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2016 ATA/ATF meeting Church as “Field Hospital”

IMG_1573Jean Pierre Schmisz (IMWAC)

In 2013, my friend Didier Vanhoutte participated to the AYA/ATF meeting in Thaïland and reported in detail to IMWAC. I took over from Didier the responsibility of outreach activities in IMWAC and our steering committee strongly wanted to participate to this meeting and asked me to be their representative.

I am very glad to be here and to have one more opportunity to visit Thaïland. In fact, I enjoyed very much living in Korea in the past during more than four years together with my family. I also travelled a lot in various Asian countries, in particular many times in Thaïland.

As my IMWAC friends, I am deeply convinced that being in contact with other cultures, religions, spiritualties and learning more about them is essential to understand better our own souces of life. My Italian friends requested me to say here: “Jean Pierre tell in your speech that we must learn from them!”

In this speech I am making large use of contributions received from my IMWAC friends as well as from François Becker and others involved in the Council 50 event.

I would like to start with a presentation of IMWAC.

The International Movement We are Church, founded in Rome in 1996, is committed to the renewal of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the theological spirit developed from it.

 We are Church evolved from the Church Referendum in Austria in 1995 that was started after the paedophilia scandal around Vienna’s Cardinal. We are Church is represented in more than twenty countries on all continents and is networking world-wide with similar-minded reform groups.

 As international studies of renowned religion sociologists confirm, We are Church as a reform movement within the Church represents the “voice of the people in the pews” and has demonstrated this in several Shadow Synods in Rome.

A Truly Catholic Church

is a loving church  where the equality of all the faithful is respected,

the gulf between clergy and laity is bridged and the People of God select their bishops and pastors,

is a church with equal rights for women, where women are full participants in decision-making and are welcomed in all ministries, including the diaconate and the ministerial priesthood,

is a church where priests choose either a celibate or non-celibate way of life, where the right of a congregation to the Eucharist and pastoral care are more important than canon law,

is a church which affirms: the sacredness of sexuality, the primacy of conscience, the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation,

and the importance of issues other than sexual morality,

is a church which: affirms people rather than condemns them, respects primacy of conscience in all moral decision-making, embraces and welcomes those who are divorced and remarried,

married priests, theologians, and others who exercise freedom of speech.

A Truly Catholic Parish

is a joyful Christian community which celebrates the loving word of God  in worship and in action, transcends traditional boundaries

and welcomes those who seek spiritual growth and social justice, welcomes diverse ideas and encourages reflection on the message of the Gospel,

is committed to the equality of all and strives to ensure full participation through liturgy, education and service,

seeks to empower all to grow in wisdom and bring to reality the promise of Christ.

The We Are Church movement has a presence in or is co-operating with similar groups in Austria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Catalonia, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, South Tyrol, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, United Kingdom, USA, Venezuela

We Are Church cooperates with other reform movements around the world e.g. European Network Church on the Move, Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW), North Atlantic Federation for a Renewed Catholic Priesthood.

In the last years, under strong impulse from our latin America friends, IMWAC is more and more interested in the social justice issues, in particular the liberation theology.

 Let’s come now to the subject of this contribution.

In August 2013, Pope Francis said during an interview :

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds.”

Paul Hwang said in Council 50 in Rome last year :

I would like to begin this essay with Pope Francis’ well known ideas of Church as “field hospital” and which “goes forth” to the marginalized. In the papal exaltation Evanglii Gaudium, he mentions Church to go forth many times by which he means as follows: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”

At first glance, such declaration from the pope may appear a bit strange. Why hospital? Are the faithful Christians real or potential injured or sick people? If yes, what kind of disease?

Is curing illnesses, even in case of mental patients, a Church’s duty?

However it is true that the specificity of a field hospital is to be located very close to the fighters.

With very limited means in usually non-confortable and sometimes rather critical conditions, doctors, surgeons and medical personnel have to work hard and in urgency on highly serious cases. It is extremely important that confident relationship be developed between them and their patients.

If such image applies to the Church, my feeling is that Church can’t claim holding exclusivity of the Truth, then impose regulations on religious cults, moral duties, ways of life etc., and related sanctions, even excommunications.

