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Bishop Works to Transform Patriarchy

Critical issues in the church
230 faithful FutureChurch Catholics discuss "Critical Issues in the Church" at the St. Joseph Center.

On March 10, 230 committed Catholics filled the St. Joseph Center on Rocky River Drive in Cleveland to hear Bishop Albert Ottenweller speak and to share “Conversation with about Critical Issues Facing the Church.” The evening was inspired by the Catholic Culture of Conversation which calls for new openness to discussion in the Church.

There was a special need for “discussion of critical issues” because the program was forced to change venues at the last minute after a local high school withdrew its hospitality because of opposition from right wing Catholics (see article page 4).
The Bishop spoke movingly about his 60 years in the priesthood, 30 of which were spent as a bishop. He brought his experience as a parish priest to the U.S. Bishops’ Conference as chair of the Committee on the Laity. An offshoot of this ground-breaking work is now the well regarded National Pastoral Life Center whose founder, the late Fr. Philip Murnion, was secretary to the Laity Committee.


Bishop Albert
Bishop Albert with FutureChurch Next Generation: Ryan Sweeney and Dawn Story.

Ottenweller listed Cleveland Fr. Don Cozzens and retired Archbishop John Quinn as his heros because of their work on church issues and particularly church structures: “We talk collegiality but don’t have structures for collegiality. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins---new wineskins are needed for new wine. We must change these top-down structures. The parish is where rubber hits the road, but the curia has no experience in the parish and they think they are over the Bishops.”

The Bishop cited Gerald Arbuckle’s 1993 book Refounding the Church (Orbis) as a good resource to understand why structural change has been so difficult. Arbuckle believes the church (and many parts of society) are in a state of chaos and cited three ways of addressing it:
1. Follow a strong leader...(however, this is also how cults are born.)
2. Go back to how it was before.
3. Walk straight into the chaos and keep walking until you get to the other side.

“Bishop Albert” (as he likes to be called) hit just the right pastoral note for many: “Its a tough go ... hierarchical/clerical culture is the biggest thing we have to over come. I have worked many years with Sr. Nancy Westmeyer [to transform patriarchy] and I
can’t say we were successful. We need more spiritually mature Christian people who are committed and have a deep faith. We need servant leaders ... and then we can change the institution.”

This prompted a parishioner from a local church to reflect: “If he is 88 and still working on this, I guess I can’t give up either!”

Summer 2004



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