The chutzpa of the German theologians

In “The Joys of Yiddish,” Leo Rosten defined chutzpa as “…Presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language, can do justice to” and then offered classic examples of chutzpa in action: “Chutzpa is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. A chutzpanik may be defined as the man who shouts ‘Help! Help! while beating you up.”

Leo Rosten should have lived to experience German Catholic theologians of the early 21st century.

In anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI’s forthcoming visit to his homeland, more than 200 German theologians—men and women who have earned doctoral degrees in theology and teach in German universities—have issued a manifesto, “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure.” The manifesto itself does not identify the destination for which the Church is to depart, but the terminus ad quem (“limit to which”) seems reasonably clear from a careful reading of the document: Catholicism is to transform itself into another liberal Protestant sect by conceding virtually every point at issue between classic Christianity and the ambient culture of the post-modern West.

It is, perhaps, no surprise to find German Catholic theologians publicly supporting the ordination of married men and women to the ministerial priesthood (overtly), same-sex “marriage” (slyly), and full communion within the Church for those in irregular marriages (subtly but unmistakably). These causes have been espoused for years. German theologians dissented en masse from the 1993 teaching of Veritatis Splendor on the nature of moral acts and from the 1994 teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on the Church’s inability to admit women to holy orders. What was particularly striking about this new manifesto was its attempt to address serious problems with tried-and-failed solutions. That bespeaks a remarkable lack of intellectual creativity and historical sense.

Thus we are told that the German sexual abuse cases that came to light in 2010 have “plunged the Catholic Church in Germany into an unequaled crisis.” Really? I understand, and in many respects sympathize with, German complaints about the ubiquity of references to the National Socialist period whenever anything German is discussed. But was 2010 really a crisis greater than that in which German Catholicism found itself between Hitler’s 1933 accession to power and Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945? (Do today’s Catholics face crises of conscience greater than those faced by Count Claus von Stauffenberg or Sophie Scholl?) Moreover, what about the crisis of faith that emptied German churches over the past two generations, such that weekly Mass attendance in urban areas hovers around 5-10 percent?

The manifesto is also notable for its failure to examine academic consciences, an exercise that might have led to more measured assessments of responsibility for the current situation. Do these theologians imagine that they and their teachers bear no responsibility for the “paralysis and resignation” they deplore in German Catholicism? Does German theology’s tendency to treat the Bible as a specimen to be dissected rather than a gift to be studied with a full array of interpretive tools (including the eyes of faith) had nothing to do with today’s crisis of faith in a land whose very language was formed by Luther’s biblical translation? Has the theologians’ bizarre notion that “freedom of conscience” means abject surrender to the sexual revolution in all its demands had nothing to do with the Church’s failures to convert a hedonistic culture? Few of these academics have any serious or sustained connection to the liturgical or pastoral life of the Church; yet they assume they occupy a privileged position from which to understand what has happened to German Catholicism and how its genuine problems can best be addressed. Why?

Seeking a rousing conclusion to their call to the ecclesiastical barricades, the German theologians advise their fellow Catholics that they should “look to the future with courage and walk on water, like Peter as Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you have fear? Is your faith so weak?’” A question to the professors: Would each of you who believes that Peter walked on water please raise your hand?

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash