The People Speak Out

Local voices connecting globally

This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.  (Pope Francis)

Canon Law 212 calls upon the laity to speak up:

2 - The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. - According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Brian Coyne’s link to the Life-Site video ( ) is very interesting. We have been thinking that Francis is not doing enough, but there are those who believe — quite deeply — that what he is doing is the wrong thing.

The video is a half hour, but I found it worth reflecting upon.

Is it any wonder that Jesus and the Pharisees didn’t see eye to eye? The participants in this video are Pharisees on steroids. Where is Christ in their thinking, the Christ who preached the reign of God?

They are a cautionary tale, however. They want the “unchangeable law” to remain the same, and they all but condemn Francis for bringing questions (and therefore “confusion”) about such unchangeable laws as the indissolubility of marriage. Imagine! The higher law of “love of God and neighbor” raising questions about “indissolubility”. Shame on Francis, and shame on Christ.
In terms of strategy, perhaps Francis is wiser than we appreciate in staying away from changes in “doctrine”.

“Law” is about what the community sees from the outside; “the reign of God” is a deeper connection to the presence of God within. How can we have a strategy for change — for reform of policy — without distracting from Christ’s emphasis upon the reign of God?
The obvious answer is to focus on the reign of God — this deeper connection to the God who is present within — and leave doctrinal questions to fend for themselves. Perhaps this is what Francis is doing. If we push him in the direction of doctrinal change do we become Pharisees of a different sort?

There is much injustice in present Church doctrine related to marriage and the family. I did not detect in the video any openness to, much less concern about, the existence of such injustice. But injustice is the stuff of field hospitals, found through “accompaniment” and “encounter”.

Are there policy changes that we should seek or support that are not simply “changes in doctrine”? A few come to mind: governance structures, where the people get involved not simply in doing good works or helping the parish, but in policy decisions. Safeguards to deal with sexual abuse of children is an area where the people can take initiative, and perhaps do more than advise the pastor or bishop. The recent Moto Proprio leaves room for such initiatives, covering a wide range of concerns about protecting the vulnerable.
Perhaps it would also be helpful to reconsider the conceptual framework within which all these matters are currently decided.
All these things could be agenda items for a Peoples Synod, the results of which could provide hope and encouragement to “local gatherings” whose initiatives would be included in the run up to the Peoples Synod.

There is a strategy in there somewhere.{jcomments on}

These are important questions CCRI raises (Newsletter, 12 July 2016) that I’ve been trying to get my head around for perhaps a decade or more, even discussing them quite a number of times with Bob Kaiser. In our country (Australia), and in new statistics released today for Germany [LINK], 90% of the adult baptized have ceased participating and listening. They don’t write letters of protest to bishops, or the pope, as they see that exercise as a complete waste of time, energy, even the cost of a postage stamp. It is seen as absolutely futile as they appear to have learned a long time ago that the hierarchy are only listening to a small “remnant element” who want to undo completely the insights of Vatican II. The recent Life-Site video which you may have seen which has been sent to Pope Francis and the 218 active cardinals in the world are the sort of people the rest of us are competing against. If you haven’t seen the video we’ve uploaded a copy of it on catholica 

All of us who have been fans of John XXIII’s vision and that which the bishops of the world collectively discerned at the Second Vatican Council have been trying to push the proverbials up a hill with a pointy stick in the decades since compared to that small remnant and very insecure element in the Church who have worked themselves into a frenzy to “reform the reform of Vatican II”. More importantly that is where “all the money” is — and this was encouraged by the late sainted Polish Grate who set up and encouraged all these conservative “new movements” who believe, sincerely, they alone are God’s “chosen ones” and whose principal agenda is unwinding all the “modernist heresies” and “arty-farty liturgical innovations” that they believe Vatican II represents. These people are petrified at what they see going on in the world and some of them are very wealthy and have largely been funding the hierarchs and the institution for decades. The late Fr Marcial Maciel Degolado turned it into a lucrative art form climbing into the pockets of some of these people that long ago, St Jerome labelled as “the rich ladies”*.

