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Beyond the difficult to pin down empirical data re: the exact nature, rates, causes & handling of abuse incidents, in one denomination vs another (and some fairly good studies are emerging even as some fairly dubious & facile analyses persist), there is a related issue in play re: church polity vis a vis Michael's 2nd question re: a grassroots 'people's reform' of the RCC. It may be that, in theory, the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) or "what has been received & practiced by the faithful" is what guides the Teaching Office (magisterium) but it seems pretty obvious to me that, in practice, this process has been seriously flawed. Apparently, this is less the case with the methodologies employed in formulating & articulating social teachings even as it has clearly been the case where church disciplines (e.g. celibacy, women's ordination), liturgical practices (e.g. open communion, sacramental reception by divorced & remarried) and moral doctrines (e.g. contraception, homoerotic behavior) are concerned. Catholic social teaching has experienced three rather seismic shifts in methodology. In Catholic social teaching, Charles Curran describes three methodological shifts in emphasis from: 1) classicism to historical consciousness 2) natural law to personalism and 3) legalism to relationalityresponsibility. This methodological shift implicitly invites & fosters the collegial participation of lay experts & commissions (iow, us anawim - of both genders, even), social & political scientists, academic theologians and so on in a much broader & deeper consultative, active-listening process. The good news, then, is that the seeds of reform are there for the planting if only the church could cross-pollinate its seminal social doctrine cultivation and plant and nurture them in the furrows of its church discipline, liturgical practice & moral doctrine rows. This will require pulling the weeds of patriarchalism, hierarchicalism, clericalism, sexism and so on from those rows as has been done on the others. Or, to change metaphors, one has reason to hope that the seismic shifts that have already taken place already, to the edification of the faithful and the world community writ large, will cause some tectonic reshuffling as their aftershocks emanate out from that epicenter. There are roles to play, then, in ongoing institutional reform and there are end-arounds, too, via non-institutional vehicles (not mutually exclusive). In some sense, it seems to me that the hierarchicalism & clericalism is not just a top-down oppression but that it reflects where so much of the laity remains. We don't want to over-identify THE church with either its institutional form or its clerical leadership but we cannot deny that their re-formation and ongoing transformation would help advance the Kingdom. A significant but marginalized minority continues to voice prophetic protest and live in loyal dissent; others change denominations or employ non-institutional vehicles. Whatever the case, a denomination is but a means and not the end, thank God. 1


Church polity