Laity Near the Top?

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.

The fundamental criticism of the institutional church is that its clerical, all-male establishment has not made room for other voices. 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.


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. Some in church leadership have done the opposite, creating a culture of clericalism that too often values loyalty over accountability. 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, 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.

These laypeople would offer much-needed perspective on the impact of the teachings and practices of the church, including such divisive subjects as contraception, the role of women in the church, the treatment of homosexuals 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, a too modest peace and justice agenda, lackluster liturgies with unprepared sermons and insensitive celebrants.

One may object that this initiative is a “pie in the sky” idea that the clerical establishment would never accept. Perhaps. Yet the implementation of specific alternatives like a lay council need not threaten the current leadership. 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.

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Chris Brune
7 years 5 months ago
I am torn. On the one hand I say let the hierarchy do whatever they want and bear the  consequences.

On the other hand, those consequences might be so debilitating, that one could be accused of failing to serve God through inaction.

Don't look to me for an answer; just more questions.
Gabriel Austin
7 years 5 months ago
There is a way for the laity to be heard - and in abundance. It is called PRAYER. You will find a handy guide in the work called SPIRITUAL EXERCISES.
Clare McGrath-Merkle
7 years 5 months ago
The mushrooming number of online multi-national signatories to the German theologians' over-reaching letter suggests that the historical losses of optional celibacy and female participation in the ministerial priesthood may not be matters the faithful consider to be mere epiphenomena to be left for a distant future's resolution.
At the heart of the abuse crisis is that of an episcopal crisis centering on the abuse of authority, attributable to a catastrophic failure in generativity, an Eriksonian idea suggesting a psychological and moral stunting due, as a large body of research suggests, to a subculture egregiously distorted by the exclusion of women, as wives and as leaders.

Clare McGrath-Merkle OCDS
Generativity and the U.S. Bishops' Responses to the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests 
Journal of Religion and Health. March 2010, Volume 49, Number 1, 73-86.
7 years 5 months ago
While I welcome the thought, I fear that as long as we have a celibate hieracrchy in Rome calling all the shots, it will never lead to anything positive.  Unless there were a change of heart among our leaders, I am afraid that the initiative would be nothing more than window dressing.  The beautiful sayings you quote of Pope John Paul II and of Benedict XVI are contradicted by the concrete decisions they have made, such as the appointment of loyalist bishops who subscribe to every word coming from the Vatican, the new liturgical translations, to mention only two.  They still think that they, not the people, have all the answers.  Tom
Basile Pennyworth
7 years 5 months ago
At this moment the throngs in Cairo have prevailed and the president has resigned. It seems that the revolution has succeeded. A quieter, more peaceful revolution - perhaps just as powerful - is taking place in the Church. More and more of the faithful are simply leaving.
Fewer and fewer "enablers" remain, who by their presence and fidelity keep the structures intact. I am one of those enablers. We still contribute. We still pray for vocations, although God may be sending them in abundance where we dare not look. We maintain the status quo.
Perhaps the many who leave are doing God's work by refusing to keep the institution propped up. Someday it will collapse of its own weight, and the phoenix will rise from the ruins. At age 80, I am not likely to see it. But if, more than simply leaving, a more proactive revolution arises, I'm not too old to join!
7 years 5 months ago
While the suggestion of including laypeople in the hierarchy is certainly innovative and full of theoretical potential, I would not expect it to go anywhere for several reasons:

1)  There is little or no chance that the current hierarchy would allow it.

2)  If the process to implement it follows the same schedule as the silly and insignificant revision of the of the liturgy, most of us will be long dead first.

3)  The people deemed acceptable for the new laypeople council and likely to volunteer for it would no doubt be those who think the status quo is acceptable.

The problems of the Church today are due to the failure of the laypeople to speak out against the tyranny of the hierarchy.

To quote that renowned philosopher, Pogo:  "We has met the enemy and they is us!"

