When a panel discussion is held, the expectation is that those participating will hold differing views on the issues at hand. For the most part, this was not the case at the panel discussion that opened the second year of Boston College’s “The Church in the 21st Century” initiative.
The theme of the discussion, “Toward Renewal: What have we learned? Where are we going?” promised a lively interchange of differing views, both about the past and about the opportunity for renewal that the ongoing crisis may have prompted.
Instead, the panel was largely an ideological monologue. The only path to follow for the future, an uniformed attendee might assume, is one which confronts Church teachings.
NBC’s Tim Russert, moderator of the debate, introduced the panel as “people from different perspectives.” Based on the discussion that followed, it did not seem so.
The panel touched on a wide range of issues — mandatory celibacy, the ordination of women to the priesthood, the role of the laity in the Church and the Church’s need for openness on issues of human sexuality.
The overall sense of the evening was that the Church is mired in obsolete rules that are enforced in a place beyond the reach of American Catholics — the Vatican — and that, as the Church moves forward, these rules should be altered to create a more modern and “welcoming” Church.
References to the need for a spiritual renewal in the Church and the universal call to holiness — so intrinsically part of the Second Vatican Council and so often advocated by the Holy Father — were strikingly absent from the discussion. Adult faith formation, the need for a new evangelization, the need for personal conversion were also lacking. The notion that we need to confront a secular culture that imposes values that are not in harmony with our faith were, surprisingly, omitted.
Particularly distressing were certain comments by two Boston College students who were part of the panel.
"As a young woman, as a theology major," said panelist Elizabeth Paulhus, “I certainly would like to see women become ordained. If you look at the reasons, there is not really a lot that can be said against women’s ordination. The problem that you run into is that this is an area in which conversation has been closed.”
The other student panelist, human development major Patrick Downes, on the issue of vocations to the priesthood, said, “If someone feels the presence of God within themselves, whether that be a woman or a homosexual or a male, who is the Church to limit their potential in growing in the Church?”
If the presence of these two undergraduates was designed to show the future of the Catholic Church, then the future seems predetermined. One would think that from among the entire student body of Boston College two students with differing views could have been tapped as panelists.
A one-sided discussion is not truly a discussion. We all agree there is a crisis in the Church, but as for the question, “Where are we going?” there is more than one answer.