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 CNS Story:

SAFRICA-TOLERANCE Aug-13-2010 (1,100 words) xxxi

South African bishops seek tolerance, sensitivity among clerics

By Bronwen Dachs
Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Tolerance and sensitivity are needed when tensions arise among bishops, the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference said in response to criticism of church leadership by Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg.

"When interpreting the signs of the times and discerning God's will under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tensions and disagreements can arise, even among bishops," while urging a lesser name-calling, the conference said in an Aug. 12 statement in response to a widely reported talk to laity by Bishop Dowling in Cape Town June 1.

Bishop Dowling originally intended to give an off-the-record analysis of the current status of the Catholic Church to a lay group. However, a journalist at the gathering reported on the talk, leading the bishop to release a copy of his presentation publicly.

In his program, Bishop Dowling pointed to the April 24 traditional Latin Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., as an example of "restorationism" within the church.

He charged that the liturgy represented an attempt to dismantle the "theology, ecclesiology and pastoral vision" of the Second Vatican Council in order to restore a "more controllable model of church through an increasingly centralized power structure." He said that structure controls church life "through a network of Vatican congregations led by cardinals who ensure strict compliance with what is deemed by them to be orthodox."

Bishop Dowling called the Mass an unfortunate "display of what amounts to triumphalism in a church torn apart by the sexual abuse scandal" and said the liturgy "bore the marks of a medieval royal court, not the humble, servant leadership modeled by Jesus."

In their statement following a nine-day meeting in Marianhill, the South African clerics said care should be taken not to label bishops "restorationists, conservatives or progressives, but rather to address the issues."

"We are confident that the leaders of the church, whether the Curia in Rome or the local bishops of a country, are people of integrity who are striving to be faithful to the Gospel despite human frailty and, in some exceptional cases, great human failure," the bishops said. "The bishops' conferences ... are the forum for open, sincere and honest dialogue as we discern what discipleship to Jesus means in our world."

Bishop Dowling criticized the "rise of conservative groups" within the church and charged that it has led to an inward-looking church, "fearful of, if not antagonistic towards, a secularist world with its concomitant danger of relativism especially in terms of truth and morality."

The church "gives an impression of 'retreating behind the wagons' and relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis," he explained, noting that "the fear is that without such supervision and control, and that if any freedom in decision-making is allowed, even in less important matters, this will open the door to division and a breakdown in the unity of the church."

The "moral authority of the church's leadership today has never been weaker," Bishop Dowling added.

Bishop Dowling called upon church leaders to discontinue "giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige" and urged them to demonstrate leadership "as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions."

In response, the bishops' conference said that it is "most important that the church is a listening church, being aware and empathetic to the struggles and choices that people have to make" in daily life.

"It is the responsibility of the church's authority to call continually all its members to live the Gospel values and virtues in our times, especially in the face of powerful forces such as secularism, materialism and other forces with their vested interests which lure and lead people away from the Gospel," the bishops said.

Citing widespread response from political and economic fields to Pope Benedict's XVI's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"), the bishops said church authorities desire to discuss the world's challenges with different people "for guidance and solutions to questions of morality, economic justice, poverty and the many other crises."

Bishop Dowling said Catholic social teaching was "one of the truly significant contributions of the church to the building up of a world in which people and communities can live in peace and dignity." He challenged church leaders to follow Gospel values and adhere to the church's social teaching because "its methods of governing and its use of authority will be scrutinized on the basis of what we profess," he said.

He also criticized the church leaders for undermining the concept of subsidiarity within church teaching. He called subsidiarity "vitally important for ensuring participative democracy in the socio-political domain."

"What compounds this, for me, is the mystique which has, in increasing measure, surrounded the person of the Pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority, etc. is equated with disloyalty," Bishop Dowling said.

"What we should have, in my view, is a church where the leadership recognizes and empowers decision-making at the appropriate levels in the local church; where local leadership listens to and discerns with the people of God of that area what 'the Spirit is saying to the church' and then articulates that as a consensus of the believing, praying, serving community," he said.

"Orthodoxy more and more identified with conservative opinions and outlook, with the corresponding judgment that what is perceived to be 'liberal' is both suspect and not orthodox, and therefore to be rejected as a danger to the faith of the people" he added.

The bishops' conference called the principle of subsidiarity "an asset" of the church's social teaching.

"The very structure of the church, beginning with parishes, leading to deaneries, dioceses, episcopal conferences and culminating in the office of the Supreme Pontiff, is evidence of the principle of subsidiarity in the church," it said.

"Subsidiarity must be counterbalanced with our faithfulness to discipleship," the conference added, noting that when tensions arise through conflict between conscience and the teaching of the church "it is essential that humble discourse continues."

The bishops said they "must be bold in our fidelity to the Gospel" and called all Catholics to be "equally bold in standing up for the doctrinal, social and the moral teaching" of the church.

"Doing so is a crucial part of the evangelizing mission of the church for transforming society," the bishops said.


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