressed to Pope Francis, and written on behalf of “the laity,” the 21 Theses urge more involvement of laypeople as a way to end the abuses and cover-ups like those detailed in the devastating statewide grand jury report released on Aug. 14. The 21 Theses also encourage the church to allow female clergy.
“When abuses of such an order threaten to irreparably cleave the Church from the embodiment of Jesus’ true essence and mission, the laity can no longer kneel. We must stand,” reads Thesis No. 5.
“The laity must stand, to assume meaningful positions in the Church vested with the tools of informed oversight and guidance,” reads Thesis No. 6.
Thesis No. 8 summarizes another theme of the document — that the sexual-abuse crisis resulted mainly from an abuse of power.
“Presently, the Church crisis is a crisis of hierarchy, a crisis of structure, a crisis of culture and composition,” reads Thesis No. 8.
Kriegel’s interest in the 21 Theses is no surprise.
Like the anonymous activist, Kriegel since the release of the grand jury report has decried “clericalism” in the Catholic Church, in which clergy are given too much deference and authority and laypeople get secondary roles.
“It is clericalism that gave birth to all of this,” Kriegel said in a homily on Aug. 19, his first after the release of the grand jury report.
Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico has also spoken out against the dangers of clericalism, which Pope Francis condemned in the 2,000-word letter he issued on Aug. 20 in response to the grand jury report.
The anonymous author of the 21 Theses has kind words for Persico. The Erie bishop’s transparent approach to handling the abuse crisis has drawn praise from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office conducted the grand-jury probe.
The posting of the 21 Theses, the author writes, is meant “not as a rebuke or condemnation of our Bishop, but on the contrary, to emphasize and endorse his exemplary capacity to receive and to listen.”
Persico was out of the office this past week, but a diocesan spokeswoman said he has seen the 21 Theses.
Kriegel said he has no idea who wrote the 21 Theses, though he said he believes the author is most likely a woman or a group of women.
“I’ve said all along, that if women had a voice in this, none of this would have happened,” Kriegel said of the abuse crisis. “They would have never tolerated it.”
For now, the identity of the author of the 21 Theses remains a mystery, even as her or his audience grows through the efforts of Kriegel and others.
But in the spirit of Martin Luther, who is famously quoted as saying “Here I stand, I can do no other,” when forced to defend his theses, the anonymous author should identify him- or herself.
“I’d like to see them step forward,” Kriegel said, mainly, he said, because the 21 Theses are “right on target.”
Once the activist discloses his or her identity, then the faithful might be more willing to consider the person’s call to bring about change.
“The laity is encouraged to assemble,” reads Thesis No. 21. “The laity is encouraged to act. For the 21 Theses are not the end, but merely the beginning of a deep, unflinching, self-examination of the Church, the fruits of which can and must be realized. With haste.”