Bob Betterton
The Compliant, Curious and Critical Catholic, xlibris books 2005
Thou Shalt Not Cope, to be released in April 2011 
MaryAnn O'Donnell
7 years 5 months ago
You mentioned that important lay persons commitees would not just be elderly men. This is progress. Still, I doubt I wll live to see the day when elderly women are considered more than brain dead. When the children are grown and on their own, unless the children are very important in the parish, your average elderly woman is useless to the church.
Mike Evans
7 years 5 months ago
The byword and watchword among bishops, clergy and seminarians is OBEDIENCE. Thus it is rare to hear any pastor, associate, seminarian or other person subect to reassignment by their ruling hierarchy even make a peep. Instead we go along to get along, never saying anything to upset the applecart or indicate how co-dependent we have become to our powerful masters. So, the laity who can, are leaving by the busload and trying to find an alternative way to engage themselves in a eucharistic community. I think the next steps will drive even the remaining long-suffering faithful away. I only see a pessimistic future for us all. A leaner, meaner, antique and museum church will not change the world.
David Pasinski
7 years 5 months ago
I think I'm on the same page as Ernie (#5). Today's throngs in Egypt- generally peaceful - demonstrated speaking truth to power. No hierarchy is EVER giving up power without a fight and layers of denial.  The people of God would unlikely create such mass demonsterations at St. Peter's clamoring for a greater role, but imagine that vison if we did....
Christopher Mulcahy
7 years 5 months ago

Whining about not having power is admitting you are not ready to wield it.  The Church is administered by men who got up early every day for years getting prepared.  Are you prepared?  Or is your mind full of fuzzy ideas about let's all love one another and ignore history?

Granted that the ecclesiastical authority trip without benefit of professional management has gone on long enough (feel-good economics, coverup of priestly lust, lax seminarian development, etc).  But who is ready to improve matters?  You? Me?  What is our vision for the Church and how do we propose implementing it?  Or are we just going to let the feel-good crowd have lots of meetings about the communion rail, embryonic stem cells, and evolution?

In days of yesteryear young men practiced fast draw out behind the barn.  But when they came to town, with all the noise of the crowds, the flying dust in the air, and horse poop everywhere, they were usually shot down in the street.

My suggestion: find out where the Church is working well (by their fruits you shall know them) and proceed to imitate. 

Colin Donovan
7 years 5 months ago
1. If Christ established the hierarchy as Bishops, Priests and Deacons, then it cannot contain laity by definition. Advisory roles yes, offices requiring orders, no.

2. I must not be going to the right parishes, where the empty pews cry out for more lay involvement. I can hardle find a seat in the ones I frequent, for the zeal of the laity in attending Mass, listenning to orthodox sermons quoting the Fathers, Aquinas, John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI.

I guess my experience of 43 states and 9 foreign countries is too limited to see the trend the editors of America see.
Katherine Lawrence
7 years 5 months ago
i appreciate the editors' desire to think deeply about the problems about the Church. They are bold in admitting "The fundamental criticism of the institutional church is that its clerical, all-male establishment has not made room for other voices."

My problem with the overtures to the laity is that the gestures are merely symbolic rather than actual. Until women are allowed in the hierarchy as equals to men at all levels, the Church will continue its decline.

I get so tired of cosmetic symbolic changes: e.g., in some parishes we say, 'for us... and for our salvation He came down...' as if leaving out the word MEN makes me feel suddenly included (it does the oposite because it highlights the Church's sexism).

it embarrasses me to read about Jesuits as they march against a corporation or boycott a product - don't they know people do the same thing for the same reasons agaisnt our institution? Shouldn't we Catholics focus on our own institution before we point figures at others?

Until the men on the inside make room for women on the inside as equals, claims of social justice and equality will continue to ring hollow.
Edward Visel
7 years 5 months ago
Well, maybe it is time for us to descend on Piazza San Pietro. As Catholics, we're not a rebellious people, because we see those who do being silenced and otherwise put down. Tens of thousands of people outside the Vatican would certainly have an effect; there is no question that there are many more than that who would like change. Getting people to stand up, though, will be difficult, as much by our loathness to stand up to authority as our locations. Articles like these are a start, but there is much work left to do.
Jane Wildeman
7 years 5 months ago
I believe Pope John XXIII attempted to initiate a path of renewal almost fifty years ago.  It was called Vatican II.  The current clerical leadership has worked hard to undo what Vatican II began.  My faith in God remains firm.  My faith in the Church is history.  
Judi Farranto
7 years 5 months ago
Jesus did not establish His Church as a democracy; it is by nature a hierarchy. I will continue to trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. The Editors would apparently promote the sheep to the position of Shepherds, as long as the Board of Shepherds entertain the Editors' points of view. Editors, try loving the Church as it was established, instead of trying to change it to reflect your points of view! Editors, rekindle the virtues of humility and obedience to where the Holy Spirit leads the Church.
peggie thorp
7 years 5 months ago

