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Religion Notes

Bishop Seeks Lay Help in Setting Priorities

December 28, 1985|JOHN DART | Times Religion Writer

The Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, now under the leadership of an activist archbishop, has been asked to do something it has never done before--suggest what the church's priorities should be.

An estimated 20,000 Catholics have already returned questionnaires to the Los Angeles chancery indicating whether they attach the greatest importance to social justice, spiritual development, religious education, evangelization or other choices.

"The church has limited resources of people, talent, economics and time," said a three-part questionnaire distributed to the archdiocese's 283 parishes in mid-December. "We need a clear focus on who we should be in the Lord and where we ought to go, otherwise we will lose our power and effectiveness."

The results will be made public, a church spokesman said.

Change of Approach

Archbishop Roger Mahony, in office less than six months, has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to address difficult public and Roman Catholic concerns. Mahony has started to use the formidable base of an archdiocese embracing 2.56 million church members, the nation's most populous diocese, in ways most Catholics say that Mahony's predecessor, retired Cardinal Timothy Manning, did not.

Mahony, who will turn 50 in February, conceivably could rule over the archdiocese for a quarter of a century--until the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Mahony frequently sounds out laity, priests and sisters before making decisions. For example, he supports the formation of a sisters' council to complement the existing Priests' Senate, and he recently selected Msgr. Thomas J. Curry as vicar for priests after soliciting nominations from priests themselves.

In a letter accompanying the questionnaire to lay Catholics, Mahony said, "the church must be able to say clearly what we stand for, whom we stand with, and let this provide a consistent framework to guide our actions. . . . We must do this together."

Five-year goals, embodied in a "mission statement," will be formulated on Nov. 1 and 2 at a convocation attended by about 1,000 representatives of parishes, priests, sisters and departments of the archdiocese.

Msgr. William Barry of Claremont, one of the organizers, said the event might be held at Loyola Marymount University if scheduling problems can be cleared. Barry also said a larger gathering to celebrate the approved goals may be held in late November or early December.

The initial questionnaire is not intended to draw a lot of response, Barry said. Parishes will be sent longer surveys in April, and parish representatives will attend regional meetings in the early fall.

"But I find that the padres are talking about (the initial questionnaire) at great length," said Barry, who characteristically uses the Spanish word for fellow priests.

"The deadline isn't until Dec. 31," he said, "but we guess that we have 20,000 returned already and may get 30,000 altogether."

Barry said the convocation task force sent out the questionnaire in English and Spanish languages. "It was at the discretion of the padres whether to make copies of them, and apparently many of them duplicated them. People are very excited," he said.

"Archbishop Mahony makes it clear in every public address that if he imposes his priorities on the people, they aren't going to go very far. He's disarmingly honest and open for guidance and input," he said.

The top religion news stories of 1986 are impossible to predict, but some events will inevitably draw attention because of past tensions. Two of them are:

- The now-annual battle for the presidency of the 14-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest non-Catholic denomination. Conservative spokesmen indicated recently that they will back the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Memphis, Tenn., for president. Rogers' election as president in 1979 (he declined to run for a second term in 1980) started an unbroken string of strongly conservative presidents whose backers have vowed to rid the Southern Baptist seminaries and agencies of people whom they feel are too flexible on Bible interpretations. The steady replacement of board members by conservatives, who derive their posts from the convention president, is expected to swing the balance in the late 1980s.

The "moderate" forces, who charge that the conservative attacks are unfair and that they erode loyalty to Southern Baptist cooperative programs, may have a strong presidential candidate at the 1986 meeting June 10-12 in Atlanta--the Rev. Winfred Moore of San Antonio, Tex. Moore was defeated last June by the Rev. Charles Stanley of Atlanta, who won the traditional second-year term rarely denied to convention presidents. Moore, a theological conservative who is considered "moderate" in leadership style, was elected overwhelmingly as vice president after a surprise nomination. But Moore's chances may be diminished by the possibility that many Southern Baptist voting "messengers" will want to give Rogers a second term.

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