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I try to hope that the Catholic church is still moving forward, despite the deadweight of Benedict and his conservative cronies. The laity - 'People of God', in Vatican II terminology - persist in thinking for themselves; so do some of the clergy, thank goodness

Well, that card has been up there for a fair while now, waiting for me to add some nuance and background. In the meantime, I can't see anything has changed for the better – except that I'm now more sad than angry.

The way I see it, and remember that I am not an ecclesiologist, the church was founded by our Lord in order to help us come closer to him. The church does not replace the essential, personal relationship with our saviour, but helps us witness to that relationship in a number of social ways and helps us share with others the joy the relationship brings. Life! love! acceptance! joy! teaching! forgiveness! That is what I hope for from the church, and that is what the church seems generally failing to deliver. Instead, an elderly and decaying institution is failing the people whose allegiance it claims, stubbornly refusing to relinquish the worldly style of government it slid into centuries ago.

Thank goodness, or thank God, for the signs of life that show up here and there. Many of them that I've heard of seem to be at grass-roots level, but there are honourable exceptions: Bishop Gaillot and Parthenia, of course, and now the bishop of Bruges who has said the church should start ordaining women as deacons. What's going to happen next in England is anyone's guess. Here's a quotation from a recent book-review, and I'm pleased to say the first half does describe just about all the Catholics I know personally.

… proudly and unmistakably Catholic, but profoundly tolerant and respectful of religious pluralism, the inclusion of women and the importance of local discretion. Twenty years into the reign of JP II, however, another generation of Catholic control freak has emerged to tighten up the regulations (from banning condoms for Aids victims to depriving remarried people of the sacraments),prompting a potential for schism

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