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March 4, 2013

The Church is a people gifted to live in communion with God. As cardinals gather to elect a new pope, that is worth emphasizing because much media attention will be on the most superficial aspects of the Church – the sins of its members, its organizational structure and who has the power. We need to emphasize that it is through the Church and its sacraments that we share in God's eternal life.

Nevertheless, the superficial aspects do matter. They affect how the Church is perceived, and they affect whether people are brought more deeply into the life of grace.

So, the issue of whether married men should be ordained needs to be given a thorough examination. Parishes close and opportunities to spread the Gospel are missed because there are too few priests.

Celibacy is a marvellous gift; it is a sign of the kingdom where each baptized person is married to God. We dare not lose the witness of celibacy. Yet, Eastern rite churches with married priests also have many celibate priests. We would not want our Church to become one where there is, in effect, mandatory marriage for clergy. There should be a balance.

However, while all are called to serve, not all are called to ordination. The lay and religious states are states of equal dignity. Yet, the Church's law states that only those who have received the sacrament of Orders can exercise governance in the Church. No layperson can be admitted to "the inner sanctuary," as noted canon lawyer Ladislas Orsy calls it, where the Church is built from within.

Orsy says this "neat and radical exclusion of the laity from any participation in the power of governance is discontinuous with an immemorial tradition." The tradition does not exclude lay people from having jurisdiction in the Church. The majority of voters at the Council of Florence were non-clergy, ecumenical councils have been convoked by emperors, and abbesses have exercised "quasi-episcopal power" over quasi-dioceses.

The ban on the non-ordained having jurisdiction in the Church means women have no effective role in governance. In earlier times, this was not seen as a cause for concern. Today, it is a scandal. It is a barrier to evangelization in that many perceive the Church, with significant grounds, as being sexist.

These are two internal issues in the Church that can be resolved without altering dogma. A positive resolution could well enhance the Church as the people gifted to live in communion with God. Next week's editorial will look at the Church's external witness and ministry.

The election of a pope is a fragile time of transition. No matter what the Church's governing structures, it is a time for us to be on our knees praying for those called to elect the new pope. May the Spirit inspire them to choose wisely.