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Vatican may retrench, but church changing anyway

What’s the harm in seeking out a little hope during these months when the news about church can be so discouraging?

No harm, indeed. In fact, it could be an easy search.

For while the clerical culture continues to struggle with a host of issues from burnout to the scandal of sex abuse of children, the church goes on. An example is the story (cover story) of St. Anthony Parish in Portland, Ore., where a new model is forming. The headline says, “It takes a village,” and that might well be turned around to say, “It takes a parish to raise a village.”

Beneath the conflicts over liturgy, women’s issues, centralization of power and the rest of the hot-button issues that, while important, often seem far removed from the average parishioner’s experience, church goes on. People do what they need to do to forge new communities, new expressions of faith, to fill the old symbols and rituals with new meaning.

Some in the Vatican may be retrenching, but the church moves on. Nowhere is that movement as apparent as in the number of women who now run our churches -- from the rectory to the chancery office. The report on the study sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious is interesting if for no other reason than the clarity with which it shows the extent of women’s influence on the church in the United States.

In one way, the study shows how change creeps up on us. It doesn’t normally come via Vatican declaration, but slowly, quietly, in the lives of ordinary Catholics (and, here and there, some wise and daring leaders) doing what they must do to continue to be church. In the face of scandal. In the face of priest shortages. In the face of Rome’s resistance.

Small changes, like shoots pushing through winter’s last thin crust of snow, harbingers of more change to come.

National Catholic Reporter, March 15, 2002