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Spring 2000 Newsletter

A Mission Worth Pursuing
By: Sr. Chris Schenk

Just last week I gave a presentation to one of the local chapters of the Serra Club, an organization committed to helping nurture celibate vocations. This will probably surprise some. They believe that because FutureChurch calls for a married priesthood we don't also support the celibate charism. Others believe that the only thing FutureChurch cares about these days is addressing issues of women's equality in the Church. Both perspectives are incorrect.

Over the last year FutureChurch has generated 20 media stories in cities all over the U.S. on the priest shortage and the need to open ordination so that we don't lose our sacramental heritage. One Associated Press story appeared in scores of small cities that have neither a religion writer nor many resident priests.

Our Future of Priestly Ministry (FOPM) project, which we developed in partnership with Call to Action (CTA), continues to attract widespread parish based support everywhere we go. We now have 3100 grassroots participants in the FOPM effort and have given over 60 presentations on this issue all over the United States and Canada. Between 1996 and 1999 individuals and groups in 63 dioceses committed to dialogue with their bishops about the consequences of doing nothing about the priest shortage. We are presently brainstorming with CTA and other national groups on the "next steps" for this important effort geared to preserving the Eucharist as the center of Catholic worship.

Our Women in Church Leadership (WICL) effort (also partnered with CTA) is another effective way of helping Catholics see the Eucharistic connections to the so called "women's issue" in the Church. The root question is: are women the Body of Christ or not? If they are, then why can't they visibly image Christ at the altar? If they are not, why are we baptizing them? While FOPM calls for opening ordination to all the baptized, WICL aims to do what we can to advance women's roles right now, short of ordination. Working to change the iconic and biblical imaginations of our Catholic family through the WICL and Mary of Magdala programs is a deeply Eucharistic endeavor.

But back to the priest shortage. A recent article in the Rochester Catholic Courier reported a loss of 21 priests due to death, retirement and resignation with only two new ordinations. This 12 county diocese of 140 parishes has only 158 priests (whose median age is in the 50's) to serve the constituency. This figure does not take into account those who cannot work due to health problems. By 2025 Rochester expects to have only 70 priests for their 140 parishes. Cleveland statistics, though not as severe as Rochester, are still troubling. The 1999 annual Clergy Personnel Board Report lists 21 priests who died, resigned or are on leave of absence and two released from diocesan assignment. Only three were ordained. In 1970 Cleveland had 664 priests, 240 of whom were under 40. In 1999 the Diocese had 484 priests, only 39 of who were under 40.

Statistics too often hide the human face behind the priesthood. The human faces I know best are good men, holy men, who love the Church and care deeply about the spiritual welfare of their parishioners. They care deeply about the Eucharist and the Vatican II vision that says all of us are called to be Church. And they are deeply distressed because they believe that God's people will not have the sacraments because of the purely human rule of mandatory celibacy.

Because the love and care these men have for the People of God comes first, they don't need to be defensive about their own celibate vocations or about welcoming women to ministerial partnership. They see that all of us are called to a deeply intimate walk with Divine Mystery. Some of us are most happy when we flesh the totality of that call through a celibate commitment in the priesthood or religious life. Some are most happy when we flesh the totality of that call through a married or single commitment. What matters is our truthful response to the One who calls us. What matters is that we respond.

And therein lies both the pain and peril of our present situation. While we at FutureChurch respect and love the celibate charism, we cannot deny the depth of the call to priesthood we see in those who are also called to a different path of enfleshing response to Divine Mystery. The present discipline of mandatory celibacy has too many times created barriers where none should exist. Our Church would be so enriched if we could celebrate the multiform ways Divine Mystery is revealed in us, rather than to encourage the false hierarchies that place celibacy at the top and lowly lay life at the bottom. It is not an exaggeration to say that the very future of the priesthood and of our sacramental life is at stake.

And the attitudes of Catholic laity confirm this belief. A recent National Catholic Reporter/Gallup survey found decreasing percentages of laity willing to accept the absence of priestly ministry, and significant majorities that would accept both married and women priests to supply the need (see tables).

I have been blessed with many priests in my own life who have nurtured my walk in the ways of God. Many were called to celibacy. Many were not. I love the priesthood. I want it to continue. With the Spirit's help and the support of committed Catholics all over the United States, FutureChurch aims to make sure that we have an abundant variety of priests, celibate and married, male and female, to minister in the new millennium. That is a mission worth pursuing!


Faith on Tap
By: Lora Winger

According to a recent Cleveland Plain Dealer article, a national study found that "a majority of U.S. Roman Catholics between 20 and 39 have a tenuous relationship with their Church, attending Mass sporadically and not getting involved with parishes. The vast majority of these young Catholics called lay people 'just as important a part of the church as priests,' said the church should put more women in positions of authority, and called for open debate on divorce, remarriage and sexuality." Of the 848 young adults who were interviewed for the study, 90 percent continue to identify themselves as Catholic.

Faith on Tap is FutureChurch's response to the growing number of young Catholics who feel increasingly isolated and disconnected from the Church. Premiering in Cleveland in July of this year, Faith on Tap will be a series of meetings where young adults will gather for a speaker, conversation, theology, and fellowship. The program will provide a supportive environment for those 21 to 39 years old Catholics who want to experience a more inclusive Church.

A small, dedicated group of FutureChurch members are in the process of planning the four session series. Specific details as to dates and locations will be available soon. The topics will include: Am I Catholic?, sexuality issues, inclusion issues, and the Vatican II model of Church. Each session will include a speaker, prayer, discussion and refreshments. A wrap up, evaluation session is planned for both locations in order to generate topics for future Faith on Tap programs. If you would like more information about Faith on Tap, call the FutureChurch office at 216-228-0869 or email us at info@futurechurch.org.

All About Us

·  We have just completed our fourth printing of the Women in Church Leadership packet. In only 13 months over 3,000 packets have been requested by parishes, small faith communities, pastoral ministers, priests, hospital chaplains, and religious educators all over the United States and in seven countries. The project continues to expand with new people requesting this helpful resource every day.

· Our Future of Priestly Ministry project is likewise ready for its fourth printing. Recent media stories generated by this priest shortage awareness campaign appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the Lincoln Journal Star, the Grand Rapids Press, and the Green Bay Post Gazette.

· From May 1 to 20, our friendly and skilled FutureChurch phonathon callers garnered over $5,000 in pledges from 160 people with an additional 33 people pledging an unspecified amount. Together with mailed donations, we have raised over $16,000 during our annual Pentecost appeal for operating costs. And at press time, donations were still coming in. We were much aided by a matching grant from the Walter and Mary Tuohy Foundation. A sincere thanks to all our supporters.



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