April 18, 2005--The topic of married priests sparked controversy over the weekend, with Helen Hull Hitchcock saying "The Catholic priest is 'Father' to his entire parish family in a way that Protestant ministers are not. Though his fatherhood is spiritual, its demands are (or should be) similarly absorbing of his energy, time, and concern. The Catholic priesthood is a symbol to everyone, not only of holiness, but of self-sacrifice and fatherhood as well. Marriage changes this symbolism." Unitarian Universalist minister Rosemary Bray McNatt counters: "I am a better minister to my congregation because I am a wife and mother too. I believe that by refusing to ordain women and not allowing priests to marry, the Church creates what I believe is an unnecessary barrier between people and faith; it misses an opportunity to open people's hearts to God." Fr. Juan Pablo Torrebiarte, who teaches at a seminary in Guatemala, recalls: "Some twenty years ago, as a young college undergraduate in the USA, I rented for a year a room in the home of a Protestant Pastor. I only hold good memories of him and his wife. Yet, I could witness firsthand how his family life interfered, sometimes in subtle ways, with his ministry. Then, long before thinking seriously of becoming a priest, I understood the wisdom behind a celibate priesthood." Read more of the debate. April 15, 2005--Our virtual cardinals wrangled over the papabile cardinal currently in the spotlight, Joseph Ratzinger:

  • "I have no doubt that if he were elected, Cardinal Ratzinger would be an effective and good pope. He is a warm, congenial man, and the fact that he tends to avoid the spotlight when he can suggests a personal humility that would be another key ingredient for a pope." --Patrick Madrid

  • "I would be extremely upset if Cardinal Ratzinger were elected the next pope. ...It would also reaffirm the euro-centric hierarchy of the Church and a model of Europeans governing over Third World peoples." --Michelle Gonzalez

  • "Cardinal Ratzinger is a brilliant man, and one of deep spirituality, as we saw at the funeral. I wouldn't be disappointed with a Ratzinger papacy, although the ink wasted on cant about 'the enforcer' etc., would be, indeed, time wasted, distracting us from what I think a Pope Ratzinger would want us to do - focus more clearly on Christ." --Amy Welborn

    Amy Welborn also champions Nigeria's Francis Arinze: "I'm an Arinze proponent myself, and not just because my husband worked on a book with him (er...with his secretary, more like it. But still.) I think what he has brought to the liturgy debates has been sorely needed, he is quite personable (although I understand he is rather negative toward the press, unlike JPII, and that's not good) and sharp, he's interested in inter-religious dialogue, and he knows the Roman Curial scene, but doesn't seem to be defined by it."

    April 14, 2005--Item! Islam was front and center today, as our virtual cardinals mulled the state of Muslim-Catholic relations. Virtual cardinal Russell Shaw says, "It's all very well to say Catholics should dialogue with Muslims and encourage the moderates among them. But I do not think the people who flew airliners into the World Trade Center were very open to dialogue. Should the Church then back President Bush's program of spreading democracy--backed by U.S. military might--in the Arab world? And if that's too political (and too risky), what's the realistic alternative? There is a huge issue here for the Church, and no certainty at all about what to do."

    John Esposito warns that "Catholics, and more broadly Christians, and Muslims will have to avoid the penchant to compare their ideals to the 'other's' realities and to draw on a 'selective' memory of the past."

    April 13, 2005--Item! As the conclave heats up, it's conservatives versus liberals on whether a pope's celebrity status detracts from his spiritual mission. Virtual Cardinal Harvey Cox says "JPII was ...a superstar, a media event. ...But does this really contribute to the maturation of the kind of faith we need in this complex world?"

    Domenico Bettinelli doesn't view the pope's popularity "as celebrity cult status, but as the recognition in John Paul of a transcendent quality that others wanted to touch. Whenever the Holy Father addressed a crowd, he diminished and the Spirit increased in him."

    And Russell Shaw argues, "John Paul had charisma, no doubt about it. So we now need a dull pope? Seems to me I recall an itinerant preacher who tromped around Palestine attracting enormous crowds a couple of millennia ago. If the next pope preaches Jesus and not himself--which is surely what John Paul II did--I guess my faith can stand the media coverage."

    In other corners of our virtual Sistine Chapel, debate is humming about married priests and decentralizing power within the church.

    April 12, 2005--Item! Less than 24 hours into the conclave, it's conservative Catholics first out of the gate, offering their opinions about the greatest challenges facing the church:

  • "To roll back the expansion of dissent from the Truth that we have seen since Vatican II." --Domenico Bettinelli

  • "Bringing the Church up to date, so that it can be more effective vis-a-vis the modern (and now, postmodern) world, without letting the modern world set the agenda." --Roberto Rivera

  • "The restoration of trust following the sexual abuse scandal and the determination to weed out all sexually immature men from the seminaries." -- Bill Donohue

    Other Catholics cite as major challenges:

  • "The Eucharistic famine which we face in the coming years. Millions of people around the world do not have access to the Eucharist on a regular basis." --Mary Louise Hartman
  • "The acknowledgement of the Southern face of the Church... This is especially true for Latin America, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, yet where evangelical Protestantism is growing at an increasing pace." --Michelle Gonzalez

    And the conclave's own "freestyle evangelical," Protestant Brian McLaren, says one challenge is "the charting of a course that avoids both rigid fundamentalism on the one hand and a kind of jellyfish accommodation to modern western individualist-hedonist-consumerism on the other."

    Item! In one corner of the chapel, America magazine editor Thomas Reese, S.J., weighed in about the legacy of John Paul II. Domenico Bettinelli pointed out that the pope's spiritual legacy and personal effect on vocations has often been overlooked by the media: "In the past weeks, I have heard countless times of priests and religious who have attributed their vocations to the Holy Father's example.

    Less visible, but real nonetheless, are the laypeople, especially married laypeople, who found their own vocations revitalized."

    April 11, 2005 --Item! As the Virtual Conclave begins, Roberto Rivera points out that the Catholic Church needs to address the concerns of all Catholics, not just those in Europe and the U.S. "I have to admit at being simultaneously annoyed and amused when I hear Western commentators telling the Catholic Church that it needs to do X or Y if it's going to 'survive' or 'prosper.' Invariably, X and Y reflect the view from Western Europe or the United States."

    Visit the Virtual Conclave to learn what Helen Hull Hitchcock believes is the greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church.

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