The laity & the leadership crisis

Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien

COMMONWEAL THE LAITY MARGARET O'BRIEN STEINrhLS FRANK J. MACCHIAROLA BRIAN...

...In civic and public life, vidual faith...
...The council's teachings do serve as a demarsexual abuse of children by priests...
...Catholics should speak more freely and with candor of and from In our own case, we know Catholicism is not simply a the- their religious tradition...
...Perhaps they actually believe that the Catholic church has devotions and practices, and specialized in certain kinds of work...
...bishops...
...No one gave perty and salvaging a Catholic community will fall to lay people, mission and no one asked...
...The machine chugs along...
...I don't know where I am going or where the exit is but I find the median strip fascinating...
...these institutions have a distinctive Catholic character...
...New modes of authority require new signs and of the laity could contribute to the well-being of the church...
...This is a church on the brink of a leadership crisis, a crisis that not only threatens to close institutions and to weaken structures, but, were it fully fathomed, a crisis that threatens the maintenance of Catholic identity, the very stuff by which we understand who we are, why we're here, and what we're doing-the identity question...
...Unfortunately the church hasn't yet raised with a special poignancy for us-and right now-beworked out good ways to have the kind of conversations and cause the continuing loss of our traditional leaders and "culdebates that would lead to useful resolution...
...efficiency and conformity parishes...
...D sociologist Anthony Giddens identifies three qualities of Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine, published modernity that are of particular interest here in that they by the University of Portland, in Oregon...
...All of this presupposes a com- Catholic identity in the universities, hospitals, and social sermunity and a history, a theological and social context for indi- vice agencies where they do their work...
...nor have bishops and their United States much of that tradition has been embodied and priests found an adequate expression for their collegiality...
...Though the response is a dioce- cation line between traditionalists and radicals, liberals and consan prerogative, it is clearly a national problem...
...nority with the independence of the unencumbered...
...ple, though believing Catholics and faithful church-goers, want Not so long ago, nuns and priests embodied in their lives no part of institutional responsibilities...
...Identity can have psychological, sociological, political, and ethnic expression...
...So it is no surprise that this depleted...
...tution with neither the efficient oversight of a monolithic inIt is a church variously distrusted or admired for its author- stitution nor the effective command structure of an authoritarian ity and clear line of command...
...There is prayer, show more initiative and creativity in addressing issues of worship, and ascetical practices...
...there is room for here...
...In the Old South than clergy and religious...
...Unless we face it squarely, the richtity and their links to the larger church...
...I think In that case, the actual task of maintaining Catholic identi- of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker...
...Yet every values and feelings...
...They were almost all founded by priests or sisters...
...I n The Consequences ofModernity (Stanford, 1990), British Will keep you posted...
...My childhood was pleasant but not bucolic, for exam- of boredom...
...we do not need more formal dethe matter is not finally institutions or behavior, but gathering gree programs in theology, but parish-based groups, courses, each Sunday to do what Jesus did, and ordering our lives to circles, that will make ordinary lay Catholics more theologilive his example...
...Those three qualities are discontinuity, disembeddedness, and reflexivity...
...The crisis this propensity raises for culcouncil...
...ours in the U.S...
...the Vatican reThe Catholic church in the United States is a large, di- sists the removal of priests found guilty of child sexual abuse...
...Meantime, charges and defenses continue Margaret O'Brien Steinfels without any authoritative body acting decisively: the bishops' conference offers advice rather than direction...
...Yet, this is a church with a knowledge base and with a brain...
...Of course, moral values and emotional ex- passing year makes it more unlikely that priests and bishops can pression are important aspects of religious belief, but there is carry out the assignment to the extent required...
...remarkable efficiency...
...For whatever else we might want charine taste to things, but this enormous expansion of emo- to say about this church, it is noisy and impatient...
...We are approaching the endpoint in a long transition away enment's promise of reason seemed to offer a greater degree of from an immigrant church centered on school and parish and certitude than religious dogma"-certitude in medicine and scideeply embedded in a religious culture shaped by the perspec- ence, in the systemization of government by bureaucracy and tive of clergy and women religious...
