The Vatican vs. the laity
October 29, 2002 5:02 PM   Subscribe

The Vatican vs. the laity - NPR's All Things Considered had a report today about Catholic laity groups pushing for more say in how the Church is run, especially in light of the scandals of the past year. The Vatican claims that giving too much power to laypersons, which make up 99% of the body of the Church, is in violation of Canon law. Laity groups claim that when there are laypersons serving in administrative bodies, they are mere rubberstamps appointed by the bishops. Can the church be more responsive to the its membership without unmaking its fundamentally hierarchical character? (The audio stream may not be available yet, but when it is you'll need RealAudio, Windows Media, or Quicktime to hear it.)
posted by RylandDotNet (16 comments total)
Can the church be more responsive to the its membership without unmaking its fundamentally hierarchical character?

No, I don't think so at all. I was raised and am now a recovering Catholic, and hierarchical structure is what it is all about. Your connection to God is through the pope, and therefore through the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and finally priests. Taking that away denies the basic infallibility of the pope (since everything filters down from him)If a lay group looks at an edict and says even something as simple as "this needs to be revised", that has essentially chellenged the verity of what the pope says. And if the pope don't know it, then no one knows it.
posted by oflinkey at 5:08 PM on October 29, 2002

Also a recovering Catholic, I agree. The church is based on a single link to God: the pope. It is a theocracy and would be a wholly different animal as a democracy.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:19 PM on October 29, 2002

oflinkey, one clarification i would add is that the Pope doesn't make edicts for every single action that a parish or diocese makes. From what i've seen (and I could be mistaken) the Pope issues statements on very important issues. An interesting side-note, not all statements from the Pope are considered infallible by the Church, only ones specifically marked as such.

So it might be possible for laity to help make decisions in all the cases that the Pope hasn't already considered without changing the core structure of the Church.
posted by jsonic at 5:21 PM on October 29, 2002

I agree with everything that's been said, but one further detail: As far in the infallibility deal goes, that Pope has only made 2 statements which the infallibility doctrine is 100% in line with: both had 2 do with Mary....I think that she ascended into heaven w/o dying and that she was always a virgin were the two things the Pope said. Nonetheless, he can only be 100% infallible when he sits upon the the Throne of Peter in Rome...other stuff like the Eucharist is just flat out dogma which the Pope didn't necessarily have to comment on. As far as stuff he says such as the (new) 4th mystery of the Rosary and writings on abortion, I don't think actual canon law says he's technically infallible, but pretty darn close and are teaching Catholics are expected to follow.
posted by jmd82 at 5:47 PM on October 29, 2002

Saying that the Laity can't have more say because that's against Canon law is a bit of a red herring. I'm a Catholic, and a solid believer in the Church, but I also know that the reality of the Church isn't always the same as the way the Church represents itself.

Canon Law is not laid down by God. It's nothing more and nothing less than the rules of the Church. The Church prays to God for guidance in the creation and application of Canon Law. Canon Law can change, be added to, and be revised as the situation of the Church and the needs of the faithful change.

Also, a jsonic points out, the Pope's power and authority is considerable, but it's not absolute. For one thing, each person's conscience has some authority over how they act as well. The Church may be rigid and slow to change, but there's nothing saying it can't change.
posted by Orkboi at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2002

Does anyone think that the church should continue to stay rigid even if it means it will lose a good deal of its members?
posted by Hildago at 6:29 PM on October 29, 2002

That's just it, though... the Church believes that if they change, they are no longer the Church. I personally agree with jsonic, though - there's a lot of non-Ecclesiastical stuff that the laity could handle just as well, if not better, than the bishops. The Church doesn't really have to change, not the core beliefs anyway. But I'm not even Christian, much less Catholic, so I could be wrong.
posted by RylandDotNet at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2002

I like the church.

What I don't like is this bullshit from it's leaders. How can this man be the spiritual leader of about 2 million Roman Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens after this display of irresponsibility?

He should be made to step down immediately. But we all know that won't happen. These priests are still protecting one another. Gutless slime.
posted by philip_buster at 8:56 PM on October 29, 2002

He should be made to step down immediately.
I'm not registered on the NYT, but i'm guessing your link had to do w/ the child molestation stuff, and I agree totally. The CC can have their own trial for the Priests, but as long as they are in the USA, they should abide by the same laws, which means child molesters, Priest or not, should go to court.
Just remember that while some Priest are doing much less than living up to the expectations we hold them to, many of them are very good men.
posted by jmd82 at 9:18 PM on October 29, 2002

any moves to follow the footsteps of phillip of neri
are fine with me, i like the sound of that guy, a saint
who wore silly clothes when people were starting to take him too seriously and who included the laity in church proceedings. i think what we're seeing is the church making
moves to cope with its decline in the first world.
There have been many scientific and cultural advances/changes that have taken away a lot of the people
who were just going there out of habit and the actions of
some people in the church has driven away others.
i'd say the untold story here was the number of people who have left in order to satisfy there own desires under
the cover of ' being oppressed by dogma'and oh how the church should change.
non-catholics buy that line every time it is trotted out.
i could just sling it out here myself and people would
believe me.
but when im screwing that young swedish blonde out of wedlock and i cant take communion no more, i'll be sure
to say it was all the catholic churches fault.
do you non- catholics really believe we've all been brought
up kneeling in fear of roomfulls of finger pointing nazi- lovin
clergy ?
somebodys been taking the piss out of you.
posted by sgt.serenity at 10:48 PM on October 29, 2002

This Atlantic article has probably been linked here before, but it's worth checking out if you're interested in the direction the Roman Catholic church and the rest of Christianity is heading this century.

The changes that Catholic and other reformers today are trying to inspire in North America and Europe (and that seem essential if Christianity is to be preserved as a modern, relevant force on those continents) run utterly contrary to the dominant cultural movements in the rest of the Christian world, which look very much like the Counter-Reformation
posted by pitchblende at 1:07 AM on October 30, 2002

Gere's an article on the role of the laity by Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard and a person active in the Church:

The Hour of the Laity

The laity already have a great deal of power when it comes to getting things done in the Church. If their complaint is that they have no power to change dogma or doctrine, then they should join some other Church, where dogma and doctrine are decided by vote -- most mainstream Protestant denominations allow for this (as I keep hearing about this or that denomination voting for gay marriages, and churches in the organization not agreeing leaving that group.) Lay people may not be the celebrants at Mass, but they can be theologians, canon lawyers, parish managers, diocesan treasurers, etc.

As for will the church survive by being "rigid", i.e. not changing its heirarchy, doctrine, or dogma, I suppose time will tell, because that's exactly what they will do. It might be interesting to ask what's happened to churches, like the Anglican or Episcopalian, which have allowed more and more of their doctrine to come up for a vote.
posted by meep at 4:37 AM on October 30, 2002

What do you mean by "what's happened to churches, like the Anglican or Episcopalian, which have allowed more and more of their doctrine to come up for a vote."? Nothing's changed in the Episcopal church's doctrine. There's no more and more to it. I'm just confused about what you might think is going on in the Anglican/Episcopal church.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:28 AM on October 30, 2002

You know, the Church (as bureaucracy) has never been very good at figuring out what to do and how to change. It's always relied on saints for that. All the really good movements in the church were founded by saints, many of whom had to overcome a good deal of resistance. Maybe we're primed for a saint right now...
posted by Orkboi at 11:57 AM on October 30, 2002

Like St. Teresa of Calcutta?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:31 PM on October 30, 2002

like saint jerry of springer?
posted by sgt.serenity at 12:14 AM on November 1, 2002

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