Shift: How Nine Churches Experienced Vibrant Renewal
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The expectation of reform has heavily influenced my life ever since, especially since , when the abuse crisis first emerged. It is strange how prayerful meditation on what life was like as a child of ten or eleven can somehow recover for us the hopes, dreams and vulnerability of childhood. It led me also, by a process too circuitous to need tracing here, to a reflection on my early experiences of the Bible. One of these in particular stands out: Briefly, this story tells us that during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, beautiful Susanna was lusted after by two Jewish judge elders.
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They conspired to tell her that they would publicly allege that they had seen her in adulterous intimacy with a fourth party if she did not satisfy their lust. When Susanna even so resisted their joint intimidation, they proceeded with their plan publicly to accuse her of adultery.
As two witnesses were all that were required by Jewish law to satisfy their assembly, their accusation was accepted as true by that assembly. Susanna was being led away to die when she passionately declared her innocence. Then, according to the text, this happened:. Go back to the scene of the trial: He suggested separating the two accusers, and questioning them as to the precise circumstances in which they had seen Susanna committing adultery.
Everyone has seen much the same thing happen today in TV police procedural dramas. Could it be any of these, the virtues that can arise out of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: I have to say that my experience of the magisterium since about is that it seems to have a fearful attitude to the creation of circumstances within the Church that could encourage young people especially, but lay people in general, to ask difficult questions of itself, and of those in ordained ministry.
Many of those difficult questions pertain to the issue of sexuality. It is true that individual bishops have been an exception to this rule, and that some have held open and honest forums in the aftermath of the Irish state abuse reports. But there is still no sign that such assemblies will become embedded in the regular and normal life of the Church. As the apostolic visitation and its summary report also arose out of a secular process of discovery, I am prompted to ask then also how the Holy Spirit might be moving Irish Catholics today to respond to the crisis that now still weighs on us.
Could one of those ways be a questioning why the elimination of dissent among Irish Catholic clergy loyal to Vatican II should be a priority of the magisterium at this time — when it has so many questions still to answer about its own failures? And when there is still no promise of structural reform? I also ask, finally, whether the unwillingness of the magisterium to encourage questioning from lay people at every age from Confirmation on might be a key factor in the continuing inertia of the Irish Church, and especially the departure of young people from it.
Shift: How Nine Churches Experienced Vibrant Renewal
The forgetting that as early as ten our Church has given to all of us the dignity of being Temples of the Holy Spirit is widespread in Ireland, especially among young men. And to ask them to pray to the Holy Spirit, above all for the gifts of insight, love, wisdom and fortitude? And to provide church structures as worthy of the People of God as those that allowed the Holy Spirit to prompt an honest young man to ask, in open assembly, life-saving questions of his elders long before the time of Christ?
How are we to encourage young Daniels in Ireland, and to ensure that our child protection is not again subverted by clericalism, if our Church structures continue to patronise and exclude all lay people, and especially young people? I am entirely convinced that the continued holding back on Church structural reform by the magisterium, and in the meantime its encouragement of unjust and covert delating of those who do ask difficult questions, subverts the work of the Holy Spirit and delays the recovery of our Church.
The recovery of the Catholic church in Ireland will occur just as soon as its leaders realise that they need to share responsibility with lay people for evangelising secular culture. The summer months of saw an intensification of the crisis of the Catholic Church in Ireland. With other dioceses now undergoing investigation, we wonder how Irish Catholic bishops can ever regain the trust and confidence of their people.
Vibrant Church Renewal
Soon after, something entirely different happened in a neighbouring society. London, Birmingham and other major British cities were convulsed by terrifying riots that saw wide scale looting and destruction. In the aftermath over 1, 3 00 rioters were brought before emergency courts — and media commentators agonised over this unexpected event.
Many spoke of the alienation of too many young men from modern society, but none saw any easy solution. The most honest pundits confessed to total bewilderment. How would the Irish Catholic church react if similar events were to take place in Irish cities? There is no precedent for the emergency that would then present itself, and no precedent for the calling together of the Irish faithful to respond to such a secular crisis. And that encapsulates the problem of the Irish Catholic church today.
