Pope Francis has transformed the Church – it’s time the Church stopped stifling groups who embrace that transformation

22 August 2014 | by Chris McDonnell | Comments: 8

There are times in all our lives when an event is transformative, when something happens that makes a difference; there is a step-change and the person we were before is radically different from the person we become. There is no going back.

Such a step-change occurred in the life of the Church in March 2013 with the election of Francis as Bishop of Rome. The present successor to previous holders of that office is within the tradition of the Church, there is no argument with that. He has however shown us a willingness to break new ground through his evident easy relationship with people. Over recent months the internet has been littered with his examples of a simple life style that seems natural to him and puts others at their ease.

One key word must be dialogue, not just the dialogue of words but also of relationships. In recent years, groups have been formed in various parts of the world seeking dialogue, bringing together people whose commitment to the Church is faithful, but who also recognise real problems that cannot, must not, be ignored.

Such groups should not be seen as a threat, for their giving voice to current issues is all part of their pilgrimage as Christian people. They often meet with resistance from many directions, from those who seek the holy comfort zone of what used to be, or are fearful of where we might be heading. 

Richard Rohr, in his recent book, Falling Upward, puts it this way. “This resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we come to expect from religious people who tend to love the past more than the future or the present”.

Because some people are willing to take the risk of a journey, to question where we are and where we might be going, that should not make them the subject of suspicion. Their courage in leaving home should be applauded.

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland has raised serious questions over the last three years and have often been castigated for it. In the US, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who met this week, who live out their vocation in a real and messy world, has had its integrity challenged by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here in the United Kingdom, the establishment of the group a Call to Action (ACTA) in 2012 following a gathering at Heythrop College in London raised concern in some quarters when the only wish of those involved was to establish open dialogue for the good of the Church.  Likewise, the Movement for Married Clergy, MMaC, has since 1975, sought an honest discussion on the “necessary” relationship between ordination and celibacy. Sincere discussion should be welcomed by both the hierarchy and the laity, for the good of the Church.

In the early days of August, we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We should remember that, now and then, we too are transformed, transfigured even, and the dwelling of God in us is allowed to shine through. Others see it, and are grateful for our being alongside them. Others feel it, in the gentleness of our touch or the carefulness of our hug. Others value it when we truly listen to their words of joy or pain and share with them times of great personal happiness or the darkness of desolation.

We mustn’t be afraid of challenging voices from whatever quarter they come, but ask only questions of their sincerity and then be willing to dialogue a way forward together.

Chris McDonnell is the secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy


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Comment by: JM Sussex
Posted: 01/09/2014 17:05:51

Chris - one thing I find about ACTA is that for a body that talks about openness and dialogue they seem intent on obfuscation.

Would you be so kind as to share what ACTA would like to dialogue about?

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Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 01/09/2014 11:58:20

Yes Chris, you have posted articles and comments on the ACTA website, but you do not engage in dialogue. Until we see discussion on the ACTA forum it will be difficult to accept ACTA's claim to want dialogue.

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Comment by: Chris McDonnell
Posted: 28/08/2014 19:23:34

Bob Hayes continues his now familiar anti-ACTA line. It might be noted that this blog piece is under my name as Secretary for the Movement for Married Clergy, but that seems incidental.
May I quote from the last interview of Cardinal Carlo Martini, published just after his death. He said that " the Church is two hundred years behind. Why is it not being stirred? Are we afraid ? afraid instead of courageous? Faith is the Church's foundation-faith, confidence, courage. I'm old and ill and depend on the help of others. The good people around me enable me to experience love. This love is stronger than the feeling of discouragement that I sometimes feel in looking at the church in Europe. Only love conquers weariness. God is love. I have a question for you "What can you do for the Church?"
The activities and witness of groups such as those mentioned in my posting are aimed towards answering that question.
And incidentally, searching back through postings on the ACTA site, you will find a number of comments/articles under my name.
Let's try to be good companions on the journey

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Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 25/08/2014 16:38:23

PTL Hardy (23/08), do please take a look at the ACTA website. The obvious place for dialogue to take place is the site's forum but it is not visible on the homepage unless you are a registered 'member' of ACTA. This hardly suggests a commitment to dialogue. The majority of ACTA's leadership, including founder Derek Reeve and the author of this blog entry Chris McDonnell, have not contributed a single posting to the forum. Again this is hardly indicative of a commitment to dialogue.

