‘It is ‘Laity Sunday’ once again on 26 June! A time for the Church once again to introspect and to see whether the much flaunted ‘lay collaboration’ actually exists in reality or not!‘ says Fr Cedric Prakash SJ
In a highly clerical and patriarchal Church, which has stubbornly refused to accept in toto the changes envisaged by Vatican II and as desired by the then Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, introducing any reforms is certainly very difficult. But Pope Francis, in his typical style, is apparently succeeding in doing so!
On 19 March 2022 (Feast of St Joseph)the ninth anniversary of the formal inauguration of his pontificate, he published Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel),his new constitution for the restructuring of the Vatican Curia.
It was a reform that was promised at the beginning of his pontificate; several aspects of it have already been implemented over the years.
The final document, however, does make some significant changes and provides the vision of a Curia that is evangelical, service-oriented, promotes synodality and highly professional. It does not permit any form of careerism. In sum and substance, it challenges the Curia in particular, and the Church in general, to read, understand and respond to the signs of the times! Above all, it gives a more decisive voice to the laity in Church affairs.
The new Constitution, a pastoral turning point for the Church, came into effect from 5 June 2022, the Solemnity of Pentecost.
On 21 March, this new Constitution was presented to the world at a media conference.
Addressing this conference were high-profile Vatican officials including Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints; Bishop Marco Mellino, Secretary of the Council of Cardinals and Jesuit Cardinal-designate Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a canon lawyer who was the former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University.
At the Conference, Bishop Mellino, noted that the title itself of the document, ‘Praedicate Evangelium‘, underscores the missionary dimension and core duty of evangelization, that is proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel, with regard to all the offices assisting the Pope in his pastoral ministry. He also pointed out how the Roman Curia is, by its nature, at the service of the universal Church and under the direction of the Pope, assisting him to carry out his universal pastoral mission throughout the world.
He also noted how the concept of synodality enters into the equation now, as the Roman Curia becomes increasingly instrumental in listening and dialoguing with the particular Churches as it carries out its service.
Cardinal Semeraro noted how ‘Praedicate Evangelium‘, many years in the making from discussions going back to the conclave of 2013, brings to completion the reform of the Roman Curia. Many of the reforms, he said, have already been implemented in recent years, even before the new Constitution was finalized, although all the offices of the Roman Curia will need to assure that their current statutes are fully in line with the final indications set in the Apostolic Constitution. He also added that ‘dicastery’ a lay term was certainly more acceptable than the former ‘congregation’ which was a clerical term!
Fr Ghirlanda highlighted the role of the laity in the new Constitution and called it very ‘innovative’.
A layman or laywoman can now preside over a department according to the criteria indicated. He said that the power to carry out an office “is the same whether it comes from a bishop, a presbyter, a consecrated man or woman, or a layman or laywoman….
The power of government in the Church does not come from the sacrament of [Holy] Orders, but from the canonical mission.”
The new constitution, for Fr. Ghirlanda, sought to enhance the functioning of local Bishops’ conferences and their various units. Bishops’ Conferences are mentioned more than 50 times in the new document, compared to just twice in the previous Vatican constitution, the 1988 Pastor Bonus( which has now been superseded) “What is established by an episcopal conference cannot contradict the universal Magisterium, otherwise we are outside the ecclesial communion” he said. Asked whether five-year terms for heads of dicasteries could create problems with continuity, Ghirlanda said that leaders who proved competent would be given a further five years in their posts. “People who stay too long in government positions can develop centres of power. And in the Church that is never appropriate. Turnover brings new ideas, new skills, openness.”
Praedicate Evangelium (PE) focuses on evangelization. There is no doubt about that, since the very title emphasizes that the reform is geared toward evangelization. The Pope becomes the prefect of the new Dicastery for Evangelization, now the first dicastery of the Curia. He has given himself the job of chief missionary of a missionary Church.
The reform however, goes beyond the theme of evangelization. That ‘bureaucracy’, good administration is needed, is not denied. It is much more than a mere restructuring of the bodies of the Roman Curia. It represents a change of philosophy and more so, a way of proceeding for the Universal Church. Pope Francis is determined to put evangelization at the heart of the Roman Curia.
The opening sentences of the Constitution sets the tone. Praedicate Evangelium returns to the initial vision Pope Francis had for a ‘missionary conversion’ for the entire Church. The opening citation of PE is from St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio(Mission of the Redeemer), namely that the “proclamation of the gospel is the primary service which the Church offers.” A rough translation from the original Italian says, “The missionary conversion of the Church is destined to renew the Church according to the image of Christ’s own mission of love. His disciples are therefore called to be ‘light of the world’(Mt.5:14). This is the way in which the Church reflects the saving love of Christ which is the Light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12). It becomes more radiant when it brings to men the supernatural gift of faith, light that guides our journey through time and serving the Gospel because of this light. May it grow to illuminate the present until it becomes a star that shows the horizons of our journey, in a time when man is particularly in need of light”
The Document entitled ‘Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia and its Service to The Church in the World’ is heavy in content. That is to be expected.
With 250 Articles, the seventy-plus pages do not make easy reading. One very clear dimension which emerges from the Document is that Pope Francis is a Pastor, Pilgrim and Prophet and he is determined, in this the tenth year of his pontificate, that beginning with the Vatican Curia, the Church becomes exactly that: pastor, pilgrim and prophet to the women and men of our times! To give the laity a voice in the Church!
