Who Says the Church Can't Change?

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Those who say the church can never change are simply wrong. It has always been pragmatic about the nonessentials, accommodating itself to new cultures, to old customs and to social change. It once conducted Masses solely in Latin; now it doesn't. Communion was once dispensed solely by the priest; now lay people can distribute it. Even some of the deepest and oldest rituals in Catholic life — like the Easter Vigil ceremony — were imported in part from pagan rituals. In Africa and Asia, all kinds of cultural accommodations are made to bring the faith across cultures and into people's hearts. If this can be done for the Third World, why not the First?

Perhaps what American lay Catholics need to say more clearly is that the aim of our desire to change the church is not to undermine but to save it. We love our faith — just look at how few Catholics have abandoned the church in this current crisis. We love our priests — just see how many parishioners have rallied round their own pastors in this time of trial. But what we have witnessed means we would be delinquent if we didn't fight for real change. We are actually being more faithful than those who want to perpetuate the conditions for further decline. "Be not afraid," the current Pope said in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. "Of what should we not be afraid? We should not fear the truth about ourselves." The laity is not afraid of that difficult and deep discussion. Why are the bishops?

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