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The Church in the 21st Century Center

Focal Issues

the church in the 21st century center



Roles and Relationships in the Church

  • What is the role of lay men and women, vowed religious, deacons, priests, and bishops in the Catholic Church in the United States? And what are ways of enhancing their relationships?

    U.S. Catholics have never been more highly educated, and both capable of and disposed to taking on greater responsibility for their Church. While shaken by the sexual abuse crisis, support for good priests has remained strong. Moreover, surveys show that most priests are happy in their ministry. Current candidates for the priesthood are typically more mature, more carefully screened, and given more opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. At the same time, the Church anticipates an aging clergy and must resolve how to respond to the decreased number of priests. The traditional leadership and authority of bishops has been seriously weakened by the crisis, and ways must be found to reestablish trust in their leadership in a context that gives appropriate voice to priests and the laity. Read more about the issue of roles and relationships in the Catholic Church.

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Sexuality in the Catholic Tradition

  • In the last half century, the two events which have most impacted the Catholic Church in the United States touch on issues of sexuality.
    The first was the 1968 publication of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical of Pope Paul VI that dealt with contraception. Many today point to that document as a watershed event, due to the fact that many Catholics openly disagreed with the specific recommendations of the pope.

    The second, more recent event has been the unfolding of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States and abroad. Together, these events point to an urgent need for a holistic understanding of sexuality in Catholic teaching. From its earliest days, the church has developed its understanding of sexuality as a gift of God. Click here for further reading of specifically theological treatments of sexuality. This list is not exhaustive, since there are many treatments from psychological, biological/medical, sociological, and other perspectives that have informed Catholic theology. Rather, it gives an overview of recent work in the areas of sacramental and moral theology that seek to understand the meaning of sexuality in the Christian life.

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Handing on the Faith

  • The process of growing up Catholic that marked most of the 20th century changed dramatically as Catholics more and more emerged from close-knit Catholic communities that surrounded their parishes, and joined the mainstream of American life.
    A consumeristic contemporary society poses profound challenges to the Catholics who are, and will be, the leaders of the Church in the 21st century. Catholic parents and families are asking how to communicate a deeper spiritual, intellectual, and practical understanding of Catholicism, and how they can share the faith with the next generation without many of the supports that enabled previous Catholic generations to understand, develop, and practice their faith. Read more about handing on the Catholic faith.

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The Catholic Intellectual Tradition

  • As a Catholic university, Boston College has a responsibility to nourish and inform the Church’s intellectual life. In the context of globalization, a key question for both academics and members of the Church is this: what is the role of religious traditions in fostering a more humane world?
    How can we draw from the wisdom tradition of the Catholic Church in order to bring the gospel into conversation with a pluralistic world hungering for integrity? How can the Catholic Intellectual Tradition inform not only Catholics, but also other people of good will? What resources must Catholics bring to light in the academic community in order to address the neuralgic issues of our time?

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