From the Directors' Desk:
Adsumus: We are present and listening

Sometimes when I put together our quarterly newsletter I find myself getting depressed over the state of the church. Several recent myopic pronouncements from church leaders are particularly painful. Here is my current "rant" list. 1. Pope Benedict's insensitive September admonition to Brazilian bishops to restrict lay leadership in a country where 80% of all Sunday celebrations are led by laity because there are no priests. 2. A recent Apostolic Constitution accepting married Anglican priests into the church while barring married priests for the rest of the Roman rite. 3. The Vatican's "nunquisition" (as I have privately dubbed it), which is without parallel in Church history.

All three point to a leadership seriously disconnected from its base. Never before has such overly centralized decision-making turned a deaf ear to cries to end the worldwide hunger for Eucharist. Instead the Vatican chooses to close parishes rather than open ordination. Never before has hierarchical leadership launched such a broadly based disciplinary investigation of an entire group of people as the Apostolic Visitation of US nuns. Being a nun myself, I can't help but ponder what in the world has led to this rupture in the communio of the church to which we and so many other laity have given our lives.

A wise sister friend offered an explanation that is helping me stay in that nonviolent- compassion-trusting-in-the-Spirit-place to which I aspire. She said that our church and our world both live with the effects of three worldviews. The pre-modern view (400-1500) is patriarchal and marked by governance in which truth was derived from an outside authority and received by the masses from spiritual intermediaries. Women's role in this view is to model beauty, purity and goodness. And she inspires (mostly men, apparently!) by her quietness and acquiescence.

The modern period (1500-1900) saw the enlightenment, the emergence of democracies and relies heavily on scientific proof for truth claims. The post modern period (20th century plus) is marked, among other things, by the coexistence of pluralities (there is more than one right answer), acceptance of chaos theory (the creative act emerges out of chaos), awareness of different levels of consciousness, and a search for the holy in the midst of abandonment of organized religions.

Whatever the pluses and minuses of each world view, it is a fact that people and institutions operate out of all three perspectives, sometimes simultaneously, and often unconsciously.

Even though the theology that shaped the Second Vatican Council prepared the way for alternative models, governance of the institutional church continues to emanate largely from a pre-modern, patriarchal world-view. One soundbyte explanation is, at least in the western church, that the hierarchy is speaking pre-modern while the laity (nuns, remember, are laity) are speaking modern and post modern.

Oh dear. What to do in such challenging times? Clearly, structures are needed to encourage communication and incorporation of the perspectives of all the people of God into church decision-making. How else to begin to transcend the severe communication gap?

A priest friend just told me about a new book by the renowned theologian, canon lawyer and witness to Vatican II, Ladislas Orsy, SJ. His book, Receiving the Council, points the way to sowing unity amidst the diverse worldviews in our church. For the communio that is the church (which includes both laity and hierarchy) to witness well to the creative energies of the Spirit of God poured out for the well being of the whole world, the Catholic Church must remove the legal barrier of Canon 129 that for the first time in church history, prevented the laity from having voice in church decision-making. Further, says Orsy, the church must encourage free flowing discussion and creativity: "We need an environment where Christians are increasingly free to use their gifts of grace and wisdom and where the Holy Spirit is not hampered by our rules."

In the epilogue of this marvelous book, Orsy asks that the years 2012 through 2015 be solemnly declared the "years of the Council," in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. He writes: "Whenever the [Council] Fathers gathered at St. Peter's Basilica, their prayer was the traditional exclamation, Adsumus -- we are present and listening. Now it is the turn of the universal people to say Adsumus, to be present and attentive and the Spirit will not fail them."

One inspiring lead up to 2012 is a planned "American Catholic Council" conference in Detroit on Pentecost in 2011 (June 10-12). Along with other groups, FutureChurch is putting significant organizational energy into supporting this convening of faithful US Catholics. The gathering will be shaped by input from hopefully hundreds if not thousands of listening sessions from all over the US. Visit our website to download templates for listening sessions in your city, home, parish or small faith community. And visit for frequent updates.

Adsumus -- we are present and listening. And the Spirit will not fail us.
Christine Schenk csj

Focus on FutureChurch

Fall 2009


Archive of Past Articles