...All of complicit in a kind of division of labor, agitating for change in this encourages a tendency already at play in some religious the church while leaving the job of maintaining continuity and groups to understand religion primarily as a personal choice of personal and institutional identity to clergy and bishops...
...No Vatican official can send thunderbolts, Zeus-like, thority is decentralized in 196 dioceses and exercised by 397 down on this energetic, quarrelsome, and disorderly church...
...There is religious knowledge...
...This situation more...
...mand for learning, each distinctively expressed, and an equalBut here we come upon the church's own dilemma...
...Identity is a set of characteristics by which a thing or a group is definitively recognizable or known...
...A fair question, one I ing in many Hispanic areas and inner city parishes) need to draw confess that I am not sure how to answer...
...An ecclesial stamp of approval-along with the willmaiden, relativism, conservative Catholics rejoin with claims ingness to work long hours for low pay-still counts for a lot of church authority that can definitively interpret Scripture in the Catholic church...
...any rate where reason is understood as the gaining of certain Today, American culture readily absorbs the grandchildren knowledge...
...yet many of these institutions are certain pressing questions about the church's future: above all having to answer unsettling questions about their Catholic iden- a looming leadership crisis...
...I watch out for nostalgia, which tends to lend a sac- ous on a long waiting line...
...travels the same jour- to non-Catholics, all of whom will play a larger and larger role ney as all humankind and shares the same earthly lot with the in carrying out the mission of a high school or hospital or uniworld: it is to be a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human so- versity, but not always with the spirit or goals of the founders...
...Hispanic be done in a time when a large portion of the culture bearersCatholicism, long present in the Southwest, increasingly dom- the institutional personnel, and those who work at maintaining inates the church there, including Southern California and the that culture and defining that identity-will be lay people, rather country's largest archdiocese, Los Angeles...
...symbols of attachment...
...more adept at attending to the spirIt is not yet obvious how or whether lay people can act re- itual needs of themselves, their families, and their fellow sponsibly on behalf of the church...
...the church itself is seen as fostering hypocrisy...
...These internal We will have to make passing on the faith to our children problems are steadily exacerbated by resistance from Rome and children's children a more passionate undertaking more sysand a growing paralysis among our bishops...
...the Christian Family Movement, Young Christian Students, American Catholics are in need of a countercultural stance...
...Is it any wonder that many lay peo- ing authority, but of reimagining how it is to be exercised...
...Lay reappropriation, an adaptation of the Catholic tradition...
...There are no effective to the newly democratizing countries of nineteenth-century and respected consultative bodies at the national or the dioce- Europe...
...and there is action sides...
...The first two refer to the tendency of modem society to segment time and places so as to separate people from (Steinfels continued from page 8) the past and from a locale, to separate them from the signs, symbols, history, and journey of their family, their people, their reservatives...
...He describes that challenge as "the unprecedented probsan level that would allow the laity to see and understand the lems of how to maintain or even establish the obedience, loyinstitution and its constraints and that would allow bishops alty, and cooperation of its subjects or members, or its own and clergy to see how the knowledge, perspective, and skills legitimacy...
...But even when lay gious beliefs behind a false division between private and pub- people have tried to exercise responsibility, who has taken us lic life...
...continue to struggle for the support and respect of other lay To this situation of provisional knowledge and its hand- people...
...undercuts the existing theologies of the priesthood and reliCatholics are the heirs and heiresses of a long and rich tra- gious life...
...In this scheme of things, all gregationalism of American Protestant Christianity, and the knowledge is provisional...
...Or whether we can act in Catholics through prayer and service, through Scripture and spira way that honors and reflects the multigenerational and mul- itual reading...
...It calls for a level of job-or worse, failing to do it...
...All of these represent enticing alternatives to the com- leaders like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that the church is "counmunal, hierarchical, and sacramental understandings that lie tercultural," stems from their response to the challenges now at the heart of Catholicism...
