It seems that with a growing frequency, Catholic Church officials in Rome do or say something disheartening to an enlightened world. One current case is that of Terrance Sweeney. In the past I have had the tendency of many others--to simply dismiss such Vatican decisions as "their problem," or at least the problem of the person involved. However, I am becoming more aware that these actions are "our" problem. We cannot isolate ourselves from decisions against one person that might come back to haunt others.
In the case of Father Sweeney, the furor was caused over a simple questionnaire distributed to the U.S. bishops and the world's cardinals. Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles raised a legitimate question as to the scientific accuracy of Father Sweeney's work. However, scientific quality aside, certainly the only ones who could object to polling the church hierarchy are those who fear the conclusions of such a poll.
Perhaps there are those cardinals and other Church officials who feel they are personaly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Although unlikely, we are not dealing here with inspiration, but empowerment--or authority. As a priest myself, I know full well that Father Sweeney took an oath of obedience when he became a Jesuit. But no one is questioning the Church's authority, only its use of authority. These are not issues of faith and morals, but of discipline--of power. Has not the Church condemned abuse of power in both eastern and western nations? Has not the Church called for dialogue among conflicting parties the world over? Why not a little self-examination on the part of the Vatican? Such self-examination in other areas has proved profitable. It is now past time to move into the area of authority.
More and more we are understanding that either the Gospel is for everyone or it is for no one. When Church officials use their positions and authority to entrench themselves against the movement of the Spirit, neglecting the creative solutions needed to minister to God's people, their problem becomes our problem.
\o7 Father Messenger is associate pastor of St. Eugene's Church.