Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tensions In Our Church Today

In every era, the Church has had its problems, from resolving the question of  whether Jesus is divine (Council of Nicea,  325) to whether some of the naked figures in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel should be painted over because they were deemed by some bishops to be indecent (Council of Trent, 25th session, 1563).

Our day is obviously not an exception. Among the issues facing the Church in the post-Vatican II era are these (in no particular order of importance or priority):

Refugee crisis: It is reported that over the past five years more than 1.5 million war-weary Syrians have crossed into Lebanon. Some 300,000 Somalis are living in refugee camps in a tent city in Dadaab in Kenya. Every day Mexicans seeking jobs slip through the loose borders separating them from the United States. In his September 23, 2015,meeting with the US Bishops, Pope Francis urged them to welcome immigrants: “I am certain that, as so often in the past, thee people will enrich America and its Church.”

Priest pedophilia crisis: Sex abuse by priests and bishops has rocked the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world. Pope Francis’ June 4, 2016, motu proprio stipulates that any bishop who is negligent in response to sexual abuse by his clergy can be removed from office. The document says: “the diocesan bishop or the eparch or who has the responsibility for a particular church…can be legitimately removed from his position if he has, by negligence, placed or omitted acts which caused serious harms to others…”

Ordination of women as deacons: At a May, 2016, assembly in Rome of over 800 women religious (sisters and nuns),  Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, that is, admitting them to the status of clergy in the Church. He said he was open to establishing a commission to study the matter. Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants a greater role for women in the decision-making of the institutional Church.

Preaching the homily by lay people: Grass roots efforts are underway to encourage a change in the legal restriction of the homily at Mass to clergy alone. Some couch the matter in terms of women as preachers, but in fact the legislation applies to lay men as well. The US Association of Catholic Priests (AUSCP) addressed the issue at their June, 2016, assembly in Chicago, and overwhelming agreed to recommend that the United States Catholic Bishops ask for a change in the law, thus allowing lay persons to exercise the charism of preaching at Mass. The restriction against lay preaching of the homily rests on the idea that the homilist at Mass acts in persona Christi, which in some theologies is a designation restricted to the clergy. He who defines the terms wins the argument.

Other issues of discussion and contention:
Which comes first: catechesis or evangelization?
Women's roles in the Church
Shortage of priests
Closing or regionalizing parishes
Family Life Issues
Clergy: administrators or pastors?
Ordination of women as priests
LGBT rights
Poor celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy
English translation in the Roman Missal
Appropriate response to the poor, negelcted, abandoned
Gun control
John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”
Admission of divorced-and-remarried to Holy Communion
The environmental issues of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si
Married priests in the Roman Rite

From the start the Church has found it necessary to wrestle with conflicting opinions, theologies, and disciplines. The Church of our day is not an exception.. As it was in the beginning so now it is today – we need to pray for and listen to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

To acknowledge that the Church (at least in its members) is deeply flawed poses no threat to our accepting its divine core. I think often of Pope Benedict’s remark about the Church’s having a disfigured face. Our troubles as Church come both from without and from within. Frank acknowledgement of our brokenness keeps us humble, militates against our being self-referential, and promotes ongoing openness to the Spirit which Jesus promised to send.

 We do not have all the answers.

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