By Michael Bayly
Note: This article was first published June 3, 2014 on Michael's blog, The Wild Reed.
On the evening of Friday, April 30, 2014, close to one hundred people gathered at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis to hear theologian and author Paul Lakeland speak on the topic of "Pope Francis and the Liberation of the Laity."
Lakeland is the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University. He is active in the American Academy of Religion, the Catholic Theological Society of America, and the Workgroup for Constructive Christian Theology. His two most recent writings, both winners of Catholic Press Association awards, are The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church and Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church.
In this latter book, Lakeland defines laypeople as "baptized Christians called to ministry." Yet while he acknowledges that such a definition accurately depicts the place of laypeople in the church, it does not distinguish them from the clergy. This is because the definition offered by Lakeland harkens back to the era of the early church when a distinction between "laity" and "clergy" did not exist; everyone was simply part of the laos or "people" of God.
An "unequal society"
Unfortunately, however, a distinction did in time develop between "laity" and "clergy," and Lakeland explores and discusses the reasons for this in Catholicism at the Crossroads. He notes that this split began in the fifth century and reached its nadir fifteen hundred years later with Pope Pius X's Vehementer Nos, and in particular paragraph 8 of this encyclical:
It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of person, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.
One result of Pius X's "unequal society" model of church was that any critical or creative thinking in the church of the early twentieth century was viewed with suspicion and routinely suppressed. But as is often the case, Lakeland notes, there was a "backlash against these crimes against the intellect, and theology actually emerged stronger than it had been for many centuries."
One of the theologians at the forefront of this "backlash" was the French Dominican Yves Congar who, writes Lakeland, "gave particular attention to restoring the idea that there is a theological value to the lay state." It was under Congar's influence that those who attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) not only addressed the role of the laity but came to the same conclusion Congar had reached in 1953, this being that the particularly distinguishing mark of the layperson is his or her "secularity."
Lakeland began his April 30 talk by identifying this and a number of other distinguishing marks or characteristics of the laity that were articulated by the Second Vatican Council. Emphasizing the grounding of these characteristics in Vatican II is important, insists Lakeland, as a primary task of the contemporary church is to remain faithful to the spirit of the council.
The first characteristic, as mentioned above, is that the laity is secular, meaning that as members of the laity we live out our apostolic mission in the everyday. Because we are called to love the world for God, we must be fully part of the world.
Second, the laity is apostolic; as members of the laity our calling is to the apostolic mission of the church. Lakeland reminds us that an apostle is a missionary disciple called to be "poised toward the periphery," someone who is thus "off-center." He also reminds us that it is our baptism that makes us apostles.
Third, the laity is prophetic; we are called to speak truth to power, to speak out for the good of the church.
Fourth, given all of the above, the laity should be and needs to be consulted by the ordained leadership of the church.
This last characteristic lead to a discussion by Lakeland on the purpose and meaning of the ordained ministry. First and foremost, the ordained ministry is a support ministry; it supports the laity in the apostolic mission of the church. Accordingly, the ordained ministry should be directed more to the people of God than to the inner workings of the institutional church, which, Pope Francis has reminded us in both word and action, should be a facilitator of faith, not an inspector of faith.
The laity does not assist the ordained ministry in spreading the gospel, says Lakeland. Rather, the ordained ministry assists and supports the laity. Accordingly, the priest must be understood relative to the lay person as it is the members of the laity who carry the sacramental love of God into the world.
Lakeland noted that in a number of important ways the model of church that Pope Francis promotes and embodies is one that reflects Vatican II's understanding of the laity. Francis has also critiqued ecclessial narcissism or clericalism. In addition, the Pope embodies the servant model of leadership and has said that members of the institutional church, as true shepherds, should not be isolated from the laity, the flock, but should instead be with them to the extent that they "smell like the sheep." One obvious implication of this, says Lakeland, is that members of the church's ordained ministry should be less administrative and more pastoral.
