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Monday, February 28, 2011

America: Church Needs Laity Near The Top

Those poor editors at America Magazine. They haven't recovered from Reese's resignation back in 2005.

Laity Near The Top? [my comments]
While the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI has certainly enjoyed major successes, like the pope’s visit last fall to England to beatify Cardinal Newman, the crises that have led to empty pews in the Catholic parishes of England, Europe and the United States persist. [they obviously don't consider the motu proprio, Summorrum Pontificum or the Anglican Ordinariate as successes. Many in the laity would disagree.]

The fundamental criticism of the institutional church is that its clerical, all-male establishment has not made room for other voices. [What they mean is, they haven't made room for their voices. Big difference.] There is no need to list the number of recent policy decisions, from Rome to home, which would have been more prudent if only a variety of laypersons had been consulted. [A list would be handy - the absence of one is conspicuous. And I think they presume too much - just because they or their heroes weren't consulted, doesn't mean some laity were not. That's just a hunch, but America's opinion is just a hunch as well.]

Jesus told his disciples that they were servants, that they were to feed the hungry and share their wealth with the poor and that they should demonstrate their love for one another by offering their lives in service. [That goes for the laity as well, y'know.] Some in church leadership have done the opposite, creating a culture of clericalism that too often values loyalty over accountability. [That happens in liberal Catholic publications, too] In these circumstances, a project of reform is essential to rejuvenate church leadership and give greater voice to the whole church. As Pope John Paul II wrote in “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” quoting St. Paulinus of Nola: “Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes” (No. 45).

How to begin? No one should anticipate changes in the existing discipline on celibacy or in the teaching on women’s ordination [remember this for later], but there are other ways to reform church structures to allow women and married men to participate in church governance. [The early Church established the hierarchy of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. We aren't all meant to be leaders.] One proposal is simply to change canon law to admit laypeople to the College of Cardinals. The church could thereby continue its all-male priesthood, yet transform the “men’s club” into a church with a face that more resembles the people of God described in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. [Ah, the requisite appeal to the Second Vatican Council documents without citations. I'm surprised they waited until the fourth paragraph to mention it.]

A more realistic proposal, however, would entail two steps: First, reorganize diocesan offices so that laypeople constitute at least half of the bishop’s principal advisers. (Increasing numbers of laity have already been hired as staff in many U.S. dioceses.) Second, create a new body, an international council of laypersons to share functions with the College of Cardinals. [And who picks the council members? Editors of Catholic publications? Universities? Dioceses? Draw names from a really big hat? I suspect America's editors has a list in a desk drawer somewhere, and it doesn't include the likes of Karl Keating, Edward Peters (who does consult the Vatican, btw), myself, or any regular person in the pew.] After attrition among the cardinals, each of the two bodies eventually could have 100 members. The lay members would be Catholics who love the church and are recognized for sound Christian judgment. ["Sound Christian judgment" is a fungible phrase. Note they did not say "faithful to Church teaching". That's because, for example, they recognize the 90-95% of adult US Catholics who use artificial contraception as having "sound Christian judgment".] They would come from a variety of occupations—education, health, religious life, law, the arts, business, science, government and labor. [Don't priests and bishops come from a variety of backgrounds as well? Certainly not as extensive, but they certainly don't exist in a vacuum. And they all came from families, didn't they?] Church leadership would not be limited to elderly men but would be expanded to include men and women, married and unmarried, of different ages. Wisdom, after all, can be found from a multitude of sources, something that St. Benedict acknowledged when he urged an abbot at a monastery to solicit the opinion of even the youngest member of the community: “By the Lord’s inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best.” [Yes, wisdom can be found from a multitude of sources... except from the hierarchy. That's what they're implying here - the Holy Spirit isn't as prevalent in Rome because the hierarchy isn't expanded. Right.]

Some members of the council would direct Vatican offices [are they serious??]; others would come to Rome for regular consultation. Membership could be proportionate to the Catholic populations throughout the world, chosen for a specified term on the recommendation of grass-roots representative caucuses of clergy and laity. The combined college and council would share three functions: administer the Vatican offices, advise the pope and select his successor. [or they can all meet in Detroit this June, call it the American Catholic Council and dream a new Church into being. Oh wait - they're already planning that.]

These laypeople would offer much-needed perspective on the impact of the teachings and practices of the church, including such divisive subjects [only to those who don't like them] as contraception [settled teaching], the role of women in the church [three paragraphs earlier, they said no one should anticipate changes to this; 'role of women' = women's ordination], the treatment of homosexuals [they're called to live lives of holiness just as heterosexuals are...unless they're talking about same-sex 'marriage'] and the failure of authorities to respond quickly and forcefully to the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. They would understand other pastoral failings, like the denial of the Eucharist to public persons because of their political positions [I agree - the failing is that it's not applied consistently enough, to the confusion of many], a too modest peace and justice agenda, lackluster liturgies [they want more puppets and more dancing?] with unprepared sermons and insensitive celebrants [in other words, there are priests preaching Catholic truths, and that's unacceptable. Forget the fact that the liturgy exists to bring Christ to us in the Eucharist - entertaining the people is most important!].

One may object that this initiative is a “pie in the sky” idea that the clerical establishment would never accept. [I object to it, not because it's 'pie in the sky' - I object because it's stupid.] Perhaps. Yet the implementation of specific alternatives like a lay council need not threaten the current leadership. [Reminds me of President Reagan's quip, paraphrased slightly. "I'm from the laity, and I'm here to help."] For the authority of the church “is exercised in the service of truth and charity” (“Ut Unum Sint,” No. 3). Nor would a council undermine the pope’s authority. As Pope John Paul II wrote of the papacy: “The authority proper to this ministry is completely at the service of God’s merciful plan and it must always be seen in this perspective” (No. 92). Discerning that plan is a task that Catholics should take on together.

Following Pope John Paul’s example, we encourage our readers, clergy and lay, to evaluate this proposal and suggest other reforms that would achieve the same goals. The church has survived these 2,000 years because at key moments it chose the path of renewal. It may be that another such moment has arrived.
OK - I've evaluated the proposal, and here are my thoughts: this is ridiculous and shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone who loves the Church. This proposal has only one goal in mind: infiltrate the decision-making process in the Church with heterodox Catholycs admired by the folks who write at America, and affect the sorts of changes they've been hankering for. They see the writing on the wall - their crowd is dying off, whatever influence they had in the Vatican is slowly waning, and the opportunities to foist more of their cr*p on the entire Church are quickly dwindling. They don't care about pastoral issues - they care about power and the perception of being important.

I have a proposal of my own - let Pope Benedict, who was chosen by the Holy Spirit to lead our Church, finish repairing all the screw-ups made by the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd - along with our conscious support and encouragement. By the time that's completed, we may find that the renewal will have taken place without any of this extra-canonical silliness.