A Glimpse of Church Reform in Europe

by Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director

In March, I had the honor of representing the U.S. at the biennial meeting of International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC). This group, comprised of Church reform groups from Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa, has been working to strengthen the international network of Catholic activists since 1996. At this convening in Vienna, Austria, I was the only non-European present, and removing barriers to participation from people from other parts of the world was discussed numerous times.

The three focal issues for this meeting were the Synod on the Family, assessing Pope Francis’ first two years as Pope, and marking the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. There was a sense of appreciation for the invitation to air diverse views that Francis has championed, and support for his more collegial style of governing our Church. However, there was frustration about continued clericalism, misogyny, and failure to consider new stances on sexual and relationship issues, as well as with the Vatican’s continued refusal to recognize IMWAC’s outreach.

IMWAC leaders will write to Synod on the Family General Secretary Cardinal Baldisseri about three issues identified by the delegates as priorities for the October 2015 meeting. These are treating those who are remarried, in civil marriages, or cohabitating as fully equal to those married in the Church, fully welcoming and affirming LGBT people and families, and developing a theology of sexuality more rooted in the human experience. A number of the Council leaders will be in Rome during the Synod to speak with the media and others seeking the Reform perspective.

A number of IMWAC delegates are also conveners of an event called Council 50, which will be held in November 2015. This event will reflect on the impact the Second Vatican Council has had on the Church and the world, and seek recommitment to the goals of the Council that have not yet been realized. The Council 50 website has updated information on this unique conference.   

Every prayer session featured multiple languages. Hearing an Irish blessing sung in German was a delight. Our Eucharistic liturgy was presided by Helmut Schuller, founder of the Austrian Priests Initiative, whose 2013 U.S. tour DignityUSA helped to sponsor.

As in most gatherings like this, much of the richest gains came during group meals, conversation at breaks, and after formal meetings had concluded for the day. I appreciated hearing from delegates form We Are Church-Ireland what it has been like to be the only Catholic group to publicly support the May 22nd constitutional referendum to allow marriage equality, and to share resources with them. The Austrian and German groups told about being part of parish clusters where a single priest is assigned to support Catholics in 15-17 communities. A Spanish delegate talked about the peoples’ anger that Church leaders refuse to address the crushing economic problems forcing people into desperate situations, or the rampant corruption, choosing instead to harp on sexual issues. It was fun to discuss how technology helps to build community with the delegate from the United Kingdom, who manages IMWAC’s website.

On behalf of the U.S., I addressed the work being done by Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR), and how hosting the Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) conference and the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit will make Philadelphia, PA the epicenter of Catholicism this September. I feel more connected to the international Church reform movement, and was proud to see that LGBT issues are being incorporated into reform efforts in so many nations.