Monday, April 26, 2010

Let Our Voices Be Heard!

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

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


  1. You're describing The Episcopal Church. We already have one Episcopal Church - why have two of them? Seems to me that the reformation you want has already happened.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Are you saying there is no need for reform within Roman Catholicism?

    What aspects of the tradition, identified in Mary Beth's article as requiring reform, do you consider to be "non-negotiable" in order to be Roman Catholic?

    It seems that those involved in Mary Beth's listening session want simply to be able to discuss openly and freely with the church's clerical leadership certain issues that many Catholics are concerned about and want discussed. In your view, is it this desire to talk and be heard that makes us Episcopalians? That seems rather simplistic (not to mention glibly dismissive of all concerned).

    Those involved with the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform want a reformed Roman Catholic Church - one that more fully manifests the inclusive love of God. For this to happen, certain entrenched church structures and practices need to be reformed. We don't believe that such structures and practices define what it means to be Catholic. In other words, reformation of them will not make us less Catholic. (Indeed, I think it will do the opposite!)

    You may find the following helpful in understanding how many of us working for reform see ourselves as Roman Catholic. (It's excerpted from a lengthier piece entitled "In What Sense Are We Progressive Catholics? - An Offering for Reflection and Discussion")

    We are Roman Catholics in the sense that we recognize a ministry of unifying and reconciling: that is, we believe that Jesus’ mission can be concretely symbolized in the church of Rome and its bishop in communion with all the other Catholic churches and their bishops.

    This ministry of unifying and reconciling does not require uniformity. It is a centripetal force that, far from eliminating the centrifugal force of the Gospel reaching out to the whole world, exists in a dynamic balance with it. This ministry is only imperfectly symbolized in the church and bishop of Rome, given the divisions among Christians and the constant need of the Church to be reformed.

    We recognize many ways of being authentically Catholic as part of the desired pluralism and diversity within the Catholic Church. At the same time we aspire to being a unifying force and are hesitant to draw lines or to force people out. We acknowledge our indebtedness to other religious and secular influences and seek to enter into dialog with fellow pilgrims seeking the truth.

    In what sense are we progressive Catholics? First, we feel a strong sense of urgency about institutional reform. We see painful incongruities between the mission of Jesus and the institution that purports to symbolize his mission in the world. Although we recognize that humans are ever-evolving in their consciousness of God, and, therefore, that the institution will always be in need of reform, we think that, at present, institutional leadership is blocking the evolution of consciousness in its members and standing as a scandalous obstacle to the mission of Jesus.

    For us, being progressive is more a matter of method than of positions. We recognize that knowing truth, as well as knowing what reforms to implement in the institutional Church, is a process of research, discernment, and ever-increasing understanding. We do hold positions, but being progressive is primarily a characteristic way of approaching both theological and practical issues and a commitment to critiquing our own positions, using the same method by which we critique the positions of our counterparts in dialog.