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The enormity of the scandal has provoked American Roman Catholics as nothing has before to call for debate on controversial doctrines--like celibacy, married priests, women priests. The Rev. Richard McBrien, a religion professor at the University of Notre Dame, thinks these issues lie at the root of the pedophile problem. The Boston archdiocese's official paper last week urged Roman Catholics to question and study whether these age-old tenets are still relevant. Liberal advocates argue that a church struggling to fill its depleted ranks of priests might get more healthy, sexually mature candidates if married men and women were allowed in. But there is no sympathy in Rome for any alteration of the celibate, men-only clergy. The only realistic hope for such drastic reform, says Chester Gillis, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, lies with whoever succeeds the current Pope.
Roman Catholicism has never been a democratic faith. But in an impassioned sermon two weeks ago, Monsignor Clement Connolly, of the Holy Family parish in South Pasadena, Calif., which isn't involved in any of the allegations, challenged authorities to open the church's heart and mind to unprecedented dialogue. "We don't have an instrument in place," he told TIME, "but I think if we talk with the people and listen to the people and share with the people, the instrument will emerge."
As Roman Catholics across the country fill the pews for Easter Mass, many lament the scandal that has shaken their belief to the core. "Of course we're outraged," says Herb Timm, a Winnetka, Ill., parishioner. Holy Family worshiper Ed Ternan called it a "milestone moment in the life of the church," tragic for the victims, tragic for the priests, tragic for the church. "The old way of dealing with it by not dealing with it is not going to work." Instead church leaders need to pray that they can find the remedy before parishioners lose their faith.
--Reported by Rebecca Winters/Bridgeport,Siobhan Morrissey/Palm Beach, Sean Scully/Los Angeles, Maggie Sieger/Chicago, Simon Crittle/Providence, Sarah Sturmon Dale/Minneapolis, Andrew Goldstein and Sally Donnelly/Washington, Jeff Israely/Rome, Tim Padgett/Miami and Deirdre van Dyk/New York