The People Speak Out

Local voices connecting globally

This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.  (Pope Francis)

Canon Law 212 calls upon the laity to speak up:

2 - The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. - According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

From Saving the Catholic Church Newsletter - January 1, 2017

During the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to wind down from working on my new book. Unused to this sudden lack of pressure and trying to avoid the large number of overdue housekeeping tasks, last week I picked up my copy of What Happened at Vatican II, by John W. O’Malley SJ.

To my pleasant surprise, since I rarely use a highlighter, for some reason I did when I first read it about eight years ago, and I also wrote some margin notes. It will be interesting to learn if my opinions and feelings are the same this time. It is extensively highlighted.

I probably would have remained a Catholic at least for a considerable time, perhaps until now, even through the sexual abuse debacle had there not been a Vatican II, but the promise of change gave me new enthusiasm. I loved the liturgy in the vernacular. I became Lector and a Eucharistic Minister. I was even one of our parish participants in a group who read passages from the Bible when one of the local TV Channels signed off for the night. Yes, signed off for the night, that’s how long ago that was.

I was so enthusiastic about the prospect of change that I wasn’t aware for a long time of the movement by Cardinal Ratzinger, first through Pope John Paul II and then on his own as Benedict XVI to take us back to pre-Vatican II thinking.

At the same time the world and how it works is changing more rapidly than ever. With cell phones, we may never be out of touch with one another; through Google there are no more unanswered questions; the largest retailer in the world has no stores; and the largest taxi company owns no cars.

Something occurred to me the other day that put this into perspective. I remembered having a conversation while playing golf with my good friend Bill McDonnell. At the time, he had a company that sold hand held recorders and had just come home from an electronics trade show.

As were walking between holes, which in this case involved waiting for traffic to pass, he said, “You won’t believe what I saw at the show the other day. It was a calculator that could add, subtract, multiply, divide, even do square root and although it is a little heavy you can fit it into your shirt pocket”.  

That conversation was five years after Vatican II ended. Until Pope Francis was elected, the Catholic Church has been headed back to there. Why have so many of us gone along?

Why Do We Still Go to Mass?

I assume that many of my readers are still going to Mass, although I personally know that the number is getting smaller and smaller.

I almost never miss Mass and neither do a good number of the others who are there. Some of them have also been in this same parish for more than fifty years. I know that many, if not most of those people, share my lack of support for positions of the Church on certain issues, such as ordination of women; contraception; LGBT issues; in vitro fertilization; stem cell research; re-marriage after divorce; the rights of people of other religions; and a host of others.

However, that is not keeping us coming to Mass. Sometimes the music helps, but most of the Old Testament readings, especially those from Genesis; frequently intelligence insulting homilies; and the failure to address real life issues from the ambo do not. In fact, I tune them out. Looking around I see people reading the equally uninspired Bulletin or sneaking a look at their e-mail.

Why are we there?

The answer is simple. The Eucharist.

At each Mass, nearly 100% of the congregation goes to communion every week. That is much higher than it was before Vatican II.

In truth, there is nothing wrong with that. The Eucharist is the centerpiece of the Mass. But it is all to which people pay attention. I am not suggesting this, but I would guess that if the hour-long Mass were replaced by a fifteen-minute Communion Service the attendance and the collection might increase. 

Our weekly attendance figures are remarkably precise and consistent. For years, I have been amazed at that level of precision, since there is never anyone with a clicker at the doorways either at arrival or departure.

I finally think I have that figured out. There are several people at each doorway, insistent that you take a bulletin, so maybe they just count the number of bulletins they have left. Of course, many people also take one on the way in to read during the Homily.

What Will Happen?

My generation, those seventy-five and older, is dying at an increasing rate and will soon be gone for non-theological reasons. I estimate that we have more funerals than baptisms.

I also suspect that at least some of those baptisms occur just to satisfy the grandparents.  That is unsustainable.

At the end of Mass, if there has been a baptism, the celebrant goes to the front row and blesses the extended family.

About a month ago, there was a very large group of family members, completely filling the first four or five rows. When the pastor turned to extend the blessing, the four or five rows were empty. I had seen it happen. They left as soon as they received Communion. Not a good sign.

The greatest irony is that the younger, John Paul II/Benedict XVI era ordained priests are not going to help. In fact, they are going to exacerbate the decline.

We have such a person now at our parish. This is the first time I have seen a cassock and surplice or a “fiddle back” chasuble (that is really what it is called) in fifty years. At the consecration, we hear that long list of saints. There are many shaking heads in the congregation. When I told a priest friend of mine that he was coming, the comment was “welcome to 1950”.

They just don’t get it. That is no longer our Church.


Despite the work of Pope Francis, we still have a Church in serious trouble and with an uncertain future. We also are seeing signs of resistance to Pope Francis from four Cardinals, albeit of marginal importance. They are threatening “to resist” the Pope’s announced policy regarding remarriage.

The four are the renowned Raymond Burke of the United States; Carlo Cafferra of Italy; and two Germans, Joachim Meisner and Walter Brandmüller. The last three are well into their eighties and retired. Three octogenarians led by a buffoon is not much of a threat, but the philosophy goes beyond them and that is troubling. 

