October 7-10, 1999

Organized by International Movement We are Church (IMWAC) 
and the European Network: Church on the Move (EN)



Declaration of the International Movement "We Are Church" 
and the European Network "Church on the Move" 
on the occasion of the October 1999 Bishops Synod for Europe in Rome 


Coming from 10 European countries and with the help of sisters and brothers from Latin American countries and from the USA, we met in a Forum of European Catholics (FEC), Santa Severa, Roma (7th –10th October 1999), to discuss the present situation in our Roman Catholic Church, facing new challenges in its mission of evangelization, and to bring our contribution to the Synod of European Bishops, taking place in the Vatican (1 – 23  October 1999).

We trust that our voice, together with voices from all over the Church, will be listened to with attention. That is why we pray to the Holy Spirit to give us, the Church, the courage to speak freely, the courage to face the complex and unavoidable problems that whoever wants to announce the Gospel experiences in the Europe of  today.

All these reflections have only one aim, to help our Church and all Churches to be faithful to the Word of God, and to be ready to give life to justice, peace and the safeguard of creation.


1.1 "The voices of anticipating something new about to come are growing ever louder in the streets of Europe." These words by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, hold us captive. The winds of change are sweeping through cathedrals and factories, schools and palaces. On their wings they carry the call for unity and peace, for freedom and self-determination, for responsibility, solidarity, and tolerance.

1.2 Ever since the dawn of its history, Europe has been a continent of harsh contrasts, source of bloody atrocities and liberating developments. Christians as well as non-Christians took part in both. Today, as always, Europe is characterized by great intellectual and spiritual diversity, and committed Christians are reduced to minority status.

1.3 Some Church officials respond to this challenge by lamenting the "evil world" and claiming the exclusive right to an unrealistic doctrinal certainty. In times of spectacular change the institutional Church sees itself as a fortress – a fortress which it is not, which it cannot be, and which it ought not to be.  We, the Catholic Church, are also in need of a new evangelization.

1.4 We, the Catholic Church, firmly demonstrate our readiness to accept Europe’s spiritual diversity as an opportunity to formulate our unique gift of Faith. We will accept the challenges of modern science. Jesus Christ has shown us the path to salvation, but not only Christians walk it. To foster unity and peace means to respect otherness and to reconcile diversity by working together to establish a civilisation that does not suppress conflict but harnesses its power in non-violent ways – a culture of dialogue.

The Jubilee of the Year 2000, instituted by the Pope in disregard of the sensitivity of other Christian Churches, should not be a triumphalistic celebration, but a source of reflection and humble repentance for the historical sins of our Church, in the past and in this century.


2.1 Ever since Christians have lived in Europe they too have paid homage to brute force. Time and again they waged war against one another as military leaders and as simple combatants – too often rationalizing aggression by appealing to supposedly "sacred" commands from the "Lord of History". Expeditions to convert and colonize, crusades and "holy wars" laid waste souls and lands. Thousands of women and men died in torture chambers and as victims of autos-da-fé "in the name of Truth". Even the joyous liberation of the 1789 Declaration of Human Rights originally foundered. 

2.2 Yet on that very same continent where Church and State so often joined in unholy alliances in the pursuit of power, theological attempts at taming war continued to gain ground. In ancient Athens the first experiment at solving social conflicts through law was successful. Catholic political thinkers of the sixteenth century, Calvinist theologians, and nonconformist teachers of natural law ploughed the ground in which international law and democracy could flourish.

2.3 We, the Catholic Church, along with all human beings of good will, must contribute to the spiritual foundation of a just social and economic order, that will make Europe a continent that promotes a culture of peace. Moreover,  serious consideration should be given to the right of international intervention.  Justice and Peace must become contagious.

In particular, we should be aware of the radical subdivision of the world between the rich North and the deprived South, and act in an effective way to overcome this dramatic gap. Even though the Roman Catholic Church is not directly responsible for the foreign debt, the financial management of the Jubilee 2000 (indulgences and  pilgrimages) lends itself to collusion with the economic mechanisms which are at the source of the debt itself.


3.1 Since its inception, the Judeo-Christian understanding of reality has been rooted in the conviction that every person is created in God's image (Gen.1:27) and endowed with the same dignity as every other human being. With deep shame, however, we must confess that it took many centuries before we even became conscious of the implications of this awareness. With fire and sword Catholics persecuted women and men of other denominations, as well as those of their own Faith. 

3.2 European conquerors subjugated other continents and robbed the native populations of dignity and land. When the concept of Human Rights was first formulated in the 18th century, some members of the Catholic hierarchy distinguished themselves by their opposition. For too long many of them have even stubbornly done battle against the idea of equal rights for all human beings. Today we, the Catholic Church, have to be at the vanguard of the efforts to realize human rights in all social spheres, including, of course, in our own ecclesial comunity! 

