A Twelve-Step Jubilee Challenge


Pope Francis, drawing on an old RCC tradition, is proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Mercy. It will begin officially on December 8, 2015 and conclude on November 20, 2016. “I am convinced,” Francis said, that the whole church…will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”

The year-long jubilee, according to Vatican officials, will include a number of individual “jubilee days,” for groups such as religious men and women, deacons, priests, catechists, the sick and disabled, teenagers, and prisoners. (Nothing has been said about “jubilee days” for gays, divorced and remarried, nor for those excommunicated because they support women’s ordination.) Young people, however, will be able to celebrate their own special jubilee days with Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, at the end of July 2016.

The last big Jubilee Year was 2000, but as Robert Mickens observed in the National Catholic Reporter (March 16, 2015) it was not all that great. “If John Paul II’s intuition was to usher in an era of mercy and forgiveness,” Mickens observed, “he lacked the physical and mental energy as well as the necessary support of his closest aides to do so with any real creativity or boldness.”

Maybe Francis will do better this time around? I hope so and have some positive suggestions.

The notion of a Christian jubilee year goes back to the Book of Leviticus (see Leviticus 25:8-13). It called for a jubilee year every fifty years, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and God’s mercies would be especially demonstrated.

The first Christian jubilee year was proclaimed in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII, for pilgrims visiting Rome and offering the full pardon of all their sins, if they visited the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul and fulfilled other requirements. The granting of special indulgences was always a key feature of earlier jubilees. (It is hard to say today just what exactly an indulgence means. I will bypass that topic this week.)

Clearly what Pope Francis has in mind for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy is that the institutional church and individual Christians extend forgiveness, compassion, and a welcoming back to the church of those who for various reasons have been excluded or have felt abandoned.

I have twelve suggestions (just like there are twelve gifts of the Holy Spirit) for the Jubilee of Mercy. In every diocese, starting with the Bishop of Rome (i.e. Pope Francis) I suggest that bishops go out of their way to accomplish the following:

  1. For those excommunicated for their active support for women’s ordination, the bishop will lift the excommunication and welcome back to the church those women and men who had been thrown out.

  2. For those excommunicated for their active support for same-sex marriage, the bishop will lift the excommunication and welcome back to the church those women and men who had been thrown out.

  3. For those children not allowed to attend parochial schools because their parents are a gay couple, the bishop will order that no parochial school in his diocese will continue to exclude these children. He will apologize for earlier exclusions or expulsions.

  4. For those who have been fired from their teaching positions or from parish ministries because they entered into a same-sex marriage, the bishop will announce a major change in diocesan policy and welcome back those women or men who had been fired.

  5. For those divorced and remarried but not accepted as full members of the church, the bishop will welcome them back to the church, and he will authorize that their second marriages be accepted and blessed.

  6. Recognizing the importance of being generous and merciful toward the tens of thousands of nonfunctioning married priests, bishops in the Jubilee of Mercy will allow and welcome back to full ordained ministry those men who wish to do so.

  7. Recognizing the importance of qualified ordained ministers, bishops in the Jubilee of Mercy will begin to ordain already ministerially qualified married men.

  8. Recognizing the importance of opening ordained ministry to women, bishops in the Jubilee of Mercy will begin to ordain women to the diaconate.

  9. Recognizing that bishops must break out of the trappings of power, authority, money, and privilege, bishops in the Jubilee of Mercy will establish a “Jubilee Committee” of lay and ordained advisors to determine how bishops can best do this.

  10. The Jubilee Committees in every diocese will supervise the removal and selling of outrageously expensive episcopal croziers, miters, crosses, rings and other episcopal ornaments. Money will be used to support refugees.

  11. As a symbol of the needed change, and respecting Pope’s Francis’ frequent admonitions that bishops adopt a simpler life-style, all bishops will immediately cease wearing ornate Renaissance robes; and they will cease using all medieval episcopal titles of power and privilege.

  12. Titles of “eminence” or “excellency” will no longer be permitted or used. Bishops will be called “bishop” or “archbishop” or “cardinal.” The preferred title will be either “father” or “reverend.” For example, people will begin to speak about “Father Timothy Dolan the Archbishop of New York.”

In 2007 about 24% of Americans identified themselves as Roman Catholic. Today that figure is 20% and some studies say it is even lower than that. Of those roughly 20%, just 17% are practicing Catholics. One of the largest religious groups in U.S. society is now the group of former Catholics. And that number is growing: Four-in-ten (41%) of U.S. Roman Catholic adults under age 30 say they could easily see themselves leaving the church.

A Jubilee of Marcy, as I outline it above, might change the statistics. Whether it does or does not, the patterns of Roman Catholic life in the United States need a major overhaul because it is the just, appropriate, and authentically Christian thing to do.

Jubilee Committees now have two months to get their plans in motion. Then… let the Jubilee of Mercy begin! 

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12 thoughts on “A Twelve-Step Jubilee Challenge

  1. As usual, hitting the proverbial nail on the head. Thanks for yet another wonderful trip to true Christianity and Catholicism.

  2. Alleluia! The best 12 steps ever! Everyone reading it should send a copy to every Catholic they know and to their bishop/cardinal as well! Wouldn’t that be lovely1

  3. Wow! Great stuff!! Reading your 12 steps put an immediate smile on my face. Without admonishment, you breathe new life into – many would say – a lost cause.

  4. Extremely well put. This message needs to be on the desk of every bishop and pastor in every Catholic Church in the states. This can begin with each pastor. No need to wait for our negative and reactionary bishops. Get the message. Let our parishioners know that this is a new day of openness, forgiveness and welcome. Jesus welcomed all. Who are we to do less?

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