Changing Church governance a solution?

Years ago, a Catholic friend of mine from an Anglican background told me that had he already been Catholic he doubted whether he would ever have been able to start a classical Christian school that flourishes to this day.

71orV+IBOoLSome of it had to do with the attitude towards lay initiatives.  In the Protestant world, one just takes initiative and gets one’s project up and running.   In the Catholic world, one must obtain permission and sometimes it’s hard to get access to the bishop or his delegates to obtain it.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing—-and I have seen the positive effects on lay apostolates that have successfully obtained the blessing of their bishop—but the process does seem to create a culture that can stifle initiative.  It can have the same effect on a parish level, where even holding a Bible study in one’s home might need  permission from the priest.

Interestingly, Adam DeVille is calling for a change in Church governance based on a more traditional model that is against the centralization of power in the papacy and other structures.  In Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power DeVille, a former Anglican who is now an Eastern Catholic,  addresses the problem of clericalism.

David Clayton reviews the book over at The New Liturgical Movement.  He writes:

What he proposes is likely to challenge both traditionalists and liberals in the Church, but I think that it is worthy of consideration and discussion, at least.

He describes the problem as one of clericalism in which power is too centralized and is steadily pushed upwards from the laity onto the priests, and from there onto the hierarchy and popes. This, he says, attracts people who have a particular psychological profile characterized by a desire to exercise power over and dominate others, and are skilled political players. (He draws on his academic background in psychology for this.) So many of the problems we see today are interconnected, and in response, the Church must be reformed so that there can be new structures of local accountability. This, he says, is deeply traditional, and a return to root practices that structured much of Catholic life for centuries.

His argument is for a three-fold ordering of the Catholic Church: the laity, the clerics, and the hierarchs, all existing together, each with voice and vote in the councils of governance of the Church – from the lowly parish council through to diocesan, regional, and international synods. All three orders are necessary, he says, for the Church to flourish; each of the three acts as a check on the others, ensuring that none can run totally roughshod over the others.

Read the whole thing.  Not sure if I agree with all of DeVille’s ideas as outlined in this review but I do believe the universal call to holiness and call for a greater role for the lay faithful of the Second Vatican Council has not been worked out enough.  We from the Anglican tradition might have some interesting perspectives to bring to the table on how to bring this about so as to encourage lay initiatives without letting it devolve to congregationalism, something we have gladly left behind.

Your thoughts?



1 thought on “Changing Church governance a solution?

  1. Can. 212 §3 of the Code of Canon Law already gives a nod, at least, to the Church’s obligation to rely on competent laity in making decisions. Though I’m sure this somewhat toothless canon is often ignored, I’m reassured by the fact that it refers to the “competence” of laity. (I’m not so impressed by mention of “prestige.”) Laity who voice their opinions in any kind of official capacity should meet certain levels of competence, including in theology.

    As recent events at an Ordinariate group that has gone through difficulties have proved, the public statements of some of the laity were inaccurate (to put it politely), poorly reasoned, and divisive. And this is only one example. I’m sure anyone can think of other examples of laity who are extremist in their views, rash in making public statements, and so on.

    Also, though I heartily approve of dismantling the papal personality cult—even when it focuses on brilliant, wise popes—am I correct in suspecting that most of this kind of behavior is because a significant percentage of the laity support it?

    Perhaps the first step would be for laity to support and, when needed, admonish each other in order to clarify what the standards should be for establishing reliable lay leadership. This already happens indirectly, perhaps, by means of articles and op. ed.s in journals as well as by other means, such as who is invited to speak at this or that conference of this or that group. But it seems that this dialogue could be at least a bit more direct, focused, and refined. Perhaps someone could launch a blog specifically devoted to the topic of lay leadership, inviting experts to address the matter from theological and canonical perspectives as well as drawing from other disciplines, such as history, sociology, and so on.


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