Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Fostering an Open and Trusting Dialogue"

“Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.” (Article 6b, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

David Gibson, in Politics Daily, wrote a column on the U.S. bishops desire to restore unity in the American Catholic Church. Mr. Gibson makes the observation that this could be difficult, when even the bishops themselves are divided over some issues, or on how to address them. There are differences among some of them on how to best promote, some would say, enforce, Catholic teaching among a growing fractured, disaffected faithful. Some bishops seem to tilt towards a more authoritarian approach, reminding Catholics that it is the bishops that call the shots. They seem to have little respect for the laity, at least where the life of the Church is concerned. Gibson writes that these bishops appear to want a return to old days, when the laity “pray, pay and obey.” .

But those days are long gone, at least in this country. The changes began when the bishops of the Second Vatican Council declared that the laity has an active role to perform in the life of the Church. And that they have a duty to let their priests and bishops know about their spiritual needs. This means sometimes standing up to their local priest or bishop, letting their feelings be known. And with the way many of the U.S. bishops mishandled the clergy sexual abuse scandal, there are laypersons calling on their bishops to be more accountable for their actions. And if the bishops do not listen or respond, people get angry, whether they are on the left or right of the spectrum.

Mr. Gibson had an interview with Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, AZ. Bishop Kicanas is advocating a spirit of dialogue between the bishops and laity, that while the bishops do govern, it will help if they did so in a spirit of collaboration with the faithful. To me, this seems to be an approach that has the potential to reinvigorate the Church in America. Yes, the bishops have the final say in decisions, but I think a majority of Catholics accept that. What I think Catholics want is input in the decision making process. They want their voices heard and respected. Now this does not always make for an orderly process, but if the bishops make a real effort to dialogue, to really listen and respect the opinons of all American Catholics, maybe the laity in return will really listen to what the bishops have to say.

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