I have just finished reading a thought-provoking book by my friend Adam A. J. DeVille.
The book is entitled Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. It provides some intriguing ideas on how to reform and heal the Church from the horrendous culture of abuse that we’ve seen revealed in the news again and again for a year now. Deville is an Eastern Catholic pointing out ways in which the Latin church could benefit from changing her canons to be run and disciplined more like the East, or more like the Latin Church was at some point in her past. The changes he suggests are in the bureaucracy of our church, not in her teaching. And while they are relatively drastic changes, DeVille gives very solid theological reasoning for all of them.
One of DeVille’s major premises is that the laity are not just a lesser breed of Catholic, destined only to blindly follow clerics here and there. He refers to the laity as “laics” and stresses that they themselves are ordained to a sort of priesthood– not the same as the priesthood of the clergy, but not a lesser Catholic either, only a different member of the Body of Christ. And this is something I agree with one hundred per cent. If we are ever to reform the Church and recover from the sex abuse crisis, we must end the idolatry of clericalism and the arrogant contempt that priests in general have shown for the laics.
DeVille then outlines a four-point plan to reform the Church, based on practices that were adopted with some success at other times in history. He is not suggesting anything new; every idea is based upon Latin Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Catholic customs, and he provides ample references to the church history in question– much of which I’d never been taught before, as someone raised Latin Catholic and catechized primarily by the Baltimore Catechism and the infamous Legion of Christ’s lay arm, Regnum Christi. I am often shocked at the things I did not know, and reading DeVille’s book has been especially eye-opening.
The first reform suggested is to elevate parish councils to having actual power over what happens in a parish; the council would not be under the pastor but governing the parish jointly under the bishops’s supervision. This isn’t meant to make the pastor subject to the parish, but rather to put the clerics and the laics on the same footing collaborating together instead of helpless parishioners ordered around by a priest. DeVille even goes so far as wanting the parish councils to choose a priest instead of being saddled with one at the bishop’s whim.
The second is the formation of synods, chaired by the bishop but with the clergy and laics in attendance, which actually participate in church government instead of some kind of advisory capacity. A major feature of those synods would be that they would elect a new bishop, instead of the bishop being dumped on them from above by the Pope. And yes, as a Catholic raised on the Baltimore Catechism and the disingenuous papolatry of Regnum Christi, I was horrified at this idea at first. But DeVille’s reasoning is fairly solid, and he sites examples from the Armenian Church where a similar practice has been done successfully for a long time.
The third reform is that of the episcopal conferences, from a synod that simply advises the Pope to one with actual electoral power to pass rulings and accomplish something.
The fourth is to widely permit the ordination of married men to be Roman Catholic priests, as has always been the custom in the Eastern churches, and also to permit married bishops. This would be done because DeVille believes that having a family will build clerics’ empathy and make it harder for them to hurt or ignore other people’s children.
I am certainly not saying DeVille’s ideas are beyond critique. I do wonder if DeVille isn’t being a little naive about the goodness of laics at the parish level, first of all. I would certainly be frightened to go to any number of parishes in the Steubenville area if they were run by the parishioners. I also wonder if he isn’t relying too heavily on men with several children learning self-sacrifice from being fathers. I think most of us raised in conservative Catholic circles can name a family with several neglected children, a beleaguered housewife and a “devout Catholic” father who somehow rises to the top in the local Catholic community. I’ve known several, and I don’t savor the idea of such a man becoming bishop. And then again, I know many large Catholic families with wonderful fathers who make great leaders, so it could easily go either way.
And I am not saying that we have to adapt just this particular plan and overhaul the whole Church hierarchy based on a book, even if that were possible.
What I am saying is, we certainly can’t go on as we are. What is happening now, the way the clergy and the hierarchy behave and are revered by the laity regardless of their behavior, the total lack of consequences, everyone waiting for Rome to act and Rome grinding along– this is not working. It’s creating a global network that fosters and protects abusive men; it’s endangering countless children; it’s an horrendous witness to the Gospel. Something has to change.
And what DeVille is pointing out, is that things can change. They can change without losing our identity; they can change without losing our reverence for the Apostolic succession and the priesthood. They can change without betraying any of the truths we hold. They can change without felt banners and folk Masses, for that matter; these are not some kind of loopy newfangled notions. The changes he suggests are based in Catholic and Orthodox teachings, many of them have been done successfully before, and they’re not impossible now.
It’s not impossible to heal the Church now.
That is a very encouraging thing for me to be told these days.
And for that message alone, I think we should all give DeVille’s ideas a listen.
(image via Pixabay)