St. Margaret forum on church issues

Parishioners filled St. Margaret Church in Bel Air for an open discussion on Pope Benedict and other church issues Sunday. (PHOTO BY BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / March 3, 2013)

Parishioners spoke their minds on Catholic church issues, including some people's dissatisfaction with the direction of the papacy, during a frank, emotional discussion held at Bel Air's St. Margaret Church on Sunday afternoon.

Organized by Msgr. Michael Schleupner of St. Margaret's in light of Pope Benedict's resignation, the event drew more than 100 people to one of the largest parishes in the Baltimore Archdiocese to talk about everything from sex abuse in the church to the challenge of attracting young people.

Some parishioners who attended said they are angry about the direction the church has taken in recent decades, including the handling of sex abuse cases involving priests, while others were equally passionate in defending it.

At one point, Schleupner, the parish leader, said he could support allowing priests to marry.

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One man drew a round of applause when he said his friends and seven siblings might be active in the church if they heard more church leaders admit to making "terrible mistakes."

He said he and his father, who grew up a "textbook Catholic," are "disgusted" by the opulence and hypocrisy of the papacy and thought the pope "had contempt for American Catholics."

"There have been good priests and there have been bad priests," he said, adding: "I have been dying to talk this way for so long, I just want to keep my thoughts together."

Another man asked Schleupner what he thought the church's biggest problem is, and Schleupner replied it was a "staggering question."

One woman had no problem answering it, however, calling secrecy the main problem.

She said she wishes Benedict had said openly he was stepping down for reasons such as the need for new blood or a new person to address the issue of pedophile priests.

"I think if it was all in the open, we would feel more like we are the church," she said, getting another round of applause from the others.

"The people are the church, but we are in the dark about everything that has happened," she added.

Another man pointed out the pope made it illegal for gay men to enter the priesthood.

"How many other religions have a law like that?" he asked.

Schleupner, for one, said he has "a good deal of respect" for Benedict, saying he liked many decisions the pope made.

Nevertheless, he agreed with attendees that some aspects of church life need to change.

"We got into a culture, really, of mistakes," the monsignor said. "I definitely didn't agree with everything he did as pope, I'll be honest with you. I thought he was far too inclined to tradition at times and those who wanted the Latin Mass and things like that. That happens to be my own personal opinion."

He also said "the entire structure of the priesthood" should be looked at, including potentially the issue of celibacy.

Schleupner noted Pope John Paul II had made an exception to allow married men to become priests and said celibacy was not essential to the priesthood.

After one man asked whether he thought the church should consider moving in the direction of Eastern Catholic Churches by allowing priests to marry, Schleupner replied: "That's exactly what I think."