A Church at the Crossroads: Sex Abuse Scandal, Priest Shortages, Celibacy, Ordaining Women: The Issues Roiling the Catholic Church Offer Challenges-And Hope?-For the Future

Article excerpt

MARIA TERESA MARTINEZ grew up in Mexico and came to the United States 33 years ago, eventually landing in Chicago. When she's not watching her 3-year-old and 3-month-old grandchildren, the 60-year-old bundle of energy is volunteering at the legal clinic at her parish on the northwest side of the city. She can't say enough good things about her pastor and doesn't see much wrong with the Catholic Church.

Suzanne Morse lives in Boston and sees plenty wrong with the institutional church. Born after Vatican II, she never grew up with that "Father's always right" attitude. So when The Boston Globe began exposing priest sex abusers, Morse, who was working in communications for a nonprofit research institution, got involved with the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful. Today she serves as the group's public relations point person.

On the surface, Martinez and Morse-aside from both being Catholic women--may not seem to share much in common. One is a working-class Midwestern Latino woman with relatively traditional views about Catholicism. The other is a middle-class Eastern Anglo working for change in the church.

Both, however, are the faces of the future of the Catholic Church in the United States.

A church of many colors. At Our Lady of Mercy parish in Chicago, Martinez is the go-to woman for just about everything. The parish of 3,000 families is served by two priests, one who recently arrived from Colombia. Martinez can be found at the parish at least three or four nights a week; she has served on the parish council and handles the "Sharing Parish" relationship with a wealthier congregation in the city, in addition to helping out with the multitude of little things that help a parish run smoothly.

Martinez was among 1,200 parishioners who crowded the church before dawn in early December for the parish's Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration. A week later, site joined almost that many predominantly Filipino parishioners for their annual Advent Simbang Gabi Mass. The ethnic diversity of Our Lady of Mercy is typical of the future Catholic parish--it is more than one half Latino (from some 21 countries), less than one quarter Anglo, and the remainder a mixture of other ethnicities, in this case mainly Filipino. Of the seven Sunday Masses, three are in Spanish, three are in English, and one is bilingual. Even the parish council meetings are held in English and Spanish.

By 2050, Latinos are expected to constitute about one quarter of the U.S. population and more than half of the U.S. Catholic Church. Already, people of color make up almost half (46 percent) of the U.S. Catholic Church. Latinos alone, which comprise about 12 percent of the U.S. population, make up 39 percent of the Catholic Church.

"The American church of the future ix a multicultural church, a church of many faces," says Alicia Marill, president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry and assistant professor of theology at Barry University in Miami. "This is true not only about Hispanics, but also for other ethnic groups as well."

But Latino culture, perhaps more than any other ethnic group, is sure to transform the U.S. church, just as the huge influx of Irish immigrants did in the past century. Marill predicts that Latinos' emphasis on community and family will challenge North Americans' individualism, and Latinos' sensitivity to social issues will encourage the church to remain involved and prophetic on such issues.

Although some have expressed concern at the growing number of Latinos who voted Republican in the last election because of so-called "family values" issues, Marill believes future generations of Latinos will continue to embrace traditional liberal causes. "We are sensitive to issues of injustice because we have experienced them in our countries of origin," she says. In addition, the "trauma of immigration" continues to affect second-, third- and even fourth-generation immigrants, she says. …