3.3 Among the essential treasures of human rights is the right of women to full equality in society and Church. For those baptized in the name of Jesus, "there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slave and free, between men and women" (Gal. 3:28). No Scripture passage declares baptized women unworthy of the Church´s ordained ministries. There can be no such position in the teachings of the Church. Church structures must involve full participation of men and women. The cause of women is the cause of humankind.

3.4 Current Canon Law still contains decrees that are in direct contradiction to human rights. As members of the laity women experience double discrimination (Canon 230). There is no separation of powers: Bishops simultaneously hold legislative, executive, and judiciary power (Canon 391). Parents who allow their children to be baptized or brought up as non-Catholics and people who refuse blind obedience to their Bishop or Pope are threatened with penalties (Canon 1366). Sexual continence, described as a "special divine charism," is made a "permanent" obligation for all members of the clergy ordained in the Western Rite.

3.5  We, the Catholic Church, believe it is time for the Holy See to reverse their disgraceful refusal to sign the European Convention on Human Rights. It must demonstrate its full and unequivocal support for women’s equal rights within the Church itself – not merely in words, but in actions. 

We also feel compelled to work to abolish the death penalty in all countries of the world.

Within the Catholic Church, those who seek new ways of spreading the Gospel and of dialogue with other religions and the world, and who support an extensive reform of the Roman Catholic Church, should no longer be repressed and antagonized. We ask that, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, a season of creative dialogue is launched, without exclusions or excommunications.

The year 2000 is the occasion for initiating bold changes in ecclesial structures and in some Papal decisions, which cause so much suffering to many Christians (e.g., not allowing those belonging to a diocese to choose their Pastors; forbidding contraception; denying the Eucharist to divorced and remarried people; forcing priests to remain single; rejecting the full equality of women and men in ordained ministries; disregarding the rights of  homosexual people; forbidding the interconfessional Eucharist of sisters and brothers of different Christian Churches; refusing the reintegration of  married priests).


4.1 God created the Universe and "and found it very good" (Gen.1:31). Today, many Catholics, ordained or not, look at the world as if it were the domain of evil. Without a sincere and joyous affirmation of creation nobody will believe that we want to make ours a better, more ecologically balanced world. This, however, is precisely our mission. 

4.2 We misunderstood the command to "cultivate and care for" the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), as divine authorization for exploitation. Once again we see the Europe of extreme contrasts: on this continent there developed the modern constitutional state which provides the political and economic foundation for a life of at least modest prosperity for all social groups and classes. However, it is also on this continent that human greed, especially in recent decades, has wantonly destroyed the very conditions of survival in an unprecedented way, and has allowed the excesses of unbridled economic expansion to rob many people of meaningful work and hope. Both of these destructive patterns must cease.

4.3 We, the Catholic Church, have a responsibility to teach and preach the goodness of God’s creation and heal the damage and destruction of the environment.


5.1 The world cannot be changed without politics. Politics is about power. Christians must become examples to others of the appropriate use of power – caring for the dignity of all. The principle of shared power (subsidiarity) first advocated by Catholic social teaching and recently also made an essential part of the legal system of the European Union, meets this challenge. As early as 1946, Pope Pius XII announced to the assembled College of Cardinals that it must also be applied to "the life of the Church." 

5.2 Separation of powers within the Catholic Church, by giving greater weight to local churches, would strengthen parishes and dioceses and consequently the Church as a whole. It would facilitate experimentation (e.g. concerning viri probati, women´s ordination, parish administration by lay people) before reforms are introduced worldwide. It would also encourage creative, aesthetic and prophetic forms of liturgy to touch the hearts of the people. To appoint a Bishop against the will of the people of the diocese, or to humiliate national Episcopal Conferences with Vatican directives – as was recently the case concerning pregnancy counselling in Germany – are serious violations of the principle of subsidiarity.

5.3 The pilgrim Church has developed its administrative structures over the course of history. For centuries it has worn the external insignia of secular power, in the form of official robes, titles and documents. Many of these signs have been discarded, but the Hierarchy still indulge in them, although it knows that Jesus said of secular rulers: "But it shall not be so among you" (Mk. 10:43).

5.4 We, the Catholic Church, call for the establishment of a representative council to provide for statutory government within the Church. These statutes must entail:
- participation of all concerned in decision-making, especially in the matters of appointing Bishops and formulating the common faith of the People of God (Sensus Fidelium);
- separation of powers and responsibilities;
- due process;
- subsidiarity in all areas and at all levels.
Freedom of conscience must be guaranteed in every case.

The Bishops’ Synod should be radically transformed to become a permanent and regular structure, with deliberative power, in order to govern the entire Catholic Church. The Synod should be open to full participation and be representative of all the People of God.


