There have been many excellent articles in America on the current crisis (6/3). Different perspectives, often complementary, have been presented. It was, however, refreshing to read Christopher Ruddy’s thoughts from the Second Vatican Council seeking inspiration for a renewal in the heart of the church’s tradition rather than outside of it. There is a salutary and lucid optimism here, a confidence that the Holy Spirit has sowed the seeds of resurrection and given the church the means to confront the crisis. As Mr. Ruddy points out, the theological tools are there; they need only be deployed with seriousness and consistency. If there is not a renewal on this level, all the other remedies will only be superficial patchwork. We have, indeed, been offered a terrible and graced opportunity. Mr. Ruddy has done a great service by reminding us of the need for the church to become what it has already defined itself to be.
Your recent issues are excellent, as they touch on frustrations many of us laity feel in the church. We are reminded, We are the church, yet the laity has no channel to be heard and when we do speak out we are seemingly ignored. Christopher Ruddy’s reference to the unfulfilled potential of parish councils (6/3) reminds me of the three councils I was a part of from the late 60’s through mid-80’s. As we formed the councils, we struggled to find a Vatican II balance between the authority of the pastor/hierarchy and the voice of the laity. We all worked in good faith, and slowly progress was being made. I have found recently, however, that the effort was wasted, as many councils are now only advisory, voting no longer being allowed.
There have been synods where the laity are asked to funnel input through the parishes to the bishop. But I’ve seen the richness of expressed need for change stated in working sessions, but then edited out as polite and correct statements are sent upward. There is no route for laypeople as individuals to have a meaningful exchange of ideas with a bishop. Any dissent with the status quo is viewed as disrespectful and, if politely acknowledged at all, is ignored.
Yet we laypeople must make tough decisions as we live our lives and raise our families. So since the church cannot hear our need, we are forced to leave our real cares at home as we bring our church persona to Mass, if we go to Mass at all.
The current scandal brings the vacuum between hierarchy and laity into sharp focus as many in the Vatican call for holding on to decision-making power in cases of abuse (Vatican Reservations, Signs of the Times, 6/3), while our culture in the United States calls for disclosure and turning matters over to civil authority. On this matter the laity will not sigh and walk away. When it comes to our children, the laity will be heard. So the Vatican II teaching, We are the church is now being tested after almost 40 years; yet we have developed no means to be so. Only through the grace of God will we become so.