Also under discussion is ordination of women, which is favored by a large percentage of American Catholics.
Such questions "will not quietly slip away," noted a recent editorial in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.
It should come as no surprise that priests themselves are listening hard to the debate. "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, has become a bestseller among priests. In it, Father Cozzens, a priest and a pastoral adviser to other priests for many years, writes: "Caught in the wake of the Church's authority crisis, priests have seen their moral authority, their ability to lead and to offer pastoral guidance, likewise diminished."
Still, he emphasizes that "most priests are men of high ideals and moral passions ... [and] they struggle with no little courage to serve with integrity and generosity."
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For the Rev. David Orique, part of that struggle is simply learning how to give a good sermon.
In the sacristy at St. Thomas's, (the small room where vestments, altar linens, and other liturgical items are stored), Father Orique is suiting up for mass. Orique "Father Dave" to parishioners is relatively new to the church. After college, he worked as a commercial lending officer for Bank of America for eight years before entering the Dominican seminary in Berkeley, Calif. He was ordained just last summer. He's of Portuguese descent, and his dream is to serve in Latin America some day.
The two priests gather in a circle with the laymen and laywomen who will participate in the service. The group holds hands and prays.
During the service, these lay members will read from the Bible (this Sunday, it's Ezekiel and Romans), and they lead the congregation in spontaneous prayers offered for those in need (the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, church members who are ill). Standing behind the priests, they help distribute the wine and bread wafers to those taking Holy Communion.