By Michael P. Riccards
Pope Francis has convened a papal synod in Rome, and as preparation, he has taken the extraordinary step of asking dioceses to hold listening sessions on the parish levels, and then the information will go to the bishops and on to Rome.
It was a rather interesting exercise, especially for an authoritarian structure that is top-down. Most polls could have told us that the churches are seriously declining. In our diocese, we have found that mass attendance from the early 1960s to 2000 is down from 70% to about 20%.
Pew polls show that the only about 25% accept the transubstantiation doctrine, with three-quarters thinking the consecration is only symbolic. We Catholics have become Protestants without realizing it.
The groups started out with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for some guidance and then we broke into groups of five or so.
My group was concerned about the lack of social bonds between members of the parish. Nobody was looking at the theology of the church, but they were worried about the faith not being passed on to the next generation. No one talked of same-sex marriages or abortion or even birth control. They were concerned about restoring the social life to the church, the opportunity to belong which is even stronger after two years of isolation.
The passionate debate about divorced Catholics receiving communion was surprisingly absent.
I expect that the ideas will be amalgamated and the pope will get so many voices he will think that he has gotten the Tower of Babel. My idea of women priests did not make it out of the gate,
I do not expect to have any impact on the Vatican, but I was rather impressed with the confidence of the pope in having such an event. John Henry Newman has once written that the laity, not the clergy, during the Aryan heresy kept the faith alive, I don’t know if we are up to it. Cafeteria Catholics like me pick and choose our doctrines to the horror of the previous pope John Paul II, but Francis’s optimism is refreshing even if we don’t see any change,
Michael P. Riccards, a former college president, is the author of 30 books, including Faith and Leadership: The Papacy and the Roman Catholic Church.