Lakeland also stressed that the ordained ministers' close association with the laity is essential if they are to truly assist and support the laity in its apostolic mission of both bringing God's love to the world and bringing the world's concerns and problems to the transforming love of God. The shepherds of the church need to be respectful of and attuned to the spirit-inspired intuition – and thus practical wisdom – of the laity. For as Pope Francis reminds us, "Sometimes the flock has the scent of the way."
Related to this important point is the reality that there is no exact equivalency between the teaching of the church and the voice of the Spirit. Lakeland reminds us that at times in the past the ordained leaders of the church have been wrong while the rank and file have been where the Spirit is either leading or has taken up residence (with the most famous example of this being the Arian controversies of the fourth century). If this has happened in the past, says Lakeland, than it could not only happen again but could well be happening right now.
For many Catholics, including within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, it seems clear that the Spirit has led us to the realization that there is simply no way to justify clerical culture as an essential characteristic of ordained ministry. For as Lakeland writes in Catholicism at the Crossroads:
Clerical culture does not say anything about what it means to be a priest. It is simply a description of a particular and entirely accidental subculture of Catholic life, which for historical reasons has grown up around bishops and priests. As a description it is a neutral term. But it has a dark side, usually called "clericalism," which is what has happened to clerical culture when it came to be seen as essential to the condition of priesthood.
. . . If clerical culture is to bow to normal standards of life for the discernment of a calling, the more fundamental problem with an emphasis on ontological change in the ordination of a priest has to do with in which it ties the very being of the person to what is, when all is said and done, a role in the church at the service of the people of God – not a medal or a transfer into another or higher order of being.
A catalyst for change
Lakeland believes that in our role as the laity we need to see ourselves as a catalyst for change. He commended the work being undertaken in our local church around organizing for lay participation in the selection of our next bishop. This organizing is being coordinated by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) and has much to do with establishing accountability within the church, something Lakeland insists is crucial. "If the church is truly to practice accountability in the fullest sense of the word," he says, "then both its polity and its culture must manifest total mutuality." Lakeland acknowledges that there is a hierarchical structure in the church. Yet this hierarchy should indicate levels of responsibility to serve and not interpreted in terms of power, still less levels of holiness attached to strata of power.
The problem of lack of accountability in the church stems in large part from the lack of appropriate two-way openness necessary for the health of any institution. Here again, lay Catholics within our local church are stepping up and addressing an identified problem or disconnect. CCCR and the Council of the Baptized are leading a grassroots effort to organize a lay network throughout our parishes and deaneries. This initiative invites Catholics to join in building a strong lay voice on matters of concern in the Archdiocese, including the aforementioned issue of bishop selection.
All who heard Paul Lakeland speak on April 30 appreciated his wealth of knowledge, his insights, and his candor. Yet those at the forefront of local efforts to organize and facilitate lay participation in our church were particularly heartened and inspired by what Lakeland had to share.
Above: From left: Art Stoeberl (Call to Action MN & CCCR), Mary Beth Stein (CCCR and Council of the Baptized), Paul Lakeland, Rev. Michael Tegeder (St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church), and Bob Christensen (CCCR) – April 30, 2014.
For more of Paul Lakeland at The Wild Reed, see:
Paul Lakeland on How the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal Reveals a Crisis of Leadership
Paul Lakeland on the Church as a Model of Divine Mutuality
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens
Dispatches from the Periphery
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
Catholicism's Future is "Up to the Laity"
The Vision of Vatican II
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 1)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 2)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 3)
Other related links:
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission – Paul Lakeland (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 19, 2010).
Challenges to Us As Catholics – A 10-part series featuring excerpts from Paul Lakeland's book Church: Living Communion (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 2010).
Synod of the Baptized Uncovers Deep Well of Hope – Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 20, 2010).
Behind the Scenes at Vatican II: Yves Congar Captures a Historic Moment – Kathy Schiffer (Seasons of Grace via Patheos, November 5, 2012).
Images: Michael J. Bayly.