Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ghostwriting for the Pope

This past Sunday, Catholic author Robert McClory had a wonderful commentary published in the Chicago Tribune. Entitled “Ghostwriting for the Pope,” the piece offers something the pope “might say to the crowds” during his current visit to the U.S., perhaps “in a singular moment of inspiration.”

As regular visitors to The Wild Reed would know, I recently interviewed McClory for The Progressive Catholic Voice, as he will be the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice, to be held May 3 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Minneapolis.

Following is McClory’s commentary from the April 13 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Enjoy!


Ghostwriting for the Pope
By Robert McClory
Chicago Tribune
April 13, 2008

Speculation abounds on what Pope Benedict XVI will say to American Catholics when he arrives in the United States this week.

Based on speeches in other countries, the pope might be expected to praise American energy and innovation, then chide Americans for their secularism, individualism, consumerism, materialism, hedonism and lack of religious faith.

But Benedict can be a man of surprises. And I offer here something he might say to the crowds in a singular moment of inspiration—perhaps at Yankee Stadium.

“My dear people, I have thrown away the text prepared for this occasion.

“I would instead like to talk to you from the heart, based on what I was praying and thinking about as I flew into your beautiful and bountiful land. It is time for change—not just for you but especially for me.

“I was deeply troubled when I reviewed the recent findings of your Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reporting that the U.S. Roman Catholic Church has lost more members in recent years than any other faith tradition. The time has arrived, I am convinced, for something more than assertions of doctrine with the expectation that they will be believed and observed if they are repeated often enough.

“It is now more than 40 years since the Second Vatican Council of happy memory, and it is clear that this period of expected renewal has become a period of fateful withdrawal for some. It is also clear that for many who remain with the church, critical teachings are rejected or simply ignored.

“What does this mean? Is it large-scale apostasy, heresy, a surrender to the relativistic values of the modern world? Or is the Spirit leading in a new direction?

“I confess in all humility that I do not know. What I am keenly aware of is that I, as the successor of Peter the Apostle, am obliged to seek every available way to make the gospel and the truths of the faith ever more transparent to all persons of goodwill.

“I am therefore inaugurating a series of international conferences, dialogues and debates on some of the most disputed church issues, including its position on the ordination of women, homosexual acts, marriage after divorce, stem cell research and artificial birth control.

“Why these in particular? Precisely because they are so fraught with controversy and because they touch so intimately the lives of millions of lay Catholics.

“I want these issues to be openly considered from all sides, not just by bishops and other clergy but by theologians and biblical scholars, by educators and catechists at all levels, and by experts in the social sciences. And I will insist that the laity with informed views on these matters be called forth to speak from their own experience.

“In addition, I will invite input from Orthodox and Protestant churches, whose traditions in these matters have great significance. After all, the Second Vatican Council was forthright in its judgment that these bodies can ‘engender a life of grace’ and ‘provide access to the community of salvation.’

“I recognize that this will be a massive undertaking, requiring organization and goodwill on a scale seldom realized in the history of Christianity. The work will take place on many continents and proceed over many months, even years. It will most certainly stir up hurts and resentments long festering in the body of the church and lead to confrontations among the most opinionated. But the time for forced polite silence, so characteristic of dysfunctional families, is over.

“Late in the pontificate of our beloved predecessor, Pope Jhn Paul II, he confessed that his position as head of the church ‘constitutes a difficulty’ for most non-Catholic Christians, and he longed to ‘find a new way of exercising’ his ministry, a way that is ‘open to a new situation.’

“I have come to believe this ‘new situation’ involves not only the church’s relationship with other Christian bodies but with millions of its own struggling or disenchanted members. I make bold to carry the work forward only because of my firm belief that the Holy Spirit, promised to the church by Christ, is with us still.

“Finally, you may be wondering why I chose to share this grand initiative first with you the people of the United States. I did so because yours is still a young, idealistic nation heartily embracing the future. Catholic Americans have been the most generous in the world in supporting the charities and good works sponsored by the Vatican and other agencies of relief and charity throughout the world. I look, therefore, to you for leadership in this vital undertaking.”

Robert McClory is an associate professor emeritus at Northwestern University, a former Catholic priest and author of As It Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Assessing the U.S. Catholic Church
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Agreeing with the Vatican
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Catholic Church
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Listen Up, Papa!
What it Means to be Catholic
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Crisis? What Crisis?
The “Underground Church”
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI

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