WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Catholics told to scan the margins for credibility signs

Susan Wilson and Sr Elizabeth Julian rsm

The church needs to listen to the people on its fringes to make itself credible in today’s world, says one speaker at the recent colloquium to mark the Palmerston North diocese’s 25th birthday.

The four-day colloquium drew speakers from New Zealand and Australia and asked them to address the issue of creed and credibility in a critical age.

One of the speakers, Jacquie Lambert, who has worked most recently as a spiritual director, but also as a critical care nurse, nursing lecturer, polytech chaplain, Benedictine oblate and writer, told the seminar the church needed to listen to the darkest, most forgotten corner of its membership, the fringe dwellers, because it was in danger of losing them.

Lambert reduced the issue of the church’s credibility to two questions: ‘What do we say we are ultimately about? And do we act in a way that supports that?’

Claiming that there are gaps between the church and those who regard it as obsolete or irrelevant, as well as gaps between the church’s official teaching and the beliefs and practices of some Catholics, Lambert quoted Sue Monk Kidd’s insight:

‘When you can’t go forward and you can’t go back and you can’t stay where you are without killing what is deep and vital in yourself then you are on the edge of creation.’

Lambert applied it to the state of the church today suggesting that we have ‘an incredible opportunity to reframe and refresh and resurrect’.

To identify some of the credibility gaps Lambert spoke to people inside and outside the church. For both groups it was not so much core beliefs or doctrine that caused the biggest credibility problems, it was the church as an institution, its processes, power, and structures and its ability to meet their needs, its tolerance and acceptance of them and their families. Lambert also highlighted the ‘dubious credibility of derivative doctrines such as statements about correctness in sexuality, body and bioethical legalisms, women’s roles and so on.’

No joy in Catholics

Another credibility problem for Lambert arises from what people do not see in the church rather than what they do see. These included characteristics of humility, tolerance, inclusion, and joy. People both inside and outside the church did not see Catholics as joyous.

For some people the credibility gap is due to being seen as over stepping our mandate concerning some important hallmarks of our faith. For others it’s because we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of these hallmarks identified by Lambert as:

1. Love, living the centre of our faith

2. Power and humility

3. Diversity and Inclusion

4. Images of Priesthood

Lambert identified key areas under each point above and went on to say:

In a world where society is trying to foster personal accountability, determination and empowerment, the church is continuing to model a heavily parental and authoritarian role.

The jarring of this discrepancy for many is just too hard to live with and the answer for most outside the church is to simply ignore it, and for those inside, to follow their consciences regardless of official doctrine.

For Lambert what lacks credibility today is infallibility not imperfect humanity.

‘We don’t have to get it right or be right, we just have to try and love people through the pain and joys of life.’

Lambert believes that to narrow the credibility gaps we have to ask ourselves these core questions in all that we do:

1. Does it come from our centre, a striving for unconditional love and is it non-judgmental?

2. Does it reflect a humility and is it empowering to the other? Is it transparent?

3. Is it inclusive, compassionate and forgiving? Is it receptive/listening? Can it respond to changing needs and understandings?

4. How does the priesthood need to change to deliver or facilitate it and is this credible along the lines of discipleship?