Just how many reformist petitions have been put forth by concerned Catholics in recent decades? Within Roman Catholic polity, such petitions are virtually the only way for reform-minded Catholics to address their concerns to the hierarchy. And their effectiveness seems pretty close to zilch. But the concerns don’t go away, and the petitions continue.

Here’s another one.

8,235 signatories in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking half of Belgium), including politicians and intellectuals as well as about a tenth of all Flemish priests, deacons and lay Church workers, have called for reforms including ordination of women and married people. On Thursday the petition was presented to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference. (Original-language report including the petition is here.)

There will be more petitions. I don’t see the reformist concerns going away any time soon. The hierarchy probably will not get widespread buy-in from Catholics on the hot-button issues, not with a power structure perceived to be top-down and without representation or accountability. For its part the hierarchy (the pope, and the bishops appointed by him and his predecessor) probably will not budge on positions it considers unchangeable, even of divine origin. Much less will it budge on its exclusive claim to settle the issues.

And so the struggles will continue. On one side, calls for obedience to authority. On the other side, calls for more credible exercise of authority. The two sides need each other, and they carry on quite well in their symbiotic opposition.

A word to those sympathetic to the first side: your calls for others to be obedient will not work. For those already skeptical of authority, the chances of more heavy-handed exercise of authority being persuasive are pretty close to zilch. For you, being a Catholic means knowing that you’ll never live in a Church where everyone shares your view of things.

A word to those sympathetic to the other side: your calls for church reform will not work, at least not in the foreseeable future. Your hope is that your concerns will ultimately be heard, though you see few signs of it now. For you, being a Catholic means finding peace and spiritual sustenance in the Church now despite the systemic, structural flaws.

And so it will go, until the next petition, and thereafter.

Brussels Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, accepted the petition along with the Flemish bishops and thanked the group for its “quite critical but still churchly initiative.”

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UPDATE: Here is a quick PT translation. I welcome corrections and improvements, my Dutch is rather rusty.

MANIFESTO: Believers Speak Up

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, prayer services without Communion: must all this be? Why are the necessary church reforms not happening? We Flemish believers implore our bishops to break the impasse in which we find ourselves. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries, who also insist on reforms that are necessary for the life of the church.

We do not understand why the leadership of our local communities (e.g. parishes) is not entrusted to a man or a woman, married or unmarried, full time or volunteer, who has received the necessary training. We need dedicated shepherds.

We do not understand why these fellow believers should not preside at the Sunday liturgy. Every living community needs liturgical presiders.

We do not understand why – when no priest is available – a Word and Communion service should not be possible.

We do not understand why qualified laypeople and trained religion teachers should not be able to preach. We need the Word of God.

We do not understand why believers of good will who remarry after a divorce must be denied Communion. They equally belong to us.

Fortunately there are already places where such things are done.

We call for both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood as soon as possible. We faithful think this is desperately needed now.