While all of these proposals for renewal in the church are steps in the right direction, collectively they continue to support the all-male world of Roman Catholic hierarchical leadership. Until a woman's vocation to ordained ministry is recognized for what it is - a call from God - any other calls should get in line. To say that "no one should anticipate" changes in current celibacy and ordination disciplines is disingenuous at best. Most American Catholics (including many ordained men muffled by the system) support change to these two disciplines and many thousands have left the church because of current intransigence. (They have not left their faith; they are finding it elsewhere.) These are only two subjects that require church-wide dialogue among parties able to participate with unfailing mutual respect and charity. Until that happens, we are not the People of God in the way we practice. We are the ordained and the rest of us, in the act of becoming the People of God. It shouldn't take so much nor should it take so long to bring all of us together. The Church in the 21st century needs to kick off a campaign of mutual regard for the other in our midst - for women and the married who have discerned a vocation to ordained ministry. Now THERE'S a leap forward. Yes, I certainly do anticipate these changes. These, too, qualify as "other ways" to alter church structures.

By the way, when Voice of the Faithful used the term "structure of the Church" in 2002, we were summarily banned from meeting on church prooperty in eight dioceses. See how things have changed already! 
7 years 5 months ago
I could not agree more with the theory of this proposal.  In the 4o years since the Council ended, we still have not seen significant and deliberative voice given to the Laity ... or even to lower clergy for that matter. I once heard our bishop tell his priests, as a decision affecting the whole diocese was about to be made, "This is not a democracy. In the Church, we are collaborative: that means you express your opinions, and then I make the decisions." And that was said to priests, not laity.

My experience has been, more often than not, when the laity are selected for offices or ministry in the local Church, the modus operandi of the universal Church in appointing bishops is often the model: "safe" people are chosen who will not rock the boat.  And very few at that!  I have seen these 'empowered' laity (including some permanent deacons) become even more 'clerical' than the bishops and priests.

If the reforms of Vatican II are ever fully implemented, it will not be because of these appointments of safe laity to token positions which only seek to maintain the staus quo.  Like Gameliel in the Acts of the Apostles, I believe that the reforms, if they are of God, will come ... regardless of clerical efforts to stifle them.  I sometimes imagine St. Paul in the midst of the modern ecclesial structure:  he would have been silenced and exiled long ago.

7 years 5 months ago
Please keep trying to get the fundamental point across. A laity-energized church which demands (i.e. powerfully prays into exisitence)  the annointing of sacerdotal leadership is core to the renewed Church. Jesus said, "Ask."  So ask!  That's my number one point. But as often as you keep saying things like, " one should anticipate changes...etc.etc." it all becomes an editorial excuse, a practical excuse, perhaps a cowardly excuse to just throw up one's hands and say "oh well".  Targeted change is what brings change.  A cure for this or that; a repeal of this or that law, rule etc.; and even an earth shaking change like...omg... non-celibate priests is the way most broader change happens.  So keep up the good work. But for God's sake, no for our sake don't work for reform while not anticipating change.
7 years 5 months ago
A couple of the posted comments to this editorial refer to the "heirarchical structure given to us by Christ".  I can't think of a Catholic theologian or scripture scholar who would not contest that statement.  The Gospels make no mention of this "heirarchical strucure".  Our Lord chose Peter, the rock on which the Church would be built (and that is open to interpretation) and commanded him to "feed my sheep."

In the Acts of the Apostles, we first hear about episcopoi (overseers) which we translate ecclesially as 'bishops', presbyteroi (elders who presided at the Eucharist) which we translate ecclesially as 'priests' and diakonoi (servants who cared for the widows and orphans) which we ecclesially translate as 'deacons'. In the Church of the Acts of the Apostles, these were functions, not offices exercising power.

