Inside USD

Challenges and Opportunities for the Pope

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thirty-five years ago, theologian Hans Küng wrote a book about the papacy, “Infallible?” Today, said the Rev. Thomas O’Meara, O.P., a pertinent book would be titled “Alone?”

O’Meara, who gave the ninth annual Monsignor John R. Portman Lecture in Roman Catholic Theology on Nov. 18, called for more dialogue between the Vatican and cardinals, bishops and priests, as well as theologians and lay people on the future of the church.

“The pope and the Vatican need a new way of seeing the church, of seeing themselves,” said O’Meara, professor emeritus in theology at the University of Notre Dame.

O’Meara, who spoke to a crowd of more than 200 in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, noted that there has been a huge increase in the religious education of Catholics and the general public in the last few decades. 

“The last 40 years has witnessed a multiplication of schools, centers, degree programs, certificate programs and diocesan programs. Hundreds of thousands have a real theological education.

“Some participation has occurred in the parish and diocese – but not at the international level,” he said. “There is some expectation of participation in the pope’s direction of the life of the church around the world.”

In looking at the challenges and opportunities facing Pope Benedict XVI and his successors, O’Meara suggested that the pope should take the initiative “to discover what the Holy Spirit wants for each local church” that might include a local selection of bishops and bishops planning effective liturgy and evangelization, attentive to their own social issues and pastoral councils.

He also suggested a new role for the bishop of Rome in the media. “Rome should sponsor extensive media – in all the most modern forms,” he said. “This should deal with evangelization. With theology in a positive sense; with education at all levels. There should be extensive media networks on history and art.”

Capitalizing on these opportunities could result in a revitalized image of the church, O’Meara said.  “The pope leading a church of communion would assist the church everywhere to be a more visible credible witness to the abiding presence of the Spirit in the world. The church can become, in the words of Lumen gentium “a sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race.”

The Portman Chair was established in USD’s department of Theology and Religious Studies in 2000 through an anonymous donor’s generous bequest of $2 million. It was named after Monsignor Portman, who served as the founding chair of USD’s theology department from 1967 to 1974. He also served as pastor of the Church of the Immaculata and other parishes in San Diego for more than 30 years after leaving USD and has been a pioneer in ecumenical dialogue. In the fall of 2006, he was honored with the title of Professor Emeritus.

The Portman Endowment allows the department to bring an eminent theologian to USD for one or two semesters. As envisioned by the donor and Monsignor Portman, chairholders are to be distinguished theologians who think from within the Roman Catholic tradition while exploring and expressing the tradition in contemporary contexts.

For more information go to www.sandiego.edu/theo.

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