Healing and Strengthening Our Catholic Community in the United States

Pope Francis has urged the Church to act as a “field hospital” for those who are wounded. The stark divides in our country and Catholic community have left many alienated, angry, and in need of healing. In the wake of a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the enduring sin of systemic racism, and extreme inequality growing worse during the pandemic, we are called as Catholics to seek justice and greater unity.

Michael Brough, Executive Partner at Leadership Roundtable, opened the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit with a conversation about healing and strengthening our Catholic community with author and podcast host Gloria Purvis and Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, a theologian and acclaimed writer. Brough framed his opening remarks by recalling the powerful image of Pope Francis delivering his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city [of Rome] and to the world) blessing in March of 2020 in an empty St. Peter’s Square.

“Pope Francis exhorted us to look to the common good, to rethink our priorities and what we value, and to commit to solidarity in our daily life,” Brough said.

Since last summer, he noted, the police killing of George Floyd has sparked “a long overdue reckoning on racial justice in our country.” Brough also observed that on Inauguration Day, “a young Catholic woman, Amanda Gorman, reminded us with her poem, The Hill We Climb, that the last tumultuous year has taught us much if we are able to learn.” The Church, he said, is called to more deeply “listen to all voices, to lay and ordained voices, to women’s voices, to young adult voices, Black and Latino and Asian and Native American and immigrant voices. This is the listening we are called to do in our Church.”

Reflecting on the signs of the times, Gloria Purvis observed that “there is a disconnect with our Catholic understanding of freedom and the common good, and a secular view that the individual has no obligation before his or her own liberty.” This radical individualism and distorted conception of freedom, she lamented, at times has seeped into our Catholic community during the pandemic as some Catholics resisted wearing masks and protested the shutdown of churches.

“We had forgotten what it means to be Catholic,” Purvis said.

George Floyd’s murder by police underscored how “the sin of racism has limited our understanding of human dignity” and made clear that “we have a less than robust understanding when we say each and every person is made in the image of God,” explained Purvis, a Black woman who has openly confronted racism in the Church Purvis also noted that Catholics too often make an idol of politics and ideologies.

“We let political office-holders and political parties be more of a guide for us than examining or Catholic teaching,” she said.

To heal wounds and move forward together as a Church, Purvis emphasized that “we need a wholesale conversation about what it means to be Catholic and to believe in the dignity of the human person.” She expressed hope that a “spirit of openness, transparency and trust” can help us navigate difficult conversations and painful topics.

Fr. Rolheiser pointed to a cultural and political atmosphere rife with suspicion as a barrier to healing and renewal.

“We are a bitterly divided society and a bitterly divided Church,” he said. “I’m not sure this country has been as divided since the Civil War.”

He described how different theological and ecclesial visions among Church leaders often contribute to division, to separate factions within the Catholic community. While division has always been a reality in the Church and nation, Fr. Rolheiser noted that “we are becoming ever more strident and intolerant, and social media is feeding the worst on both sides.”

The Catholic community can play an important role in making “a generative response moving forward” and that begins, he thinks, with “naming the moment with courage and humility.” Rolheiser urged Catholics to seek out and “wash the feet” of those we disagree with as a way to heal wounds.

“We should take Jesus and his command to love those who hate us seriously,” he said. “The litmus test for being a Catholic is can you love someone who hates you?”


Healing and Strengthening our Catholic Community in the United States


  • Actively appoint to leadership positions, committees, and task forces, individuals from historically underrepresented groups, including women, young adults, and people of color
  • Create structures and avenues for lay involvement in parish operations, ministries, and outreach
  • Take steps to professionalize ministerial roles and, where possible, provide paid positions
  • Recruit, train, and engage volunteers in the leadership of parishes
  • Recruit and train lay leaders with the skills to serve on finance councils
  • Engage lay leaders in the the decision-making of the parish or diocese
  • Facilitate conversations around proactively advancing women to higher levels of leadership in the Church in answer to their baptismal call.


  • Promote opportunities for connection and encounter to address the loneliness and isolation many clergy and laity experienced during the pandemic
  • Utilize the Synod process as an opportunity to bring people who have been excluded, marginalized or wounded by the Church back into the conversation.
  • Leverage Technology for Evangelization
  • Build upon the technological and social media advances parishes/dioceses have made during the pandemic to reach people where they are
  • Push beyond comfort zones and “business as usual” approaches to be more creative in evangelization and pastoral accompaniment.


  • Create forums and structures for people of differing ecclesial perspectives to engage in dialogue
  • Listen to those who have left the Church about their decision to leave and identify actions to address the issues involved
  • Identify and implement ways to build a greater sense of community and Christian journey into the parish
  • Ask who is missing from the table and take actions to ensure those individuals are at the table moving forward
  • Convene parish and diocesan forums that bring Catholics across the political spectrum together in respectful dialogue and listening.


This piece was originally published in the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit Report.

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