In the New York Times yesterday, Francis A. Quinn, a retired Catholic bishop, offered suggestions for how the Church ought to change moving forward. Membership numbers are decreasing by the day and something must be done, he says, to retain good leaders within the Church. He even says that “American Catholics are divided, primarily, by three internal church conflicts.”
What are they and how should they be fixed?
For starters, he says, get rid of the no-sex requirement for priests:
The church should start relieving the desperate shortage of clergy members by also accepting for ordination men of mature age, of proven character and in stable marriages.
Optional celibacy allows a choice between an abstinent life, totally free for ministry, or a married life that enables better understanding of the lives of parishioners.
I don’t quite understand the logic to begin with. Forced celibacy would cause most people to think about sex all the time, not focus on other things. But it’s a silly rule and the Church would be wise to eliminate it.
Next on the list? Let women be leaders:
Recent popes have said publicly that priesthood for women cannot be considered because the gospel and other documents state that Christ ordained men only.
Yet women have shown great qualities of leadership: strength, intelligence, prayerfulness, wisdom, practicality, sensitivity and knowledge of theology and sacred Scripture.
Again, it’s a tradition that has long outlived its expiration date. If you’re looking for qualified people to be Church leaders, I don’t see the wisdom in eliminating half the population before you’ve even looked at their resumes.
Finally? Allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion:
Valid marriages remain indissoluble. However, in confession a priest, after reviewing the circumstances with a remarried penitent, already can assist that person to develop a clear conscience with God and resume receiving the Eucharist.
I don’t have a problem with that… but since when is that the big deal breaker for Catholics who leave the Church?
Quinn’s hope is that making these changes will stop the exodus of people out of the faith:
Polls show that many high school and college students have gradually come to believe that what they learned as children about the nature of God can be erased as readily as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.
He called for the convening of a Vatican Council III to address these topics (and a few others).
The big problem with his suggestions is that most Catholics aren’t leaving the Church for these reasons. Priests have always had to be celibate, women have never been ordained, and the rules about who gets Communion and who doesn’t have remained consistent. It’s not like people are suddenly realizing this is happening. They are merely parts of a larger problem.So why are people leaving the Church now? One study uncovered the following reasons (in addition to the rules about female ordination and treatment of divorced/remarried parishioners):
- The sexual abuse scandals
- The Church’s stance against marriage equality
- The priests were distant, insensitive, and aloof
- Church sermons were boring and uninspiring
- The Church was too closely tied to conservative politics (Hello, Rick Santorum and Bill Donohue!)
I would also add to that list the Church’s stance on birth control. The hierarchy opposes it, even though many practicing Catholics don’t seem to agree with them.
If Church leaders can’t rectify their own moral failings, inspire people to attend Mass, or stand up in support of those who are already discriminated against, why would anyone want to support them? They’ve had plenty of time and limitless wealth to get this right, and they’re not even close.
If they can’t offer decent answers to the simplest moral questions of our time, they have no business telling people how to run their lives when things actually get complicated.
Quinn’s trying to fix the lowest hanging fruit because it’s easier to reinterpret parts of the Bible than admit the Church is flat-out wrong on certain issues. But his suggestions are aimed at issues that don’t really matter to many people thinking about leaving the Church.
To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m offering this advice. The Church’s own misguided beliefs and traditions are leading people away from religion. I should be thrilled with their inability to course-correct, not telling them how to keep people in the pews.