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Inside NCR, (Catholic clergy sexual scandals) (Editorial)

Letters continue to arrive daily in our Kansas City newsroom in response to our March 19 issue, "Bishops as accomplices: Sex, celibacy and the collapse of the clerical state." The essays by Eugene Kennedy on the demise of the clerical state and by psychiatrist Richard Gardner on the challenge of modern celibacy, coupled with the news from New Mexico about the liaisons of Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez, touched deep nerves among NCR readers. You have been responding in droves. We published five pages of essays and letters last week; we will print more letters very soon.

What's going on? Many of us sense we are living in a time of transition, at the end of the old era, at the beginning of the new -- even while the outlines of this new era are still very fuzzy in our minds. Time to renew trust in the Holy Spirit, to trust the Eucharistic cycles of life, death and resurrection.

Our institutional church structures are very much a part of this change. By now we can see that the old clerical order, as we, our parents and their parents have known it, is collapsing around us. Some signs: nearly vacant seminaries, questionably qualified priesthood candidates, private (and sometimes public) clerical infidelities, priest pedophilia, to name some of the most visible -- and through it, seeming episcopal paralysis.

Our institution supports our sacraments. We are a sacramental church, but at century's end, just as we become a global church, our sacraments are being held hostage to antiquated canons. Then there is the phenomenon of frightening indifference to church teaching. Lay Catholics simply cannot match their experience with church edicts on sexual morality. Moral ideals get lost when taught as unconditional absolutes.

Meanwhile, the ranks of our priests continue to thin, and as they do, Eucharist-based Catholic communities are denied to millions. Existing Catholic communities are increasingly threatened. For an educated Catholic laity, including now some fine women theologians, things Catholic don't add up.

But they are not walking away as they once might have. Instead, they are staying, at least for now, on their own terms. What may be most remarkable about the change occurring in our church is that it is happening so quickly and, in large part, precisely because top church leaders so oppose it.

So the new era is being shaped by our bishops, but not as they might want it. The Spirit works, it is said, in strange ways.

Pope John Paul II, meanwhile, may go down in history as having forced epochal change upon the church, primarily by having fought it throughout his papacy.
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Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 23, 1993
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