Since this is the first of January, it is time for an issue of our on-line quarterly OMG! A Journal of Religion and Culture. It is available at It happens that our webmaster and her family spent Christmas in Northern Ireland visiting her husband’s family and didn’t get back until the twenty-ninth, so it may be a day or so late{jcomments on}

From Saving the Catholic Church Newsletter, 1 December 2016

Ever since Vatican II, people have talked about reforming the Curia, but the Curia didn’t want to be reformed. It was a good deal. Great power. Not much hard work. Why change anything except to steadily take the Church backward to before John XXIII threw open those windows? 

Famously, when the ultimate conservative insider Benedict XVI was asked if he would try to reform it, he said that it was impossible, because no one knew how to do that.

When I was about eight years old, my dad organized a Boy Scout troop in our parish and served many years as chairman of the troop committee. I couldn’t wait to join. There was no Cub Pack so I had four years to wait. In those pre-historic times, you had to be twelve to become a Scout.

Of course, there was a Cub Pack at the Baptist Church across the street, but our pastor wouldn’t allow us to join it.

When I turned eleven, I talked my mother into give me about a six-foot piece of her clothesline, which I cut into one-foot lengths to practice tying knots so I would breeze through that task. My dad was watching me practice one day and he asked me if I knew how to tie a Gordian knot. I looked at my prescribed list and there was no Gordian knot. I asked what it looked like and he gave me his standard answer: “Look it up.”

I did and found that it was a knot that no one could tie and therefore it couldn’t be untied. In fact no one even knows what it looked like. Seven centuries passed until Alexander the Great figured out the solution. He pulled out his sword and chopped it in half.

The Gordian knot is an appropriate metaphor for the entire hierarchy of the Church and especially the Curia. Pope Francis has tried mightily to untie it, but it seems to be getting tighter. He is the only one with an interest in untying it, so we have more synods, commissions and letters with paragraphs that require 75 percent agreement for acceptance and publication.

There is no chance for a reformed hierarchy and a surviving Church until someone pulls out his or her sword and chops that metaphoric knot in half. {jcomments on}

Subject: RE: Pope Francis to Europe: A Pep Talk

Regarding implementation, here is an assessment by theologian and ecclesiologist Richard Gaillardetz (from his essay “The Pastoral Orientation of Doctrine” in the recently released book Go Into the Streets! The Welcoming Church of Pope Francis):

Will or will not this pope reverse this or that controversial church teaching? However, the “will he or won’t he” question misconstrues how doctrine develops. It is a common misconception that doctrinal change and development occur primarily by ecclesiastical fiat. In fact, history shows that doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particular doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love. The gradual shift in the church’s condemnation of usury offers us a classic example of what I have in mind here. That teaching was not reversed in a single papal decree. Rather, there was a gradual and halting pastoral discernment that the teaching, in its classical formulation, no longer served the central values it was intended to protect, namely, the welfare of the poor. … Magisterial teaching should come at the end of our tradition’s lively engagement with a particular question, not as a way of preempting its consideration.
Certainly, church leaders are to be faithful to our doctrinal heritage. They serve that heritage best, not by wielding the doctrine of the church as a club, but by heeding Pope Francis’s injunction to abandon a place of safety and certitude, moving from the center to the periphery. As they meet people ‘in the streets,’ listening to their concerns and attending to their wounds, they will know … how the church’s doctrine can best be employed to announce God’s solidarity with the poor and suffering of this world and the profligate mercy of God. This is the primary purpose of church doctrine, and in reminding us of this, Francis stands as its authentic guardian.

While this confirms why we have had little success in getting Francis to change doctrine, it indicates just how significant the Francis strategy is: he is urging the grass roots to “speak up” not as an idealization of lay participation but because “speaking up” is the only way change is going to happen.

Furthermore, “change” first comes with pastoral practice; doctrinal formulations follow, rather than lead. It is no wonder that Francis is focusing on the pastoral process of “encounter, dialogue and accompaniment”. It is no wonder that he is leaving doctrine aside. If we see his doctrinal “pause button” as some kind of evasion we are missing the point.

This makes our strategic engagement with local gatherings all the more important. It is not about grass roots support for doctrinal change, it is about confronting injustice at the local level so that “pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particular doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love”. The emphasis upon God’s mercy is central to changing local pastoral practice. Doctrinal change is at the tail end of this process, and should not wag the dog. Indeed, we are not talking about “doctrinal change” (as if it were a mere reversal) but about a paradigm shift, a fresh way of looking at how to “mediate the saving message of God’s transforming love”.

And this process is daunting (which is why it is tempting to seek a papal edict as a work around). In the end, the source of consensus is the Spirit, who is available to everyone.

How can we frame our encouragement (or, perhaps, simple monitoring) of local gatherings so that “God’s transforming love” is at the center of it?

Just musings in response to Gaillardetz.

Clyde{jcomments on}

For those feeling discouraged about the pace of reform, we should wish for the kind of pep talk Pope Francis gave to the European Union on May 6, 2016.

There is a life within what he says that is quite remarkable. It is a “must read” for anyone hoping for dynamism in this world. Can it really be true that such a dynamo is our pope, the head of this sometimes stodgy old Catholic Church?

He speaks in language that is reminiscent of “the widow, the orphan and the stranger in the land” but not so much with respect to their external needs as for the dignity of their conscious participation in an inclusive society governed through encounter and dialogue.

And he has something to say about the young, too. “Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. … our young people have a critical role. They are not the future of our peoples; they are the present.”


From: Brad
Sent: Saturday, June 04, 2016 1:36 AM
Subject: Re: Pope Francis to Europe: A Pep Talk
Less talk….more implementation.
More sugar speeches than we know what to do with.

  • Your Country: USA

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