The heirarchical structure was given to the Church by the Emperor Constantine in the early third century.  Much of the structure of the Roman Church is more Roman than Christian.  That's right:  the structure of the Church at Rome adapted (acculturated) itself to the the Roman culture and empire.  There is nothing 'sacred' about our structure. It is not infallible or unchangeable.
7 years 5 months ago
The comments predicting little hope for immediate change in the Church of BXVI and our USCCB are (unfortunately) accurate.
I think the superb article b yFr. Paul Crowley in America on "Tomorrow's Theologians" offers a perspective of what may yet change long after I'm gone.
Their breadth of perspective  in looking at the faith with their fresh eyes  sounds a note far better than the often less than informed and shoot from the lip approach we find in blogdom where some have all the answere, neatly prepackaged, already.
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
I think a simpler solution is to adapt/change to a lay centered Church. The Reformation went in that direction but Rome countered with more and more clericalism. If Egyptians can do it peacefully after 6000 years why can't we Catholics turn the bark around  and let's do it damn quick so some of us oldsters can see some of  the dust being blown out. ?
Todd Phillipe
7 years 5 months ago
I think the universal church council idea suggested here is too big to work, although it's certainly worth considering by anyone who is open to hearing the Holy Spirit's voice.  I would support smaller local councils of lay people, such as mandatory diocesan pastoral councils, who act responsibly and progressively so as to convince bishops they are worth listening to.  I am one such member of a diocesan pastoral council in the Rocky Mountains.   From there, and over time, lay people from individual dioceses could come together at the provincial level or national level, as advisors to the bishops conferences for example.  Theoretically the laity's influence and impact could work its way up through the heirarchy, who should retain decision making power.  I don't support laity selection of the Pope, but I do like the idea (discussed elsewhere) of laity involvement in helping discern bishop appointments, through something like a laity interview process perhaps, with a recommendation sent to the nuncio.  As with anything new, this must begin with small steps and lots of prayer.  Smart bishops will seek laity involvement and advice, and that will have an almost immediate and positive spiritual impact at the local church (diocese) level. 
7 years 5 months ago

I agree with what “Laity At The Top?” says. In God’s own way and in God’s own time may the proposals and others too, come to fruition. But like post #5 of Ernie who at 80 doesn’t expect the changes to happen in his lifetime, neither do I, also at age 80  Also regarding post #2 of Gabriel, respectfully allow the following. Yes, prayer is the alpha and the omega  at all times and in all things. And as you suggested, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is a great way to go. The trouble is, you seem to make prayer the only necessary prerequisite to reform in the Church. This doesn’t jive with the thinking of St. Ignatius, who said that although we must always pray as if everything depended on God, we must also work just as diligently as if everything depended on ourselves. That’s exactly what the editors of “Laity At The Top?” are trying to do - get the ball rolling!

Now about my two cents! Regarding laity as Cardinals, including women of course, let it happen good Jesus! The Cardinalate is an honorary title, having no intrinsic connection to Holy Orders.  Cardinals are simply Papal advisors and electors, functions that laypeople can no doubt  handle very well. If my memory serves me well, the last layman named Cardinal was Antonelli, during the reign of  Pope Leo XIII. According to custom he was then ordained to the priesthood and I think consecrated as Bishop.  But I’m talking about non-ordained laity serving in the College of Cardinals. How inclusive that would be!

Also if I may add, let it be as it was in the beginning and as it happened at various times and places, that Bishops, including even  the Bishop of Rome, be called to Episcopal service not only from the ranks of the clergy, but also from the ranks of  unmarried and qualified laymen, as happened with the appointment of Anselm as Bishop of Milan. St. Anselm is also a Doctor of The Church.  I am sure somewhere in the Universal Church there are laymen who would make excellent Bishops and even a Pope or two! Church rules must first unwind to allow such candidates to emerge into the light.