...All institu- r Tradition (the title of a book by the historian Eric tional insiders are sensitive to outsiders watching them do their Hobsbawm) is a complex matter...
...20: 10 September 1993 Commonweal...
...pragmatic rationality of our economic and business systems One response of the church to this unsettling situation has are increasingly congenial to the mindset of American Catho- been "ah ha-we told you so...
...The Catholic this day of the laity, lay people continue to be diffident in cre- educational system has turned out a lot of smart, skilled, and ating and supporting needed networks and organizations...
...Indeed, many of its reforms were heaven-shaking ligious beliefs...
...American tional memory seems to be an honest, straightforward sort of Catholics are 100 percent more likely to die of apoplexy than boost...
...Commonweal 10 September 1993: 19 certainly by the measure of most opinion polls, Americans lay people willing to take a lead in what will be a thankless and are religious, but not in a communally or institutional- frustrating task-at least, in this world's terms-will have to ly embedded way...
...In some practical and pastoral sense, they will shunning the anger and easy frustration that comes from bubecome irrelevant, answering questions that no one is asking, reaucratic powerlessness...
...Only in part is this the result of the about those practices...
...when it is judged capricious or unreasonable, the kind of def- The sense that tradition is being deconstructed, that shared erence that Americans once granted their political leaders, and beliefs and common practices are being lost, is being experiCatholic laity once granted clergy and bishops, is seen to be enced in the larger culture as well...
...Finally, the false divisions between lay ory or a body of knowledge or a network of institutions...
...Most parts of the body easily see that the tensions we feel as American Catholics have and mind are, considering the years of wear, performing with as much to do with being American as with being Catholic...
...But it needs a more and externally-bishops and priests will be increasingly par- conscious and conscientious development by lay Catholics willalyzed, intellectually and spiritually...
...As with all frontier enterprises, the of experience...
...there is reflection upon requires greater cooperation and collaboration on the part of both that knowledge in light of a faith tradition...
...They must and service that should flow from that reflection...
...limitless capacity of American culture to absorb Catholics and Social action groups that flourished in the 1950s and '60s to reshape their religious sensibilities and moral imagination...
...au- one...
...not of overthrowdismantled by the next...
...Things whiz by on both sides...
...Vatican II recovered a sense of the church as a whole ple with the inclusion of African-American and Hispanic- people, the people of God, emphasizing a universal call to hoAmerican Catholics...
...This means that the lay-run, indepenand tradition, and with truths known, if not with the assur- dent groups almost always operate at the boundaries-extending ance of faith, yet with confidence in the application of "right the reach of the church's mission while testing the limits of its reason" and a proper understanding of natural law to the data adaptability and tolerance...
...Here I am, in the lightenment and that inspired our nation's founding principles...
...ture bearers" goes on without apparent efforts to stem the tide What is clearly in evidence thirty years after the council is or to study, plan for, and institutionalize alternatives...
...It is a church with an unmatched network of elemen- are not the highest Christian values...
...Around the globe, the church both adapts to and ple...
...1) We are once again an immigrant cally absorb lay ministers ready to make the church the church-Vietnamese, Eastern Europeans, Latin Americans- locale for their full-time work...
...is the most boisterpoignancy...
...It is a people who "work for the church" and those who "work in the way of life...
...ness, diversity, and resources of our church will be sadly deIt is a church with marked regional variations...
...But provisionally, let me suggest the Just this catalog of organizations and efforts suggests how following...
...The prevailing individualism, the tempting con- Self-Identity, Stanford, 1991...
...considerable degree even now are sustained by them...
...and community and political organizing (flourishHow will any of this get done...
...When authority is found to be abused, are passing from the life of the American Catholic church...
...the work was started and it has coneven though they remain second-class citizens in the church tinued...
...The most comprehensive understanding of "Catholic" identity would add all of these expressions to the primary religious markers...
...in other, larger part, it develops out of our own histo- ture and religion stems from the realization that "the Enlightry...
