The fourth international gathering of the Church Reform Network takes place in Bratislava this week, from June 11th to 15th. This network, which is made up of leaders of church reform movements around the world, has been in existence for the last seven years, and it has grown in numbers and representation.
This year 50 people will gather, coming from all five continents of the world. Four people will be there from Ireland, representing We Are Church Ireland and the Association of Catholic Priests.
This year there will be input from a number of Eastern European countries on the experience of living in the underground church during the communist era.
The main business of the conference will cover many of the reform issues with which we have become familiar. A number of women's groups will be represented and, far from being silenced by the latest statement from Archbishop Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruling out the possibility of women being ordained, I expect them to be more energised and determined than ever.
The shortage of priests and the closing down of parishes are issues that are of constant concern in many parts of the world. And this inevitably leads into discussion on ministry, and who can and cannot be ordained.
Meeting of Families
The LGBT movement will have a strong voice there, led by the remarkable Sr Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry. They are coming with a statement, for which they will seek enforcement from the conference. It concerns the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August.
Will a same-gender couple testify about the joys and difficulties of raising children?
One quote from that statement sums up their thinking: “What arrangements are being made to guarantee that at least one of the five families who will give witness at WMF will be an LGBT family?
“Will the programme include any parents who have LGBT children? Will a same-gender couple testify about the joys and difficulties of raising children? Will participants hear from a transgender person about their experience of family? Will even one such event happen?”
Representatives from countries in Africa, Asia and South America, will come with their own concerns, sometimes different from those of Europe, America and Australia.
Charter of rights
Probably the most complex issue on which we will try to make progress, a matter that we consider as vital to the future of the church, is some form of Charter of Fundamental Rights. Pope Paul Vl recognised the need for such a charter, and after the Second Vatican Council he set up a commission to work on it.
The moral charter he envisioned would be known as the Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis (LEF), or Fundamental Law of the Church, which would serve to enshrine and nurture an ecclesial culture of justice, transparency and accountability in the interpretation and administration of Canon Law.
Unfortunately his successor John Paul ll put an end to that commission.
Those in authority became distinguished by their power and control, rather than their service of the community. It was out of this very unfortunate development that what is now known as 'clericalism' developed
One of the most radical aspect of the teaching of Jesus was the way in which he treated all people as equal. He made no distinctions.
St Paul followed up on this, his teaching summed up in the statement: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. "
This notion of oneness, of radical equality, was central to the teaching of Jesus and the life of the early church. Unfortunately, after a couple of centuries, and as the church grew in numbers and influence, it began to model its leadership structures on those of the Roman Empire.
Those in authority became distinguished by their power and control, rather than their service of the community. It was out of this very unfortunate development that what is now known as "clericalism" developed, the attitude of superiority which Pope Francis recognises as one of the major cancers of the church.
The network believes that the future of the church depends on returning to the radical equality of Jesus and the early church.
Apart from the work done, there is an enjoyable social dimension to these gatherings, meeting all the different people, men, women, young, elderly, but all imbued with a commitment to the faith and a vision for the future of the church.
Fr Tony Flannery is a Redemptorist priest