A modest proposal. But don't hold your breath.

How about greater involvement from lay people in the Church?

The editors at America explain:

No one should anticipate changes in the existing discipline on celibacy or in the teaching on women’s ordination, but there are other ways to reform church structures to allow women and married men to participate in church governance. 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.

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. 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. They would come from a variety of occupations—education, health, religious life, law, the arts, business, science, government and labor. 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.”

Some members of the council would direct Vatican offices; 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.

Read more.

Related: Washington’s Cardinal Wuerl on the important role of the laity in the Church.

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12 responses to “A modest proposal. But don't hold your breath.”

  1. I am sorely tempted to just say, “What a load of tripe!” But no.

    In the first place, I don’t think the problem we face is something that needs to have power given to the laity. I think the fundamental error of the editors of America is that they think it’s all about power, that they view this as a power struggle in which power has to be taken out of the hands of the hierarchy. The laity are, of course, already in positions where they can offer the benefit of their expertise in service to the Church on several councils. But the editors seem to want to turn it into a numbers game and a power grab. Apart from the fact that such thinking is totally foreign to the mind of Christ (if some hierarchs are on a power trip, the answer is not to put laity on one as well), it misunderstands the true role of the laity. THe laity are anointed priest, prophet, and king not toward the hierarchy, but toward the world. The real crisis is the one identified by bishop-elect Coyne in the post before this. And it has been going on for decades. We’ve been complacent as a Church as people slipped away. We have been timid or ineffective in presenting the gospel; we’ve been timid or ineffective in proclaiming and explaining the moral requirements of Christian discipleship, whether it has to do with contraception or social justice; we’ve been timid or ineffective in sending the faithful into the situations of their daily lives — family, workplace, society — energized and enthusiastic to transform the world into the kind of place God wants it to be.

  2. A few thoughts…

    1) I work in a parish that is essentially run by the laity. We do not have a pastor. We have lay person who serves as our ‘pastoral administrator’… To be honest, the parish is a mess. We have more committees than you can imagine (spaghetti dinner council with sub-committees… seriously). There is no focused vision. Just a lot of voices trying to get on top… without a real reason, other than getting on top. To be honest… a lot of it almost seems as though they’re all in it just to prove that the laity can do this job.

    I’m afraid that if this sort of thing were implemented on a larger scale… we’d see much of the same attitude. Jumping into the hierarchy just to prove that laity can do just as good a job. I also fear quite a bit of disorderedness, especially considering this would be new and without a clear and established ‘this is how it goes’. To be honest once more… I don’t think the laity is yet comfortable with who they are. There seems to be too much of this need to ‘prove oneself’. And almost a backwards clericalism. Clericalism is the thought that to be holy you have to be a priest/religious. Or that the only way to be holy is to be a priest. Or in the case of this backwards clericalism… that the laity needs to do what priests do in order to be holy. Until the laity can be comfortable with who they are, who they are called to be… This seems to me to be a bad decision and done for wrong reasons.

    2) There’s something to be said that the structure of the Church, as it stands now, was guided by the Holy Spirit. We, as Catholics, believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects her from the gates of Hell. Did she not also guide the structure of the Church? I don’t deny some culture influence. But don’t we say that God works with those and through those as well?

    3) The vocation of the laity and the vocation of ordained are different vocations. The vocation of a bishop is to be a shepherd to his flock. Priests are extensions of the bishop’s call to be shepherd. The Pope is shepherd of the flock. The hierarchy exists in relation to this call to shepherd the Church. Frankly, that’s not the laity’s vocation. And that’s okay. Everyone isn’t called to everything. That’s both on a natural and supernatural level… men aren’t called to give birth to children… the laity isn’t called to shepherd the Church.

    4) If everyone strives for holiness in their state in life, all would be well. Laity, you want to see the hierarchy get their act together? Be holy. Focus on your own holiness, which I guarantee is not affected by the state of the hierarchy. Holiness begets holiness. Priests, strive for holiness. Laity, strive for holiness. Take the Gospel seriously. This is the answer to our Church’s problems. Not man-made solutions.

  3. I think, before get involved in all this proposed corporate reorganization, that the laity should get involved in a greater way as was intended by both the Council and Tradition. That is, an active and engaging prayer life encompassing the Mass, sacraments and pious observances. Until that happens, shuffling the deck chairs for the sake of making people feel more important is a waste of time.

  4. I place absolutely no trust in America magazine or Jesuits in general. I don’t say this to start anything or to put them down. I actually makes me cry. I graduated from a Jesuit institution, went to a Jesuit parish for special occasions with my grandparents. The men in my family went to Jesuit run high schools. I don’t just cry, I weep.

  5. This is not an entirely new thought and I appreciate that America published this.

    I doubt that this will happen either however.

    Parishes can be a mess whether run by lay people or priests. Having more lay involvement makes sense for so many reasons.

  6. Neither a strict communist system, nor a pure democracy, actually functions well in practice in any governmental setting. The church is no exception. Actually a constitutional monarchy is probably the most effective form of government and the church, as it’s currently structured, is a similar construct. Involvement of the laity is fine at the parish and at the diocesan level. Having laity within the ranks of the college of cardinals would be confusing and counterproductive, and really what ultimate purpose would it serve except to muddy the waters? Obviously, it is a natural human inclination to not leave well enough alone.

  7. I’ve always thought “America” an odd name for a magazine that was ostensibly about Catholicism. But I guess that mindset would help explain the desire to install democracy as the form of government for the Church with a “Senate of Cardinals” and a “House of Lay Representatives”.

    No, thanks!

  8. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this part of Cardinal Wuerl’s article.

    “The task of ordained ministry in the Church is to proclaim the Gospel and to help the Catholic faithful understand the meaning of the Church’s teachings so that it can be joyfully and fully embraced.
    The translation of that Gospel into the temporal order is the task of the laity. ”

    So the laity are fed to the lions and we can only speak with the imprimatur of the Vatican.

    Perhaps these two articles below say it better ; the first is about

    “The global Catholic development agency Caritas Internationalis (CI) which is reeling after the Vatican took the highly unusual step of officially blocking Lesley-Anne Knight from running for a second four-year term as CI secretary general.
    This link will explain it further

    The second is from a priest who spells it out even more clearly
    I have extracted this part which may help:
    “Theological censorship justifies itself as the quest for the truth and poses as truth’s champion. In fact it is the enemy of the discovery of truth because discussion is forestalled. The contemporary secular world understands this and wisely enshrines freedom of speech and debate as a central value. The Church no less than any other enterprise is at least the poorer and at worst prone to error when it rejects this value.”

  9. Mary:
    ‘I place absolutely no trust in America magazine or Jesuits in general.”

    I am saddened by your negative opinion of the Jesuits and I am wondering why think and feel that way. (However, I have not walked in your shoes.)

    Where would the church be without the missionary, educational and spiritual contributions of the Society of Jesus over the past almost 500 years?

    Have you seen the book, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” by Fr. Jim Martin, S.J.? It is a gem and to me is like a mini-retreat to read.

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