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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

September 15, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 110

 


 
 
 


 

Dennis Coday The Spirit is a Movin'
 

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

Catholics who were in high school and college in the 1970s, will no doubt remember a song from that time: "The Spirit is a Movin'." It was played at nearly every guitar Mass I attended in that era, I think.

The song has come to mind several times over the last two weeks as I read about a number of incidents unrelated but with a common underlying theme. Let me tell you about what I have been reading.

First, English Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Malone of Liverpool suggested that some of sacraments, such as confession and anointing of the sick, might be more appropriately administered by lay people. (NCR Sept. 12, Bishop: laity can do sacraments) What caught my interest was not so much his suggestion as how he presented it.

Writing in a new book Healing Priesthood, he insisted that his reflections were not meant to provoke an acrimonious debate or disobedience among the faithful. "Such thoughts are not intended as an incitement to rebellion; rather they are a quiet reflection on what is meant by healing priesthood," he wrote.

Malone, 71, wrote that although the church's tradition was divinely inspired and free of error it "may sometimes seem only to inhibit the freedom to engage with difficult questions."

The tone of Malone's writing reminded me of the tone of the mid-August letter that 160 retired and active Milwaukee priests (and subsequently endorsed by five other priest associations) sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urging an end to mandatory celibacy diocesan priests. (NCR Aug. 29, Admit married men to priesthood, 163 Milwaukee priests urge)

One of the letter writers told NCR "It's not an anti-celibacy petition We recognize the blessing that celibacy has been for so many." See, they're pro-celibacy, and they are saying (like Malone), "We don't want acrimonious debate and heaven forbid we inspire disobedience among the faithful, but "

Malone and the priests have -- understandably -- thrown up a protective shield: "We shouldn't really be talking about this, but you know what the 'faithful' are talking about these things and maybe this is something we all should be talking about together."

They are saying: We can talk about this because people are talking about this. The talk is in the pews, in the social halls, in the parking lots outside churches Sunday morning and in the Renew groups on Wednesday nights. People are talking about these issues.

Also catching my eye were some pieces written by members of the Voices of the Faithful (you can read this in the Sept. 19 NCR) to criticize an opinion piece that NCR had run earlier questioning the orthodoxy of Voices of the Faithful.

Peggy Thorp, a cofounder of Voices of the Faithful, wrote: "Voice of the Faithful stepped up to the plate when the church leadership didn't know what had hit them. We offered a venue for all Catholics to speak, to pray and to act with that leadership."

Thorp and others described Voices of the Faithful as a movement that grew out of a felt need of the people. They recognized the need among themselves and then acted. Thorp noted: "If the people will lead, the leaders will follow."

In these three incidents, I see people responding -- somewhat reluctantly and with certain hesitation -- to crises in the church and proposing ways to address the crises. They aren't really trying to pick a fight, but they all seem rather determined.

Is this something new? Are people, 40 years after the Second Vatican Council, finally realizing that this is our church. We are the church. We need to shape it for the times in which we live.

Could it be that the Spirit is a movin'?

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is dcoday@natcath.org.

 
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