6.1 According to the concluding document of the June 1997 Second Ecumenical Assembly at Graz, "We have presented to the world the disgraceful spectacle of a divided Christendom." But we see signs of hope: the forthcoming signing of a "Common Declaration of Catholics and Lutherans on the Doctrine of Justification,” the progress achieved in the wide-ranging conversations of Catholic and Anglican theologians and the revival of the dialogue with Orthodox Bishops and Patriarchs.

6.2 Nevertheless, we should not ignore the signs of a general stagnation in ecumenism. This tendency is all the more lamentable because today's laborious attempts at reconciliation could have been avoided if the Catholic Church had paid more attention to reform proposals made in previous centuries by individuals whom it condemned and frequently eliminated as "apostates" and "heretics". This lesson from history demands that the Catholic Church be at the vanguard of future ecumenical efforts. At best, anxiety concerning the "purity of doctrine" (even though the Bible warns against anxiety on fifty-seven occasions) is a symptom of diffidence, at worst it indicates the arrogance of power and privilege. 

6.3 The great majority of European Christians agree in their yearning to share the common meal of the Eucharist. If the Vatican insists on further clarification of the ordained ministries as a prerequisite for intercommunion, then it is up to us, the Catholic Church, with courage and a sense of perspective, to launch new initiatives. In his Encyclical Ut unum sint, Pope John Paul II has encouraged "fraternal, patient dialogue" concerning the exercise of the Petrine ministry. This invitation must not be forgotten.

6.4 The Christian Church as a whole is especially in need of signs of reassurance. One of those symbolic gestures might be for Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians to agree on celebrating Easter at the same date.

6.5 We, the Catholic Church, should continue ecumenical dialogue. Theological disputes must no longer stand in the way of intercommunion.  We call for the Christian Community at large to recognize each Church’s ministries and Sacraments so that we can model unity in diversity for the world.

Christians must continue to take the initiative of common eucharistic celebrations, in order to prepare a significant gesture of which we dream:  seeing the Bishop of Rome participating in the common celebration of the Eucharist with other Christian Churches.

Our Roman Catholic Church – in conjunction with the other Christian Churches – should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the new millennium to start the process towards a  truly Universal Council of all Churches, which may allow for the reconciliation of all disciples of Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Church should accept to be a co-sponsor of the Forum of  Christian Churches and Organizations in 2001, proposed by the VIII Ecumenical Meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 1998.


7.1 As European Christians we have to atone for hundreds of years of guilt vis-a-vis our Jewish brothers and sisters, a shameful history that culminated in the apocalypse of the Shoah. Unless we regain the trust of the Jews who have been a rich part of European culture over many centuries, the river of our own life of Faith will remain polluted from its very source. 

7.2 The common root of Abraham also links us to the followers of Islam who helped shape Europe`s medieval culture as well, and have today become an integral part of the population in most European countries. Dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters is another obligation for Christians, no matter how different our starting points and how inevitable the potential setbacks. To have the faith of Abraham means that, in trusting God's promise, we jointly set out on a journey, with no assurance of the path or the goal. 

7.3 We, the Catholic Church, believe that in addition to the reconciliation of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Europe is in need of interreligious dialogue with other faith traditions and important ideologies. The dialogue of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – requires special attention, sensitivity and concrete gestures. 

We, the Catholic Church, must support a project of global world ethics.


8.1 According to Scripture, God is a friend of human beings, wise and patient, generous and fair. But we realize that all our God-talk involves speaking in incomplete images and stammering in a language hampered by human limitations. Neither God nor "the truth" can be trapped in a net of definitions. "It remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its [of revelation] full significance over the course of the centuries" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 66).

8.2 The image of the Emmaus disciples, who did not recognise Jesus, sets the stage for the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod for Europe.  It is essential for us to keep in mind that it is Jesus who opens our eyes again and again, and that all of us, including the highest dignitaries of the Church, always remain seekers and not the possessors of truth.

8.3  We, the Catholic Church, ask the Bishops, participating in the Synod for Europe, to show the world a Church that practices what it preaches, promoting peace and unity in diversity; authentically sharing peoples’ joys and sorrows; helping men and women develop a deeper understanding of the meaning of life. 

We, the Catholic Church, should tell the Good News in language that touches peoples’ hearts and minds. 

The Church is the Assembly of God’s People. 

It is our common task to bear witness to the love of God.

We offer our Declaration to the Holy Spirit, 
to the Bishops’ Synod and to the whole Christian community. 

With this Declaration we show willingness to dialogue within our Church.

10 October 1999 at Santa Severa, Rome, Italy 
International Movement We Are Church  / European Network - Church on the Move


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Posted 12 October 1999
Last revised 12 October 1999
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