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Issues facing the Catholic Church

Catholic Church leaders gathered in Rome to grieve over the death of the pope, and now they look toward the time when they will formally begin to choose his successor.  And the next pope will inherit a church facing serious challenges.

There was a lot of emotion and centuries-old tradition as Catholics grieved the death and celebrated the life of Pope John Paul II.

Church leaders gathered in Rome last week to grieve John Paul II's death, and now they must look toward formally choosing his successor. The next pope will inherit a church facing serious challenges.

From issues such as scientific advances that directly challenge church doctrine— to a shift in global dynamics,  the Catholic Church will be facing a number of urgent concerns in the years ahead.

On “Connected Coast to Coast,” we've took a closer look at these issues. Below are some of the topics discussed, and your reactions to the questions raised.

On redefining the priesthood | April 5, 2005

The death of Pope John Paul II is forcing Catholics to talk about many of the issues that the next pope will have to tackle— one being that since 1980, the number of Catholic priests has dropped by 15,000. Many American churches have to “share” priests because of the shortage.

How best to deal with this?

American Catholics have their opinions, though it’s probably not what the Vatican wants to hear. When an Associated Press poll asked if the next pope should allow female priests, a majority of American Catholics say yes.   Asked if the next pope should change church policy to allow priests to marry, 60 percent say "yes," and 36 percent say "no."

And our own unscientific MSNBC survey today found similar results: When we asked if the next pope should allow priests to marry, 64 percent of you responding said yes, and 36 percent said no.

Your thoughts

The rule of celibacy for priests wasn't instituted by Jesus - that came about hundreds of years later when it became necessary to prevent priests, bishops, etc. from passing on church owned property to their children - thus the celibacy rule.  As far as Jesus not having any female disciples, it was typical of that time - no women were "working outside the home,"  in the time that Jesus was teaching, and female disciples wouldn't have been accepted in that culture.  Times have changed!   Let's have an honest re-evalution of these rules, perpetuated by men who would rather see this beautiful religion destroyed by perverted pedophiles than explore the solutions that are right in front of our faces. —Rita W.From what I've read about having married & women priests, it is mostly an American "agenda". I think it hearkens back to the old mantra, "I'm an American and I want it my way." Just my opinion.  —Richard Gosche, Georgetown, OhioRegarding the issue of women becoming priests, I believe the idea of a Pope "changing" specific doctrines at the whim of the Amreican public can only be described as a religion of "humanism". The individual who believes he/she can sway particular doctrines smacks of humanism--the idea that we are responsible for the creation of our own particular belief system.  That is why we have the problem of "cafeteria Catholics"--picking and choosing what we like and negating what we don't.  God calls us to follow Him.  He hasn't called us to create conditions in order to follow Him— just follow Him.  Faith calls us to believe even when we may not understand.  —Michael, Berkeley Springs, W.V.I am a seminary student in an epsicopal seminary and will be ordained as a deacon in June and to the priesthood in aprox. another 6 months.I am appalled by the arrogance and  isrepresentation of the male role in the priesthood. The truth is that within the context of ancient times, it was certainly understandable that God would take the form of a male in gender to have an effective ministry within that culture. Ditto for the apostles. Today's context however is very different. If one believes that we are all made in God's image then it is perfectly appropriate that God would call all of us regardless of gender to function in particular ways, including as ordained priests. —Claudia SmithIf the reason women can't be priests is because the apostles were men,  then why are Black, Latino & Asian men allowed to be priests? —Paul CollinsI do not think women belong as priests nor do I believe in marriage for priests. God designed the Church and it is not for us to redesign it! —Eleanor Senus, Westfield, N.J.

On homosexuality | April 6, 2005

One of the most sensitive and controversial issues confronting the next pope is the question of homosexuality. While the Catholic Church recognizes that some people are gay, the Church has called on homosexuals to lead a life of abstinence. Issues about sexuality in the clergy have come to forefront in the wake of the priest abuse scandals that rocked the American church. And recent polls show many are now saying its time to re-examine the churches' stance on celibacy and homosexuality.

Your e-mails

I think one should be very careful with respect to homosexuality versus pedophilia.  The American Catholic church seems to have had recently many problems with priests having sexual relations with young boys.   Most gay persons do not have relations with young boys. —Randal If you think homosexuality is "entirely natural" you're as sick as the rest of them.  In fact, you probably are one. —James B.As I was coming to maturity, those friends of mine who were gay, found a place in Manhattan, a Catholic Church ministering to the needs of gays.  They have been very happy there.  The Catholic church, a church I was baptised into, does minister to the needs of its gay population but, it will never sanction acknowledging this population outright.   Just as, you can have all the renegade female religious on your program that you want, there will never be women priests...because married women and men like myself, when asked say...we like things the way they are and we quietly want to leave it that way.  The Catholic church is not required to mimic a society.  The society, in following Christ, should mimic the church. —Tommie, Long Island, New YorkLet me make this simple and clear: Homosexuality is a sin. It is wrong. It is immoral. If you believe these things (and I do), then how can you expect me (or anyone else who feels as I do) to condone it via marriage or to sanction it in the Church? It is  NOT merely an "alternate" lifestyle" and yes, it DOES matter who you love and how you love.  —Rosemary E. Lloyd, Elberon, N.J.I found it difficult to vote "yes" or "no" on the gay issues.  My heart feels for those who choose differently when they do not hurt others.  Spiritually, who am I to decide this issue? I cannot either condemn nor promote homosexuality. I do know that if my son or daughter were gay, I would love them no matter what. —Maria,Wynnewood, Pa.I just watched your interview with the Catholic priest and the nun. I want to sincerely compliment both of you on the way both of you handled that and all of your other interviews. Although you brought up differing points of view, you did it in a way that was courteous, respectful and mindful of your guests. These qualities that you both have stand out from the standard vitriolic cable shows where the host(s) attempt to devour their guests. The fact that the two guests were both respectful of each other made it even better. Congratulations to the two of you for conducting yourselves so professionally. —Greg, St. Louis, Mo.  I'm gay, and if it isn't something I was born with, I would like somebody to tell me where it came from and how it can be treated. Please...Ask any homosexual person, we're not "choosing" to be gay so the world can hate us and have the churches condemn us to hell. Homosexuality is not a disease, and it is seen throughout nature, not just in humans. I think it is time for the world to wake up.—Bobby, Va.

