By Mary Beth Stein
A couple weeks ago, sixteen Catholics gave up a chance to linger outdoors in the spring-warmed air and instead gathered to talk about our Church. This grassroots listening session, which is part of a nationwide effort by the American Catholic Council, made space for all of us to describe our relationships with the Roman Catholic Church as well as voice our areas of concern. Although we came from different faith communities and backgrounds, we raised many similar issues. We want to be heard and claim our place in the Church!
Beyond having the opportunity to voice our concerns, many of us expressed relief and excitement about two aspects of this listening session. First, we realized that we are thoughtful and faithful Catholics who are not alone in our discontent with the present Church structure. Secondly, by uniting our voices we create hope for bringing about meaningful Church reform.
Part of our conversation explored what reforms we would discuss with the bishop if we could talk to him. This immediately elicited the desire to have bishops visit parishes and deeply listen to the faithful in their diocese. They should join in creative conversation rather than rigidly pass judgment on orthodoxy or denounce those who dare to question. Some of the main issues we want to discuss with the bishop are the following:
• Include everyone at the Eucharistic table: LGBT, divorced & remarried, etc.
• The role of women, particularly ordination and leadership positions within the hierarchy.
• Include lay people as preachers, in decision-making, and in leadership at all levels.
• Cherish parish diversity of culture rather than enforcing uniformity.
• Admit mistakes. The hierarchy must admit its role in covering up the sex abuse scandal and open itself to transparency and accountability.
• Update sexual teachings concerning LGBT, clerical celibacy, and contraception.
Considering our discontent with so many disturbing and unjust practices of our Church, we had to ask why we remain Catholic. Why not switch to another church?
Overwhelmingly the response came back, “This is our Church too!” We treasure its tradition of sacraments, liturgy, and ritual. Moreover, Catholic Social Teaching sets the standard on justice issues that many of us hold dear. We also embrace our long Catholic intellectual tradition with values that pre-date the current, rigid climate of the Church. We value both faith and reason as a means toward truth. We value the sacramental worldview that sees goodness in all God’s creation – including the marginalized ones: LGBT, women, the poor and outcast. We value the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity whereby governance and control reside primarily at the local level. We value our history which includes a plurality of thought yet remains united in our belief in Jesus.
Over coffee with friends or at the dinner table, many of us Catholics grumble and complain about Church practices. The exciting part about this listening session is that it moved us beyond helpless hand wringing and complaining. We found that we are not alone. Other thoughtful Catholics also hold this tension of loving our Church while rejecting so many of its practices. By coming together for thoughtful, constructive conversation, we found hope rising, hope that our Church truly can be reformed to better reflect the Gospel. We created a list of specific actions that we can take right now.
• Speak up - in our parishes and with other Catholics. Talk about the issues.
• Write to the Archbishop frequently.
• Write letters to the editor.
• Host listening sessions to give more Catholics a chance to use their voices.
• Use our dollars to support change.
• Pray for the bishops and everyone in Church leadership.
• Organize and unite ourselves!
Recognizing the need for a community to strengthen our voices, we especially look forward to the upcoming “Synod of the Baptized: Claiming Our Place at the Table” on September 18, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This Synod, sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, will gather us, educate and inspire us, and listen to our ideas. Together we will formulate recommendations and a clear action plan to bring about the reform of our Church. (For information, go to www.cccrmn.org.)
As the listening session came to a close and each of us stepped forth into the spring night air, we brought with us a sense of excitement and anticipation. We are not powerless. We are not alone. Together we can take action, speak up, and let our voices be heard!
For more information on hosting a listening session, e-mail email@example.com.