There’s so much more that should be said but I think this Post is long enough. Please God  I hope, one of these day the Church will seriously heed the words of St. Paulinus of Nola, quoted by JPll in “Novo Millemio Ineunte” honoring Sensus Fidelium, “Let us listen to what all the faithful say because in everyone of them the Spirit of God breathes!”
Craig Hanley
7 years 5 months ago
Just be honest and change the name of the magazine to Whining.
Clint HYER
7 years 5 months ago
The Editors suggest the creation of an International Council of Laypersons. Well, why not create one! Who set the requirement that it must be organized (or approved) by the current Church Hierarchy? It can start as an independent advisory council and hope (trust in the Lord) that if it does produce fruits of value, the official Church will implement the recommendations.
Clint HYER
7 years 5 months ago
    Considering my comments (#26 ) further. Would the objective of the Council be to provide a role of the Laity in building the Church or for the Laity to gain more political power within the Church? Would the Council of the Laity seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit or the Church Hierarchy? Is it a question of who would fund the work of the Council? One major advantage of an independent Council is that the reports and recommendations of the Laity could not be suppressed by the Church Hierarchy!
Sean Simpson
7 years 5 months ago the editorial...The Church is not a democracy,of is far superior to that system..It is based on loving service...the first  being the last..and is a  counter culture..etc. I once heard of a bishop saying of a fellow (it would have to be that, wouldn't it ?) bishop that he would only lie for the good of the Church.It shocked me years ago.There is no such thing as a holy lie,just because it comes from a holy(Church)source..A lie is a lie  !!.The same applies to power."Holy"abuse of power must be exposed and challenged in the name of the Gospel.NOW is the time.Ordinary people can change things(Cairo!) and we must now as Catholics say enough is enough.The only subservience we owe,is to the Lord and the Gospel...and that is real freedom...Let us pray for the courage to seize the moment for the good of the whole Catholic Christian community and its witness to all people of good will....Sean(Manchester..UK )
Jack Barry
7 years 5 months ago

You close by noting that "the church has survived these 2,000 years because at key moments it chose the path of renewal".   It would be very interesting and possibly useful to see a well-chosen list of some important "key moments" accompanied by a description of the prior duress that pushed the Church to choose the path of renewal in each case.    It would not be surprising to find that major external pressures of one kind or another had to act for quite a while before the Church authorities recognized that there was no choice but to renew in some fashion.  If there are lessons in that history, they might guide present day efforts.   Millions of words and bad PR don't appear to exert much leverage.  

Molly Roach
7 years 5 months ago
Let's stop saying "laity" and start saying "the baptized."  This way we are viewed through our relationship with Christ rather than our status vis a vis the clergy.  That could clarify some things.   And we can look to the rite of Baptism to get our bearings with God and with each other.  The hierarchy at present reminds me of drunken parents who are trying to sober up.   Good luck to them.
Jack Barry
7 years 5 months ago

Perhaps a "key moment" is approaching:   A monsignor archdiocesan official indicted for two coverup-related felonies in Philadelphia.   An LA monsignor, Vicar for Clergy, out of office after assigning a known abuser in 2009, four years after his diocese paid $660M for abuse and days after a reporter inquired.   The Catholic Church in Ireland(!) expected to be reported to the Pope as within 10 or fewer years of collapse.   Legal action against retired Cardinals being sought in The Netherlands and Philadelphia for deliberate abuse coverups.   An Anglican Ordinariate established in Peru to receive departing Roman Catholic priests and, possibly, their congregations and clergy from Uruguay, Ecuador, and Argentina.  

And this month is only half over.   One wonders if any news of such Church activity in the world breaches the ramparts of the Vatican.  What could any lay panel hope to do if inserted into the known turmoil of 2011, even with authority, which seems implausible?
Lisa Kaiser
7 years 5 months ago
Laity should not be "near the top", laity should be at the top!   clergy should be reporting to be accountable to the laity.  This how things work in other Christian denominations and in other religions. 

