Persons, places and things: We are a pilgrim Church


By Barb Arland-Fye

Sixteen-year-old Patrick worries that some of his high school peers think negatively about the Catholic Church because of what they’re reading in their history book about the Reformation. The textbook states the facts, but my son thinks kids have the perception that “this is how the Church is and how it always will be.”

In his mind, reformers like Martin Luther made some good points, specifically about taking issue with people paying for their sins to be expiated. Patrick said he understands that Church leaders aren’t perfect; they’re human beings like the rest of us who can and do make mistakes. But their mistakes shouldn’t negate all that is good about the Church, he thinks.

As someone who received the sacrament of confirmation last year — and whose family has made the Church an integral part of life — Patrick appreciates his Catholic faith as a source of hope.


“If something happens, I actually do have somebody to talk to; Church is a place you can turn to,” he said.

I’m glad he feels that way, especially because his formative years have occurred during the uncovering of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The ramifications for the Catholic Church will be felt for years to come, in my opinion.

That’s why I take heart in reading about public, sincere demonstrations of repentance on behalf of the Church by leaders such as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Ireland. They washed the feet of eight abuse survivors last month in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral.

Here at home, nearly two years ago Bishop Martin Amos completed the last of 54 atonement services at parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese. The services were part of the nonmonetary commitments the diocese agreed to fulfill as part of its bankruptcy settlement with 156 survivors of clergy sexual abuse. But it wasn’t a perfunctory obligation for the bishop. He felt deep sadness for the survivors, and told The Catholic Messenger that it wasn’t easy to stand in front of a group in church and name priests who sexually abused children.

I also find encouragement in the message of theologian Richard Gaillardetz who observes in his book “Ecclesiology for a Global Church” that we are “a pilgrim church, a people on a journey.”

Gaillardetz says that what is demanded is an “ecclesial vision that recognizes, first, the priority of baptism over holy orders. This priority allows for the distinctive leadership of the ordained but reminds church leaders that their fundamental identity comes from their baptism.”

“….When all in the church come to discover the dignity and demands of their baptism and the concrete shape of discipleship in service of the Spirit’s promptings, accountability becomes simply another word for koinonia, our shared communion in Christ,” Gaillardetz says.

We are a pilgrim Church, the body of Christ, continuing an enduring journey to ultimately become the Kingdom of God — with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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