Author speaks out on crisis in Church

Andrea Wilson

Peter Steinfels, acclaimed author and commentator on the Catholic Church, spoke to members of the University and visitors from local parishes in his Monday lecture, “A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.”

The lecture was based on Steinfels’ recent book of the same name, in which he claims the Church’s problems have been forming long before the latest wave of sex abuse allegations involving priests surfaced.

“The reasons go much deeper than the scandal,” he said. “Catholicism still would have faced fundamental challenges from within, and fundamental challenges from without.”

Steinfels said that Roman Catholics, who represent “the largest single religious body in the world’s most powerful nation,” have a significant impact on American affairs, and that the American church is undergoing many of the same tensions as American society in general.

Steinfels compared the 67 million members of the American Catholic Church to a family, which is often “hardly on speaking terms.”

Pointing to the ever-increasing role of the laity in all Catholic institutions, Steinfels suggested that the non-religious deserve a more regularized position in the Church, as opposed to their current place as a short-term solution to cope with a temporary shortage of religious people.

He also pointed out a conflict between pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Catholics, citing statistical evidence of a striking generational divide over basic beliefs, such as whether Catholics at Mass receive the actual body and blood of Christ or a symbolic representation of it.

External factors presenting conflicts for the Church, according to Steinfels, are shifting views of sexuality and gender.

Steinfels supports the married priesthood and the female deaconate and said he supports “serious discussion” about the ordination of women.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Office for Mission Effectiveness and the School of Law as part of a series called “Being Catholic in America,” which began last year with lectures by prominent American Catholic scholars Garry Wills and George Weigel.

“It is our hope that such opportunities will enable our community to better understand therelationship of faith and culture and the contributions that the faith traditions can make to our contemporary discourse,” Dr. Barbara Wall, special assistant to the president for mission, said.

“The series ‘Being Catholic in America’ is an on-going project that we hope will cover a variety of issues of current interest in the Catholic Church,” she said.

From 1988 to 1997, Steinfels served as the senior religion correspondent for the New York Times, where his biweekly column, “Beliefs,” currently appears.

He and his wife, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, who have both served as editors of Commonwealth Magazine, were recipients of the 2003 Notre Dame Laetare Medal for service to church and society.