Nothing will change in the Church until the laity cease financial support of the RCC.  Some posts above talk about the revolution in Egypt.  Laity in the RCC could launch their own revolution be simply closing theri wallets and checkbooks and encouraging others to do the same.  When Rome lacks financial resources, it will respond to the call for reform.
ed gleason
7 years 5 months ago
Lisakaiser suggests the 'money shutoff' tactic..  They, hierarchy, have enough now for their own life time so they laugh at that oft mentioned tactic... The 'baptized' need a unique strategy to breach the wall. My guess it will come from community organizers not academics.
Jack Barry
7 years 5 months ago

The list of proposed areas of lay expertise includes "business".   Within that field are a few world-class experts in the art and science of management who know what to do when:

-  The people most important to you, who define your purpose and mission, are leaving in droves

-  Members of your permanent professional staff keep being exposed in criminal matters
-  Your public declarations are too often met with puzzlement, antipathy, or worse
-  Your major sources of funds are fading fastest

It would be no affront to the Holy Spirit to exploit this lay human talent while waiting for Divine help.  
7 years 5 months ago

I’ve decided to continue my post #24, regarding “Laity At The Top?” with the following lay-input on two live wire issues wrinkling the forehead of the Mystical Body of Christ namely, celibacy and women priests.

Up front let me say, I believe in the charism of celibacy, a gift given by Jesus to the whole Church. Indeed, the soon to be “Blessed” Pope John Paul II once said, that, married members of the Church should also practice celibacy from time, to time, sharing thereby in the special splendor of Grace contained therein. The faithful practice of celibacy can be a hard crust of bread to chew and I realize at 80, it’s a lot easier to support it than say, at 25! But when all is said and done it’s probably no harder than the struggle  married persons encounter in practicing spousal fidelity! Bodily restrain is difficult no matter how you cut it! But it can be done, even if scars happen! The body of Jesus was also scarred in his salvific Passion.. And in that according to Faith,  all sinners find a saving Companion.

However, when  it comes to clerical celibacy, I think Orthodox Christianity probably has it right. Seminarians on the way to priesthood may marry, but it must happen before they receive the Deaconate. But Bishops are called to service only from among the celibates. Maybe our Catholic Church can in time, institute a similar, or identical discipline. Of course here’s the hard part - it would take humility for those Catholic ecclesiastics
who hold the wheels of change to admit that someone other has done it better, in which case it might be useful for them to recall the revealed Word of God which says, “God resists the proud, but gives his grace to the humble!” So it seems to me.

What about women as ministerial priests? I don’t advocate it, but would like to see women ordained as Deacons. For women to aspire to the priestly office is rooted in Faith  that the priesthood is what the Church says it is and so, it’s a good and holy aspiration in itself. Many holy women have aspired to the priesthood, notably St. Therese of Lisieux. But I think the call of women to priesthood is moral and maternal, which resides in the natural and supernatural genetics of the female, through the Blessed Virgin Mary who is not only Mother of the Church, but also Mother of the Priesthood and of all priests.

That women of our day aspire to the priesthood has little or nothing to do with the Woman’s Liberation Movement. Indeed it goes back at least as far as 494 when Pope St. Gelasius I, stopped the ordination of women to the priesthood which was happening in Southern Sicily. Additionally, Canon XI of the Fourth Century Laodicean Council forbade the practice. In our day “Blessed Pope John Paul II said it wasn’t that the Church didn’t want to ordain women, but  rather it’s because the Church feels it doesn’t have the mandate from Christ to do so.  That sounds sensible to me.

In conclusion let me invoke Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Aquinas, strange as it may seem. Once Lincoln’s wife asked him to introduce a Bill in Congress that would give her the title of “Madam President.”  Abe embraced he saying, “I much prefer the title, Mother!” In Aquinas’s day the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been defined and he confessed he had difficulty believing it. But he added if the Church ever defined  it as Dogma, he would certainly accept it. That’s the way I feel about women priests. If the Church reverses itself, so will I!
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
This editorial implies the church's big mistake is that we are not Protestant humanist organization.  

This analysis of the church is backward.  Generations of Catholics' faith are not based on an Equal Employment  Opportunity model of participation.  Or on other concerns of participation or governance which sound suspiciously like that of the Unitarian church or some other Protestant group who do not believe as we do in the Gospel as interpreted by the church, the mission of the church,  or its sacrements.   To us the Gospel is not an incidental cultural artifact or just another nice moral story.  The Gospel proclaims the divinity of Christ who is  the way the truth and the light.  We are not just another social gathering of well meaning people. We have the Gospel the divine word of Christ. The church should not become just another human organization  or busines that emphasizes the congregation or stockholders over the Gospel message and its implementation in the world.  Where in the Gospel does it say the church should be judged on its mass appeal and popularity?  Should a popular vote or sentiment  determine our moral codes we should live by? Should we embrace the superficial and become a fun religion by setting aside rules that challenge and dismay imperfect human beings?  How far should we go to rationalize the truth and kid ourselves to accommodate the dissatified?  Is it part of the church's mission to have a public relations campaign aimed at Catholics who are experincing dissatifation with the church ?   We need to redicover that the Gospel is all about and stop with the fades and fashions that have nothing to do with the Gospel.      

