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What does the future hold for my church?

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square at

Pope Francis arrives in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for his weekly general audience on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Alessandra Tarantino

I remember attending Christmas mass in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1955. And I remember feeling uncomfortable as the bishop marched down the center aisle wearing the mitre, a symbol of his authority.

I said to myself, “I’m glad I want to be a Jesuit. They don’t go for this fancy dressing up to show how important. they are.”

I remember that again as I watched Pope Francis’ entrance to Madison Square Garden during his visit to New York in 2015. First came what seemed an endless procession of older men in white vestments and pointed hats marching on and on and on... “We are the men who run the church,” they seemed to say. “Do what we say.”

I know that many bishops were appointed because of their holiness, courage, generosity and humility. We may hear from them soon. But I do not believe that Pope Francis will come out swinging on the sexual abuse scandal that has impacted the church for years.

The issues closest to Pope Francis seem to be refugees and migrants — the poor and weak. That’s what Jesus talked about most and where Pope Francis will get the most opposition from both the secular-political world and parishioners. Perhaps he will build a hotel in the Vatican for immigrants. But I have a suggestion: Many American parishes have empty buildings that could be fixed up for immigrants. Catholic schools could offer courses and gym and swimming classes for young immigrant children.

But what about the sex issue? The church should train young men and women (over age 20) entering religious life together. Religious men and women religious should consider each other as intellectual equals. The future church will require more women in authority. The most important required courses would be scripture, world history, American religious history, and a few of the great books (anything by Twain and/or Tolstoy). The movement to ordain women as deacons has been discussed in Rome. They should be ordained. A more dramatic and effective move would be to ordain three leading Catholic women as intellectual cardinals.

And what about married priests? There are about 130 married priests in the United States. We should get some sociologists to survey their work, study their methods, and the role the spouse plays. And perhaps we should follow their leadership.

In the future American Catholic Church, diocesan priests would not live in big rectories with the pastor lording over them. They would create religious communities within driving or walking distance from their churches, and share common life like a family. And be responsible for one another’s behavior and welfare.

Before last month’s gathering in Rome of the leaders of Catholic bishops on the sexual abuse scandal, The New York Times spoke with two dozen gay priests or seminarians from 13 states. The priests didn’t come across as happy. They were in a community, like a family. One hopes that they pray together using John 15, Jesus at the last supper, where he calls them his friends.

That is the whole meaning of the priesthood. It’s the love going back and forth between the priest and his parish, nourished by his fellow priests.

The Rev. Raymond A. Schroth, a former Fordham University professor, is editor emeritus at America magazine.

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