The ACTA mission statement is a policy statement not a prayer and is not worded in the form of a prayer: that it is recited instead of a prayer is deeply disturbing.

I echo Alan Whelan's observations (23/08) about the ACP in Ireland. With the ACP claiming to have the support of 1,000 priests, it cannot keep shovelling responsibility for the Church in Ireland's woes on the bishops and the Vatican. With a thousand pairs of feet on the ground with the sheep it should be leading by example, not using the privilege of weekly newspaper columns to snipe. On my visits to Ireland I too have been saddened by the brief 'Sunday Mass to go' and perfunctory homily.

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Comment by: Christopher McElhinney. Melbourne. Australia.
Posted: 25/08/2014 02:02:35

I agree the key is "dialogue". Francis appears prepared to 'break new ground' with his fresh attitude, but it takes more than warm statements and sentiments preached/spoken 'off the cuff'. Official teaching in catechisms etc., must also reflect these changes. If we are to have a genuine dialogue in the Church, we must follow Vatican II in Lumen Gentium, requiring the setup of avenues for dialogue and discussion, with laity given a greater voice re Church governance etc., as follows:
(The laity) “are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. ..When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. ..A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfil its mission for the life of the world”. (Christopher McElhinney. Melbourne. Australia.

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Comment by: P T L Hardy
Posted: 23/08/2014 18:49:27

In response to Bob Hayes, it is easy to speculate on people's motivations but where's the evidence for us to be dismissive like this? A 'theology' can be used to describe perspectives at a variety of different levels of generality. For example, within the theology of Christianity, there is the theology of Catholicism, and within that there is Jesuit theology, and in turn within that the theology of Ignatius. That ACTA has its own approach to 'theology' no more means that it wants to act like the Magisterium, than Ignatius having his own meant that he wanted to. And why shouldn't they have a prayer for a mission statement? If this prayer sums up their mission then it is the most pious practice for them to end by reminding themselves of the aim and entrusting it into the hands of God.

It is my experience that these groups do most sincerely want two-way dialogue, and that many of their members do not even dissent from current teaching, but simply want to see Vatican II put into practice.

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Comment by: AlanWhelan
Posted: 23/08/2014 13:12:01

Chris, I share the sentiments of much of what you write but I also have sympathy for Bob's misgivings.

Moving as I do with some frequency from Ireland to England I experience two very different churches and what worries me greatly about the ACP is that it seems so often to moan about the poor domestic leadership of the Irish Church while at the same time failing to witness with any significant evangelical enthusiasm at parish of deanery levels. As I see it there are very few noteworthy examples of powerful liturgical and pastoral work and the five minute homily in a thirty five minute Sunday Mass is so prevalent. I would expect to see powerful pastoral example from those who lead the ACP but this is rarely to be seen. so much is Maintence and so little is Mission, so much is inward looking and so little is inclusive.

As critical as I am of diocesan leadership across large tracts of Ireland I do not see or hear of bastions of good parish practice. I do not think that bishops are holding back enthusiastic clergy. Why I do experience is overworked and very hard-working clergy refusing meaningful involvement. Any notion of subsidiarity is missing.

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Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 22/08/2014 22:06:58

Chris McDonnell notes the importance of dialogue within the Church. I doubt that many would disagree with that sentiment. He then goes on to give examples of various bodies that seemingly want dialogue but have met with a rebuff from the Church.

What he fails to explain is that for these groups 'dialogue' is a euphemism for alternative: they seek an alternative Church and harbour pretensions to being an alternative Magisterium. ACTA's homepage, for example, refers to ACTA's 'theology'. Its Plymouth Steering Group even recites the ACTA mission statement as the 'closing prayer' of its meetings!

True dialogue can be fruitful. However, these groups have developed agendas (be it rewriting the Gospel message on marriage, women's ordination or whatever) which they pursue as lobby groups. Dialogue - yes, but let us keep the vested-interest lobbying, so favoured by management consultants and the armaments industry, out of Holy Mother Church.

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