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Issue Date:  March 25, 2005

Jesuit sees rising influence of laity, women in church

As he looks to the horizon 45 years hence, Jesuit Fr. William Byron sees the laity -- especially women -- rising in positions of responsibility and influence in the institutional church and clerical culture diminishing but not disappearing.

Celibacy will become optional for diocesan priests within two decades and women “perhaps could find ordination an option open to them by the year 2050,” said Byron, a former president of The Catholic University of America in Washington and Loyola University in New Orleans. These measures will eliminate “what is now perceived to be an imminent ‘priest shortage,’ ” he said.

In an essay, “Jesuits USA in the Year 2050: Planning for Our Future,” published in the March issue of National Jesuit News, Byron listed 15 elements he believes will characterize the Catholic church in America in the next five decades. His essay is part of a larger strategic planning process underway throughout the 10 Jesuit provinces in the United States.

Byron’s list of “assumptions, by no means definitive” include the continued growth and influence of the laity in the church and in positions of political and business leadership throughout the nation.

However, “Catholic influence in literature and arts will not be particularly strong,” he wrote, and the influence of Catholic moral teaching on sexual behavior and medical and life-science technologies “will not be great.”

Bishops “will continue to display an inability to differentiate influence from control,” and if episcopal ambition is not moderated by a spirituality of servant leadership, that ambition “will continue to be corrosive within the Catholic community.”

Byron also suggested that his brother Jesuits prepare themselves for different roles in the many institutions they have helped establish.

“Jesuits should be willing to relinquish managerial control of institutions and apostolates to lay leadership,” he wrote. “Preferring for themselves positions of influence in direct (for example, teaching and counseling) and indirect (for example, research and writing) service to others.”

Byron is a research professor at the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola College in Maryland.

In the essay he wrote, “You can’t predict the future but you can choose a future; at least you can choose some characteristics of the future you would like to have.”

-- Gene Roman

National Catholic Reporter, March 25, 2005

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