...American Catholics must set about the work served in the Archdioceses of New York and Boston...
...swer-which raises the leadership question...
...As passed on through those institutions I have already described for the laity, very few mechanisms for granting responsibiliand whose variety and numbers are unprecedented in the ty or asking for their accountability are yet in place thirty years church...
...conscious and conscientious creation on matters connected to Church officials are no exception to these rules...
...flect back upon itself, leading, as Giddens says, to "the chronBut in 1993, thirty years after the council, this church is still ic revision of social practices in the light of [new] knowledge in a state of transition...
...While many non-Catholics continue to think of the church It is 55 million people from virtually every country, as a clone of the U.S...
...We are abroad in a world which is economic and social mainstream, making questions about Ca- thoroughly constituted through reflexively applied knowledge," tholic identity pressing not only for individuals but for all of Giddens says, "...[and] we can never be sure that any given elthose institutions that have been essential links in the commu- ement of that knowledge will not be revised" (Modernity and nal network...
...Those Margaret O'Brien Steinfels is the editor of Commonweal...
...The partial view in the public arena and not primarily because of the separation of life on the frontier and at the margins must give way to someof church and state...
...2) There are the struggles of women for liness, especially including the laity...
...bles of spirit and practice...
...The Catholic church is in the midst Parish councils, which can be effective instruments for parish of such a task, not of creating new signs and symbols, but of planning and governance, emerge under one pastor only to be renewing the signs and symbols we have...
...Or must there be a radically in a church still governed by the first immigrants, the white, revised understanding of church leadership and pastoral minlargely European, long-settled population that continues to grap- istry...
...Are these our future leaders...
...its primary activities are carried out in some 17,000 In some ways, that is reassuring...
...At least one of the claims from lics...
...seriously enough to hold us accountable...
...For example-a painful one-consider the diffi- lithic-authoritarian church (of some golden age) and culty U.S...
...If the U.S...
...The personal and private character develop an understanding of the church more fully grounded of the individual believer's faith tends to marginalize religion in its tradition and more open to its mission...
...this makes it hard for people who are spiritually unformed and theologically undereducated to collaborate...
...Marine Corps, this crisis shows an instiethnic, and racial grouping in the world...
...In the jected to narrow limits by Rome...
...Yet within the hierarchy, the practice of collegiala store of devotional and charitable practices along with a more ity, embodied by Vatican II and endorsed by it, has been subrecently articulated understanding of social justice...
...Add to this the tematically carried out...
...It is not only a sociological phenomenon but a spir- world" must be seen for what they are-false divisions...
...I remember everything with increasing em democratic societies...
...El and far removed from the sources of power and influence...
...And this task must be carried outand the Northwest, where Catholics are a minority, a different within a context, that is, American society, which is at best gespirit prevails-one seeming to combine the decorum of a mi- nially indifferent, at worst hostile to such an effort...
...bishops are seen as LEADERSHIP CRISIS irresponsible, negligent, defensive...
...but lay people cannot become mere deputies...
...We all need signs and symbols, supports and props, links and connectors to remind us of who we are...
...Even in There are issues of authority and autonomy...
...Sometimes they're right and some- identity question is raised in Catholic quarters, but it is being times they're wrong...
...after the council...
...Were we more distant from the so- faced by modernity: How do we know anything...
...For Catholics, the heart of planned and systematic way...
...This is the epistemology that undergirds much resources are spotty, the culture thin, and the pioneers, though of the teaching on sex and gender, artificial contraception, re- earnest and energetic, oftentimes moving off in all directions...
...I look at Commonweal, at NCR-in fact, both NCRs...
...middle of the highway, walking along the median strip, observing Yet even as the church wrestles with those forces, they themthe vibrant weeds with interest...
...Renewing, that the theology that says Catholics must all be responsible for re-enforcing, and maintaining Catholic identity requires a doing the work of the church has not been institutionalized...
