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Religion Library: Roman Catholicism

Community Organization

Written by: Cynthia Stewart

Most doctrinal and theological decision-making authority is centered in the members of the clergy, but the laity is being called to take a more active role in Church activities. Not only do lay members make up the bulk of the Church's membership, but they also do the majority of its daily work in parishes. The changing understanding of what constitutes the proper interaction and level of respect between clergy and laity sometimes results in tensions and differing understandings, and occasionally erupts into outright conflict as members of the laity look for more of a voice in the inner workings of the Church. Most often, though, the clergy and laity are navigating this changing understanding with agility and tact.

The Catholic understanding of community has also undergone a revolution since Vatican II. Catholics previously inhabited something of an isolated world, separated from their neighbors of other faiths or denominations by walls of convention and mistrust. Catholics believed that those outside their faith could not find salvation; others believed that Catholics were to be feared and mistrusted. But as western society opened and changed and the Church took to heart the theology expressed at Vatican II, those walls fell. Today Catholics in western culture usually find themselves fully integrated into society, and when Catholics in non-western cultures experience the effects of religious mistrust it is generally because of their status as Christians in general, not as Catholics in particular.   

Study Questions:
     1.    How do parishes aid in the structure of Catholicism?
     2.    Describe the hierarchical structure of leadership within the Catholic Church.
     3.    What does it take for one to be considered a Catholic?


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