How many pastors find themselves disappointed and discouraged by the fact that the exciting blurb in the Sunday bulletin about the important meeting on Tuesday night in the parish hall met with virtually no response? There is something about folding chairs, formica topped tables, a vague agenda and competition with television that really erodes the effectiveness of many parish meetings. Not so in Ireland, at least not when an exciting agenda is proposed.
The Association of Catholic Priests recently sponsored a meeting in Dublin’s Regency Hotel to discuss the future of the Church. Two hundred participants were expected but more than 1,000 people showed up. Speaker after speaker pleaded for a more open Church centered around a spirit of dialogue and called for a redesigning of ministry to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female. There were certainly other concerns on the list many of which would create tension and nervousness on the side of the Vatican. It was an important meeting because it symbolized the mood that is present in the Church all over the developed world. People are dissatisfied with the status of today’s Church and want very much to express their deep concerns about needed changes and adaptations. Yet they feel that the leadership in the Church not only does not want to consider changes, but will not even consider discussing them.
Here is the present crisis. There is a massive sense of unrest, disappointment and frustration over a large percentage of the body of the faithful. These people have articulate leaders, they are backed up by the most effective journals of thoughts, such as the London Tablet, the Jesuit’s America and the lay published Commonweal, but the authorities choose not to listen. This has been a source of tension for more than two decades but I am not aware of a single structure that has been established by Church authorities that would encourage thoughtful listening and responsible decision making. One side says that we have all the knowledge necessary because we are divinely guided but doesn’t make for realistic communication. Was divine guidance present in the many scandals coming out of the Vatican in recent years? Not too likely!