Censoring of Scripture scholar not in line with Francis' 'big tent' church

I have always believed that to be a Catholic, you need faith. It's what Jesus had: the faith to question the status quo, to seek a different way, to share one's gifts to better the community.

Jesus had faith. Prophets had it. Margaret Nutting Ralph has it, too.

Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph is director of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree program at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She has authored 14 books on Scripture and was secretary of educational ministries for the Lexington diocese for 16 years. For over three decades, Dr. Ralph has offered presentations to parish, diocesan, state and national groups, including the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders and the National Catholic Educational Association.

I could go on. The point is obvious -- Margaret Nutting Ralph is top shelf. She's committed and dedicated, a prominent scholar and an exceptional educator.

Dr. Ralph had been working for Liturgy Training Publications (owned by the Chicago archdiocese), writing Scripture commentaries for a number of publications. In late January, the director of Liturgy Training Publications sent Dr. Ralph a letter informing her that her work would no longer be used.

Her offense? Dr. Ralph offered a Scripture presentation for a group of Catholics seeking to enhance their faith at the annual Call To Action conference in November.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the official message conveyed to Dr. Ralph was that it was not her presentation topic that was the problem; rather, it was the one who invited her to speak that was the problem.

I invited Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph to speak at the 2013 national conference on behalf of the Call To Action community.

Why? Margaret is a first-rate scholar who loves the church, like all of us in Call To Action, and knows it can be better. She has the faith to boldly explore the Scriptures and offer meaningful perspectives to enrich the church she loves.

In the fall, Pope Francis expressed his vision for the church as a big tent, not a small chapel that holds only a few. Those of us in Call To Action agree and have been working for over 35 years for a "big tent" church that is more welcoming and inclusive.

My vision of a "big tent" church does not include an employer censoring a colleague's credible work just because she has engaged Catholics who hold various opinions on important issues facing the church.

There are those in the institutional church who prefer censorship to dialogue, who value protectionism over a living tradition, who feel it necessary to critique and suppress rather than lift up and celebrate. It wasn't that long ago that this type of behavior was not only commonplace, but encouraged. Let's not go back there. We've come too far.

In Dr. Ralph's case, she was neither permitted dialogue nor allowed to know who officially censored her. Dr. Ralph stands in a long line of faithful Catholics, many of whom we now call saints, who followed God's call to share their gifts only to be oppressed by the religious leaders of the day.

But this is not the end of the story.

This story has but one inevitable conclusion. When every Catholic has the faith to follow God's call to be the person they were created to be and use their gifts to build up the kin-dom of God, those attempting to silence will find that their actions simply fuel the winds of change.

Faith is unstoppable. A "big tent" church that is more inclusive and dynamic is emerging, and Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph is another Catholic who is helping lead the way.

[Jim FitzGerald is executive director of Call To Action.]

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