As a French priest said, the Church’s main duty should be to accompany, to bring help and light to those who are in doubt, sometimes in sufferings related to their personal life, their faith and convictions.

But the sick body to look at first may be the Church itself.

In many countries, religious practice has considerably dwindled and this accelerated in the last 40 to 50 years. It is especially true in European countries, which I know better and even concerning long time catholic countries such as Spain.

In the past, and also even nowadays, the Church declarations, writings and actions may have generated deep wounds.

However, her main role should be to heal.

Let’s give two quotations, among many others :

Pope John XXIII :

“Today more than ever, we are called to serve mankind as such, and not merely Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere, the rights of the human person and not merely those of the Catholic Church…’ ‘It is not that the Gospel has changed: it is that we have begun to understand it better… the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead “

Gospel (Matt 2:27):

“The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.

In order to illustrate this, and also to deal with the second sentence of my subject i.e. Where we are in implementing Church Reform in Vatican and World, I wish to give some examples of what is currently being experienced in some organizations belonging to IMWAC and also information on our Council 50 event and expected future developments.

In his intervention at Council 50, Paul Hwang described the situation in Asian countries.

Of course, Paul is much more qualified than me to talk about that.

With reports received from IMWAC friends, let’s see what’s going on in various countries

Ireland :

In Ireland there has been a huge decline in the position of the Catholic Church. 50 years ago the churches and seminaries were packed full and our government sought the advice and approval of bishops for many important decisions. Today the churches are mostly empty, only one seminary remains open and in 2015 a national referendum approved marriage equality by 62% despite the opposition of the bishops; We Are Church Ireland actively supported this referendum. The clerical sex abuse scandals led to government reports highlighting wide spread cover-ups.

Pope Francis has brought a new spirit of openness into the church. He does not want a church with a focus on rules and power. He wants a church of love and mercy in the image of Christ. But after 3 years he has promised much and delivered little. In a field hospital you urgently deal with the wounds. We see the following wounds in our church in Ireland:

  1. Young people are leaving the church in huge numbers
  2. Women continue to be treated as less than second class
  3. Lay people are asked to do more but are excluded from all decision making

These wounds have been caused by a church still locked into rules and power which has not addressed the following injustices:

  1. The ban on artificial contraception in Humanae Vitae has not been accepted and is widely ignored.
  2. The ban on divorced people receiving the Eucharist is unchristian and has been ignored by a large number of the church-going laity.
  3. The appointment of bishops from Rome without any meaningful input from the local diocese confirms the medieval dictatorial structure.
  4. The Congregation for Doctrine and Faith (CDF) continues to silence and sanction priests, religious and theologians using procedures where the accused person is treated in a totally unchristian way.

The attitude towards the LGBT community with a catechism that still describes homosexuality as being intrinsically disordered.

Germany and Austria

  • Report on activities of We Are Church Germany

„Where We Are in implementing Church Reform in Vatican and World“

May be, for Germany we can say, that in the „World“ we are far beyond in implementing Church Reform ideas compared to our influence on the hierarchy and on Vatican. But nevertheless we are not unheard and some of our demands already were sucessful.

In Germany we have an impressing history of organized laymanship since 1848 in catholic church. It started more or less for political reasons, but with the exception of the time during Third Reich it went on and there are plenty of organizations of men, women, workers, young people, social services, which are represented in Central Committee of German Catholics. When We are Church started in 1995, some of the members of the Steering Group agreed, others rejected the 5 demands. It took some time until the reservations towards our group diminished – though the bishops as a whole remained refusing. And we are not members of this committee, which is also getting money from the dioceses, as we do not want to become dependent. Nevertheless, since 2000 We are Church is taking part a the so called Katholikentage, biannual meetings of catholic (and other) christians with an information stand and several events like panel discussions. –

In Austria We are Church started in 1995, and one of the main reasons was, that Cardinal Groer was accused of sexual violence. Since then, this was a topic, that always was challenging our engagement. We insisted on the Bishops´ Conference installing guidelines on how to react on cases of sexual violence within catholic church in Germany – and we finally succeeded. For about 10 years we offered an emergency phone for victims of sexual violence in catholic church and we closed that, after the Bishops´Conference installed a similar service. – Since about 1997 we are a first address for media to take position on these questions.

