Censoring of Scripture scholar not in line with Francis’ ‘big tent’ church

I have always believed that to be a Catholic, you need faith. It’s what Jesus had: the faith to question the status quo, to seek a different way, to share one’s gifts to better the community.
Jesus had faith. Prophets had it. Margaret Nutting Ralph has it, too.
Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph is director of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree program at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She has authored 14 books on Scripture and was secretary of educational ministries for the Lexington diocese for 16 years. For over three decades, Dr. Ralph has offered presentations to parish, diocesan, state and national groups, including the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders and the National Catholic Educational Association.
I could go on. The point is obvious — Margaret Nutting Ralph is top shelf. She’s committed and dedicated, a prominent scholar and an exceptional educator.
Dr. Ralph had been working for Liturgy Training Publications (owned by the Chicago archdiocese), writing Scripture commentaries for a number of publications. In late January, the director of Liturgy Training Publications sent Dr. Ralph a letter informing her that her work would no longer be used.
Her offense? Dr. Ralph offered a Scripture presentation for a group of Catholics seeking to enhance their faith at the annual Call To Action conference in November.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the official message conveyed to Dr. Ralph was that it was not her presentation topic that was the problem; rather, it was the one who invited her to speak that was the problem.
I invited Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph to speak at the 2013 national conference on behalf of the Call To Action community.
Why? Margaret is a first-rate scholar who loves the church, like all of us in Call To Action, and knows it can be better. She has the faith to boldly explore the Scriptures and offer meaningful perspectives to enrich the church she loves.
In the fall, Pope Francis expressed his vision for the church as a big tent, not a small chapel that holds only a few. Those of us in Call To Action agree and have been working for over 35 years for a “big tent” church that is more welcoming and inclusive.
My vision of a “big tent” church does not include an employer censoring a colleague’s credible work just because she has engaged Catholics who hold various opinions on important issues facing the church.
There are those in the institutional church who prefer censorship to dialogue, who value protectionism over a living tradition, who feel it necessary to critique and suppress rather than lift up and celebrate. It wasn’t that long ago that this type of behavior was not only commonplace, but encouraged. Let’s not go back there. We’ve come too far.
In Dr. Ralph’s case, she was neither permitted dialogue nor allowed to know who officially censored her. Dr. Ralph stands in a long line of faithful Catholics, many of whom we now call saints, who followed God’s call to share their gifts only to be oppressed by the religious leaders of the day.
But this is not the end of the story.
This story has but one inevitable conclusion. When every Catholic has the faith to follow God’s call to be the person they were created to be and use their gifts to build up the kin-dom of God, those attempting to silence will find that their actions simply fuel the winds of change.
Faith is unstoppable. A “big tent” church that is more inclusive and dynamic is emerging, and Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph is another Catholic who is helping lead the way.
[Jim FitzGerald is executive director of Call To Action.]

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  1. roy donovan says:

    I wonder in 50 years time, when there is a review of the recent history of the Church, will one of the conclusions be that many of the Popes and Bishops of the past 45 years (1968 to present day) have destroyed ‘the faith’. They have done so by not facing the real issues. They have refused to dialogue with modern people.
    I think very few people in parishes around the world want this upcoming Synod on the Family. Has anybody asked people in parishes what issues an urgent synod might face?
    I imagine many people would say that the Church needs urgently to face the issue of Priesthood; most people want every parish in the world to have a regular Sunday Eucharist celebrated by a priest.
    The scribe who becomes a disciple of Jesus is like a householder who brings out of the store, things both new and old (Gospel of next Sunday 27th). A temporary priesthood alongside the permanent priesthood is needed. Every parish by 2016 could have 3/4 temporary priests (men/ women)- making a commitment for say 4 years. These might be from 25 years upwards and would come from the local Christian community. Presently the priesthood is regarded as distant and elitist. A guy milking cows could throw off his milking gear and put on the priest robes to celebrate mass or a local woman working in business could equally change into the Mass robes. A temporary priesthood would make Christianity more normal and incarnational. These temporary priests in every parish throughout the world would immediately inject new life into the Catholic Church. This would give new meaning to people sharing in the priesthood of all the baptised.
    If we think the issues, for which those who are being censored, as in the above article are the real ones, the Gospel of Jesus will be choked. If we do not soon face the real issues, Christianity will become completely irrelevant and unattractive to most modern people. I applaud the above writer, we need a ‘big tent’ Church; as the late John Moriarty often said ‘we need a Church that is big enough to house everybody’.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This was written on A Call to Action’s Facebook page recently and is a reminder that this organisation has long been committed to working for equality and justice everywhere.
    “…those attempting to silence will find that their actions simply fuel the winds of change.” Well said, Jim Fitzgerald. Plaudite! I hope that you receive as much support and affirmation as possible and that you and your colleagues continue the battle against narrow, closed and fear-filled minds. Why and what do these hierarchical men fear, I wonder??

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    No offense Roy, @1 but ‘temporary leaders’ fill the world. I don’t think the direction the Roman Catholic Church wants to take is one that mirrors modern politics. If anything, priests will be called to become more activist in nature. Currently, there exists a silent battle in the background. Those who want to enforce a grand scale change to the planet to usher in a new technological enlightenment, and those who oppose it. This grand scale change is either going to proceed peacefully or violently. I believe if the Roman Catholic Church becomes actively involved in it, it can be a peaceful transition. Those who oppose it have spent a millennium or two trying to “consumerize” society and have perfected it. They don’t necessarily want to hand over autonomy to the common man. Neither does the Roman Catholic Church and that is why we see this type of silencing going on – people in power ultimately are there because they prefer to do nothing more than exercise their authority in some fashion. What is even more frightening is that much of it is done by a faceless entity. The person “in power” is only the face of the leadership, not necessarily the decision maker. “In Dr. Ralph’s case, she was neither permitted dialogue nor allowed to know who officially censored her.” Can we really stand for this type of dictatorship?

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