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Faith Exchange: Advice for a church in transition (REUTERS)
Faith Exchange: Advice for a church in transition (REUTERS)


One Pope. Five experts. Our faith panel picks a pontiff Add to ...

People think of the Church as this monolith, But I would happily put my last $5 on the amount of differing voices and debates being greater within the Catholic Church than in many other settings where, respectfully, when people lose a discussion, they just get mad and leave. As for opening up the Church to women, it already is. But the question of female ordination is not an open question. It has been studied, reflected upon, considered and reconsidered and Pope John Paul II said it was closed. We move on to carrying out our Christian mission to help the poor, or something equally important.

The New Evangelization, which is really the 2,000-year-old evangelization with a fresh spring in its step, has to be centred on the presence and friendship of Christ. It has to be founded in the reality that Christ is something happening to me. Happening: today, actively, in real time, in real presence. To me: to the I that I am. All the true, infallible truths of the Church are commentary on that fundamental truth.

Lorna Dueck: I completely agree that we must experience the reality of Christ in a presence and friendship with us, Peter. However, the “infallible truths of the Church” get in the way of that when those truths engage in basic human power. For example, if Church leadership blocks distribution of condoms or birth control, where is the love of Christ for neighbour in that?

Peter Stockland: The love of Christ there is in the love of life as understood by His church. It is in the love of openness to life and the proper use of human sexuality, again as understood by his church. If you read, for example, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, you begin to appreciate that this is a coherent understanding of human life, even if it’s one you disagree with. It’s not capricious. It’s not dictatorial. It is based on conclusion following premise.

Guy Nicholson: An outsider like me might get the impression that the Vatican considers Catholicism a baseline for Christianity – a sort of historical and moral starting point. Is this a fair assumption? And if so, is this part of why there is resistance to moving away from traditional teaching toward a different – some might call it modern or inclusive – kind of church?

Lorna Dueck: In the past 50 years, we’ve seen enormous change on what’s considered a baseline for Christianity as it was debated between the two biggest defenders of the faith, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The starting point was agreed, that the core truth of salvation is belief in the grace of Jesus Christ. Then the two branches divide on what is the nature of the Church.

Guy Nicholson: Is grassroots change possible in the Catholic Church?

Lorna Dueck: In suburbia, where I live, the Catholic churches are overflowing. Two-thirds of the Roman Catholic Church are worshipping outside of North America and it, too, is burgeoning in enthusiasm and community. They are many evidences that grassroots followers of Jesus who are Roman Catholic are in deep renewal of their lives. They are robust in a faith that believes in experiencing the daily comfort and guide of the Holy Spirit, and are fully engaged in acts of service. I think this eventually is going to chip away at Rome’s hierachy; places are going to be found for this enthusiasm. Somehow, these congregants are able to balance love for their church despite its weakness.

Cheridan Sanders: Grassroots renewal is possible in the Church. You only have to look at communities like Focolare, or events such as World Youth Day, to know this. Whether we want to change or should change is another question. The Church does not desire change for its own sake. It desires to be faithful to teachings that have been handed down and clarified over centuries.

Lorna Dueck: That’s the happy side of the grassroots. Reality also contains a sentiment that Bishop Brian Dunn of Antigonish recently shared with the National Catholic Reporter about the New Evangelization. Reflecting on his diocese’s shattering over sexual abuse in its clerical ranks, he saw their outrage as a call for change in church structures, saying the church needs “a profound change of mentality, attitude and heart in our ways of working with laypeople.” That’s a bishop acknowledging a grassroots wakeup call to the fallibility of the priesthood.

Cheridan Sanders: Sure, there’s a desperate need for renewal and a change of mentality when it comes to working with laypeople. He’s essentially echoing something already addressed in Vatican II. But as I read it, he is not asking us to change the priesthood; rather, he’s asking that we adopt a stance of humility in all things.

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