Concerning the announcement of bishops and the lack of participation of the people of God and also the lacking transparency of finances we could sensitize the public. Especially with regard to church finances and property in Germany started a process of disclosure of the possessions and the income of dioceses. It was more or less the consequence of the scandal in the diocese of Limburg, where the bishop wasted millions of euros on a bishops residence. This behavior caused a lot of rumor and induced the dismissal of this bishop. – The way of finding bishops however was not changed. The People of God is not involved.

From the beginning we are attending to as well the question on how the bishops treat parishes. The only model they have is: making parishes bigger and bigger, owing the idea, that there must be a priest on top with no respect towards the needs of the people within the parishes. And with a tremendous lack of phantasy and courage in order to enable the people of God to develop their own ideas on how parishes could work. With the stress on hierarchical and cultic structures the social needs and as well social tasks of parishes are neglected. By seminaries and media work we try to spread other ideas of parish life, the partly get adopted by people who are involved in official church work. At the opportunity of the announcement of church withdrawals We are again urged to stop merging an closing of Church Parishes, against which forms more and more resistance.

During 2010 and 2015 we accompanied critically, for instance by letters to the participants, a so called „Process of Discourse“, that German Bishops installed after in 2009 an increasing number of church withdrawals in consequence of sexual violence, lost of confidence and lack of transparency. – This project, which was announced as a dialogue process at all levels has been unfortunately downgraded by a majority of the bishops very soon for an informal interview process, a process that served only the “assurance” and therefore has led so far only sporadically to demonstrable results. On behalf of the episcopal reservations and the constantly changing participants it could not come to a forum which could also make real decisions. So some even talked of “Sandbox Games” or of only an “illusion of a new beginning”.

This process was more or less outdated by the questionnaire in preparation of the family synod Pope Francis initiated in 2013. The outcome of this questionnaire and also the discussion during the synod showed, that some of the ideas and positions of We are Church were confirmed.

With the decisive statement of the post synodal document „Amoris Laetitia“, “that not all doctrinal, moral or pastoral discussion must be decided by a magisterial intervention” (no. 3), Pope Francis gives back freedom of dialogue and development of the doctrine to the Church that many previous popes had badly reduced. – Disappointing however- even in comparison to his earlier statements – is that Francis turns only indirectly to homosexuals (# 250.) For he does not see any possibilities for the Church to bless homosexual unions in analogy to marriage and family (# 251.). Noteworthy however is the statement that the church honors the”constitutive elements” present in other forms of association than the Christian ideal of marriage (no. 292).

During the last years the idea of a brotherly and sisterly church, which is the first of the five demands of We are Church got a new impetus. At the beginning it strongly pointed on the behavior within church and on the handling of the hierarchie towards the members. And also ecumenical questions were subsumed under this topic. But meanwhile the aspect of a church responsible for brothers and sisters even outside the church and the resulting implementations had gained much more power – as we tried to show also at Katholikentag in Leipzig.

  • We are Church at 100th Katholikentag in Leipzig

On 100th German Katholikentag from 25 to 29 May 2016 Leipzig with the motto, “Behold the man” the Church People’s Movement We Are Church was again intensively involved under the headline: “Future. For church. For all humans.”

– With events within the program of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK)

– With the “talks at Jacob’s Well” on the We Are Church stand on the church mile

– And with the Catholic plus together with the Reader´s Initiative Publik-Forum at the “Alte Börse”.

Also Eva-Maria Kiklas has been called for We Are Church from ZdK in the preparatory group – “local Church – Church with the people”.

What are „Katholikentage“?

The first German Catholic Congress was held from October 3 to 6 October 1848 in Mainz as “General Assembly of the Catholic Association of Germany”, thrilled by the bourgeois-democratic revolution in March 1848 and as a reaction to the suppression of the Catholic population by the Protestant governments since the Congress of Vienna from 1814 to 1815, which resulted later in the Kulturkampf. At that time, the Katholikentag was purely a delegates meeting, for men only, to the 87 Club Members and around 100 other clergy and lay participants came.