On condoms and birth control | April 6, 2005

Pope John Paul II knew what he believed in— and it seemed that in his 26 years as head of the Catholic Church, he was unwavering.

When it came to taking a stand against communism, much of the world rallied to his side.  But there was often criticism  over his uncompromising stance on birth control. Opponents to the pope have long complained that his policy may have helped to contribute to the population problems in some parts of the world Consider the predicament of the mostly Catholic Philippines.

There, more than 50 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars per day. Condom use is almost nonexistent, leaving that country with one of the highest birth rates in the world.
In the next 30 years, the Philippines could see its population double from the current 84 million people!

Your thoughts on the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control

I just watched the end of a segment you had with a Catholic Priest and a woman by the name of Kissling, I believe. As a practicing Roman Catholic, the problem with many people like Ms. Kissling is that they want to be believe that Catholic doctrine should be dictated by actions that seem "nice".  The problem with that thinking is that being a Christian, for the most part, is not an easy thing and sometimes you have to obey and not question. —Bill VanAn American Catholic can use oral contraceptives to ease painful menstruation.  An African cannot use a condom to save herlife.  There's a word for that difference.  It's not racism;it's genocide.—Frannie Schafer, Brooklyn, N.Y.Ron, You must make up your mind. A few days ago you were telling us starvation (Terri Schiavo's in particular) caused a state of euphoria.  Now we are supposed to promote condoms to lower the population and relieve starvation. Far be it from us to deprive them of their euphoria. —Pat Carlson, Lincoln, Neb.Ron, I'm born and bread an Italian Catholic. I'd love to give the Father today my 5 kids for 1  month. He'd then know why I practice avid birth control and  don't have 6 kids. Let him walk a mile in my shoes before he preaches to me. Something I've resented with my church for a very long time. —Michelena, Los Angeles, Calif.Women everywhere have earned the right to plan their families, decide on the size of their families, explore their reproductive options and choose for themselves.   Perhaps this man of God feels that we should go back to the early 60's when women had little choice in when/if they had more children - whether they could afford to or not.  —Dani, Fla.Regarding the segment on birth control: speaking as a woman, until a man can conceive, carry and give birth to a child, they should shut up. bottom line is this is between the woman, her physician and God. period. —50-something woman in the MidwestI find it funny how "True" Catholics are so against using condoms, because they prevent God's will, but are all for using feeding tubes even though they prevent God's will.  Both issues concern the use of man-made technology.  If "True" Catholics were consistant they would have the same stance on each. —Rob, N.J.

On the role of women | April 7, 2005

Today our series of discussions continues with a look at the role of women within the Catholic Church.  Few issues have created as large a cultural divide between the U.S. Catholic Church and the Vatican.

While the Vatican remains staunchly opposed to the ordination of women, a majority of Americans appear to support the idea. In a CNN USA Today Gallup poll, 55 percent of those questioned said women should be offered the right to join the priesthood.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll asked a similar question: “Should the next pope allow women to be ordained priests?” And the response was even stronger: 64 percent of those polled responding yes.

Here are some of your thoughts on the issue

Regarding women and their right to be a priest in a Catholic church, I think everyone is missing the point!  It is not a matter of "women's right," it is simply a matter of responsibility!  I am a Catholic woman and I DO NOT believe that a women should be a priest.  I believe that we all have a role in Christ's eyes, not one is better than the other.  I believe that being a women alone comes with great authority and resposibility.  I wonder how many of those opposed to the Catholic's stance on women in priesthood are Catholics.  The Catholic faith are the best at appreciating a woman and its immense role in everyone's life.  
—Joanna, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I have been a Catholic women all of my 56 years.  I have three sisters, lots of female relatives and many female friends. The average Catholic woman does not want to become a priest. Please, start listening to the general public, the masses if you will, and not just to a few people on subjects as important as this. The lady on your show who stated that the Catholic Church is an image of a family is correct. The man is the father, period.  We aren't interested in anyone's political agenda, or whatever cause they are promoting.  This is our religion, and these pinheads should leave it alone.  —Jennifer BaxterPeople look for reasons why women should NOT be priests. Nobody looks for reasons why MEN  should not be priests (all the pedophiles for one example).—Wyman Sanders, M.D., Los Angeles, Calif.The next pope cannot make women priest because people want him too. The people follow the Church, not the other way around. Also, women play prominent roles in the church as teachers, and even the diocese are run by women.  Also the family or domestic Church as JPII said is run by women. The most important non-divine person the Church is a women, Mary.—Bill FitzpatrickIt amazes me how people still believe what they read in the Bible is true.  I have never seen or heard of anyone coming back from that era and stated this is what Jesus Christ wanted us to do.  I do know that man wrote the Bible assuming interpation of Christ.  This was also done to not raise women as high as man.  And you continue to believe this.  In olden times, priests used to be able to marry and have kids.  But now they pass a law to say they can't.  I just get so tired of the hypocrisy of people. Doesn't anyone ever use the brain they were born with? —Anonymous