It is a state of affairs that cannot continue. Sometime soon Ireland will reach a tipping point — a severe and immediate crisis that will precipitate a realisation on the part of church leadership that the division of the church into clerical insiders and non-clerical outsiders simply cannot and must not be maintained.
We obviously need to communicate, for example, about the desperation of so many young people, and about the vulnerability of the family — and the role of adult males in mentoring and providing role models for young men. We need to acknowledge also that the fragile forces that prevent the collapse of any society into chaos are in need of support from every concerned citizen.
We need to discuss how we are to counter the dangerous negativity that threatens to overwhelm Irish life, and to replace it with a soundly-based optimism. In a climate of deep cynicism created by so many failures of leadership, we need to restore confidence in the possibility of unselfish public service.
Seeking the source of our best selves
We need to develop together also a deeper understanding of the perils of consumerism and the relevance of the Gospels. Churchmen need to become aware that the search for status is a problem they also have — it is actually the root cause of their aloofness, their preference for the company of their peers and their distance from their people. Is status anxiety also the root problem of the Irish church, the source of clerical aloofness — the basic reason that Catholic clergy — and especially Catholic bishops — are afraid to make open discussion the weekly diet of a church in deep crisis?
Was it also the underlying reason for the cover-up of clerical child abuse? Are clergy basically fearful of losing their status in the church if they lose control? Is clerical status anxiety the root cause of the widespread weakness of preaching at Mass these times? That is in essence what Jesus did — and what Francis of Assisi and every other great saint of the church did. They lost the fear of descending to the base of society because they were already secure in the love of God.
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Spirituality is not just for monks — it is the soundest basis of moral character and of civic responsibility. If the seeking of status is the root source of the growing secular crisis, how is the church to say so if it cannot criticise and dismantle its own status pyramid?
How many humiliations must the church experience before it chooses the path of humility willingly? It will choose that path soon enough in any case — there will be no alternative. With austerity set to intensify in Ireland in the months ahead the scene is set for a tipping point that will get us all talking at last — and using the Gospel as a source of salvation. That cannot happen soon enough, but why do we need to wait?
The relevance of the Gospel to every major problem threatening us is clear enough. It is only our absurd church structures that prevent us from sharing our understanding of that, and from bringing far better news to a secular society desperately in need of hope. Faith schools — morally ineffective? Cardinal Farrell This is a time for reorientation, and the means for that lie to hand. As early as he said the following: That question was raised separately in Belfast and Dublin in recent weeks.
Then, in the Irish Times of July 18th, Joe Humphreys outlined three steps he thinks the political Left needs to take to rise again: Start talking about values — instead of evidence-based policy; Quit demonising free enterprise; Build bridges with people of faith. So when will our bishops begin to show that they are not deliberately deaf?
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Irish Catholics pondering the preparatory document for upcoming synods may well reflect on this conundrum, especially in the context of question 7a: According to the fable, the five key dysfunctions of a failing team are: Absence of Trust For me this fear of vulnerability is a diagnostic feature of what we call clericalism in the church. Fear of Conflict It is the fear of conflict surely that prevents clergy, and especially bishops, from meeting with regular assemblies of the people of God for the open and honest raising of issues that concern all of us.
Lack of Commitment I was present at an Irish diocesan meeting in where the bishop expressed broad approval of a plan to introduce a model of collaborative ministry in the diocese. Avoidance of Accountability We Catholics have seen this at the highest level in the church — in the failure of the Vatican to summarily dismiss bishops who have covered up the abuse of children by some clergy.
Inattention to Results What exactly is the overarching and immediate goal of the magisterium in promoting a New Evangelisation? Turning Things Around The greatest strength of this five-fold diagnosis of why teams fail is that it also offers a surprisingly simple strategy for addressing the problem. Why did the church not uncover the problem itself? Learning from Scripture It is strange how prayerful meditation on what life was like as a child of ten or eleven can somehow recover for us the hopes, dreams and vulnerability of childhood.
Then, according to the text, this happened: Rousing the spirit of youth! The aging of large sectors of the active Catholic population and the scant participation of young and young adult Catholics in many of these faith communities are serious reasons for concern. Is the Catholic parish in the United States on its way to extinction? Will we experience the fate of thousands of parishes in Europe? In numbers, this is how the Hispanic presence is profoundly transforming the entire U. Catholic experience, with major implications for parish life:.
