By - Joe Klock, Sr.
FOREWORD: Readers are encouraged by the writer to forward these thoughts - and/or thoughts of their own - to the nearest Roman Catholic Cardinal under the age of 80.
At some time in the relatively near future, you will be attending a conclave of fewer than 120 Princes of the Church to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II, whose truly remarkable and commendable reign is nearing its end.
If recent history is a valid indicator, that choice will be made from among your collegial brethren, all but three of whom were, reportedly, appointed by the current pontiff. This suggests the possibility of a continuing trend within our Church to retreat from the progressive positions taken during Vatican II.
If that be so, it portends a future in which certain conditions will either be neglected or worsened, intensifying the pain of your flocks and, perhaps, accelerating the pace of their departure from the fold.
Surely, Your Eminences, fully three-quarters of your number being diocesan bishops, are conscious of the fact that the billion or so nominal Catholics around the world include a growing number of people who either ignore many Church regulations or vote against them with their feet.
Most regrettably, the majority of these defectors are the young and middle-aged "disaffected" ones who could otherwise become the solid foundation of the Church's future.
If, for example, birth control were to be grounds for excommunication, the ranks of fertile faithful churchgoers would be decimated. The mind of the next pope should, therefore, be receptive to rethinking the notion that conjugal intimacy must always be open to the possibility of procreation.
To close the door on discussion of that subject would be to turn a blind eye and uncaring heart toward economic realities, overpopulation, pandemic diseases - and, yes, the full expression of marital love.
The pope you choose must be attuned to the voices being heard in confessionals around the world.
Also overdue for reconsideration is the restriction of our Roman Catholic priesthood to celibate males, a man-made regulation which has been in effect for less than half of the Church's history. It could be reversed with a single stroke of the papal pen, filling presently empty pulpits and swelling underpopulated seminaries - both within a relatively short period of time.
More immediately, that would reactivate the small army of inactive priests who were barred from their ministries when they felt a calling to family life.
Arguably, a married clergy would not only more accurately reflect the profile of our earliest priesthood, but would put men on the clerical front line with a life experience more consonant with that of those they seek to guide and counsel.
Such a move would also relieve the pressure on the present cadre of priests who are increasingly gray, gay or going away.
Going a step further, the next pope should remove the gag order which presently precludes discussion of a female priesthood - or, for openers, admission of women to the diaconate.
It is, Your Eminences, more than a high probability that if the women now in unordained ministries were to go on strike, the institutional Church would soon resemble sand castles on an incoming tide.
Also, there is a need for meaningful input both from the pews at the parish level and from the dioceses at Vatican City.
Locally, the traditional "Father knows best" approach to parish management has thrust too great a temporal burden on many clergymen who are patently unprepared for such non-spiritual responsibility. Strong parish councils and finance committees should be mandatory, freeing pastors to "feed the sheep, as Jesus durected."
Less centrality of power in Rome would, you might readily agree, make local bishoprics more manageable and more responsive to local needs.
It is often stated that the Church is not a democracy, but this is not necessarily to say that it could not be more democratic, as it was in the earlier days of Christianity, before the seeds of "Churchianity" were sown.
Finally (although there are many other issues not included herein), it is hoped that, both in the Sistine Chapel deliberations and your own pre-consistorial thoughts, will be the overarching questions of what Jesus would say and do, were He to join you in that coming conclave.
The whole world will be watching, Your Eminences, as will we...and He!
Respectfully submitted by a lifelong Catholic - albeit now a dissenting one - who genuinely cares.
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