Given that around 90% have ceased participating, you would rationally think that the supporters of the forward-oriented vision of Vatican II had the personnel, and more especially the financial resources, to counter these small, totally obsessed but insecure and paranoid individuals who really do believe (a ) the sky is about to all in; and (b ) that they literally are “the chosen ones” with exclusive insight into the “mind and rules of Almighty God”. One might have thought that in the 90% who have ceased participating in nations like my own, and those of the original nursery of Christianity, Europe, that many who have done well in life would have been enthusiastic philanthropically in supporting pro-Vatican II, forward-oriented, counter initiatives to those sponsored by the conservative and reactionary elements. Why hasn’t it happened? All the so-called “reform groups” I’ve been associated with or known over the decades all “struggle at the margins” financially with what are basically “enthusiastic amateurs” — and I include myself in that. The vast masses who have dropped out of participation do not work themselves up into a frenzy that their Church is dying, or has been stolen from under their feet, or that it is today largely controlled by the agendas of groups like Opus Dei, the Legionaries of Christ, and the similar “new movements” so loved and supported by the last two popes. Can Francis make a difference and turn all this around? Or is it all “too little, too late” — too much damage has now been done over the last half century since Vatican II — and even if Jesus himself returned to lead the Church on earth again the pharisee element would excoriate, torture and crucify him all over again for his “heretical views”?

I ask each of you to look back over the past half century since Vatican II...

The original opponents to the majority of bishops at the Council were a tiny minority. You have to give it to them though, they had “fire in their bellies” to ensure that the vision discerned by that majority of bishops was completely over-turned. Also look back over the past half century of the huge expenditure of energy of that other “minority” who were genuinely and deeply energised by the vision of the majority of those bishops, ourselves. Who has “won” the competition? My sense is that we, on the side of the forward-oriented vision of Vatican II need to do some hard thinking and not merely repeat the failed endeavours of the past half century. As a priority we need to make connections with the elements whom Providence has blessed in this now large sector who have left who might help fund alternatives to the sort of initiatives so lavishly funded by the “new movements” and the small remnant population on the other side. I do know Bob Kaiser had been endeavouring to do this before he departed this life.

I’m not entirely pessimistic about what is happening. While institutional religion might be dying; while it might be the final end of the once mighty Holy Roman Empire; I am actually very optimistic about the long term future. The young people I meet today who are the potential leaders of the future have not been sucked in by the remnant elements. (Certainly a small element of them have but that only proves that “fear and anxiety” are not totally age-dependent factors.) I honestly believe the “ascent of humankind/the civilising of creation/the building of the kingdom/ the great ‘convergence towards the Divine’ envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin” will continue. Karen Armstrong suggests we are entering, or have entered, the Third Great Axial Age of Religion. I have a sense this very intelligent dame calls it correctly. We may have to be patient as the civilising of humankind, or human evolution, has always been a “100 steps forward process followed by 99 steps backward” to advance a single step. There are many signs, in the political sphere as much as the religious, that we’ve entered a “99 steps backwards” phase of our evolution. There are a lot of very anxious people in the world at the moment and there are plenty of “snake-oil salespeople” emerging out of the woodwork, as they always do, to feed off the fears of these people in their own quest for power, notoriety or wealth.

In the long-term picture I remain totally optimistic that the “ascent of humankind/the ‘convergence towards the Divine’” will continue. It might be a generation not yet born, or even thought of, that ends up “writing the new script” but we should not lose hope, or our own faith. I sincerely believe one of the greatest insights of the Second Vatican Council, the insight that really does prove it was a “movement of the Spirit” in human affairs, is that it really did foreshadow this over-arching trend in human affairs whatever the scaredy-cat elements in the Church, or in society, might think, or do.

