Rather remarkably, some contemporary Roman Catholic priests and theologians sound a note that echoes the 28th Article of the Augsburg Confession, namely, that at least some apostolic commands that have been understood a certain way for a long time, can through cultural change and theological criticism be legitimately set aside. The sixteenth-century Augsburg Confession identified several: the eating of blood, the eating of non-kosher foods, the covering of women's heads during the divine service. The hermeneutical principles that AC 28 follows include the centrality of the gospel, the dictates of Christian love, and the need to avoid binding human consciences to transitory apostolic commands and human traditions.
In other words, AC 28 reflects a hermeneutical position that parallels the hermeneutics of Justice Breyer. He identifies his approach under the category of "Active Liberty." AC 28 (and Apol. 28) identify the evangelical hermeneutic under the category of "Christian liberty" in service to the gospel. (See Stephen Breyer, Active Liberty: Interpreting a Democratic Constitution [Oxford, 2008]. His approach to the Constitution strikes me as a wonderful parallel to an evangelical-catholic approach to the apostolic Scriptures and their interpretation over time and cultural change.)
How I would love to talk with that elderly priest! While I suspect that he and I might eventually run up against the age-old conflict between Augustine's doctrine of grace and his doctrine of the church, I also surmise that we might have a lot about which we agree.
Here's an excerpt from Dr. Kueng's editorial:
To this day the Curia, which in its current form is likewise a product of the 11th century, is the chief obstacle to any thorough reform of the Catholic Church, to any honest ecumenical understanding with the other Christian churches and world religions, and to any critical, constructive attitude toward the modern world.
There is no way to ignore the church's desperate needs. There is a catastrophic shortage of priests, in Europe and in Latin America and Africa. Huge numbers of people have left the church or gone into 'internal emigration', especially in the industrialized countries. There has been an unmistakable loss of respect for bishops and priests, alienation, particularly on the part of younger women, and a failure to integrate young people into the church. One shouldn't be misled by the media hype of grandly staged papal mass events or by the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups. Behind the facade, the whole house is crumbling.
In this dramatic situation the church needs a pope who's not living intellectually in the Middle Ages ... It needs a pope who is open to the concerns of the Reformation, to modernity. A pope who stands up for the freedom of the church in the world not just by giving sermons but by fighting with words and deeds for freedom and human rights within the church, for theologians, for women, for all Catholics who want to speak the truth openly. A pope who no longer forces the bishops to toe a reactionary party line, who puts into practice an appropriate democracy in the church, one shaped on the model of primitive Christianity. A pope who doesn't let himself be influenced by a Vatican-based 'shadow pope' like Benedict and his loyal followers.
A recent poll in Germany shows 85 per cent of Catholics in favor of letting priests marry, 79 per cent in favor of letting divorced persons remarry in church and 75 per cent in favor of ordaining women. Similar figures would most likely turn up in many other countries. Might we get a cardinal or bishop who doesn't simply want to continue in the same old rut? Someone who, first, knows how deep the church's crisis goes and, second, knows paths that lead out of it?
If the next conclave were to elect a pope who goes down the same old road, the church will never experience a new spring, but fall into a new ice age and run the danger of shrinking into an increasingly irrelevant sect. [End of Kueng excerpt]
As I read Dr. Kueng's editorial, I couldn't help but think that his words apply to my own church body as well, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. We, too, have our curia (CTCR) that enforces church tradition and ensures that any dissent is rejected on the basis of church tradition. Like Rome, which also trumpets the importance of church tradition, the LCMS CTCR utilizes synodical traditions (statements, resolutions) to squelch all attempts at faithful theological reform.
At least the Roman Church accepts mainstream scientific knowledge (e.g, theory of evolution) and rejects fundamentalist biblicism ("creationism"), unlike the LCMS. But in so many other ways, the current LCMS mimics Rome when it consistently allows church tradition to trump critical, theological engagement with the biblical texts and our contemporary world. As a result, the method of the LCMS is identical to Rome: church tradition is the norm of doctrine and practice and serves as the sole basis for squelching dissent within the synod on matters like the ordination of women.