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Panel Debates Role Of Laity In The Church

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013

Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 20:09


Robin Kim / For The Heights

Last Thursday, Sept. 26, Boston College and the School of Theology and Ministry held a panel discussion on the role of Catholic laity in the Church as part of the Sesquicentennial celebration. The program, titled “Coworkers in the Vineyard,” placed special emphasis on the Second Vatican Council, public service, and scholarship.

The panelists were Simone Campbell, S.S.S., a member of the Sisters of Social Service and executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobbying group; E.J. Dionne, Jr., a columnist for The Washington Post and a professor at Georgetown University; Thomas Groome, a professor at the School of Theology and Ministry and an expert in religious education; and Jane McAullife, the former president of Bryn Mawr College and an expert in Muslim-Catholic relations. Timothy Shriver, a leading educator and the chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, and Mark Massa, S.J., the dean and professor of church history at the School of Theology and Ministry, moderated the discussion.

Each panelist gave an opening statement, beginning with Dionne. “Within the Church, there has been a horrible tendency to throw people out,” he said. “For the first time in a while, we are not dealing with a Pope who is trying to create a small, more orthodox church.”

Dionne emphasized that reflection is important in the creation of a more open church, relating the story of a professor at Boston University who once said that people should make room for an attentive society where everyone gives and receives help. “There is truth, but we should not give up on humility,” Dionne said.

Shriver gave his opening statement next. “One of the questions we should ask is not what Catholics are looking for, but what former Catholics are looking for,” he said. “We can look at the expanse of the Church, but we should also look at why so many left.”

Shriver argued that this crisis is a spiritual one. He then read phrases from the Pope’s highly publicized recent interview. Shriver focused on the reflection that he believes goes into Francis’s life and his interiority. “God is a question and the source of that question is within,” Shriver said. “I think we’re missing love. Yes, we love God, but no one told me to fall in love with God until my 20s.”

McAuliffe followed, postulating that one cannot ignore the deep concerns that young people are grappling with from other religions. She said that in her experience, the three issues that young people are most concerned about are the environment, social inequality, and terrorism.

McAuliffe then tied this concern back to Vatican II. “These are global issues,” she said. “Vatican II changed the discourse from declaration to the potential for dialogue. Roman Catholic interfaith dialogue is something about which I think we can be deeply proud.”

Campbell gave her input next. “America and the Church are both about the sense of community, engagement, and being together, but individualism is a problem in both,” she said. “It is unchristian to have a smaller church. We’re one body with all people.”

Campbell offered advice too. “All you have to do is hold out your hands and listen,” she said. “It requires joy, which is surprisingly in short supply right now. The quote that I like from Pope Francis’ interview is that God is surprise. The spirit is alive and well and making mischief. The Church in the modern world is us together.”

Groome delivered a more impromptu opening statement after saying that he had just thrown out his second set of notes. He emphasized the importance of Jesus as the center of the Church and that religious education could solve the problems raised by the other panelists. “Most catechism focuses on the Apostle’s Creed,” he said. “We skip his life when we say ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.’”

Groome used a study involving word association as evidence that people tend to focus on the Church when talking about Catholicism. “The heart of our faith is not the Church or the Bible, but Jesus,” he said. “His pedagogy can teach us how to approach the questions facing the Church. Jesus invites us to faith, gets deep down into people, and listens to their stories. He is the best thing we have.”

The panelists then engaged in dialogue with one another. Campbell addressed Groome’s point. “I think that one of the challenges of the post-modern world is that you sound too certain,” she said. “We have holy faith, but where is holy doubt? That piece is key to bringing us together.”

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