We need to remember that those two and a half thousand plus bishops who were called to Rome at the behest of Pope John XXIII were largely very conservative individuals. That had been the culture of the institution for centuries. They were not “revolutionaries” yet, the miracle is, they did discern what was effectively a “revolution” in religious thinking and theology — how we are to relate to this One, this Divine Mystery, we label as “God”; and how we relate to one another including all the people of other faiths who have “come to know the Divine” by different pathways to ourselves. That observation alone – that a huge bunch of basically conservative men came up with such a revolutionary vision – proves to me that this Council can honestly be described as a “movement of the Holy Spirit” in our human affairs.

We should not lose heart. I honestly believe what we label as “the spirit of Vatican II” will eventually prevail even if it our great or great-great grandchildren, who don’t even remember the term “the Second Vatican Council” eventually write the new script.

I support this new initiative you have put forward. I believe we do need to “continue the conversation” — and that’s what we’ve been endeavouring to do in our own small way with catholica for the past ten years (we celebrate our anniversary on 3rd August coming). As a priority though I would also urge all involved in the various “reform, or Vatican II movements” that we need to reach out and find the people whom Providence has blessed, and who might have a philanthropic spirit and the resources to fund initiatives like the many so lavishly funded by the insecure, anxious remnant elements who have largely negated the forward-oriented vision of Vatican II over the last half century.

I honestly believe all of us are privileged to be witnesses to one of the most exciting moments in all of human religious history. There are a lot of people in the world living in fear and dread at the massive changes going on in the world at the moment — from the threat of climate change; to the massive changes in our global economics and the threat to jobs posed by new technologies; even the export of many of the mundane jobs to low-labour cost, third world countries; the rise in religious and political fundamentalism and terrorism; to the rise in domestic violence at the local level and the increasing breakdown rate in human relationships and the rise in mental illness statistics in the first world — but we need to remain strong and confident that eventually that “forward-oriented spirit of Vatican II” is the one which will prevail.

*"All their anxiety is about their clothes.... You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies." ...Saint Jerome (c. 347-420) about the Roman clergy


Brian Coyne
Editor, Catholica

More on departures from the Catholic Church - Bishop John McCarthy

"One of the most common reasons articulated is that they do not see the Catholic Church as a loving community of faith striving mightily to bring truth, justice and love into the world. Rather, in their opinion, they see a very large organization in which most individuals become isolated and this organization is controlled by a group of leaders that are insensitive to the needs of the people, who are seen to be more concerned about exercising power and control than a generous concern for all."{jcomments on}


To His Eminence Cardinal Marc Armand Ouellet, PSS,
President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America

Your Eminence,

At the end of the meeting of the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, I had the opportunity to meet with all those attending the assembly, during which there was an exchange of ideas and impressions concerning the public participation of the laity in the life of our peoples.

Now I would like to recount what was shared in that encounter and to follow it up with a reflection on those days, so that the spirit of discernment and reflection “doesn’t fall into the void”; so that it may help us and continue to encourage us to better serve the faithful Holy People of God.

It is precisely this image from which I would like to begin our reflection on the public activity of the laity in our Latin American context. To evoke the faithful Holy People of God is to evoke the horizon to which we are called to look and reflect. It is the faithful Holy People of God to whom as pastors we are continually called to look, protect, accompany, support and serve. A father cannot conceive of himself without his children. He may be an excellent worker, a professional, a husband or friend, but what makes him a father figure are his children. The same goes for us, we are pastors. A shepherd cannot conceive of himself without his flock, whom he is called to serve. The pastor is pastor of a people, and he serves this people from within. Many times he goes ahead to lead the way, at other times he retraces his steps lest anyone be left behind, and, not infrequently, he stands in the middle to know the pulse of the people.

Looking to the faithful Holy People of God, and feeling ourselves an integral part of the same, places us in life and thus in the themes that we treat, in a different way. This helps us not to fall into reflections that, in themselves, may be very good but which end up homologizing the life of our people or theorizing to the point that considerations end by prohibiting action. Looking continually at the People of God saves us from certain declarationist nominalisms (slogans) that are fine phrases but that are unable to sustain the life our communities. For example, I now recall the famous phrase: “the hour of the laity has come”, but it seems the clock has stopped.

