Moving our Church forward today with both the Church and Society in turmoil
by Rene Reid, Director CCRI
Two major challenges:
1. Inability to move the hierarchy
- True regardless of what part of the world we’re from,
- strongest opposition to Pope Francis' efforts to make substantial reforms to the Church comes from his own curia and a significant number of bishops, sadly, the U.S. bishops being some of the strongest opponents to him.
- Most bishops are unwilling to dialog with the faithful especially in matters relating to official Church teaching, such as sexuality, birth control, true women's equality, welcoming the LGBT community, the divorced and remarried welcomed to the Eucharist, holding bishops accountable.
- Even though Pope Francis envisions the Church as an upside-down pyramid, if only the Faithful actually participated in the governance of the Church – not just consultative but also in a determining capacity, all of these issues would be resolved.
2. Difficulty to motivate the Faithful to take action.
- The vast majority of Catholics worldwide are disgusted with Church leadership--especially how they have dealt with the clerical sex abuse crisis.
- But most of the laity aren’t able to see that the responsibility rests with us. We, the Faithful, are the Church.
CCRI’s Plan of action
Because of the difficulty in productively dealing with the hierarchy, the CCRI has decided to spend 80% of its efforts working with the "grassroots" and 20% still trying to directly influence the Institutional Church.
The Grassroots approach:
The clerical sex abuse crisis, horrible as it is, is stirring the people to want change. But it is only a symptom of deeper maladies in the clerical/hierarchical culture.
A. Root causes of this crisis: power, authority, and clericalism
· the Church’s misogynist exclusion of women in the Church
· its requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests despite not all are geared for a celibate lifestyle.
B. Many of us working as reformers because we have Francis instead of Benedict. But even Francis, with all his goodness, continues however to protect these two pillars of clericalism. While he talks of a decentralized church, he still has failed to bring lay people into positions of power.
C. A Church with the people having a deliberative voice in the governance of the Church will never come from the top down. No one with power has ever willingly given it up. It will only come from the bottom up.
1. Some headway has been made over the years. Despite church policies, women today do use birth control; divorced people do receive the Sacraments; purpose of lovemaking is no longer understood as only a means of reproduction but also recognized is an expression of love and pleasure. but there is so much more we as leaders of reform can do.
2. Model offered by Caesar Chavez: (1) getting the migrant workers to come out of the fields and stand together on the picket lines; (2) hard pressed, only then were farm owners willing to come to the negotiation table and discuss fair wages and working conditions. Likewise, how can we move the laity to come out of the fields of the Church pews, stop picking the grapes, stop contributing to the collection basket, so that we can get the attention of the powers that be?
3. What if multitudes of the faithful, appalled by what the sex-abuse crisis has shown the Church leadership to have become, were to detach themselves from—and renounce—the Roman collar power structure of the Church and reclaim Vatican II’s insistence that the power structure is not the Church. The Church is the people of God.
4. That spirit of resistance is what must energize reform-minded Catholics now—an anticlericalism from within. That is the stance that we at CCRI are choosing to take. If there are like-minded, anticlerical priests, then we will make common cause with them. Think of us as the Church’s conscientious objectors. We are not deserters.
What are the specific action steps that each of us here today can begin to generate when we return home?
1. Building Small Faith Communities – a return to the early days of the Church before there were ordained ministers. We are strongly encouraging the People of God to return to the days of the early Church ]when Christians gathered in underground catacombs. Today, we’re meeting all over the United States in peoples’ homes. Sometimes there is an ordained minister. Sometimes a former now married priest. Sometimes liturgies are being led by the laity including women.
· Small Christian Communities, Intentional Eucharistic Communities--Comunidades Ecclasia de Base—in homes, parishes, college communities, or any group of interested people. The focus will be on "Gospel" values.
· May include members who are still part of a parish life; those who abandoned the institutional church; some led by ordained ministers; others by lay men and women.
· No matter who presides at whatever form the altar takes, such adaptations of Eucharistic observance return to the theological essence of the sacrament. Christ is experienced not through the officiant but through the faith of the whole community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I in the midst of them.”
· I am so convinced that to move the Church forward, we need to return to the format of the Church as it was in the early days: Christians gathering in homes, in catacombs, wherever they could to love one another, support one another, and celebrate the remembrance of Jesus Christ. When they gathered, they reenacted the last supper together. There were no ordained ministers, no authority figures. There were just followers of Jesus Christ. Through our baptism, we are the Church and the Spirit works through each of us to do her work. If it is the Holy Spirit who transforms the bread and wine, then the presider is only an instrument. Priesthood need not be a calling to some “higher state” that only sexually pure celebrate men could fulfill. By virtue of our baptism, priesthood is open to all.
2. Bringing millennials together – they are the future of the Church.
· Start or join a small faith community of their own – physically or online
· Online community calls: This could involve the community working for social justice, environmental justice, gender and racial justice.