Hispanics account for 71 percent of the growth of the Catholic population in the United States since In the s, about 10 percent of the Catholic population was Hispanic. In the s, 25 percent. Today, 40 percent of all Catholics in the country share a Hispanic background. Of the more than 50 million Hispanics living in the country, 59 percent self-identify as Catholic.
Twenty-five percent of all Catholic parishes in the country have Hispanic ministry only 15 percent did in the s. This percentage is expected to increase. I hope that these numbers have gotten your attention. Catholicism in what remains of the first half of the 21st century will be largely shaped by the Hispanic experience. The vibrancy or decline of thousands of Catholic parishes in our country will be closely linked to how these communities embrace Hispanics with their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties.
In turn, the future of thousands of parishes will depend on how much Hispanic Catholics commit to bringing them to the fullness of their potential. After all, the character of the parish is determined by the people who belong to it. The cultural and demographic transitions transforming our parishes call for serious discernment on the part of the entire U. Catholic community to envision how to best serve Hispanic Catholics in our parishes in the spirit of the New Evangelization.
But to do so, we need to do pastoral planning that leads to envisioning creative ways to passionately bring people to an encounter with Jesus Christ in the everyday of their lives. And to do such effective pastoral planning, we do well studying and learning more about the faith communities where Hispanics are present.
This is the first time a comprehensive national study focuses solely on Catholic parishes with Hispanic ministry. The effort was possible thanks to several organizations — including the Our Sunday Visitor Institute — committed to supporting initiatives that lead to a stronger Catholic experience in the United States.
I had the privilege of leading the project as its principal investigator working in close collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate CARA. In , 4, parishes were identified as having Hispanic ministry, mostly defined by pastoral leaders as communities with Spanish-language liturgies. All parishes received three comprehensive questionnaires designed for pastors, directors of religious education directly working with Hispanics and parish directors of Hispanic ministry. Also, all diocesan directors of Hispanic ministry or their equivalent in the territorial, Latin rite U.
We identified directors in dioceses and all received a questionnaire specifically designed for them. All materials and communications were available in English and Spanish. The generous participation of pastoral leaders in these parishes, as well as the diocesan officers, has yielded a wealth of information that allows us to better assess life in parishes serving Hispanic Catholics.
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This information gives us a good sense of what Catholic life in the United States is like in many places where Catholicism is growing vibrantly — of course, not without challenges. Considering current demographic trends and the steady growth and influence of Hispanic Catholics, these communities also provide us with glimpses of what U. Catholicism will look like in vast regions of the country in the near future.
The first summary report has been released and is available at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry website. A number of specialized reports looking more closely at parish dynamics and pastoral leadership will follow. The following are some preliminary observations based on data collected from responding parishes. Upcoming articles will address other areas of parish life in communities doing Hispanic ministry throughout the country. These are the regions that have experienced most of the parish closings and mergers.
Only 39 percent of all parishes are in the South and the West. Yet, it is in these regions where the vast majority of parishes with Hispanic ministry approximately 61 percent are located; only 15 percent are in the Northeast and 24 percent in the Midwest. The geographical distribution of parishes with Hispanic ministry is consistent with the distribution of the Hispanic Catholic population in the United States.
From a historical perspective, it is worth noting that the strong Catholic presence in the Northeast and Midwest led to the establishment of very important structures such as parishes, schools, universities, social service institutions and networks. For many decades these structures served not only the Catholic population in these regions, but also allowed Catholicism to exercise an influential voice in the immediate social context where those structures thrived.
A good number of these Catholic institutions will remain in these regions. However, given the current demographic changes, their future will largely depend on how Hispanic Catholics — and Catholics from other ethnicities — benefit from them and eventually are invited to lead them. In the South and the West, however, the existence of similar structures and networks is not as strong as in the Northeast and Midwest. But this might change in light of the increasing growth of the Catholic population in these regions, mainly due to the Hispanic presence. For this to happen, Catholics need to invest in the emerging communities with a spirit of solidarity, build necessary and efficient structures to continue the work of evangelization and remain open to shifting understandings of what it means to be Catholic in the United States.