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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?

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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.

Courageous Forgiveness

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.

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Leonard Villa
4 years 7 months ago
Your concerns sound too much like media and the world's agenda which should not necessarily be the Church's agenda. The poor? There is plenty of Church-talk about the poor (often me-tooism in a pc environment) but a criterion should be adopted: does the policy being advanced actually help the poor or does it create more poor? (eg.the Great Society fiasco, create a bureacracy etc) What about spiritual poverty? You rarely hear appeals to the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Can you imagine correcting the sinner? Oh my? I can hear the hows of indignation. Sinners? The Church needs to update its teaching. Bl Theresa of Calcutta highlighted the spiritual poverty of our country. Women? Sounds too much like the secular feminist agenda while a real crisis goes unattended the crisis of men! For those with eyes to see women dominate in the church/parishes today while men increasingly shy away from the practice of Catholicism. How many men see themselves as a religious leader in their families with their wives? In the so-called ministries men are dwarfed to being almost non-existent in many parishes! This in my opinion has a negative effect on young men, their view of their place in the Church, and vocations. Secular feminism has no concern for the Faith or Gospel operating from a false principle that men/women are identical and can outmen the men in any sphere anyway. What does it mean to listen the experience of brothers/sisters who are homosexual? Lack of specficity here. If anything church-people bend backwards to be sensitive to homosexuals because the agenda is constantly in people's faces? If anything the sensitivity should be to people who stand by the order and whole truth about the human person and sexuality who are constantly vilified and attacked within and without the Chruch attempting to silence that truth by charges of bigotry and hate.
Anne Chapman
4 years 7 months ago
The church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women as priests. ********************************** Correction - the human beings (all male, coincidently) who run the church CLAIM that they have no authority to ordain women as priests. This is an interpretation that they have chosen, because it supports the status quo. They chose to ignore their own Vatican-appointed select group of scholars who studied the issue in the 1970s and whose report concluded that there is nothing in the NT that supports the church's denial of a sacrament to women due to gender. It was not the conclusion they sought - they wanted a rubber-stamp of what they wanted and they didn't get it. So the study was shelved. This is the same tactic they used when being presented with the report of the birth control commission - which overwhelmingly recommended that the church change the teaching. It wasn't what the men in the Curia wanted and so that report was also shelved. Do not confuse what male human beings want and what God wants. They are not the same thing.
Lori Amann-Chetcuti
4 years 7 months ago
I must respectfully disagree that men are "dwarfed to being almost non-existent in many parishes." Those words imply that men are being discouraged or even locked out of participation in parish life. While it is true that women do much of the lay ministry work in Catholic parishes, those ministries are open to all. The same cannot be said of significant leadership positions within the church hierarchy. Our own catechism states, "In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes." If God embodies the best of what is both male and female, then our church should as well. In that context, it is hard to see America's gentle suggestion that women be permitted to earn a greater role in the church (without being ordained) as a radical feminist agenda. Peace to all.
Michael Barberi
4 years 7 months ago
It is often heard, especially recently, that the Pope cannot change what Christ has taught. He must bring the message of Christ to all peoples of the world regardless of how difficult such a message may entail or the changes in behavior one must embrace. Unfortunately, these are similar to political talking points and demagoguery. No one denies the message of Christ. However, there is profound disagreement within the Church inclusive of bishops, theologians and laity about what that message is especially with respect to certain moral teachings, the role of women in the Church, just to name a few of them. As to the issue, can the Church change some of its teachings, the answer is a resounding yes. As a result of the so-called ‘Council of Jerusalem’, regarding the ‘sign of circumcision’ that set apart the people of God, their advice to the gentiles was, “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” That was it, the sum total of what was left over from the 613 stipulations of the Hebrew law that were to be ‘imposed’ on the converts. It is a small step to broaden this picture with similar controversies that stretch right into modern times. After 1500 years of insisting upon the Old Testament ban on taking interest for money lent, the church changed its teaching and took up a position that directly contradicts the divine command of Ex 22, Lev 25, Dt 23 and Ez 18. After nearly two millennia of tolerating slavery as condoned by the Old Testament, the Catholic Church finally took a clear stand against such a practice. There is also much talk and criticism about the secular world and its diabolic cancer preventing Catholics from grasping the truth. Much can be said of the culture of the historic Church when they constantly repeat the same narrative, insist on doctrinal purity and centralize all power in the Roman Curia and Pope while the collective voices of the bishops are rarely considered and no practical voice is given to theologians or the general laity. Clericalism diminishes moral imagination and its ability to see the real problem and alternative ways to resolving the real problem. Let's pray that Pope Francis will solidify our the profound divisions within our Church and lead Catholics back to the Church and to lives of virtue and true spirituality grounded in Christ's love and charity.
Roy Van Brunt
4 years 7 months ago
Respectfully, I am heartened by the Pope's well-reported concern for the poor. However, that concern needs to be for more than just the economically challenged poor. The Sermon on the Mount refers to the "poor in spirit" - an affliction into which the USCCB has thrown much of the American church with its cave-in to the Roman Curia's ridiculous alleged "translation" that occasions itself as the New Roman Missal. Poor in spirit defines any liturgically minded Catholic who is mind-numbed by seeing fellow Mass-goers content to "pray" by reciting from a card a Creed that mindlessly switches between first person singular and first person plural without logic or reason, and do so without even seeming to notice. It's as if they don't know - or care - whether the Mass is a community exercise in worship or a classroom lesson at root obedience to a completely illogical recommended recitation exercise. Are we praying as an individual? Or as an Assembly? - and the answer to that question is not simply "yes"! Yes, the "poor" do need a lot of attention. True. And that includes the USCCB.

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