Seismic Paradigm Shift – Tony Flannery

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It seems clear to me that we are living through a major paradigm shift in the Catholic Church, and our understanding of religious faith generally. It will be a hundred years or more before the full implications of this are known. But it is now obvious that much of what was meaningful in the past is rapidly losing relevance to a modern, highly educated and assertive people.

Let me take one example:  About twenty years ago, when the looming priest shortage was clearly emerging, the Catholic Church authorities had three possible ways of responding to it.  They could have ended the requirement of compulsory celibacy for priests;  they could have opened priesthood up even more, to include women;  or they could have done nothing.

They chose the third option, to do nothing;  and they continue with that policy to this day.  Maybe they thought it was the safer, more cautious, option. But I suspect that it is now being shown to have been the most radical of the three options open to them. As a Eucharistic famine continues to spread in the western world, and as the Vatican and the bishops are no longer serious players in the game, since they have nothing constructive to offer, people are beginning to take the situation into their own hands and respond to it in a way that makes sense to them. They are gathering in believing communities of various types, and praying, reflecting on the Word of God, and celebrating Eucharist. In the absence of a priest they are taking on the role themselves, investing the role of leading the celebration in some cases to one or two individuals, but in other cases in the whole community.  This is why I say that the bishops decision to do nothing about the priest shortage is having a very radical response.

If this development continues and spreads, as I believe it will, then the whole question of who should or should not be ordained ceases to be important, and the Church gradually moves to a new (or is it very old!) notion of Eucharistic celebration.  Of course, when this becomes embedded as a widespread practice, the leadership of the Church will eventually catch up with the faithful, and adapt their teaching to what is happening.

Tony Flannery

3 November 2014