From then, there was a Katholikentag almost every year., with the exception of the years 1914 to 1920 and from 1933 to 1947. It was in 1921, when at the 61. Katholikentag for the first time women took part as full members at the assembly. Since 1950, this event takes place every two years, alternately with German Kirchentag, the assembly of mainly protestants.

In recent decades, the Catholic has developed into a major event in the style of a congress, connected to public events and encounters. It is organized by the central committee of catholics, (Zentralkommitee der Katholiken, ZDK) in which the german catholic associations as well as parish and diocesan lay councils are represented.   Many church groups introduce themselves to exhibition booths and provide information. The five-day event is filled with numerous religious, cultural, scientific, socio-political and spiritual events.

Katholikentag in Leipzig


Ahead was the decision to move the anniversary meeting in Leipzig, as risky. As a consequence of socialist suppression of religion during the time of the German Democratic Republic, only about 20 percent are Christians , only a little over four percent of the Leipzig are Catholic.

The Catholic was marked by political issues such as TTIP, environmental protection and sustainability. Other priorities were refugees and their integration as well as dealing with xenophobia and the new nationalism. Topics discussed included the “strange return to the ‘Christian West’ ‘and the New Right in Europe. ZdK President Sternberg defended the decision to invite any AfD politicians to Leipzig. They did not want to organize any “Show Event” for the AfD.

In his speech to the 100th Catholic church historian had Prof. Dr. Hubert Wolf invited the German layman Catholicism to “develop again more potency and visibility in the Church and the world” with clear opinions.

Our Activities


Prof. Wolf was also – together with Prof. Dr. Hermann Haring and ZdK Vice President Karin Kortmann – on the pannel of the discussion provided by We Are Church – “The entire body of the faithful cannot err in matters of belief. ” (LG 12) On the rediscovery of the theology of God’s people in the spirit of Vatican II..

For the three-day Katholikentag plus, organized by We Are Church and the Readers´ Initiative Publik Forum are in the “Old Market”, beyond the offical program, the Pope saying “This economy kills” was the red thread. After the impressive opening of Eugen Drewermann the various events showed that only an economy that serves as well environment and humans can achieve a just coexistence of all people. A truly unique positioning of the two major churches against any further exploitation of creation and the poor, which include the majority of Christians worldwide, is still pending. Further topics of Katholikentag Plus were trade agreements, 500 years Reformation, sexual grip and violence, the challenges posed by refugees, peaceful revolutions, limits to growth and capitalism. We Are Church also participated in the demonstration “For a fair world trade” through the center of Leipzig.

Great popularity again achieved the “talks at Jacob’s Well” in the big tent. Guests from politics, church and society who have been invited for a 50 minutes talk were attracting plenty of people.

On the Katholikentag of ZdK but also the still lacking willingness of the German bishops for reforms became clear at many points. Therefore, the resume of We are Church: “Church people and bishops, what are you waiting for?”

Most of the situations described in Ireland and Germany can be observed in many countries.

In Italy, The movement Noi siamos Chiesa (We are Church) strongly insists on the necessity of democracy within the Church.

In France, we have been deeply moved by the various and violent attacks from extremists in the last two years.

Last month, a catholic priest, aged 85, was murdered in his church while he was celebrating mass. Solidarity movements from all population, including Muslims, second religion in France, were impressive.

However, decrease of religious practice, sacerdotal vocations etc. is huge, except in the very traditionalist Christians.

People are not really against Church and religion, but remain indifferent ‘It’s not my concern!”

It seems that the Church speaks a language which is not understandable by most people, especially the young and appears conservative and committed mainly with the right wing of the political life.

Moreover, even though a very small minority of the clergy is concerned, recent cases of pedophilia does not help to improve the image of the Church hierarchy.

Here below is a short report from the French association FHEDLES, which is IMWAC member :

FHEDLES was started in February 2011further to the merging of the two associations Femmes et Hommes en Église (FHE) and Droits et Libertés dans les Églises (DLE) founded in 1969 and 1987.

