Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Notes from 2018 AUSCP Speakers

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests held its annual assembly in Albuquerque NM June 25-28, 2018. Below are notes from the speaker presentations at the event.

Sr. Katarina Schuth described the cultural characteristics and spiritual qualities of the generation labeled millennials, then spoke of ways to invite their participation in Church life. It’s a complex assessment, she noted. Generally, those from families “of means” are sheltered and raised to feel special, while those from needy families get no support, no funds, and no attention. They value relationships but most of those are virtual—half of them also speak to their parents daily. 

They are consumerists, and for many it is important to be rich. They are generally open to gender equality, she continued, and to diversity but only if it does not interfere with their own way of thinking.

Spiritually, some are satisfied—and they tend to be more likely than older generations to be happy with Church authority. This group thinks Church teachings don’t need to be discussed. Some even believe that if they just wait for the old people to die off, there won’t be any dissent within the Church. Those who are not satisfied and not happy with Church teachings think there is no point in discussing it. 

Sr. Schuth also noted that millennials ae image-focused. They expect quick images—vestment, candles, visuals that capture their attention quickly. But they do not attribute to these the significance that older generations do. For them, these are not images from the past and do not carry the connotation of “going backwards”—because millennials have no idea of the past. Thus, rather than seeing them as symbols of a rigid and “bad” Church, they see them as assertions of a spiritual “good.” 

Other notes of interest: 

  • The only millennials with a high percentage of identity with the Church are seminarians. 
  • About 15% of these seminarians also are home-schooled, and they have a hard time engaging with people who are not their parents. 
  • Millennials must be invited to participate in parish life—and they do not want to spend time in meetings; they want to dothings. 
  • Also important is financial transparency, showing them the Church is frugal with their resources. 

Bishop Robert McElroy, after describing situations with refugee families in his diocese (“our soul is at stake here”), spoke about the emergence of a pastoral theology with new depth and new vitality. In other ages of the Church, he noted, pastoral theology was not regarded as a distinct branch of theology. It also was seen as exclusively the concern of priests. Today, Pope Francis has embraced a wider, more integral, and global pastoral theology, he said. 

“We are seeing an emerging pastoral theology at the very heart of the life of the Church … This pastoral theology calls for pastoral action to take its rightful place … in concert with the traditional theological enterprises of dogma, Scriptural studies, moral theology, ecclesiology, liturgical, and spiritual theology.” 

It is critical that this pastoral work emerges first from the lived life of the people, he continued. It includes the imperative to accompany others, as Jesus did. The steps, Bishop McElroy said, must come in clear order: first, embrace; second, heal; third, teach and call to change. Equally important, he added, is that it must not be judgmental: “It’s a mystery why men and women feel better about themselves by pointing out the sins of others.”

He concluded, and repeated again in the question-and-answer session that followed, that the pastoral cannot be eclipsed by doctrine; it cannot be secondary.

Fr. Richard Rohr addressed the Assembly twice, once in an evening session Tuesday and then during a five-hour retreat on Wednesday. He began with a description of how Western “spirituality” leaned towards the rational, towards explaining the spiritual, creating rules and laws, developing control. “But you cannot control the Presence.” While we read prayers and say prayers—relying on the form but missing the substance—true prayer requires the contemplative mind. 

The contemplative mind remained vital within the Eastern Church, Fr. Rohr noted, as he described ways to avoid the dualism of right/wrong that has emerged in our times. Praying requires the contemplative mind, and he developed that theme during the retreat.

A few notes from his presentation and responses to audience questions:

  • The Eucharist is food for our journey. It cannot be held out as a reward.
  • You don't get the Gospel because you are good or do good, but because you do wrong. That's why it's good news.
  • We use too many words, and we keep the people co-dependent on priests. Stop it. 
  • My generation has wasted its time with rules and exclusion and who deserves or does not deserve to be Church.