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Pub serves as pulpit

June 07, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Except for some minor social etiquette reminders at the start, the rules Monday night at the upper level of The Corner Pub were pretty lax - enjoy a beer, talk Catholicism and try to "Stump the Priest."

About 25 Catholics gathered at the Hagerstown bar for a Theology on Tap discussion, a group started recently by members of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church.

The topic Monday?

"Stump the Priest," who in this case was the Rev. Dick Murphy, pastor at St. Ann's in Hagerstown.

Dawn Sirface, who helped start the local version of the national Theology on Tap program several months ago with Julie Wilberding, briefly outlined the forum's rules to kick off the discussion.

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Those rules included no talking over one another and respecting each other's views.

"Chances are we are not going to agree with everything, and that's fine," Sirface said. "Ideas are important, but people are more important."

Sirface and Wilberding attend St. Ann's.

Sirface added that the group was an outlet to "grow in faith together."

Then Murphy chimed in with a joke.

He told the attendees to feel free to put their own "spin" on his responses.

"I'll excommunicate you later," Murphy joked.

Shortly after quips about the length of homilies and what priests do the other days of the week besides Sundays, the discussion evolved into serious questions on a variety of topics, including the shortage of priests, the future of the Catholic Church and the church's view of suicide.

One woman said a teenager had asked her if all sins were forgivable, saying that he was struggling with a friend's suicide. She asked Murphy what the Catholic position was on suicide.

Murphy said the church's view is that suicide is an unjust taking of a human life, however, it's often not a decision made freely, but one that results from depression - a sickness.

"So, that young person is probably not sitting in hell," Murphy said.

Murphy also responded to a question about the average age of priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which he said was about 60. In about 10 years, about half of the archdiocese's priests will 70 or older, he said.

That led to a discussion about pastoral life directors and the chances of a parish receiving one as the number of priests dwindles.

Pastoral life directors are members of the laity charged with running parishes that don't have priests. Members of the clergy are typically sent to such parishes for Mass and to perform sacramental rites.

"The chances in the next 15 to 20 years is very good," Murphy said. "Once you get one doesn't mean that you will always have one."

By the end of forum, which lasted about an hour and a half, Murphy responded to all questions asked and had not been stumped.

The local Theology on Tap group, open to people of all ages, is modeled after other Theology on Tap discussions that are held nationwide.

Nationally, the groups are geared toward younger Catholics, but Sirface said before the discussion that she and Wilberding decided to open the local program to anyone.

"Stump the Priest," was the group's third forum. The other two discussions, held in previous months, focused on the Terri Schiavo issue and Pope Benedict XVI.

Sirface said the group plans to invite priests to discuss various topics at future meetings.

"The purpose is to just provide a forum to get together and meet people - to be able to talk on issues regarding religion," Sirface said.

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