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A Day Of Contradictions
by Raymond A. Grosswirth, M.A., M.Div
Rochester, New York

July 24, 2002

On a day that Catholic youth from around the world are gathered approximately 230 miles from my doorstep, I find that I am experiencing very little excitement, if any at all. Perhaps the fact that only a handful of young people from my diocese made the short journey to Toronto is an indication in itself that our Church is indeed in a state of tension and that even the Pope can offer very little hope in an environment that is crying out for reform.

I wish with all my heart that I was able to encourage young Catholics to join the pilgrimage to Toronto. Yet, I find that I worry about the type of indoctrination our children, teens and young adults have been receiving concerning our faith. For example, are their spiritualities and sacramentality being influenced by the conservative voices of EWTN, or are our young people open to the possibilities of change? Sadly, I am afraid that EWTN and like-minded conservative organizations are getting the upper-hand. It is this element that I fear will be dominating the activities in Toronto this week.

For the past few weeks, I have been involved in debates amongst members of VOTF (Voice of the Faithful). While the organization itself is dedicated to reform in the midst of chaos, I found myself in heated debates with ultra-conservatives who were determined to fight against any type of proposed structural changes that would have the potential of increasing involvement of the laity and building dialogue on the issue of an inclusive priesthood. The tone of some conservatives was nasty and judgmental to the point of my wondering what type of Church our young people will inherit. In fact, moderators of the VOTF Message Board have indicated they may find it necessary to shut it down, due to the increasing level of hostilities between moderates such as myself and ultra-conservatives, some of whom have identified themselves with either EWTN or RCF (Roman Catholic Faithful).

I continue to be thankful to the many fine folks associated with CORPUS. I find that when I get discouraged over the direction the Church seems to be heading toward, I find solace in the fact that CORPUS continues to work toward an inclusive priesthood. I feel this issue alone offers the most viable remedy to a wounded Church that has been run exclusively by an all-male, celibate clergy since 1139. In this regard, I would love to see our young people in Toronto embrace this vision. Yet, the Vatican is taking safeguards to ensure that only orthodoxy is articulated, and groups with an alternative vision will be held at bay.

As I lamented over the events of World Youth Day, my day of contradiction was highlighted by a newspaper headline that announced the appointment of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. In a sense, this was good news in the midst of chaos. I have come to know the theology and ecclesial thought of Rev. Williams over the past few months, and am delighted that he will be leading the Anglican community. It is my prayer that his leadership will have a profound influence on the Vatican. Williams is a well-known advocate for both gay priests and female priests. I truly believe he has the potential of helping our Church
end decades of discrimination against gays and women and perhaps he can be the springboard that will lead Roman Catholics to the realization that there is nothing to fear from married priests.

While I continue to pray for the health of our pontiff, his presence in Toronto today is sending mixed signals. While the presence of 200,000 youth is inspiring, the other side of the coin is simply the fact that the anticipated crowd of 750,000 did not materialize. In addition, as much as I would like to think our youth in Toronto will embrace the vision of inclusivity, strict orthodoxy will be the order of the day, and I therefore have to wonder what kind of Church our next generation will articulate. We can only pray that the spirit of inclusivity will prevail.

Ray Growirth, M.A., M.Div. is a Catholic theologian and writer. He lives and works in Rochester, N.Y. This reflection first appeared in CORPUS Forums an on-line journal dedicated to the discussion of issues relating to Church reform and renewal. Posted with permission. 

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