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Fill-in saves day for futurists: conference proceeds while cardinal frowns.

Conference proceeds while cardinal frowns

WASHINGTON - The conclusion to the Sept. 17-19 Future of the American Church Conference here said a great deal about the present: A pastor scheduled to speak and celebrate the closing liturgy bad been ordered not to by his cardinal because controversial theologian Fr. Charles Curran was on the agenda.

The conference on culture, gender and democracy in the church - under a title which proved ironic, "From Impasse to Opportunity: Listening to the Voice of the Whole Church" - discussed why many African-American, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian members feel cut off from the Catholic church.

It also addressed the role of women and men in the church and the ecclesiastical struggle over women's equality and ordination.

Organized by the National Center for Pastoral Leadership, the annual Washington event has previously received objections to Curran's speaking role from Washington Cardinal James Hickey, said NCPL president, Timothy B. Ragan. Hickey, chancellor of the Catholic University of America, was instrumental in Curran's ouster as a theologian there.

But this year, Hickey's objections escalated. A few weeks prior to the conference, Hickey ordered local St. Teresa of Avila pastor Msgr. Raymond East, an NCPL board member, to resign from the board and to withdraw from the conference, said Ragan. Despite the closing drama, speakers dealt with key conference issues:

* "The true image of the human in today's world is intercultural," said Fr. Virgil Elizondo, founding president of the San Antonio-based Mexican American Cultural Center. He encouraged ongoing dialogue and openness to other cultures" and experiences with different cultural liturgies.

* Episcopalian Bishop Jane H. Dixon recounted the struggle of women in her church tradition to be ordained. She urged Catholic women to continue to confront issues of structure. Dixon said women are already doing priestly ministry, the issue is when will the church recognize that.

* Garrett Theological Seminary Professor Rosemary R. Ruether said the papal monarchical system did not arise from the Christian gospels and outlined how it could be replaced by a democratic system.

Other speakers included theologian Anthony Padovano, who said: "It is not enough to open other ministries to women or married Christians, while denying them priesthood. This imperils all the ministries and it denigrates them by insisting that a male priest will decide what is best for women and that a celibate pastor will tell married Christians what is best for them even in terms of their marital relationship with each other."

The tendency, said Padovano, is for the community to be "too patient, and to keep postponing action."

Curran, the object of Hickey's ire, said that a challenge to Catholics is to make the church an inclusive community of moral discourse - people talking morality to one another.

He also said that, "Authority does not make something right or wrong, it must conform itself to the good and the true." With that in mind, the more than 600 people at the Omni Shoreham Hotel sessions attended the closing liturgy - celebrated in East's absence by a Nigerian priest.

Old Guard' hangs in there

at meeting on church future

The magisterium is always a teacher, never a learner. That is a problematic attitude in the Catholic church said Bishop Michael Kenny as he addressed the Future of the American Church Conference last week. How right he was.

Kenny told how a group of U.S. bishops went to Rome or their ad limina visit and wanted to take a course in theology while there. No way, said the Vatican. It would not be proper for bishops - bishops are the teachers.

The magisterium isn't a listener, either. People constantly talking are rarely in a listening posture. And that was precisely what this conference was calling for - "Listening to the Voice of the Whole Church."

Tim Ragan, president of the sponsoring National Center for Pastoral Leadership group, can be credited with keeping alive the good news of the Second Vatican Council in conferences that in boom years drew 2,000 participants. But after more than a decade, the crowds are thinning.

Even though the conference theme addressed issues of culture and gender, the 600 participants - mostly women religious - were white, mainly over 50, and already well educated about church tensions. There was a sprinkling of Hispanics present - no American Indian, African-American, or Asian Catholics.

At the wrap-up panel discussion on Sunday, African-American theologian Toinette M. Eugene challenged the omission of any clear focus on racism.

This view was shared by participants, one of whom took the microphone to say she had walked out on the closing liturgy when she saw the procession of black children, the drum players, the African-American setting - and no blacks in the body of the group. Such tokenism, she said, betrayed he goal of the conference. Why didn't they do more ton attract multicultural audience?

For conference speaker Franciscan Sr. Fran Ferder the headline issues are around sexuality nd in the modern-day interpretation of Paul to the Galatians, which states there is no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual, cleric and lay, white and multicultural. Said Ferder, now is the time for people to knock down walls of separation either by consistently working within the system or making a noise, much more noise, about injustice.

Key speakers - Fr. Charles Curran, Anthony Padovano, Rosemary Ruether - also came under fire. At one point, they were referred to as the "old warhorse theologians" who come back as repeats on the conference schedule year after year. Many participants have heard their message, though for the new few it was fresh and stimulating.

But, contended one of the old warhorse theologians, the stars attract the attendees: No big names, no big crowds.

Obviously, Washington, D.C., is an apt place to wonder about a listening church. Local Cardinal James Hickey had ordered local pastor Msgr. Raymond East off the conference board and out of its activities.

Hickey, a key player in Curran's departure from Catholic University, has two more years before retirement to play out his heavy magisterial hand here.

The treatment of East caused much unrest and anger t the conference, though it actually confirmed what everyone knew the tight-jawed clerical order magisterium to be about. When Ragan got up to the mike to explain what had happened, he tried to offset people's anger with humor.

"At our board meeting yesterday when we talked about this," he said, "someone suggested we give Hickey suite during the next bishops' meeting her at the hotel - and cover he walls with picture of Charlie Curran."

But humor was not enough.

People are tire of this grim-faced patriarchal church of old men who hang on too long to office to fight for the church of yesterday with no thought, or little thought, that they're losing the church of tomorrow.

One attendee,a bright, 26-year-old woman at her first "Future" conference, said she and her Catholic friends were strongly committed to the Catholic church, and to women's ordination, and lots of other changes.

What she couldn't understand, was why these things weren't happening.

Ah, youth!

Sister of St. Joseph of Peace Dorothy Vidulich is a correspondent in NCR's Washington bureau.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Future of the American Church Conference; Cardinal James Hickey
Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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