On a regular basis now we receive unsolicited commentaries and reflections from readers and, where possible, we endeavour to slot them into our publishing schedule. Today's contribution comes from Kerry Gonzales whom I do not know other than what you will read in this essay. What she writes struck me as a "from the heart" plea and I feel many will be attracted to the frankness and honesty of what she expresses.…Brian Coyne, Editor
A plea for the institution to enter meaningful dialogue
November 24 2007 marked an historic change in the government of Australia,and only time will tell what direction that change will take and whether it will benefit or detract from the lives that we currently lead here.But that's democracy, and I'm very grateful to be living in a country that has such an open and generally reliable political process.
The same however cannot be said of the church that I was baptised into— that being the Catholic Church. It may be 2007 in the wider world, but within the structures and constraints of the Catholic Church it feels more like the 1950's church of my earliest memories. A "fire and brimstone" mentality that is fiercely protective of the current power structures, which is prepared to use all manner of words, threats and actions to hold the line against those who hold divergent views. However,in this new technological age where news is instant and world wide, these dissenters are "coming out" and are realising they are not alone.
The Catholic Church is not a democracy and I have no expectation that it will suddenly become one. However as a believer in the message of Jesus,I would like to see the church respond to all its members in a more Christ like way. This is where I could cite lots of biblical "evidence"to show how Jesus wanted his followers to live. However, using the bible as a weapon to defend specific "truth" has contributed to much of the difficulty within the church today, and does nothing more that keep the argument alive.
So, what I would like to see the Catholic Church leaders do is to stop defending the indefensible and to really make some effort to enter into meaningful dialogue with the many disenfranchised members of the faith community, such as women, gay and lesbians, divorced and youth amongst others. Yet, already I hear the loud protests that the church already does this, and I agree there are many within church structures who do wonderful work in all these areas. However, at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, both here and in Rome, the encyclicals and public pronouncement soften do not support and enhance the excellent work being done at the coalface. If it did we would see lay people in charge of parishes, gay people welcomed rather than rejected, woman in positions of importance within the church, more young people seeking involvement in the life of the community.
Again I hear the clamour of the establishment deriding my views and suggesting,none too politely, that the rules are clear and if I don't like them I should go elsewhere. However, baptism and faith are not so easily abandoned and certainly cannot be taken away. Ultimately someone needs to stay and agitate for change from the inside. Some people are called to be such a voice and that this calling is no less valid than any other calling within the Church.
Real beacons of light…
When you take the time to look around, there are many hopeful signs,real beacons of light in the darkness of current practice. Of greatest hope perhaps is that Catholics, both laity and clergy and religious are starting to be heard in a variety of ways. Voices crying out from within the establishment can be seen in the secular press, on the internet and in other media. Admittedly these cries are few and far between, but they are there for all to see and can become the catalyst that will encourage and embolden others to follow suit.
Writers from both within and outside the mainstream church are also being given much needed airtime. Two very inspiring books I have read recently are Michael Morwood's "From Sand to Solid Ground" and Michael Kelly's "Seduced by Grace".Both these writers challenge and inspire, while raising perennial issues that are still yet to be really acknowledged and taken up by our church leaders. These writers do not present extremist views, intent on destroying the church, but both present extremely well written and cogent attempts to awaken the Catholic Church to a new understanding of issues that are relevant to large groups of believers and are critical to the development of a truly inclusive and vibrant church. A church that discusses rather than dictates, embraces rather than excludes and listens, really listens with an open and compassionate heart.
For me however the greatest beacon of hope and delight are those voices now being raised from the pews. A powerful example is my 80 year old mother and a few of her friends who regularly meet and discuss issues of concern.They keep up with what's happening, read up on all the issues and then discuss and act on what their consciences advise. Unfortunately for my mother, she does feel a bit guilty, disagreeing with the church she has devoted her life to. However as a spiritually adult Catholic she feels she has been called to speak, even if the hierarchy do not listen to her voice. But, please do not get her started on World Youth Day!!
So there is hope, for there are things happening out there, both within the clergy and in the pews. No doubt it will be a slow and painful change,yet I believe that it is inevitable that the voices of all the faithful,whether in agreement with the hierarchy or not, will continue to seek to be heard. Hopefully, the unfettered spirit of the universal Catholic Church will be allowed take the church forward, rather the backwards.
IMAGESOURCE: The hand and heart image used to help illustrate thisarticle come from stock.xchng– Photographer: Pablo Duarte, Lençóis Paulista, SP,Brazil.
What are your thoughts on Kerry's commentary?