Looking at the People of God is remembering that we all enter the Church as lay people. The first sacrament, which seals our identity forever, and of which we should always be proud, is Baptism. Through Baptism and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, (the faithful) “are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood” (Lumen Gentium, n. 10). Our first and fundamental consecration is rooted in our Baptism. No one has been baptized a priest or a bishop. They baptized us as lay people and it is the indelible sign that no one can ever erase. It does us good to remember that the Church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated men, of bishops, but that everyone forms the faithful Holy People of God. To forget this carries many risks and distortions in our own experience, be they personal or communitary, of the ministry that the Church has entrusted to us. We are, as firmly emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, the People of God, whose identity is “the dignity and freedom of the sons of God, in whose hearts the Holy Spirit dwells as in His temple” (Lumen Gentium, n. 9). The faithful Holy People of God is anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus, as we reflect, think, evaluate, discern, we must be very attentive to this anointing.

At the same time I must add another element that I consider the fruit of a mistaken way of living out the ecclesiology proposed by Vatican II. We cannot reflect on the theme of the laity while ignoring one of the greatest distortions that Latin America has to confront — and to which I ask you to devote special attention — clericalism. This approach not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people. Clericalism leads to homologization of the laity; treating the laity as “representative” limits the diverse initiatives and efforts and, dare I say, the necessary boldness to enable the Good News of the Gospel to be brought to all areas of the social and above all political sphere. Clericalism, far from giving impetus to various contributions and proposals, gradually extinguishes the prophetic flame to which the entire Church is called to bear witness in the heart of her peoples. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and sacramentality of the Church belong to all the People of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 9-14), not only to the few chosen and enlightened.

There is a very interesting phenomenon produced in our Latin America that I would like to quote here: I believe it to be one of the few areas in which the People of God is free from the influence of clericalism. I am referring to popular devotion. It has been one of the few areas in which the people (including its pastors) and the Holy Spirit have been able to meet without the clericalism that seeks to control and restrain God’s anointing of his own. We know that popular devotion, as Paul VI aptly wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, “certainly has its limits. It is often subject to penetration by many distortions of religion”, but, he continued, “if it is well oriented, above all by a pedagogy of evangelization, it is rich in values. It manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes rarely observed to the same degree elsewhere: patience, the sense of the cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion. By reason of these aspects, we readily call it ‘popular piety,’ that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity.... When it is well oriented, this popular religiosity call be more and more for multitudes of our people a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ” (n. 48). Pope Paul VI used an expression that I consider fundamental, the faith of our people, their guidelines, research, aspirations, yearning. When they manage to listen and orient themselves, they are able to manifest a genuine presence of the Spirit. Let us trust in our People, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell’, let us trust that the Holy Spirit acts in and with our People and that this Spirit is not merely the “property” of the ecclesial hierarchy.

I took this example of popular devotion as a hermeneutic key that can help us to better understand the action that is generated when the faithful Holy People of God pray and act. An action that does not remain tied to the intimate sphere of the person but which, on the contrary, is transformed into culture; “an evangelized popular culture contains values of faith and solidarity capable of encouraging the development of a more just and believing society, and possesses a particular wisdom which ought to be gratefully acknowledged” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 68).

From here then, we can ask ourselves: what does it mean that lay people are working in public life?

