The Future of Faith

By Michael P. Riccards

It has become standard rhetoric to say that the old normal is gone with the pandemic and that we must rethink our institutions. That is undoubtedly true, although most of us will try to resurrect the familiar and tried and true. We must rethink the role of government, the role of the states, the expectations of governors, the immunity law, our participatory culture and spectator athletes. I frankly like most of the old normal because I like the familiar.

In this pandemic, some creative pastors have tried to somehow bring the Mass to people online, and it is a heroic but anemic attempt to preserve some elements of the Catholic Church. But we now have 300 Catholic churches that have applied to the Feds for aid, a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Our bishops, who have become the Republican Party at prayer, will probably not run into the usual Republican roadblock. 

But the terrible pandemic must encourage the church to rethink its very practices. Gone forever will be communion on the tongue and the shaking of diseased hands as a sign of fellowship. How about just making the sign of the cross at your six-foot away parishioner? Now we can have Mass for 10 people, even fewer than Jesus had at the Last Supper. Who is going to stop the 11th parishioner at the door? It is better to remember that, when two or three gather in Jesus name, he is in the midst of hem.

We need to stop the guerilla warfare and extend the priesthood to married men who can take some of the load off of the old priests, and frankly it is time to give women the chance to be priests. Some theologians say that would break with tradition. Yes it would, but popes and councils have broken with tradition before. Look at Pope John Paul II on capital punishment. St Paul says that his most impressive apostle was a woman named Julia, and it is time to consecrate the devout women and nuns we have rather than chase after confused 18-year-old boys and 40-year-old men in a middle age crisis to be priests.

To deal with the pandemic and importantly its consequences, we have to go back to a decentralized parish system which is what the early Christians did so well. Our bishops are too often Republican politicians, even with its brutal immigration positions. Since when were we quiet as Catholics when mothers and children were separated the state. Remember, bishops, the only part of your church that is growing is the Hispanic population.

It is time the bishops stopped allowing abortion to be the litmus test for voting. It is an important moral issue, but unfortunately the bishops and the courts have made it a political issue. As Aquinas wrote, it is not necessary to legislate every moral precept into law., especially on a divisive issue and one that is most personal. Women should be able to choose, families should be able to choose when they end the life of a loved one. They are both grave issues, but truly are matters of conscience.

The current (quasi) celibate church is no place for a serious discussion on sexual issues. No group is so sex fixated than the bishops, perhaps as confession for their neglect of child abuse. Now they are going to be the gates over abortion. Let them clean up their act, and any bishop who has moved pedophiles around should voluntarily resign without the pope having to request it. A healthy infusion of married and female priests will help the priesthood. Mass attendance is down to 25%. The sacrament of penance is a shadow. Kids are rebelling over confirmation and its sterile preparations. For the good of the church, it is time to re-think our most basic arguments. It is time to allow more people to consecrate communion, the very center of our faith, for our aging priests are too susceptible to get these pandemics and the next ones to come.

Michael P. Riccards is president of the American Public Policy Institute and the author of 30 books including his two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the recently published Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief.

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