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I promised to begin sharing my responses to a list of questions my archbishop didn’t ask me. I explained why I need to do this, why it is not ornery or in any way negative to do this, and why I wish everyone else would do this, too. If you read my questions and answers without understanding the context, you may misjudge the whole project.
What is frustrating you right now about our Church*?
I feel frustration about a number of things, taking full responsibility for the fact that my frustration is my own problem – the product of my own impatience. I don’t expect anyone to make me feel better, or change anything on my account. I’m content and happy, and giving these responses in full interior peace and freedom – not expecting or demanding any results. I would, however, care about such feelings among ‘my people’ if I were a leader of ‘a people’. Even if their feelings exposed their imperfections, they might also expose some imperfections in the organization and, thus, be instructive and helpful. Most firms, for example, do exit interviews and seek out customer feedback (and don’t consider the respondents ‘negative’ if they offer some constructive criticism).
I am frustrated about the lack of networking and communication. I feel we could be doing so much more to connect Catholics across parish boundaries and to encourage them to identify as Catholics, placing their personal networks of association at the service of the Church more consciously.
I’m frustrated that there are no clear protocols for when/if/how to communicate with the Archbishop about liturgical abuse, personal initiatives, problems at the parish level, new ideas, etc…
I’m frustrated that our fine arts council is not fulfilling its potential, or involving its members in visioning and planning.
I’m frustrated that the ten-year planning process involved so little substance, so little lay- and parish investment, so little questioning of the status quo. And, I’m frustrated that anyone who says this may be seen as not-a-team-player.
I’m frustrated that dissident Catholics run off and do whatever they want (wrong, imho), but the only alternative seems to be tame complacency, or resentful acquiescence. Catholics who won’t hear a word said about possibilities for change frustrate loyal, Orthodox, non-rebellious Catholics who would like to discuss those possibilities. Catholics who are cynical and don’t believe anything good can come from the modern Church likewise obstruct any constructive dialogue. I will not undermine my Church, rebel against her, or oppose the rightful authorities set over me, but just because I love this Church, I shouldn’t be asked to put up and shut up. This is a wrongful understanding of what it means to be supportive.
Do you feel your Church leaders are hearing your voice?
What could the Church learn from your experience?
That some of her most loyal children are grown-ups who need to be involved in evaluating and designing her structures. That real evaluation requires a taking into account of our ‘negative’ as well as our ‘positive’ experiences. That not everyone who wants a way into the conversation about the Church wants power, or wants to undermine the Church. That people want opportunities to talk with fellow Catholics about something besides Catholicism. Theology can’t be our only ‘safe’ ground. That people need the permission of Church leaders to give feedback like this, or to argue, or to offer their suggestions and ideas.
What problems do you address in your daily life? How could the Church assist you?
I am running a small pro-life initiative. The Church could assist by helping us receive grant funds, publicly showing affirmation for our work, asking the diocesan newspaper to feature the ministry, spreading the word through its pro-life and other social media networks, etc…, etc…. Affirmation, concrete support, communication, social support. The Church might help by asking for an annual report, putting us on a list of Approved Projects, gathering us together with other pro-life groups for a pow-wow. I was thankful to be sent a letter of encouragement from our Archbishop, and to be able to use space in the Archdiocesan building for our launch party.
I face other issues, but wrote this question with a number of others in mind. People facing a child’s mental illness, care of aging parents, lack of funds for medical care, working with the homeless, etc…. Artists who need commissions, authors who need an imprimatur, fathers who need work, disable people who need assistance…all across the state there are thousands of needs. We tend to think, “Don’t voice those needs, as it will seem to be a demand for the Church to solve all problems,” instead of realizing they are each an opportunity for the Church to serve her people by linking them up with the help they need.
* These answers are for questions the archbishop didn’t ask me, so they refer to our archdiocese. My priest also didn’t ask me these questions, and so maybe I’ll next answer them as though he had!
…it is difficult for poets to remain acceptable or contented party men; they ask too many questions.
Dorothy Sayers, in the Introduction to her translation of Dante’s Purgatorio