...Three centuries after the Enlightenment we ceptance, assimilation, political power, social status, money, have come to a point where our capacity to reflect upon and and clout-everything but a disciplined immigrant church and look back upon this long process "actually subverts reason, at eager recruits for convents and rectories...
...How do we cial deference of our immigrant forebearers, we would more know whether or not it is true...
...Can it authentithree additional factors...
...The heart con- American Catholics often forget that they are members of tinues to grow more tender by the year and my memory is un- an ancient institution having finally to come to terms with modaccountably expanding...
...Their quality cient culture of Catholicism meets the culture of modernity, and distinctive emphases are in danger of being lost...
...It is not simply about the maintenance of institutions, Adult formation and education needs to be tackled in a but about the conversion of hearts...
...church opts for Rome's view of moder- in local and piecemeal ways some of this work is being done nity while discounting modernity's challenge-internally and how much more of it could be tackled...
...cally and religiously literate...
...Or that politicians, and their work the content of Catholic identity, and lay Catholics business people, and academics hedge their "personal" reli- had little real responsibility for such a task...
...People talk back...
...3) There bishops and pope, and between priests and bishops-were called are the now chronic "political" factions, liberal, conservative, into question, in part because this universal call to holiness radical, traditionalist, that agitate all things Catholic...
...Yet it has no central budget...
...Yet, for all of its breadth and variety, the Catholic church can The Second Vatican Council is often cited as the cause look more like a beached whale than an effective and efficient of this chaos, the great break in the history of a monoorganization...
...Mistrust erodes the morale of parish priests...
...itual one...
...But all institutions, including the church, have their IThis question of traditions and of the Invention of own way of dealing with, or avoiding, problems...
...The most active lay people have become individual rights rather than community responsibility...
...in Hobsbawm's oration has not been institutionalized...
...A certain im- pleted over the next generation...
...Many of these symbols, signs, people, and places what's wrong with your car...
...Both the abuse (Continued on page 16) 8: 10 September 1993 Commonweal I believe this covers the major points...
...Now these responUnfortunately, theological knowledge and the religious sibilities will fall increasingly upon us, but without a clear proskills of lay people are not always on a par with their profes- gram of how to act intelligently or knowledgeably or faithfully, sional knowledge and skills...
...More than that, all religious groups must thing larger, and more catholic...
...The equation of knowledge with certitude has turned and great-grandchildren of those immigrant Catholics into the out to be misconceived...
...My adolescence was a tad painful, my young manhood con- resists those forces of modernity that flowed from the Enfused, and my adulthood a constant surprise...
...Even American version, and finds many Catholics among moderni- now, many religious communities are in the tentative process ty's most knowing adherents...
...literally unable, we ing to stand at the center rather than the peripheries, doing the might say, to hear the voice of the people and to read the signs work of the church both within and outside its enclosures while of the time...
...Today, Catholics social practices, such as marriage and divorce, child-bearing and have everything those immigrant generations worked for-ac- child-rearing...
...This was not dismaying to the of relinquishing these institutions to lay people and sometimes authors of Gaudium et spes: "The church...
...But much that the council decreed was not unfamiliar pattern of historical consciousness and critical thinking that repto American Catholics and in some places was already rooted resents a challenge not only to the "world" and our culture, but in ordinary parish life, including participation in the liturgy, an to the Catholic church and how it understands itself, its misactive role for the laity, and a facility in dealing with the mod- sion, its own definition of truth...
...What allegiance do we owe any 16: 10 September 1993 Commonweal set of facts or opinions, even the most expert...
...Will a Jesuit education really mean anything...
...In more subtle ways, the emphasis on community dition of spirituality, an enormous body of theological and philo- erodes the church's understanding of itself as a hierarchical sophical knowledge, ways of thinking, modes of analysis, and institution...
...The givens of the Catholic inclusion in decision making, governance, language, and church-a hierarchical structure expressed in the links between metaphor, issues as complex as that of ordination...
...people can be highly skilled in areas where the church could use them...
...But, quite apart from the tary schools, high schools, colleges and universities, social wel- pedophilia scandal, American Catholics must soon face up to fare agencies, and hospitals...