Where do these sterile ideas about the Catholic church come from and from whom?
Jack Barry
7 years 5 months ago

Tom M. - 

See the Gospel, Matthew 28:19:   "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" .   

Going to all nations and making them disciples certainly implies something to do with numbers and mass appeal.   If it doesn't, Jesus's command makes no sense.  

What you dismiss as public relations campaign is known in Church talk as catechesis and evangelization.  These are commonly viewed as central parts of the Roman Catholic Church's mission that connect directly to the Gospel quote above.  They are tools for making disciples, whether the target is an aboriginal heathen or a neighbor edging toward the Church exit.  
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
Dear Jack Barry

We are talking about the church not the circus.  But your quotee shows you are a good Catholic school boy.  Your mother will be so proud. 
Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
By the way the Voice of the Faithful at least in the Boston area in 2002 was a horror.  If this is an example of laity at the top, run for your life.  It was so bad.  The "leadership" that showed up a  our church was some women from some small Catholic collge theology department in the area. Very bad news.  Your would need 3,000 coursed in exotic theology to appreciate the nonsense she put out.  Everything was symbolic.  THe sash the priest wore at their special ceremony was so meaningful to her. So very elistist.    You woud have to be super Catholic shcool boys and girls to relate to what the women was talking about.  She just di not make any sense.  No as a discussion leader was she able to fully precieve the gievance we had about the problems of clerical sex abuse in Boston at the time.  Leadership just does not grow spontateneously but especailly when it is not connected to reality. 

David Hourigan
7 years 5 months ago

ROFL - Can you imagine a church committee made up of the above editorialist and the commentators that followed. It would take them an eternity to come to an agreeable conclusion to any perceived problem.   Reminds me of the story of that famous committee that got together to plan and invent the horse.  By the time they were finished that had constructed the camel. Our divinely human church struggles along in many aspects, however, it's established  purpose to spread the "good news" of Jesus Christ to the world has not waivered thereby being and remaining the source of salvation for that world. God's gift to the world is himself.  The only thing necessary. All else is vanity. Work it out boys and girls and get over yourselves.  

Tom Maher
7 years 5 months ago
Dear Mr. Hourigan

Your comments demonstates the classic reponse of some Catholics laity to conflicts: conflicts are bad and should should not exist.  "All else is vanity".  Really.  

Denial of conflict  is a denial of reality.  In the real world conflicts among people happen all the time and everywhere. and are often in need of some kind of resolution. Conflicts are not rare or unexpected and arise in the church and , no surprise, in the discussion of articles in America magazine.

The Gospel is not a mechanism for hiding from or avoiding the reality of conflict.   Conflict is part of the human condition that can not be avoided even by the church.   People  do not agree on all things all the time.  People do disagree and have issues to be resolved..  The hope is tha conflicts properly recognized and addressed can be resolved or otherwise dealt with. 

The misinterpretation and misuse of scripture and the Gospel is one big reason that the laity should not be relied on to lead the church.  Leadership in the church does require careful training in sacred text and doctrine.and a grounding in reality.  This is not something the average Catholic school boy or girl can do without muddling the text beyond recognition.   We do not need modern day Peter the Hermits or Hermitesses leading the church down new mystical rabbit holes of unreality.  We need church leaders who can deal with reality and not school boys and girls with primitive misinterpretations of scripture and general lack of realism and wisdom. 
Paul Feeley
7 years 5 months ago

A very useful concrete proposal to advance to a more integrated church.