There are however several questions which need to be answered before Pope Francis’ prophetic vision becomes a reality in a Church which needs to ‘let go!’.
One needs to look at the Church in India first: clericalism and patriarchy are both strongly rooted.
Subsidiarity hardly exists with tremendous power concentrated with Bishops /parish priests /Clergy and Religious who are Principals/Directors of Institutions. Ideally the reforms demand an enhanced role for laity (particularly women), a more collegial working and above all, the synodal process of communion, participation and mission to be actualized at every level. This is certainly going to be a tall order.
Parish councils often consist of ‘yes-men/women’, and are sometimes condemned to doing cosmetic, servile work and posing for photo-ops. There is very little dialogue, discernment and of decision-making processes which are participative.
There are exceptions of course, but these are rarities.
The laity continues to conveniently fit and often succumb to a mould of ‘pray, pay and obey.’
The Synodal Process which was recently completed in most dioceses, was relegated to a series of meetings and spiritual events, meant to produce reports for the records. Not much effort seems to be made in truly empowering the laity and to provide them with the prophetic courage they need to respond to critical issues facing the church and the country.
A senior Catholic teacher with an outstanding and long years of teaching experience in a prestigious Catholic school was recently appointed by the Management as the Principal of the same school. It was a significant move in terms of lay collaboration.
However, right from the beginning, roles and responsibilities of the Principal and also that of the three clerics involved in the school, were not clearly defined. Two of the clerics felt threatened and were not comfortable in allowing the Lady Principal to take independent decisions – even if these decisions were after due consultation with other lay staff of the school.
Lay collaboration necessitates respecting the integrity, competency and professionalism of the lay person concerned. Once a lay person is given authority, clerics should not treat that person as a puppet, doormat or clearing house. This, in no way negates the importance and need of consultation, transparency and accountability at all levels.
On 26 May 2022, Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Superior General in a letter to the Whole Society entitled ‘Global Ignatian Advocacy Network (GIAN): A Pathway to deepen Collaboration’ writes,
“For some time now, the Society of Jesus has felt the need to adapt its governance structures to the new realities of the world. In today’s globalised context, we are confronted with the need to act as a universal body with a global mission, capable of integrating the diversity and uniqueness of the contexts, cultures, times and peoples in which we live and work. Collaboration and networking offer richness, solidarity and a challenging opportunity for our engagement in today’s complex and changing socio-economic, political and religious situations. The urgency of discerning together the appropriate apostolic structures to achieve the ambitious apostolic goals we have set for ourselves is therefore clear”.
In his letter Fr. Sosa highlights the importance of ‘Advocacy’ and why collaborating with others will help make our advocacy work more meaningful and effective!
It is clear that structures, with the merging of some Dicasteries and the formation of new ones at every level, have to change.
The question being raised at this stage is, will they become more empowered, effective and prompt enough to respond appropriately to the many challenges both within the Church and the world at large?
Given the reality of the Church in India today, there are hardly any systems and procedures in place.
The reforms initiated by Pope Francis are certainly radical in nature; but like his ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, Laudato Si’ and ‘Fratelli Tutti’ they could remain only on paper if there is no political will to ensure the mainstreaming and implementation of these reforms to the smallest and most remote parish/institution, to the lost, least and last individual!
In another important move, Pope Francis has convened an extraordinary consistory on 29 and 30 August 2022, immediately after the consistory for the creation of new cardinals on 27 August.
Under the Code of Canon Law, reformed in 1983, there are two types of consistories of cardinals: ordinary and extraordinary.
An extraordinary consistory is convened in particular cases (like the one in August) and all the world’s cardinals are called to take part in it. The August extraordinary consistory will be dedicated to discussion of the constitution Praedicate Evangelium. Pope Francis has only called one other extraordinary consistory since his election in 2013. So, in the context of restructuring the Church to respond to the signs of the times, Pope Francis certainly means business!
It is also significant that Pope Francis launched his reforms on the Feast of St Joseph and the anniversary of his Pontificate. St Joseph has always been someone extra-special in his life. He often refers to Joseph as a ‘dreamer’ capable of accepting the task entrusted to him by God. In one of his earlier homilies he said, “Christians, especially young people, should follow the example of St Joseph who was not afraid to listen to his dreams, like when he was told in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. When we dream great things, beautiful things, we draw close to God’s dream, the things that God dreams for us. May he give young people – because he, too, was young – the ability to dream, to risk and to take on difficult tasks that they have seen in their dreams.”
Reforming the Church of today is one of the dreams of a prophetic Pope. High up on his agenda is to give the laity- and particularly women – greater visibility and a decisive voice in administering church affairs. After years of hard work, Pope Francis has ensured that systems and processes are now in place. The journey has begun but it is certainly not going to be an easy one!
But are we in India, as hierarchy and clergy, listening? Are we serious about lay collaboration? Do we have the courage to walk the talk; to make that vision of Vatican II – ‘a Church of the people of God’– become a reality today? Or will we continue to live in our comfort zones, through hypocritical acts of tokenism and cosmeticization? The answer is NOT blowing in the wind – but living in us!
May God enlighten us all! Happy Laity Sunday 2022!
Jesuit father CEDRIC PRAKASH is a well known writer, social activist, and human rights campaigner. His is one of the leading voices calling for reform within the Catholic Church. the views expressed in this opinion piece are entirely those of the author.