The church must consider change


Friday, January 16
Once again, it seems a good time to ask the men who rule the Catholic Church today — as males have for more than two millennia — whether it could be time for another reformation.

The signs of the church's current crises — among the most serious in its history — are not difficult to pinpoint. Declining parishioner enrollment and growing apathy is widespread in the United States and Europe, forcing the closure of hundreds of lovingly constructed churches and driving many frustrated Catholics to fight the changes through vigils and protests.

Albany, N.Y., area Catholics will face new closures and consolidations following a review of parishes that will lead to an announcement by the bishop expected this weekend. Dioceses in New England, most recently in the Boston area and in western Massachusetts, are going through a similar, wrenching process.

Sexual abuse by priests over several decades or longer, and the "old boys" network that prevented stern action to repress it — often merely transferring offenders to other parishes and exposing more victims to abuse — represents the church's other crisis.

Thus far, the church has paid out millions to settle lawsuits filed by victims — severely straining diocesan finances across the U.S. and throwing new burdens onto thousands of struggling parishes.

What can be done? That remains unclear, but changes that might help are allowing priests and nuns to marry and allowing women to serve as priests.

If nothing else, that would create a surge of excitement in the Catholic world that might reverse decades of decline and bring in new parishioners across the country. Clearly, the old men who rule the church mostly oppose such changes, but they should be thinking more of the tsunami building just over the horizon that could one day overwhelm them and the church.

The alternative to reform might be the kind of traumatic schism that Martin Luther precipitated when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in 1517. Then, as now, the leaders of the church failed to listen closely enough to the times they lived in.



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