If the Roman Catholic Church were to hold a "Vatican III," what would you want it to accomplish? The editors of National Catholic Reporter, a liberal Catholic weekly, asked 300 Catholics worldwide this question. The introduction below, which summarizes most of the replies, is excerpted from a longer feature with permission of National Catholic Reporter. About one third of the 60 respondents were women religious, another third laity, and one third priests.

Should the Church Make Changes?

1) The respondents want the church, as one person phrased it, to take to heart what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: "Christ freed us so that we may be free."

The next council must take seriously the question of freedom in the church. We need a new style of papacy that will reform present structures and present a type of decentralization that emphasizes the life of the people of God. Vatican II presented a theology of the people of God that has been ignored in practice in the life of the church. Clerical power must be inculturated and the church enter into the conflicts of the modern world.

2) Respondents wanted the widest possible participation of all the church in the next council, laity -- single and married -- and women religious and priests present as a group in proportion to the number of bishops present. A cardinal in a developing country wrote that all religions should be invited "and have the right to vote."

The process and system being put in place for a council, prior to a Vatican III, would need to be radically different from and not just follow the patterns of previous councils.

3) [Respondents] want their church to prophetically and actively recommit itself to the poor, and on behalf of peace.

A priest in Latin America called for the Catholic church to be "a sacrament of globalization, a true sign (but not the only one) to the nations of the unity of the human family as God's will for human history." A second priest there, a liberation theologian, said, "The option for the poor must lead the church to face globalization and preach a universal ethic."

4) Catholic [respondents] want the Eucharist made readily available to all Catholics in a Eucharist-starved world.

Man-made rules can be changed. We immediately need a married clergy to make the Eucharist available to everyone, to help make priests more human in how they relate with people, to make a more horizontal and less hierarchical church, to make a greater understanding of women and elimination of discriminatory practices and attitudes, and to eliminate unnecessary conflict in those who want to be priests, to eventually open the doors to women priests.

How do we as a eucharistic community keep alive eucharistic and vibrant communities of faith when we cannot choose leaders from among all the faithful with shared beliefs? From this springs many other questions.

5) They want the church to re-envision its relationship to the world, and creation.

The cardinal wrote, "The West has to make stronger efforts toward the integration of the East and all its religions. The time has passed when the world could be understood or directed by Western heads alone."

A woman religious whose congregation is in more than 100 countries, and whose focus is keeping in contact with them in person -- she was recently in the Middle East and North Africa -- wrote by e-mail: "The world is dying." It is dying, she said, from war, violence, sickness, neglect, the unequal distribution of resources, and the mindless exploitation of the planet.

6) They want the church to restructure itself, to alter the means, style and content of its governance coinciding with "a gospel transparency" in its actions, along with widely shared decision-making.

I would like to see a discipleship of equals. The issue goes to the heart of the patriarchal and hierarchical structure of the church and the false holding of one person above another. It means opening all church offices to women. It means shifting the weight of power away from Rome and church pulpits to the people of God. It means getting rid of all parent-child terminology like "Father" (Holy and otherwise), and attendant behaviors.

The style of governance implied in this, a Catholic in Asia wrote, stems from "the perspective of radical equality of all baptized people and in terms of transparency, accountability and participation."Read more reponses related to church governance

7) Catholics want a new language that explains the church's sense of sacramental relationships. A language that will inculcate in Catholic Christians the understanding of why Christians are called to take on the demanding, risky "prophetic witness" that "a dying world" needs.

There is a need for greater pragmatic clarity and understanding of what is the mission of Jesus Christ and the church in the world among all the baptized, an urgent need for a greater understanding and articulation of the prophetic vocation of the church and all the baptized in view of the growing disparity between the world's rich and poor.

The condition of the poor in every country is the "thermometer" of the faith and the vitality of the church in that country. The Vatican has to take this seriously and stop being ambiguous. National conferences should not be warned "to stay out of politics."

8) There is a need for interreligious dialogue, respondents feel, taking place "in the midst of science and technology."

"The church," said another respondent, "must face the reality that religious pluralism is part of God's plan for humanity, and it is time to enter into more serious and extensive dialogue with other religions, and to understand Christianity as one of many. Jesus is the great reconciler. He came to unite, to heal wounds of division."

This equality should itself be rooted in a "critical historical and cultural analysis of the church -- universal and local -- from the perspective of evangelization and inculturation in the context of globalization: dialogue among civilizations and religions, particularly with Islam and the religions in Asia."

9) The church needs to open up the word "to the New Cosmology."

Wrote a Latina: "This issue goes to the heart of the stories we tell in the liturgy. If we are going to find meaning in stories that assume the universe was created some 4,800 years ago and the Earth was at its center -- in the context of what we now know is a universe some 12-15 billion years in age, the Earth a speck in the far reaches of one among billions of galaxies -- we need to infuse these magnificent understandings into the readings/teachings. The sacraments lend themselves beautifully to this re-envisioning."

10) The people of God have clearly recognized "that sex was designed by God for far more than procreation."

We must search for a coherent and persuasive moral stance in dealing with sexual morality: in marriage and its support systems, in family planning, in reconciliation after divorce, in homosexual activity, in natural law.____________________________________

In some places (countries in Africa were mentioned) the new church could emerge quite clearly and uniquely a generation from now. Currently, some non-Western Catholics in those countries still prove their loyalty by being "more Roman than Rome." If the next generation -- once the Western influences have dissipated -- does step into leadership through their own churches, they are eager to show they have more to give to the universal church than they take from it.

With this in mind, there was some feeling expressed that it is Catholics from the poor lands of the world, with their fresh insights and lively sense of Christian community, who should be the new missionaries -- welcomed to the consumerist Eurocentric Catholic First World to re-evangelize it.

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