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Cardinal Stafford on the Church's Crisis

Cardinal Stafford on the Church's Crisis

Wide-ranging Interview on Parish Life and the Laity

BOSTON, Massachusetts ( American Cardinal James Francis Stafford believes the current Church crisis is a crisis of parish life.

The president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity explained his views in this interview with Antonio Enrique, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's weekly newspaper, The Pilot. The interview was first published on Aug. 8 and is reprinted here with permission.

Q: You work very closely with the Holy Father at the Vatican. Can you tell us how aware the Holy Father is of the crisis of the Church in Boston and in the United States in general?

Cardinal Stafford: The Holy Father himself initiated the meeting in April of 2002 between the American cardinals, himself and members of the Roman Curia. He was present for each of those meetings and heard it firsthand. Cardinal [Bernard] Law frequently brought the Holy Father up to date, together with other members of the Roman Curia. Bishop Lennon did the same, especially through Cardinal [Giovanni Battista] Re, and through the apostolic nuncio here in the United States.

My sense is that the Holy Father and the membership of the Curia, the leaders of the various Roman dicasteries, are very aware of what has been happening in the United States and, more specifically, in Boston.

Q: You are the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery that assists the Pope in all matters concerning the contributions the lay faithful make to the life and mission of the Church. How do you see the role of the laity in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis?

Cardinal Stafford: The most significant positive development since the Second Vatican Council has been the flourishing of lay movements within the Church. That doesn't mean that there were not lay movements before. We obviously have analogous groups such as the Knights of Columbus and the confraternities, which go back to the Middle Ages, but the unique expression of that, through the various associations of the lay faithful, has only developed since World War II and after the Second Vatican Council.

They have arisen to meet very specific needs of the laity -- the need for a deeper spirituality which, in many ways, they do not feel the parish has been able to meet. And secondly, the need of the laity to give greater evidence of their own desire for evangelizing the world -- the world of economics, the world of politics, the world of the university, the world of unions. These new lay movements illustrate the desire of the laity for a greater commitment to the discipleship of Jesus, in the world and in the Church.

More specifically, these lay movements assist the lay people especially in living out their sacramental commitment to Christ in baptism, confirmation and marriage. Of course, that means through the ongoing living of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through the Eucharist. They do that within a commitment to community, to community life.

Those communities really live the vision that Jesus expressed in Matthew 18, where he speaks of the challenge of forgiveness within the Christian community. Peter asked, "How often are disciples to forgive one another? Seven times? And Jesus responded, "Seventy times seven times." I sense that living forgiveness, that love, which is a tough love, to be very present in the ecclesial movements in a way that I don't sense them as strongly in the parishes. Also, the vision of the early communities after the ascension of Jesus, as expressed in Acts 2 and 4, are better expressed, better realized, in the new lay movements than I sense in most parishes.

So, the new lay movements are, as a matter of fact, a commitment to a deeper "koinonia" [communion], a living out of community with one another and with the presbyterate in a way that assists them in living and experiencing the meaning of the beatitudes in their lives, especially as married men and women.

Secondly, they experience great tension in living out the commitment of the Gospel in their daily life, as in work. These new lay movements assist them again to live out the poverty of spirit that is the beginning of all discipleship, which is, of course, the first of the great beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew as expressed by Jesus.

So the new lay movements have many things to offer the Church: a deeper sense of community in the Holy Spirit, of fellowship in the Holy Spirit, of communion in the Holy Spirit, and a deeper sense of commitment to Christ in the workplace. They also experience a great reinforcement of their life as married men and women.

Q: Your dicastery has been studying the sacraments of initiation -- baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist -- and highlighting their importance in everyday ...

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