Sins of Omission

St. Louis is welcoming Pope John Paul II, but many devout Catholics don't feel so welcomed by him. They say he's blocking the light for women, intellectuals, non-Westerners, gays, lesbians and remarried Catholics -- and dimming the prospects for an inclus

Except for issues of pure power, virtually every point of tension in the church today involves the body, sex, sexuality, gender. "In the last two centuries, the institutional church has been extremely preoccupied with sexual sin," observes Oleskevich. "I think the celibate male priesthood has been forced by its very nature to not develop sexuality, community and intimacy."

Who's most hurt by the teachings that result? "At first glance, we'd all say those who are not listened to," she answers. "But at another level, I think those who are most deeply hurt are the men in the Vatican themselves."

Does she at least understand their reasoning? "I think the pope explains his position on women's ordination unfortunately very well," she replies, "by saying, Well, gosh, they don't have a penis, so they can't be like Jesus. Somehow maleness dominates over humanness. If I said, 'Come on, JP, do you really think having a penis is the essence of holiness?' the man would probably fall off the sofa. Nobody's ever sat down and had a heart-to-heart with him.

"I used to want revolution," she admits, "and now I think we are looking at water dripping on stone." She knows it'll be a wait -- "the current system's hard as a rock" -- but she's staying. "Catholicism's the blood in my veins," she says helplessly. "At one level I'm really proud of it. And at another level, it's very painful."

Robert Schutzius met his wife, Mary Jane, in Bolivia. They were both 38, both from St. Louis, both deeply Catholic. He was a priest, she a lay volunteer. And they fell in love.

Bob stayed in Bolivia an extra year to decide. Then he came home, left the priesthood and married Mary Jane. "I probably would have stayed in Bolivia if I could have been a married priest," he admits now.

What does he miss most about being a priest? "The power," his wife teases. "'Si Padre, si Padre.'" Abashed, Bob swiftly amends this to "the position to help people," explaining that he had to find it in university work instead.

He also joined Reaching Out, a community that supports married and resigned priests and others in transition. What does the church hierarchy think of such a group? "Well, you know, 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" he chuckles. "We have informed Archbishop (Justin) Rigali of our presence. His predecessor, Archbishop (John) May, was relatively supportive; he said he'd let the group's existence be known to anyone who needed help."

Mary Jane looks up sharply: "How many ever looked you up because he referred them? Not one." Born, raised and educated Roman Catholic, Mary Jane left the church because she "didn't find it to be a nurturing, listening, sensitive institution." Bob, on the other hand, belongs to the St. Thomas the Apostle parish, writes out petitions, makes contributions. "I still find enthusiasm in the struggle," he says, "strength in joining with others in the same endeavor."

He's also a board member of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARC), a group that's pushing for "substantive structural change" in the institutional church. ARC doesn't want to change doctrine, just make the church's administrative structure more democratic, explains Bob. "But the hierarchy is afraid democracy would attempt to modify the truths of the church."

ARC was a reaction to the "highhanded and autocratic way" that German theologian Hans Kung was silenced by John Paul II in 1979 after challenging the doctrine of infallibility. But Mary Jane thinks the very possibility of a group like ARC emerged "after Vatican II, when people were made aware that they were the church. People saw that they weren't being heard." Bob nods and picks up the trail. "Another milestone was when Pope Paul VI called together a group of laypeople and priests to deal with the issue of birth control. Their recommendation was completely ignored.

"The church is a very effective organization, has been for centuries," he continues, "based on the Roman Constantinian model of straight-down authority. Women priests, all that represents more of a subsidiarity approach, where you don't take or make decisions higher up than where they're needed." If the church moved toward subsidiarity, what would happen? "I think we would revert to an earlier church model, in which there was a centralized authority but the pope did not speak as a monarch. Local bishops were given authority, and people had a say in who was elected bishop.

"I also think there are some very significant monetary considerations," he inserts. "Who controls the resources of the church? Do local people control the resources of the parish or own the churches they build and maintain? I think not." Mary Jane brings up the inestimably high costs surrounding the pope's visit, murmuring, "Were the people of St. Louis even consulted?"

"I think in conformity to what the early church did, there ought to be optional celibacy," resumes Bob. "It provides a lot of flexibility, a lot of availability." Er ... because he's experienced both ways of life, is it true that a sort of alchemy takes place, a sublimation of sexual energy into spirituality? "No, it's not true at all," he rebounds. "Celibacy provides more leisure for spirituality, makes less demands on an individual's time. But it doesn't necessarily lead to a deeper spirituality. Married priesthood offers rich dimensions too. And there is absolutely no reason, other than power and control, for the maintenance of male celibate priesthood. If Mary gave Christ his body, it would certainly be strange to say a woman could not do the same today at Mass.

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