Nowadays many of our cities have become true places of survival. Places in which the throw-away culture seems to have taken over, leaving little room for hope. There we find our brothers and sisters, immersed in these struggles, with their families, who seek not only to survive but among the contradictions and injustices, seek the Lord and long to bear witness to him. What does the fact that lay people are working in public life mean for us pastors? It means finding a way to be able to encourage, accompany and inspire all attempts and efforts that are being made today in order to keep hope and faith alive in a world full of contradictions, especially for the poor, especially with the poorest. It means, as pastors, committing ourselves among our people and, with our people, supporting their faith and hope. Opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them, reflecting and above all praying with them. “We need to look at our cities” — and thus all areas where the life of our people unfolds — “with a contemplative gaze, a gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares.... He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice. This presence must not be contrived but found, uncovered. God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 71). It is not the pastor to tell lay people what they must do and say, they know this better than we do. It is not the pastor to establish what the faithful must say in various settings. As pastors, united with our people, it does us good to ask ourselves how we are encouraging and promoting charity and fraternity, the desire for good, for truth and for justice; how we can ensure that corruption does not settle in our hearts.

Often we have given in to the temptation of thinking that committed lay people are those dedicated to the works of the Church and/or the matters of the parish or the diocese, and we have reflected little on how to accompany baptized people in their public and daily life; on how in their daily activities, with the responsibilities they have, they are committed as Christians in public life. Without realizing it, we have generated a lay elite, believing that committed lay people are only those who work in the matters “of priests”, and we have forgotten, overlooked, the believers who very often burn out their hope in the daily struggle to live the faith. These are the situations that clericalism fails to notice, because it is more concerned with dominating spaces than with generating initiatives. Therefore we must recognize that lay people — through their reality, through their identity, for they are immersed in the heart of social, public and political life, participate in cultural forms that are constantly generated — need new forms of organization and of celebration of the faith. The current pace is so different (I do not say better or worse) than what we were living 30 years ago! “This challenges us to imagine innovative spaces and possibilities for prayer and communion which are more attractive and meaningful for city dwellers” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 73). It is illogical and therefore impossible to think that we as pastors should have the monopoly on solutions for the multitude of challenges that contemporary life presents us. On the contrary, we must be on the side of our people, accompanying them in their search and encouraging the imagination capable of responding to the current set of problems. We must do this by discerning with our people and never for our people or without our people. As St Ignatius would say, “in line with the necessities of place, time and person”. In other words, not uniformly. We cannot give general directives in order to organize the People of God within its public life. Inculturation is a process that we pastors are called to inspire, encouraging people to live their faith where and with whom they are. Inculturation is learning to discover how a determinate portion of the people today, in the historical here and now, live, celebrate and proclaim their faith. With a particular identity and on the basis of the problems that must be faced, as well as with all the reasons they have to rejoice. Inculturation is the work of artisans and not of a factory with a production line dedicated to “manufacturing Christian worlds or spaces”.

There are two memories that should be asked to be safeguarded in our people. The memory of Jesus Christ and the memory of our forebears. The faith we have received was a gift that came to us in many cases from the hands of our mothers, from our grandmothers. They were the living memory of Jesus Christ within our homes. It was in the silence of family life that most of us learned to pray, to love, to live the faith. It was within family life, which then took on the shape of parish, school, community, that the faith came into our life and became flesh. It was this simple faith that accompanied us often in the many vicissitudes of the journey. To lose our memory is to uproot ourselves from where we came and therefore is also not even knowing where we are going. This is fundamental, when we uproot a lay person from his faith, from that of his origins; when we uproot him from the faithful Holy People of God, we uproot him from his baptismal identity and thus we deprive him of the grace of the Holy Spirit. The same happens to us when we uproot ourselves as pastors from our people, we become lost. Our role, our joy, a pastor’s joy, lies precisely in helping and in encouraging, as many have done before us: mothers, grandmothers and fathers, history’s real protagonists. Not through our concession of good will, but by right and actual statute. Lay people are part of the faithful Holy People of God and thus are the protagonists of the Church and of the world; we are called to serve them, not to be served by them.

In my recent journey on Mexican soil, I had the opportunity to be alone with our Mother, allowing myself to be looked at by her. In that space of prayer, I was also able to present my filial heart to her. In that moment you too were there with your communities. In that moment of prayer, I asked that Mary never cease to support, as she did with the first community, the faith of our people. May the Blessed Virgin intercede for you, protect you and accompany you always!

From the Vatican, 19 March 2016