A Listening Church
The Holy Spirit works not only in the cardinal electors as they select a new pope, but in the hopes and desires of all the people of God. The church is called to be attentive to the Spirit alive in both groups: the hierarchy and the laity. It is called to be both ecclesia docens (a teaching church) and ecclesia discens (a learning church). What groups, then, might the next pope need to listen to most carefully?
The poor. The Catholic Church is one of the great champions of the poor. Taking its inspiration from the call of Jesus to care for the “least of these,” the Vatican hears the “cry of the poor.” Nonetheless, the call to listen to the downtrodden bears repeating because the poor are always in danger of being forgotten, as they do not have access to structures of power. The church always needs to ask: What more can we do for the poor?
Victims of sexual abuse. Pope Benedict XVI’s historic meetings with victims of sexual abuse decisively ended the awful canard that the scandal is some “media creation” that we can choose to ignore. Listening to the harrowing stories of victims of abuse by members of the clergy, painful as it is for leaders, is an essential part of the healing ministry of the next pope.
Women. The church’s teaching is clear: The church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women as priests. This means, however, that women are effectively shut out of decision-making at the highest levels of the church. Might the pope consider appointing women as heads of some congregations and dicasteries, positions that do not necessarily require ordination? If not, can the pope establish mechanisms to facilitate greater access to the insights and advice of Catholic women?
Gays and lesbians. Once again, church teaching on homosexual activity and same-sex marriage is clear: One is forbidden, the other beyond the pale. But the church also calls us to treat our brothers and sisters with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” One sign of respect is listening. We pray for a pope who begins a conversation with the words, “In listening to the experience of our brothers and sisters who are homosexual....”
Theologians. Since the time of the church fathers, theologians have helped the church do its thinking. The task of theologians is not simply to repeat what is said in the catechism. It is to think creatively about new questions in theology. Can the church listen more carefully, and more openly, to those theologians whose work takes them to the margins? As Jesus said, “Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen!”
For God and Country?
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has announced that the pilots of drones, who operate thousands of miles from combat, will be eligible to receive a new military medal, the Distinguished Warfare Medal, which will rank below the Distinguished Flying Cross but above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. This seems inappropriate.
The idea has emerged just as the use of drones is being subjected to more intense scrutiny in Congress and the press. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that among the nearly 3,000 people killed during 350 drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, roughly 430 to 800 were civilians, including nearly 200 children. Only a tiny percent of those killed were enemy leaders. Among Pakistanis aware of the strikes, 97 percent oppose the strikes, and the sight of bloody body parts stokes the fires of revenge.
The medal’s defenders argue that future wars will be fought from a safe distance and that the medals are a way to acknowledge that their recipients, who often experience combat stress, are engaged in deadly conflict. Critics point out that there is a long list of awards that are already available.
During a Lenten season that has included media coverage of the sins of prominent Catholics, it is easy to feel discouraged. And yet, as painful as it can be, reflecting on these events during this season of prayer and repentance is especially appropriate. We are right to call our church’s leaders to accountability, transparency and repentance; but individual Catholics must not forget that we too require accountability and forgiveness. We in the pews are also the church; and when we allow grace to change us from within, we participate in the process of healing the church.
We must make our lives examples of mercy not only by offering forgiveness to those who have hurt us but also by seeking forgiveness for ourselves. Pope John Paul II called confession “an act of honesty and courage—an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” He said that “the potential for an authentic and vibrant renewal of the whole Catholic Church through the more faithful use of the sacrament of penance is immeasurable.” This Lent, let us all examine our lives; let us ask for forgiveness; let us work together toward a purer and more courageous church.