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Some people worry when they have questions about their faith, or when they begin to realize that the old explanations, good enough before, no longer seem to offer coherent meaning. This worry is misplaced. To believe means to want to understand, and to want to understand means to be asking questions … Faith is precisely the opening of one’s mind, one’s understanding to God. But what God reveals to us is not apparent instantaneously….”

 Monica K. Hellwig, Understanding Catholicism  (Paulist Press, 2002)


I wrote the excerpt below in 2004. I was very optimistic then. Has the Church learnt anything since I published these words of hope?  The recent revised norms seem to suggest not.  Women who desire nothing more than to follow the calling of the Holy Spirit of God, God’s Shekhinah (a feminine characteristic, ironically) are portrayed as sinners who deserve nothing less than excommunication, along with any Catholics who support them.  Is it time to give up?

The Journey Forward for our Church

…  According to the Jesuit poet G.M. Hopkins, the grandeur of God flames out in the world and in nature.  Hopkins believed that despite our destructive ways humankind cannot destroy the presence of God’s grace in nature, renewed by the Holy Spirit each day at dawn. In a similar vein, I believe that the sins of our leaders cannot destroy the power of God’s grace being experienced today in the faith and hope of our Catholic community.

This is a time for renewal, a new dawn for our Church.  The momentum for change is building at the grass-roots level, the people of God.  All the people need a voice; all the people deserve to be heard.  And the journey forward will not be easy. 

…But what about God’s grace? Can’t a priest be forgiven and receive the grace of God to overcome his compulsion to abuse children? As Elizabeth Dreyer eloquently expresses in Manifestations of Grace, grace has the power to transform, to bring life out of death, hope out of despair.  I firmly believe in God’s grace and that I am alive only through the power of God’s grace. God’s grace is not in question. The issue, however, is not God’s grace, but the power of the human person to remain open and respond to that grace.

. . . I do believe, as Jesus himself modeled, that the greatest challenge for any Christian is to turn evil into good.

Where is evil to be found in our church? In the crimes and careers of abusive priests and religious; in the coverups, legal manipulations and obfuscations of bishops, cardinals and Congregations; in the rejection of victims of abuse, and in the attacks on individual Catholics who are committed to justice, equality and fidelity to God’s grace. 

I don’t believe that giving up on the church is the right answer.  The church has nurtured and nourished my faith and the faith of millions, often despite its official doctrines and decrees. Today the church continues to nourish and nurture my faith but not through the liturgy, certainly not through any parish preaching, but through the courage of Catholic activists and writers, women and men, laity, priests,  and religious.  Contrary to Vatican opinion, these women and men do not risk their eternal souls, because fidelity to God’s Holy Spirit in the pursuit of  truth and justice can never, logically, be a sin. It may be an offense against Vatican sensibilities and official doctrines and norms, but how can it be an offense against God?  It would be a profound tragedy if these courageous individuals give up on the church, even if the official church is so ready to give up on them.

Call to Action    has co-sponsored a petition with USA, CORPUS, RAPPORT, WATER and Women’s Ordination Conference.

“We, the undersigned, express our solidarity with Catholics who continue to seek equality, including those who practice feminist ministries and those who are ordained.”

There is nothing sensible that can be said in defense of this news today:

 WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Vatican’s decision to declare the attempted ordination of women a major church crime reflects “the seriousness with which it holds offenses against the sacrament of holy orders” and is not a sign of disrespect toward women, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said July 15.

The archbishop, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, spoke at a news briefing in the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hours after the Vatican issued new norms for handling priestly sex abuse cases and updated its list of the “more grave crimes” against church law, including for the first time the “attempted sacred ordination of a woman.”

What I suggest is that we all get more involved in organizations like: Future Church; Call to Action; Voice of the Faithful; Women Priests; Catholic Women’s Ordination; Women’s Ordination Conference.

You don’t have to risk excommunication to lobby for women’s rights. From the Women Priests website:
“We are faithful Catholics who show why the exclusion of women from priesthood is wrong. We raise awareness and facilitate informed discussion about women’s ordination. We work for reform from the center of the Church.”

Other groups are willing to step beyond the current boundaries. One decision all concerned Catholics have to face is whether continuing to work from within the church is worth the grief. Then again, only Catholics can bring about change to the Catholic Church.  One view of the news today is that it represents a Church hierarchy scrambling to re-assert its authority in the light of impending collapse of current structures. Maybe. We can only hope.

 Here’s a page of other links that might be worth visiting in order to revive hope in the future of Catholicism.

Healing the Church has to involve a re-evaluation of the theology of the priesthood. We can no longer sustain the theology of the priest as “Christ among us” without a serious credibility problem. What are witnessing in our Church is that the activity of the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of God’s Truth has not been evident among the clergy or hierarchy, with very few exceptions. Instead the Truth has been spoken by the “anawim” the oppressed minority, those whom the Church has rejected: the victims of abuse and their family members and supporters. And the champion of God’s Truth has not been the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” but the secular press, The Boston Globe.  

The credibility of the Catholic priesthood as an organ of Christ’s Truth, Justice, and Compassion has been profoundly compromised. Revisiting the theology of the “Priesthood of the People” is one way to redeem that credibility. Discernment of the work of the Holy Spirit is a responsibility of the whole Church which is together the “Body of Christ.”   
              From Hurt To Healing, 2004 (edited)

Where is the Holy Spirit discernible today in our Church?  Is it in Rome? Is it in the keepers of the secret clergy files? Is it present at the table when the bishops and their lawyers discuss strategies to hide money from the courts?

The Holy Spirit is breathing courage and hope into those in the Church who challenge the status quo, who advocate justice, who support victims and priests of integrity. And she is a Mighty Force.

Catholics Working Together for Justice and Equality.

Call To Action announces online registration for its 2010 conference “Faithful Prophets: God Alive in Every Generation.” Join us in Milwaukee, November 5-7, for inspiring speakers, vibrant worship and community among the largest progressive Catholic gathering in the country!

Register before July 15th for the biggest discount!

Mary Catherine Hilkert: “Grace-Optimism”: The Spirituality at the Heart of Schillebeeckx’s Theology
Fall 1991, Vol.44 No. 3, pp. 220-239.

Schillebeeckx’s theology of hope flows from his belief that God offers us a future full of hope and that human beings are the words God uses to tell the story of grace. (Hilkert)

This is a wonderful, hopeful, challenging article. Hilkert describes how, after Vatican II and the disappointment felt by many Catholics, Schillebeeckx witnessed a, “spirituality of hope that emerges amidst significant experiences of setback, discouragement, and even repression within the church.”

In his Church: The Human Story of God, Schillebeeckx further connects the contemporary difficulty with belief in God with the way churches as institutions not only domesticate religious experience, but also become real stumbling blocks to the preaching of the gospel. Given the human condition, Schillebeeckx grants the necessity of some “institutionalization of belief in God,” but he continues:

However, things become different when the official religious institution, in its behavior and attitude, above all as a result of explicit or at least de facto alliances with the “powerful of this world,” in practice leaves the little ones in the lurch and in one way or another contradicts the message which it preaches. In that case the institution becomes incredible and a stumbling block to belief in God.(3) (Hilkert)

There is a lot to mine in this article. I want to spend time with it and ponder. But at first read, I cannot but feel that Schillebeeckx would be horrified by the behaviour of the Catholic Institution on the one hand and yet hopeful that this “contrast experience” (a negative experience that evokes protest and leads to positive change) will reveal how and where the Holy Spirit is active in the grass-roots communities that are working towards healing and radical change.

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