7 years 5 months ago
A necessary correction in both my Posts #24/#35 - it's not "Laity AT The Top?" as I wrote, but "Laity NEAR The Top?" as editors proposed and i mistated. Sorry! B. Snowden
John Fox
7 years 5 months ago
Some of this elegant editorial has ties to "Voice of the Faithful" which is an outgrowth of the abuse problems suffered by the church.Why not join forces?
james keating
7 years 5 months ago

Think again Jesuits, it looks like lay involvement is not the magic bulletin you hoped for...see below in light of recent philadelphia priest scandal

"The chancery announcement on the new process [of abuse review] conspicuously made no mention of the local church’s lay review board, whose members were heavily criticized by the Philadelphia grand jury for their response to the contested allegations." (rocco, feb 17, 2011)

David Smith
7 years 4 months ago
Your suggestion amounts to setting up a parallel bureaucracy.  Members of that bureaucracy would behave the same as members of any bureaucracy - pretty much the same as the clerical bureaucracy does now.  The fact that they're not ordained priests would hardly make a difference.  They'd be selected by politicians at the grass-roots level, not by the people as a whole.  That's the way these things work.  Where there's prestige to be had, people who value prestige push hard to get and give it.  Everyone else gets pushed aside.  We've all seen that.  It's human nature.

In other words, you'd just have two church bureaucracies, filled with politicians, instead of merely one.  Back to the drawing board :O)
Leonard Villa
7 years 4 months ago
This editorial is analogous to those who use the term collegiality as meaning American-style democracy where majority rules.  Allied to this is the fallacious notion that things like celibacy, Church-doctrine on celibacy, and the like are "problems" because we didn't have enough democratic input. This is nonsense and reeks of naturalism:that the Church is primarily a human institution coming to terms with the modern world.  Lumen Gentium is pretty clear that the Church is hierarchical by nature.  Collegiality does NOT mean that the Pope has to consult with every bishop, get majority votes, or that a democratic majority among the bishops control his hand or Church doctrine. The Church is bouind to what it has received from the Lord. The Church teaches authoritatively on faith and morals. Disciplinary things like celibacy can be disputed but the Church has stated her mind on this many many times.  How about criticizing th spirit of the world which has entered the Church where the Cross and mortification and obedience are unintelligible categories and the vox populi is considered the vox Dei unless the vox populi violates a canon of political correctness. Political correctness tends to trump all.
Gerald Musa
7 years 4 months ago
There is truly a need for re-structuring the Church to reflect the rich diversity that it has. There are knowledgeable lay people who have a passionate love for the Church and who are willing to give all they have to see the Church grow - these include young people, as well as women whose contribution can make a big difference. However, the motive for integration this should not be because the Church want to be politically correct in the eyes of the world but because the Church strives towards being an all-inclusive Church.
7 years 4 months ago
This creative approach made me turn immediately to a friend: Blessed John Henry Newman.  I thought-at age 87 I can at least ask him to pray.  I hear his words, "The voice of the whole Church will in time make itself heard." It would be a miracle-not one for his canonization process-but a cause worth bringing to his attention!. Here's to continuity and change. Let prayer and hope and dialog continue. 
Vincent Gaglione
7 years 4 months ago
To borrow a phrase from my Jewish friends, from your mouths to the Almighty's ears!!!
Mary Louise Hartman
7 years 4 months ago
In the lifetime of many of us,  one of the hierarchy's greatest follies was not listening to Paul VI's Birth Control Commission, composed of distinguished lay persons,  when it handed in the report supporting artificial birth control.   The negative  domino affect of the decision to reject the report haunts the Church even today.   The life experience of Lay Persons is an untapped mine of  riches which could, over a long period of time,  begin to heal so much of the damage which has led to the empty pews described in America's 2/21 editorial,  Laity Near the Top.  The idea of a Council sharing functions with the College of Cardinals,  is not new.  The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) made this proposal fifteen years ago when it called for a convention,  composed of lay, religious and ordained leaders to guide the  governance of the Church.  This call has not gone unheeded.  The American Catholic Council will be held in Detroit this coming June 10-12 at the Cobo Convention Center.    The only input from hierarchy has, unfortunately,  been condemnation from the local Ordinary,  Archbishop Vigneron.  Throwing out the baby with the bathwater comes to mind. 
Mary Louise Hartman


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