Inside USD

Panel Looks at Priorities for New Pope

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hope. Pentecost today. Transformative. Inclusion. Dialogue. Compassion.

That was the response from a panel of theologians and scholars asked to sum up their hopes for the new Pope Francis in one word.

On Tuesday, USD celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the new pope and on Wednesday, experts sat down to talk about their views on what  his priorities and  goals should be.

Since he was selected last week, the new Jesuit-trained pope’s acts of simplicity and humility and his expressions of support for the poor, the sick and the protection of God’s creation have drawn favorable reactions from a broad  range of those in and out of the church. During Wednesday’s discussion, panelists talked about how those expressions should be put into action.

“Priorities for the New Pope: What Does the Church Today Need Most?” was the theme for the discussion hosted by USD’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture. There was general agreement on a few points – that the church needs to deal fully with the sexual abuse crisis, reform its governing hierarchy known as the Curia and reach out to all the world’s peoples, especially the youth and young adults.

“The church has great things to say but no one’s listening,” said Andrew McMillin, associate university minister in University Ministry, noting the damage done by the abuse crisis and lack of transparency in governing. But in the new pope, McMillin said he sees a humble leader and reformer who will make the right changes.

Panelists also argued that the church needs to fully recognize women’s equality and reconsider issues such as sexuality, celibacy and marriage for priests. “Pope Francis’ election is an opportunity to renew the Catholic Church within the complex questions of a new millennium,” said Susie Paulik Babka, assistant professor of Theology and Religious Studies.

Gerard Mannion, director of the CCTC moderated the panel. Other participants, from left to right, were Father Bernard Kelly, a Spiritan priest and former missionary; Todd Salzman, professor of ethics at Creighton University and a USD alumnus; Professor Paulik Babka, Associate University Minister Andrew McMillin, Sister Elizabeth Loomis of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and Tom Reifer, associate professor of sociology.

While there were some differences on exactly what steps the church will or should take, panelists agreed that a dialogue and a need to find unity are critical to its future.

There is a lot of polarization in the church, McMillin said. At USD, “we have students that are “very pious, prayer oriented and liturgical but not very social justice-minded.” On the other side, he sees students “who are all about taking care of the world but are not as committed to prayer. This division, apparent in many parishes as well, he said, is one that will continue until “we engage the community and find an integrated approach” that is both “rooted in prayer” and dedicated “to living out the Gospel,” he said.

— Liz Harman

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