...work groups, the cursillo, Marriage Encounter) need to expand their reach...
...This must toward their political and social surroundings...
...COMMONWEAL THE LAITY MARGARET O'BRIEN STEINrhLS FRANK J. MACCHIAROLA BRIAN DOYLE REGINA PLUNKETT DOWLING BUD JOHNSON DENNIS O'BRIEN JOHN B. BRESLIN DENNIS M. DOYLE ADRIAN J. REIMERS and the dilatory response affect the victims and their families THE LAITY & THE first and most sorely, but they beset the whole church as well...
...productive technologies, and prohibitions against the ordina- At the same time, the rapidly dwindling numbers of priests, tion of women...
...migrant defensiveness and pugnaciousness can still be ob- What is required...
...contend with the common denominator of popular culture, the American lay Catholics have finally to grow up and assume temptation of material well-being, and a cultural insistence on their responsibilities...
...ticultural nature of American Catholicism...
...Sometimes, one suspects that men like Cardinal sisters, brothers brings with it the attenuation, the thinning out, Ratzinger, perhaps large parts of the Vatican, and many con- of life at the center, especially of religious life in vowed comservative American Catholics think that this understanding of munities, which means the disembedding, the loss of people "truth" will some day make compelling sense to nonbeliev- and places that embodied particular charisms, fostered certain ers...
...soared above the pitfalls of modernity and can return now to (The genius of high schools run by Jesuits, Christian Brothers, rescue a world confronted by postmodern ambiguities and Ursulines, Benedictines, and many others lay in their high dedilemmas...
...Catholic bishops have had in coming to grips with the today's disarray...
...em world reflected in American Catholic involvement in urban Reflexivity refers to the propensity of our knowledge to repolitics, unions, and national government...
...The an- ly serious commitment to religious formation...
...The third characteristic, reflexivity, sums up a events...
...present a challenge to the Catholic church, which in important respects retains a premodern outlook in its thinking and its structure...
...Some are represented by particular people or offices, some are located in par- "There seems to be some disagreement as to ticular places...
...That confidence seems to have been lost by many in the Hence the increasing worry: Two generations from now, will hierarchy today...
...ciety...
...talented people...
...Young Christian Workers, Catholic Interracial Councils) need It is not the one Vatican conservatives are proposing, but nei- to be resurrected and renovated...
...verse, and contradictory body...
...The most basic religious litera- and at a time when there is a high level of anti-institutionalcy seems on a decline, and younger Catholics seem to know ism and an irreligious spirit in our culture and a strong whiff even less about the facts of their faith as well as the intangi- of anticlericalism in the church...
...These gave the church def- impersonal standards of performance, in the rationalization of inition, continuity, and well-trained personnel...
...selves are in flux...
...Like all their compatriots, American Catholics When they do, it is always surprising to watch how they must question authority, regarding all institutions with skepticism, 18: 10 September 1993 Commonweal sometimes contempt...
...performing acts that no one understands...
...No one has the anMany of the tensions and challenges within the U.S...
...the spiritual and charismatic ther are the pioneers at the frontier necessarily pointing in the movements of the 1970s and '80s (prayer breakfasts, faith and right direction...
...The two- people's deepest beliefs and unvoiced attachments: in the way communications that might make for productive collab- Catholic case, to religious beliefs and practices...
...If there is middle-class, white, suburban families and urban, yuppy an answer, it is a far longer and more complex than Catholics into a broad-based struggle for social justice...
...and to a Why...
...while the of defining those elements of a Catholic identity that will proArchdioceses of Chicago and Milwaukee, where Catholicism vide coherence and cohesion over the next century to instituis the dominant religious group, convey a more open attitude tions and groups operating in the Catholic tradition...
...Catholic church can be framed around questions about church structure and organization, church leadership, Though fading, clerical culture remains dominant in and Catholic identity, each of which is made more complex by most diocesan and parochial settings...

Vol. 120 • September 1993 • No. 15


 
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