Collaboration between clergy and laity
2018 revealed serious problems
The most recent crisis in the Catholic Church exposed grievous sin and failings at the highest levels. Revelations of sexual abuse and coercion, cover-ups, spiritual abuse, financial malfeasance, and other sinful activities have led to a crisis of credibility—a breach of trust between the faithful and the clergy. This trust cannot be restored without taking seriously the proper role of the laity in both advising and leading the Church in secular matters.
The role of the laity: Lumen Gentium
Over 50 years ago, the Second Vatican Council articulated the role of the laity in the Catholic Church in Lumen Gentium. All members of the Church, clergy and laity alike, “contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church” (no. 12). What is particular to the lay vocation is that “the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (no. 31). Lumen Gentium says pastors should “willingly employ” the “prudent advice” of the lay faithful, and “confidently assign duties to them” in service to the Church. With the help of the laity, “pastors can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters” (no. 37).
Stephen White wrote more about the challenge of Lumen Gentium for the laity in his column: What Ever Happened to the "Lay Moment"?
Furthering the understanding of the lay vocation, in Christifidelis Laici, St. John Paul II noted, “The lay faithful's position in the Church, then, comes to be fundamentally defined by their newness in Christian life and distinguished by their secular character” (no. 15). The universal call to holiness, for a lay person, “implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities” (no. 17). The crises of 2018 may have been avoided if lay faithful had been empowered and entrusted to speak confidently to their pastors regarding issues such as child protection, sexual harassment, and financial ethics; issues that are secular in character and therefore in the province of the laity.
Catholic University: Where Clergy and Laity meet
The Catholic University of America is uniquely situated to be a place where laity and clergy can encounter one another and dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and charity to address the most challenging issues the Church faces today. We believe, in the words of Lumen Gentium, that by drawing on the contributions of all its members, “the entire Church . . . may more effectively fulfill its mission for the life of the world” (no. 36).