FHEDLES is member of the federation “Réseaux du Parvis”

Our aim is to act within Churches and society, with the Gospel freedom, in view of new ways of living justice, solidarity and democracy for:

  • Equality and partnership between women and men, rejecting any kind of discrimination related to sex
  • Deep transformation of mentalities, behaviors and institutions in order to make effective rights and freedoms for all women and men.
  • Promotion of renewed languages and symbols
  • Promotion of relevant researches, in particular in the fields of history and theology.  Council 50Extracts from Miriam Duignan (Communications Director for the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research) in Renew Magazine (UK)All generations, all continents and various cultures were represented.Despite languages barriers and diversity of participants, enthusiasm, energy and determination of the group were there and key aspects of Church reform were debated.The participants came from Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, South Africa), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico), United States, Asia (India, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines) and Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Spain and United Kingdom)Dr. Nontando Hadebe, theologian from Zimbabwe and keynote speaker at the event, pointed out that this is a sign of fear of addressing the need to change attitudes towards women. She also expressed the need for an ‘encyclical of the kitchen, living room and neighborhood’ rather than the Church ‘only focusing on the bedroom’. Final declaration :
  • Regarding Church as well as the world, the declaration focuses on 4 big themes of which challenges and positive evolutions are underlined and commitments taken are detailed :
  • The final declaration can be found on the Council 50 website :
  • Speakers described their common efforts to create structural and spiritual reforms for a more decentralized Catholic Church and demonstrated how much we all have in common, despite our different social and cultural backgrounds.
  • The event received many messages of solidarity from noted theologians, including Leonardo Boff and Hans Küng.
  • A three-day summit of discussions, presentations, workshops and prayer—not to mention the important rituals of dining and drinking together.
  • The Council 50 meeting that took place in Rome in November 2015 aimed “to relight the flame of the second Vatican Council” and was timed to mark 50 years since it closed. 100 delegates from Catholic reform movements around the world came together and worked on a combined declaration addressing key areas of focus for reform in the Church.
  • General presentation :
  • Regarding France, but also in other countries, I wish to mention existence and progress of Christian communities, networks, etc. outside of the traditional parishes. This is what we call the “liquid Church”.
  • Taking into consideration those specific aspects, our last FHEDLES General Assembly has decided to keep having full membership to international organizations like IMWAC as well as the European Network.
  • For the world : peace and war, social and economic justice, environment and sustainable development, gender sexuality and family
  • For Church : ministry and parity between women and men, basic church communities, dialogue within Church and with the world, Church for the poor.

Future actions

It is essential that « People of God » can express himself on his Church, because this is not reserved to hierarchy. The dialogue must be in both directions. Then it was suggested in Rome to organize in the coming years two “synods of people of God” : first in Latin America in 2018, 50th anniversary of the Latin America Bishops Conference in Medellin (Colombia); second in Africa in 2021.

Delegates from Mexico and Brazil, who were present in Rome, already accepted to organize the 2018 meeting. A considerable amount of work, defining the themes, making everybody sensitive, logistics preparation of those synods, etc. remain to be done. Network setting up is a major step for success.

As a conclusion, I would like to express our strong willingness that all we are trying to accomplish, in Council 50 actions as well as in our IMWAC organization will contribute to build up a Church which really heals and help people.

I also wish in this conclusion give the declaration that Jacques Gaillot, French Bishop who was dismissed from his functions 20 years ago, made after the murder of the French priest in July 2016.

Murder at the altar

That tragic event took place in France, in a peaceful church where an old priest celebrated mass with some faithful people.

Suddenly symbols are brutally broken: the church which a sacred place for praying becomes a killing place. At the altar, wearing sacerdotal attire, murderers cut his throat with white weapon.

The Catholic Church is beaten at the heart. We are no longer in Irak or in Syria, but in a French province. It’s a real warning sign.

That 84 years old priest served up to the end as a faithful servant. Life was not taken from him because for a long time already given it. He poured his blood in order that men don’t pour any more blood of their brothers.

This good pastor who loved people gave his life for the one who cut his throat and for all of us, so that we remain brothers, close to one another.

His death is life seed. It’s source of hope and solidarity.

We can overcome our fears, tear down the hatred walls, going out and meetings others.

More than ever, we need to build up a world in which everyone exists for the other.

 Future is open.

Jacques Gaillot

Evêque de Partenia