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The Church Lives in Space and Time
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

'The Church Is Too Occupied With Money and Finances'
No Mass for That Wedding?
Understanding Stem-cell Research
Can I Baptize My Great-grandchildren?


Q: Would Jesus Christ recognize our Catholic Church as the one that he established? I think the Church is way too occupied with money and finances. Why all the new, fancy and large edifices? Why all the fascination with art and liturgy?

The Mass is perfect as it is—stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Stop talking about “liturgically impoverished” and use the money to feed the poor and keep the small country parishes open instead of closing them.

The News Briefs section of the “Church in the News” column in your September issue noted the Vatican’s 2006 budget surplus of more than $3.2 million. It said that the Peter’s Pence collection is used mainly for the pope’s charitable giving.

Laypeople deserve a full disclosure of where and how the Church’s money is spent. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to the Catholic Church would be to be completely, financially bankrupt so that we could start all over and take Jesus’ word to heart—without all the baggage of art and music. Did Jesus intend that huge amounts of money be paid to artists and musicians or that the hierarchy have fancy titles?

As a cradle Catholic of 77 years, I have not publicly criticized the Church, but I’m silent no more.

A: Because members of the Catholic Church live in space and time, they need to gather somewhere to pray and grow in their faith. Before Christianity was legalized in the fourth century, Jesus’ followers gathered in one another’s homes or in catacombs. As Christianity grew, churches were built, both to praise God in their beauty and to provide a sacred space where people, rich or poor, could come to worship.

This does not mean that every current building project is justified or is in good taste. Dioceses usually have building commissions to ensure that churches, schools and other parish buildings reflect what the diocese and the Church at large expect. Parish finance commissions and parish councils help establish local budgets. Religious communities must receive approval to construct their buildings.

In recent years, dioceses, parishes and religious communities within the Catholic Church have become more public and accountable about money collected and spent. Our January “Church in the News” column reported on new measures that the U.S. bishops enacted last November concerning parish and diocesan finances.

Expenses for religious art and music clearly bother you. No individual is making a fortune; in fact, some composers have suffered because their original works have been reproduced illegally. As far as I know, most dioceses and parishes are now paying the required licensing fees for what they use.

On another point, what you describe as “perfect as it is” is, in fact, the result of centuries of evolution. The Church and its Eucharist exist in space and time. The Church addresses the issue of needless tinkering through identifying who is competent to make which changes and within what parameters.

In the past, some dioceses have covered for parish building and staffing debts. That is changing. No bishop is happy to close a rural, suburban or city parish, but sometimes that is the most responsible decision under the circumstances.

The Holy See’s $3.2 million surplus for 2006 would be huge for an individual but is hardly excessive for a Church with over 1.1 billion members. Some years there has been a deficit. The pope makes modest contributions when tsunamis, earthquakes or other natural disasters wreak havoc.

The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, established in 2004 and featured in our September 2007 issue, is helping U.S. dioceses with their financial and personnel policies.

One of the first scandals recorded in Acts of the Apostles involved money (5:1-11). Sin is very present among the Church’s members, who rely on the Gospels to help them name sin for what it is—and repent of it.

No Mass for That Wedding?

Q: My daughter was recently married to a wonderful young man who has never been baptized. She was surprised to find out that the wedding could not occur in the context of a Mass because their marriage is not recognized as a sacrament. I have never heard of such a thing! I am angry and confused.

A: This situation arises often now. The Catholic Church understands the Sacrament of Matrimony to be possible only between a baptized man and a baptized woman. A baptized person may marry an unbaptized person with the proper dispensation (permission from the local bishop). Or two unbaptized people can marry. These couples may have a wonderful marriage, but it is not a sacrament, which baptized men and women confer on one another.

The Catholic Church’s Rite of Marriages states that, when one party is not a baptized Christian, the wedding should occur outside the Eucharist but according to that ritual.

This regulation, in effect for many years, shows no lack of respect for your daughter’s marriage. It simply acknowledges that the scriptural imagery of husbands and wives loving each other as Christ loves the Church—and vice versa—is not appropriate when one spouse is not a Christian.

Your daughter’s faith is positively influencing your son-in-law. If he joins her in that faith, their marriage can be celebrated as a sacrament.

Q: What is the difference between research on stem cells from animals, adult humans and embryos? Are all of these sins? Does the Bible address this issue? I regret that I am not very well informed about these serious issues.

A: Research on animals sometimes identifies treatments that can be adapted for humans. Animal research needs to be conducted ethically as well as scientifically.

Stem cells from adult humans (and this includes stem cells obtained from umbilical cords) have been shown to be effective for some conditions. Mary Jo Dangel’s editorial in our May 2007 issue explains the issues involved.

The Catholic Church has opposed research that uses embryonic stem cells because this is human life created simply as a means to obtain such stem cells. This is not ethical because it suggests that human life at that stage can be ended for the sake of research.

Our January 2002 issue contained Thomas Shannon’s article “Stem-cell Research and Catholic Teaching.”

Last November, Catholic News Service reported that the journals Cell and Science had published articles about two studies showing that human skin cells can be preprogrammed to work as effectively as embryonic stem cells in reproducing any of the 220 types of cells in the human body.

Shinya Yamanaka (Kyoto University, Japan) and Junying Yu and James Thomson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) conducted these studies.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center (www.ncbcenter.org) in Philadelphia said of these studies, “The methods outlined in these papers fully conform to what we have hoped to see for some time. Such strategies should continue to be pursued and strongly promoted, as they should help to steer the entire field of stem-cell research in a more explicitly ethical direction by circumventing the moral quagmire associated with destroying human embryos.”

Q: My three grandsons are all living with young women to whom they are not married. They have children. I have several friends who share a similar heartache. They tell me that they have sprinkled each baby and baptized them. Can I do this?

A: I understand the heartache that your great-grandchildren have not been baptized, but I cannot advise you to baptize them secretly, without their parents’ knowledge or permission. Unbaptized children can be saved (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1261). When the Church baptizes an infant, it asks parents or those presenting the child about their willingness to raise the child as a Catholic. If that readiness does not exist, the priest may decline to celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism then.

You may have expected me to recommend baptizing them. Please do not underestimate the power of your good example. Children are sometimes more influenced by the faith of grandparents (great-grandmother in your case) than by the apparent lack of faith of their parents.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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