What does it mean to be a Roman Catholic today?
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Mission in Kings Contrivance will try to answer that question for county Catholics who may be confused or concerned about the changes in the church during the past 20 years.
St. Francis will hold a presentation on Catholicism at 5 p.m. today at Atholton High School, where the parish normally meets on Sundays. Joe Ciarrocchi, an assistant professor of pastoral counseling at Loyola College, will be the speaker.
"I think what we will be doing will be a service to the community," said the Rev. John F. Kinsella, the 1,200-member mission's priest. "It's an attempt to say in one way what is unique and distinctive about being Catholic."
He said today's program will be the first of many on the topic for his parishioners.
Roman Catholics represent about 20 percent of the county's population, according to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Father Kinsella said. The St. Francis parish was established in October 1988. Its membership consists mainly of young married couples.
The lecture series grew out of a survey conducted in the parish's adult education classes over the past three months.
Many parishioners expressed confusion or concern about their 2,000-year-old faith, Father Kinsella said.
They had questions about Catholic teachings and contemporary issues, including changes in worship and rituals and their meanings; ethical and moral issues, such as abortion, divorce, sex and contraception; and the debate about women and the priesthood.
"People wanted us to try and offer programs that would deal with questions of Catholic identity in such a way to make it clear what our tradition is," said Father Kinsella.
Change in the Catholic Church is representative of the evolution occurring in all society and isn't easy to address, he said.
"I don't think the pope could write a letter and say, 'This is what it means to be a Catholic,' " the priest said. "It's not that simple."
Last year, for example, Pope John Paul II issued a 180-page encyclical, or instructions from the pope, condemnning modern trends that threaten the church's traditional stands.
Father Kinsella said that, in his opinion, to be a Catholic means "to understand the history of the church and to understand how the words of Jesus, as understood and applied throughout our 2,000-year history, are still applicable today."
During adult education classes, some parishioners also have expressed concern about pedophilia and other sexual scandals involving priests, and the church hierarchy's apparent delay in reacting to them.
The pope spoke about the controversy for the first time last year, saying in his visit to Denver that the problem must be addressed.
"We did neglect the welfare of victims for a long time," said Father Kinsella. "That, I think, has changed radically in terms of current policies and practice. Priests who are guilty or negligent are removed from their assignments, and people are not put in harm's way."
St. Francis parishioner Audra Paul, a college student, said she plans to attend today's program.
"My faith is very important to me," she said. "I love the church I belong to, but there are a lot differences."
Ms. Paul is a self-described traditional Catholic who is against abortion, but said she doesn't like the church's stand on birth control. She said she wouldn't mind having married priests in the church.
"I think it helps them understand more about the family life," she said.
She also said that different Catholic congregations seem to take different approaches to rituals and practices. Being a Catholic, "I think, really depends on what church you belong to," she said.