Catholics must accept changing church may take longer than their lifetime

Tue, Mar 13, 2012, 00:00

RIT E AND REASON:Catholics hoping for reform in their church know progress will be – at best – glacial

THE CATHOLIC Church is facing many problems, but here we will focus on an inability to fulfil its primary task: to promote the teaching of Jesus Christ. Not that church people are not trying. A lot is being attempted with limited success.

Some dioceses have tried a wide-ranging consultation with the people. Though done with the best of intentions, it often leads to frustration.

When lay people and clergy meet for discussion, the issues they raise tend to be uniform.

The positives are their faith and prayer life, the strong sense of community around the local church, the relationship between priest and people, the Mass and the sacraments.

The negatives focus on the hierarchical structure of the church, the sense that church authorities are out of touch, the position of women, and that the consequences of the decline in the numbers of priests are not being faced.

Having read some of the reports, there seems to be a strong sense among people that the Vatican authorities are so far removed from their lives that any real exchange of views is impossible. This is true.

Many of the issues raised in these discussions – who can be ordained priests; the place of women; the teaching on sexuality – cannot be discussed with those who ultimately make the decisions.

The imposition of the New Missal was widely mentioned as an example of how the Vatican is imposing something from on high but without any consultation.

It needs to be asked whether these consultative processes are worthwhile or if there is something dishonest about them.

Many of the views expressed will be totally ignored, because in the present structure of the church nothing can be done about them, leading to a degree of disillusionment.

The same difficulty applies to parish pastoral councils.

Frequently parishioners agree to serve on these councils without a clear understanding of what is involved. People are often unaware these bodies, according to Canon Law, have no power to make decisions except that given to them by the parish priest.

This highlights a dilemma faced by those who are trying to bring about change in the church.

The leader of the Priest’s Initiative in Austria, Helmut Schuller, has said he believes anything that group attempts now may bear fruit in 100 years. A study of church history would suggest he is right. Change comes very slowly. It is hard to motivate oneself to a project that will show no success in one’s lifetime. Maybe that is part of what it means to be a person of faith.

The Association of Catholic Priests is spearheading the organisation of an event, Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church, on May 7th. One advantage of this is the association is an independent body, thus having more freedom both in the discussion and the reporting of the findings.

However this body needs to remember that it has no power to implement any decisions within the present church structure. Be that as it may, there is merit in chipping away at the status quo and in speaking the “impolite truths” that Marion Coy referred to in her recent article in the Furrow.

But we must be under no illusion and live with the reality that many of us may not see the Promised Land in our lifetime.

Margaret Lee is chair of the parish council in Newport, Co Tipperary