The church is not a museum

by Maureen Fiedler

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“The Church is not a museum.” Those are the words of Pope Francis opening the Synod on the Family in Rome this week. Rather than a “museum,” he said, the church “is … a living spring from which the church drinks to quench thirst and illuminate the deposit of life.” Translation:  “OK, fellas, let’s get out of our stodgy past and have a little movement … a little life-giving change, fellas … In case you haven’t noticed, this is the 21st century!”  

One can only hope that the delegates to the Synod begin to understand those images and that call.

Now, short of a certifiable miracle by the Holy Spirit, one cannot hope for major ecclesiastic changes from this formal body. But one can hope for rhetoric that does not embalm the past. For example, let’s inaugurate some new policies on divorced and remarried Catholics and open the door to their receiving communion. In the best of all worlds, there could be some re-thinking of divorce and remarriage itself. There are good reasons why couples split and one or both seeks a new partner in life. It’s long past time to recognize and deal with those realities.

LGBT issues are also looming large, especially now that a new international group that calls itself “Rainbow Catholics” has been created, and since a priest, Krzysztof Charamsa, who worked for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, came out of the closet as gay and introduced his partner to the world, as well. Yes, he was fired -- although his introduction of his partner clouds the reason for the firing. Was it because he admitted implicitly that he is not celibate, or because he says he is gay?  

But in a “Synod on the Family,” it is past time to recognize, and bless, the families of LGBT partners. Indeed, is it not time to recognize that a significant percentage of the Catholic clergy worldwide are gay? Charamsa is far from being alone! 

And of course, there is the ever-present, hugely important, issue of women in the church (At last count, more than 50 percent of the church's membership were women). One bishop at the synod, Paul-Andre Durocher of Canada, made some noises Oct. 6 about women deacons. That idea causes most Catholic feminists to yawn, and it does not move the church beyond the “museum” stage since the Church in fact had women deacons in early centuries. But in this stodgy male body, those remarks must sound downright revolutionary.

But if we take Francis’ image of what the church should be seriously -- “a living spring from which the church drinks to quench thirst and illuminate the deposit of life” -- we need to recognize the call of the gospel in the 21st century. Declare that women can be the equals of men in all ministries of the church, recognize the reality of same-sex marriage and partnerships, and deal honestly with issues like divorce and remarriage. That “living spring” would take us out of the museum stage and on to the world stage with a new life and relevance.

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