By F. M. Britto
It was a great initiative of some lay leaders to organize a National Consultation titled “We too are Church” at Kolkata, Feb 9 -11, 2019. The credit goes to Chhotebhai, an enlightened and challenging lay leader of Kanpur, a former All India Catholic Union President.
Although it had invited bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders from various parts of the country, there were some 60 participants from various parts of the country. Most of the participants were active and zealous lay leaders. But there was no bishop, not even the local Ordinary, or the Episcopal Commission head or member of the Laity, mere four priests, less than ten nuns. Why this apathy from the hierarchy?
While there was no participant from most of the regions and dioceses, more than ten lay leaders had traveled all the way from Tamil Nadu, spending their hard earned money. Though Gujarat is a young church, many qualified Catholic lay leaders came from there. But many dioceses with sizable Catholic population had no participant, in spite of the invitation. Does it not show the lack of interest of many laity?
The consultation wanted to discuss how much of Vatican II decisions had been implemented in the Indian Church even after 54 years. But the main focus centered on whether the Church meant only the bishops and clergy, at the exclusion of the laity. That’s why they had titled, “We too are Church.”
Though ‘The Church in the Modern World’ document and Canon 204 clearly say that the Church means the People of God, comprising of the Pope, bishops, clergy and laity, what has been practiced is that the Church excludes the laity in its decision and execution. Still we follow the pyramidal style of the Pope on the top and the laity at the bottom. The pre-Vatican concept of the laity to “pray, pay and obey” is the norm in the actual practice. When are we going to practice that the laity too are the Church?
As Pope Francis strongly condemns, one of the points that had been strongly condemned by the laity in the Consultation, is the clericalism in the Church. Why do many bishops behave as super human beings? Decisions are often taken by the bishops and priests in the dioceses and parishes, and the laity merely has to follow them. Some of the clergy’s corrupt practices of alcoholism, monetary gains and sexual abuse have been highly criticized by the laity. Do they practice what they preach? Though there may be Parish Pastoral Councils, how many parishes have formed Parish Financial Councils?
On the contrary, in the grassroots level, how many lay members are active in the parishes and dioceses? In parishes many lay leaders, heavily burdened with their families and secular jobs, have no time to get educated of Church matters, nor involve themselves in Church activities. We have much to learn from our Separated Brethren. The apathy of majority of the lay members is felt in all parishes and dioceses.
Even if a small number of laity is interested, is it not the work of the dioceses to animate and activate them? Do all our dioceses have Diocesan Pastoral Councils? Have they been formed merely to execute the plans of the diocesan bishops? Though canon laws 492-494 demand dioceses to establish Diocesan Finance Councils with qualified lay members, how many dioceses have them and the laity, who pays to the Church, are they members of it? How many diocesan commissions are headed by religious and laity? That is mainly because the proper personal are not available. Do the bishops seek out the laity only in emergency? It is high time the bishops and clergy think and work together with the laity.
Though many lay members are disinterested and passive towards the Church, some parish priests and bishops find some lay leaders very assertive too. That attitude had been also condemned by Pope Francis. Some are very demanding for their rights and some so called knowledgeable leaders dictate to their pastors their interests. When their pastors do not or cannot dance according to their tune, they create tensions in the parish. And some lay members consider they know everything and that they are “the pillars of the church.”
That was also very much evident in the National Consultation. Critical of their bishops and priests, some were always condemning them. Their outlook was only to magnify the clergy’s sins. And some of them consider they know everything. Some of the controversial theologians and “scholarly” nuns feed these lay people with questionable theology that these lay people assert themselves as scholars in their parishes and dioceses. The church too needs to make the liturgy relevant and update the doctrine. But with scanty respect to the teachings and practices of the Church, some half-baked lay leaders demand their pastors to execute their ideas.
As the Canon law clearly advocates formation of associations, the bishops have formed the CBCI and CCBI; priests have the CDPI and CPCI, religious have the CRI and laity have the AICU. The bishops also have formed the Catholic Council of India (CCI), comprising the laity, religious, priests and the bishops. Since the lay members are chosen by the bishops, many lay members do not feel they belong to the CCI. Besides being a consultative, it has to become an executive body.
With the true spirit of Vatican II, let the bishops come down from their pedestals to give the laity their rightful place, so that we all together build the church and the society of unity, faith and service. Instead of the passive attitude of the hierarchy towards the laity and the critical attitude of the laity towards the clergy, we all need the collective responsibility to build the church and the world. Both the clergy and the laity need to work together as a team to evangelize the world.
At the end of the Consultation they have formed a non-registered Association with people of similar minds. And they have decided to meet at least once a year in different parts of the country. They have already started a WhatsApp group called “Indian Catholic Forum.”
Instead of working as two independent and warring groups of laity VS clergy, they need to work together as members of one church to build up the kingdom of God. We need an open and collaborative church.
The laity need to remember what Can 209 says: “Christ’s faithful are bound to preserve their communion with the church at all times, even in their external actions. They are to carry out with great diligence their responsibilities towards both the universal church and the particular church to which by law they belong.”
(Father F M Britto is a Catholic priest of Raipur archdiocese. He works as the parish priest of Catholic Church Parsahi (Bana) in Pandaria near Akaltara in the Jangir-Chamba district of Chhattisgarh. He is available at Mobile: 07447056483; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)