· The social, environmental and other justice issues are especially appealing to "millennials"--young adults 18 to 35. CCRI and CTA--USA millennials are working together to reach out to this demographic.
3. Joining or initiating a parish council with the lay people taking charge of the parish – unwilling to sit only in an advisory position.
4. As anticlerical Catholics, we will form our own tribunals to oversee the clerical sex abuse crisis. They cannot be the foxes watching over their own hen houses. We will simply refuse to accept that the business-as-usual attitudes of most priests and bishops should extend to us, as the walls of their temple collapse around them.
5. Forming teams to offer solidarity to those in need – to asylum seekers; to children separated from their parents; to victims of earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes (see poster)
Directly Dealing with the Reform of the Hierarchical Church--20% effort:
1. First make an effort to find "common ground" as much as possible with the different reform groups. so that we can make a united front on the substantive issues.
2. Encourage local bishops to have local "synods" to dialog on the state of the diocese, what do people like about it; what turns them off or drives them away? What changes need to be made to better reflect Gospel values and Jesus-like behavior.
3. Calling for, demanding, a diocesan synod.
4. Join with other reform groups and jointly request your national bishops to each host a synod in their diocese. Such an event is being planned in the Amazon and in Australia.
The church I envision:
· Slowly over time in ways that cannot be predicted and have no central direction, the exiles, these conscientious objectors who backed off from the clerical-led church will become the core of Christianity - just as exiles were the core at the time of Jesus. As priesthood diminishes in the form we know it today, and as millennials become middle-aged, Christian worship will be experienced in smaller communities; the focus will shift from the earthbound institution of the Church to its transcendent meaning of Christianity. This is already happening, in front of our eyes. Tens of millions of moral decisions and personal actions are being made by the choice to be Catholic Christians on our own terms, untethered from the institutional church as we once knew it. We do not need clerical permission. Our “fasting and abstaining” from officially ordered practice will go on for as long as the Church’s rebirth, its re-founding requires, whether we live to see it finished or not.
· In what way, one might ask, can such institutional detachment square with actual Catholic Christian identity that is inevitably forthcoming? Their ranks could include ad hoc organizers of priest-less parishes; parents who band together for the sake of the religious instruction of youngsters; social activists who take on injustice in the name of Jesus; and even social-media wizards launching, say, #ChurchResistors or #LayLeaders. As always, the Church’s principal organizing event will be the communal experience of the Mass, with reading the Word and breaking the bread remaining universal; it will not need to be celebrated by a member of the clergy. The gradual ascendance of lay leaders in the Church is in any case becoming a fact of life, driven by shortages of personnel and expertise.
· If, down through the ages, it was appropriate for the Church to take on the political structures of imperial Rome or feudal Europe, then why shouldn’t Catholicism we envision absorb the form of democracy? The Church I foresee will be overseen by laypeople. There will be leaders who gather communities in worship, and because of tradition, such sacramental enablers may well be known as priests. They will include women and married people. They will see themselves as equal to everyone else. Catholic religious orders of men and women, some voluntarily celibate, will continue to live in contemplative practice and demonstrate the social Gospel. Jesuits and Dominicans, Benedictines and Franciscans, the Catholic Worker Movement and other communities of liberation theology—all of these will survive in as yet unimagined forms.
· The Church will be fully alive at the local level, even if the faith is practiced more in living rooms than in basilicas. And the Church will still have a worldwide reach, with some kind of organizing center, perhaps even in Rome for old times’ sake. But that center will be protected from Catholic triumphalism by being fully engaged with other Christian denominations. This imagined Church of the future will have more in common with the early Church. And as all of this implies, clericalism will be long dead. Instead of destroying a Catholic’s love of the Church, the vantage of the conscientious objectors movement bringing in lay leadership can reinforce it—making the essence of the faith more alive than ever.
· I spent years working in the field of network marketing, and I learned from that experience, that what I am describing has to begin slowly and with only a few people. We can each reach out to a few others and teach them, in turn, to reach out to a few others, who reach out yet again. As the message continues to go out into the world, soon we have thousands upon thousands and millions upon millions who share our beliefs. We have been called here to Sao Paulo as modern day apostles.
It is my hope that as we leave Sao Paulo, we will realize our calling to return home – each in our little region of the world – called to evangelize in a manner appropriate to our modern age. The early Apostles had to reach out to communities going on foot. Today we have the internet, cell phones in our pockets. Sign up for a You Tube channel or a podcast of your own and evangelize the church we envision. If you feel called to be a part of a small Christian Community, do it, and encourage others to join or begin one of their own. Let’s reach out to those who are searching or who have left the Church and invite them into to these communities. Let us realize our calling to stand in solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the downtrodden, with those running from tyranny and do what we can to offer them asylum. We are Christians and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.