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Radical Democracy (Fri Jul 15, 2005 10:20 am)

Recently Leonardo Boff published a piece called "Radical Democracy" that seems appropriate not only for the period around Independence Day in the United States but also for Catholics everywhere struggling with the ideas "Who and what are Catholics? Who and what is the Church?"

We cite the ancient Greek city government of Athens as the first "democracy" even though less than 1/6th (less than 16%) of its population could participate in government and decision-making. Minors, women, slaves, artisans, foreigners, non-property-owners had no voice. Yet, Athens is called the cradle of Western democracy.

The Catholic Church takes this Athenian elitism one step further by excluding all but the priestly caste (less than 1% of the Church) from all spiritual and administrative decisions. It then proudly proclaims, "The Church is not a democracy!" Truer words were never spoken!

But how does this eccleastical elitism correspond to the first generations of the community created by Jesus and his apostles? The early Church, the Church of the home churches and the catacombs, was a total, radical democracy (a "koinonia" as described by Boff and John Paul II), the model for all utopian democracies to come. It was best described by Saint Paul: "No longer is there either Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, man or woman, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3, 28). They were "ecclesia," popular assembly, and all decisions, including the appointment of bishops and priests, were made by all with full recognition that the Spirit speaks through each individually and all collectively.

That WAS the Christian Community, the Church, but IT WAS then completely made over under Constantine and his followers, radically changing it into the hierarchical, patriarchal, and monarchial institution formed in the image of Roman imperial authority it is today. The time has come for us to return to the original idea of Church, and the Spirit is moving us, and all of society, in that direction. Let it be said of us that we envisioned and worked for a Church in the future when our leaders will be proud to proclaim, "We are a democracy!"

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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