Church Considers Issues
Catholics Said Changes May Come with a New Bishop

By Karen Muller
York Daily Record [York PA]
March 15, 2004

Megan Brant, an eighth-grader at York Catholic High School, doesn’t know all the issues and controversies in the Catholic Church that adults talk about.

The 14-year-old only knows what worries her about the church she has been raised in — the shortage of priests.

“We won’t have anybody saying Mass,” she said before the 9 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Patrick Church in York.

Megan believes women should assume greater leadership roles — even become priests.

Her mother, Sandy Taylor, agrees.

“Why can’t women be deacons?” asked Taylor, whose father is a deacon in another Catholic parish. “I think there are things women can contribute to the church that are being overlooked.”

With the Rev. Nicholas Dattilo’s passing earlier this month, some local Catholics are wondering if change may be ahead for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. The Rev. James Lyons will lead the diocese until the pope appoints a bishop, which church officials said could take months.

Dattilo died March 5 at the age of 71. He had suffered from kidney failure and heart and respiratory problems. About 1,100 church leaders, family and friends attended his funeral Mass Friday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Camp Hill. He had led the 15-county diocese, with about 235,000 members, for 14 years.

On Sunday, several Catholics from different parishes in York County talked about their hopes and goals for the new bishop.

· Encourage the youth: Sally Thorn, who leads the youth ministry with her husband, Patrick, at St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in New Freedom, said she hopes youth will be empowered by the new bishop and made to feel their contributions are valuable. “It’s not that they are the future of the church,” Thorn said. “They are part of the church now.”

· Address the shortage: Catholics at several York County churches said the church has to involve more lay people in the daily work of the parish and said the celibacy requirement for priests may need to go. “I think the day is coming when they’re not going to be able to get priests who are celibate,” Taylor said.

· Ecumenism: The Catholic Church needs to partner more with other denominations and faiths to serve the community, many Catholics said. One example, some said, is the York County Council of Churches’ CROP Walk. Last fall, Dattilo urged Catholics not to participate because some of the money raised to stock food pantries would also support programs that distributed condoms. Church doctrine forbids the use of contraceptives.

“I hope that we can find solutions for Catholics to walk with Protestant sisters and brothers,” said Ryan Sattler, chair of Catholic Harvest food pantry and a member of the peace and justice ministry at St. Joseph Church in Springettsbury Township. “It isn’t just raising money for the poor . . . it’s to walk as one family that cares about each other, that cares about the poor, that have all been saved by one — Jesus.”

John Driscoll, parish manager and stewardship director at St. Patrick Church, said churches get too caught up in the finer points of religion and lose perspective. “Religion is a tool for connecting with God,” he said. “If you focus on the tool too much, you are missing the relationship.”

· Stewardship: Stewardship, the serving and giving that comes from spirituality, needs to be taught and supported at the diocese level, Driscoll said. The bishop should set up structures at the diocese to help churches in their outreach, he said, and help them address issues of peace and social justice.

· Clergy abuse: The new bishop will lead in the aftermath of the crisis of clergy sexual abuse of minors in the church. Members said bishops should be held accountable, and trust may need to be re-established between the church, its members and the general public.

Change may be difficult, some said, for a faith steeped in tradition and layered in hierarchy, with the final authority resting in the pope. But even if nothing radical results from discussions between the diocese and parishioners, the dialogue would be an accomplishment, Sattler said.

“We have a strong democracy as citizens of our county and our country,” he said, “but in the Catholic tradition, we don’t have a voice at all. . . . I would hope that someday with a new bishop, and someday a new pope, that someone would look at a new model for the church.”

Reach Karen Muller at 771-2024.


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