Many aspects of Church structure and Church organization need to change, but they change ever so slowly. The Church is a divine organization in terms of its cause, purpose and destiny but it is a very human organization in terms of its day-to-day structure and mode of operation. Many of these systems have been in place so long that many people, especially clergy, tend to think that they have divine origin. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I was ordained in 1956, Church structure and operation was overwhelmingly clergy-dominated and controlled. Religious women, and laity in general, were given so little influence in the structure of the Church that the cliché gradually developed that their role was to “pray, pay and obey.” I am happy to see that there has been a gradual erosion of the Church’s overwhelmingly clerical dominance. We now see religious women and laity who are in position of real influence, such as chancellors, school superintendents, directors of finance, etc., etc. When you get into the real decision making areas, however, ordination to the priesthood still seems to be an absolute criteria.
An editorial in America magazine three weeks ago offered an unusual suggestion of how we might advance non-clerical influence yet farther. They suggest putting lay people into the College of Cardinals! Surprised? America gives reasons why this would be an advantage and I lack the space to develop their points here but I certainly agree. Diversity is a great strength and the Church needs diversity in its leadership at the top.
Knowing that this change is not exactly imminent, America goes on to suggest two other ways to reorganize diocesan offices. One is to have lay people constitute at least half of the bishop’s principal advisors. A second is to create a new body, an international council of lay persons to share functions with the College of Cardinals. The members of the council would come from a wide range of occupations and diversity in views and values that is so lacking within the College of Cardinals.
The article goes on to quote, “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.”
Such an international council of laypersons would be an excellent and much-needed addition to the Church’s operational structure.
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