WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE
TO OUR TROUBLED CHURCH?
In that account, many of Jesus’ followers have turned away, unable to accept his description of himself as the bread of life and the idea that they must somehow eat of his flesh.
The Lord asks the apostle Peter if he intends to leave as well. Somewhat perplexedly Peter replies…
“To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”
Those who believe that these words reside in the one Church founded by Christ find themselves standing by helplessly, as friends and relatives turn away in disgust over the human destruction revealed in recent years.
Yes, it’s true that some people are using the scandals as an excuse to justify their own lack of commitment or their spiritual laziness. But others are genuinely, profoundly disillusioned at the failures of an institution they had trusted.
And so they either abandon Christian faith altogether, or they seek the shelter of some other denomination.
Understandable as this may be, is leaving really a viable option? It seems to me an instance of — in the words of a popular cliché — cutting off your nose to spite your face. You are denying yourself the fullness of faith because some Church leaders have betrayed the Faith. What do you gain by that?
Surely there’s no ignoring the failures that are so obvious. Our Church may have been divinely instituted, but the all-too-human human beings running it have screwed up royally. Things must change. And it falls to the laity to make change happen.
There’s a growing movement to withhold contributions to diocesan appeals and Church-related agencies. And it’s no mystery why this idea is gaining traction. We’ve watched millions of dollars diverted to covering legal expenses and the settlement of abuse claims. Parishioners are justifiably appalled at what they see as the waste of their generosity — almost a kind of theft on the part of Church leaders.
But while withholding gifts may be an act of righteous indignation, it’s also a denial of help to individuals and families that depend on the critical services this money makes possible. Additionally, it squeezes parishes and Catholic schools that are often already operating on very lean resources.
Far better for lay men and women to become involved with parish and diocesan finance councils, demanding transparency and exerting pressure for funds to be allocated responsibly. The experience of people with business and accounting skills would be especially valuable in these areas.
Also, there are ways of giving by which donations can be restricted to clearly delineated objectives. I’d appreciate hearing from somebody who’s knowledgeable about the details of such things — but controlled funds can be established to underwrite specific parish-based projects or school programs.
Lay initiative is needed in other areas as well, not least in reforming a hierarchy that has been far too insular and unwilling to clean its own house.
Pope Francis’ attribution of the abuse crisis to “clericalism” has been criticized as myopic. It’s seen as proof of an unwillingness to name other key factors (in particular the widespread presence of homosexuality in the priesthood), and that criticism is valid.
But there’s a certain truth in his words when you consider the closed system by which priests are chosen to become bishops or assigned to other key posts, such as vocation directors and seminary heads.
There was a time when a bishop was proclaimed by the people of his city. St. Ambrose is a good example; he was a Roman provincial governor who was ordained priest and bishop by popular demand.
While that system had its drawbacks, and I don’t expect it to be reinstated, there’s a strong argument to be made for listening to informed lay advise in weighing episcopal appointments. And just now would be a good time to press for that. After the extreme accommodations made to the Communist Chinese on selecting bishops, any objections to reasonable input from Catholic laity would ring rather hollow.
We need to consider another possible change as well. The unfolding scandal continues to remove more and more priests from active ministry, thus exacerbating the priest shortage. Consequently, ordination of married men is being discussed with greater urgency. Noises are being made in the Vatican about this option, and the idea is gaining ground among the laity.
Pope Emeritus Benedict established the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, an ecclesiastical structure through which married clergy ordained in the Anglican or Episcopal communions have become Catholic priests. Quite a few have made the move, including such visible figures as author/blogger Fr. Dwight Longenecker. And while wives and children do create some practical complications, they’ve met with broad acceptance.
Actually, we have a readymade pool of prospective married priests: permanent deacons. These are usually older men, often with grown children, who are already at least partially trained, and who have considerable experience in both pastoral ministry and parish management. Many of those men would make excellent priests.
The Church has changed.
Regardless of how you may feel about that.
Everything from vernacular worship, through altar girls, through guitars at Mass — through all the sordid revelations about the warped sexual interests of far too many of our clerics — it all militates against maintenance of the status quo, and certainly against any restoration of that mythical pre-Vatican golden age so many folks dream about.
The world is different. The Church is different. History moves in only one direction.
I don’t know what Catholicism will be like in the future. But whatever turn things may take, no matter how bad conditions get, Peter’s question remains relevant…
“To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.”
This graphic makes a good case for sticking with the Church…
While this one offers a cautionary word about the presumption of innocence on the part of our clergy…
Here’s an appropriate prayer circulating online…
A Facebook friend named Clare Short brought a wry insight into Catholic reality…
Some Church officials are agitating for increased lay involvement in Church governance. Speaking at the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, pointed to the investigation of sex abuse cases as an area where lay men and women can provide special benefits. As reported by Life Site News, Bishop McKnight said…
“Lay involvement should be mandatory to make darn sure that we bishops do not harm the Church in the way bishops have harmed the Church, especially what we have become aware of this past year.”
Check out his statement at…
Catholic journalist and blogger Marge Fenelon made an important point about the Church in a post last summer, noting that…
“It’s essential to keep our perspective and to realize that the crimes of a certain number of individuals do not make the entire Catholic Church bad.”
She too insisted that correcting the situation is primarily up to the laity — and not just in demanding action…
“Rather than lament that the Church isn’t what we’d prefer her to be, let’s instead be the Church she should be. We all are members of the Body of Christ — what makes one stronger and holier makes all of us stronger and holier. We can effect so much good by fostering hope, demonstrating exemplary faith, and valiantly defending what is good, true, and beautiful about the Church.”