Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Church In Stress

There were several significant meetings in June relating to the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church.

In June the United States Catholic Bishops met in Seattle to discuss a number of issues, including physician-assisted suicide, sex abuse by clergy, defense of marriage, and the establishment of an office to welcome Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church.

Also in June a new organization called American Catholic Council gathered in Detroit to discuss reform of the Church. Some 2000 Catholics (mostly over 65 years of age, well-educated, and white) endorsed a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities affirming primacy of conscience and the right for every Catholic to share in responsibility for the mission and ministry of the Church.

The Catholic Theological Society of America met in San Jose, California, to consider the conclusion of the US Bishops' Committee on Doctrine that Sister Elizabeth Johnson's book Quest for the Living God failed to provide authentic Catholic teaching. A committee of theologians had protested that the bishops had misrepresented Johnson's work. Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose delivered the opening address to the 325 theologians. His remarks were well-received, and bridged the gap between the two sides.

In New Rochelle, NY, over 250 religion professors gathered to listen to and discuss presentations at the College Theology Society's annual meeting. What made the meeting especially noteworthy was that all present were lay men and women. President Bradford Hinze made the point that 30 years ago almost all theologians were priests, but the age for lay involvement is clearly evident in their membership. Discussions covered such topics as violence in society, the violence of abortion, and violence against gays.

An association of Austrian clergy (priests and deacons) met in Vienna, Austria, and signed a declaration pledging to stop having multiple Masses on Sunday, resisting the push to force priests to pastor multiple parishes, and promoting ordination of married men and women to the priesthood.

Although some Catholics are appalled by such gatherings I think such conversations may well be a sign of health and wholeness in the Church.

If the theology is correct that the Church was born from the wounded side of Christ, it is perhaps understandable that some tension and conflict should be present throughout its history.

All the faithful have a responsibility for the mission and ministry of the Church. Vatican II, Canon Law (##215-216), and the Church Fathers confirm that.

I wish the Church were at peace, that we didn't choose up sides (liberals versus conservatives), that clergy welcoming the involvement of the laity was a common characteristic of parish life.

It isn't so, and probably won't be in my lifetime.

But there is one abiding factor in the life, history and future of the Church that must not, indeed cannot be overlooked. It is the power and presence of the Spirit.

When you look at the history of the Church and see all that its members have done to weaken it, you have to believe that the Church remains in God's safe-keeping.

If the Borgia popes didn't destroy the Church, how can we fear its demise?

Our task is to work for peace, compassion, and formation in the values of the Gospel. The Church ought to reflect that mission.

But when it doesn't, or when it seems to boil with controversial hopes and dreams, you have to believe that God is still in charge.

This is another example of the mystery of faith --out of death comes life!

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