The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 15, 2000 Issue
Local News

Milwaukee prelate says challenges aid growth in church

First Allouez Forum talk

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

Challenges are a good thing and necessary for growth in the church, says Abp. Rembert Weakland, OSB, of Milwaukee.

Abp. Weakland presented "A More Mature Church, Growing Through Challenges" at the 2000-01 season's first Claude Allouez Forum at the Bemis International Center at St. Norbert College, De Pere.

"Christ is with us until the end of time and even more so in times of difficulties and challenges," said Abp. Weakland, who five years ago was the featured speaker at the first ever Claude Allouez Forum.

"We need to look at the realities," he said. "The church in the United States is passing from adolescence to adulthood."

Abp. Weakland presented six challenges facing Catholics today. They include scandals, the shortage of priests, being a world church, becoming a Biblical and ecumenical church, rediscovering the importance of Catholic social teachings, and the younger generation.

Pedophile priests and gay clergy were the scandals discussed by Abp. Weakland.

"More than 60 % of priest pedophiles were abused themselves," he said. "What kinds of training should we have to grow sexually to maturity? Are we asking the right questions?"

Abp. Weakland said he is encouraged by the frankness and honesty of the younger generation entering the priesthood.

"The younger men have had sexual encounters," he said. "That is a plus. They have a better understanding of their sexuality."

In discussing gay priests, he said that we must ask ourselves what it means for the future of the church?

"There is more to a person than their sexual orientation," he said. "We need to look at their talents and their service to the church, but we also need to ask what kind of safeguards are needed to protect them. We cannot have constant incrimination."

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, like most areas, has a shortage of priests. The pool of prospective priests is drying up, creating a major challenge, said Abp. Weakland.

"If you deny it, you have your head in the sand," he said. "We used to have Polish and Irish families with 10 kids, so often one or two would enter the priesthood or religious life, but that is not the case anymore. We could get as many priests as possible from Africa or someplace else, but that is not the answer. When vocations don't come from your own diocese you are in trouble."

The vow of celibacy is not deterring young men from entering the priesthood suggested Abp. Weakland.

"Actually they value celibacy so highly they don't want to betray it," he said.

Growth as a result of the priest shortage is found in the increased role of the laity and identifying the true role of the priest.

"It has forced us to appreciate Sacraments," he said.

As a world church, we must get used to all the dynamics of different cultures, said Abp. Weakland.

In discussing the challenge of becoming a Biblical and ecumenical church, he reminded the audience that even though we practice different faiths we all read scripture together.

After stressing the importance of Catholic social teachings, Abp. Weakland closed by pointing to the younger generation as a sign of hope for growth and maturity.

"There is something about the younger generation that is quite positive," he said. "They don't have the same longing for upward mobility. They are very spiritual and have a sense of inquiry. They like being together. They are so honest. That to me is a sign of new life. I hope we can build on that instead of destroying it."

The theme for this year's forum is Glancing Ahead: Glimmers of Hope. The next Claude Allouez Forum is Oct. 20 at the Bemis International Center. Sr. Dianne Bergant, a scriptual theologian, will be the featured speaker.

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