CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 12 August 2017

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A call for Catholic Citizens

There is no shortage of talk about a shortage of religious vocations in our Church.
 
But as a Church, we believe that God’s grace is abundant. We also believe the making of a vocation is not a human activity, but one of God. But as it is the Holy Spirit who inspires, it would be churlish to believe that the Spirit is somehow letting the side down by withholding supply.
 
This is expressed when we pray for the generosity of response in the hearts of those who the Spirit may be calling, but if our judgement still tells us the supply is short, perhaps we are not understanding the point of view of the Holy Spirit.
 
One of the big pushes of Pope Francis is an end to clericalism. He sees the key as lying in the empowerment of the laity. But while clericalism is mostly understood insidiously as the usurping of power and privilege, it has well intentioned manifestations as well, one of which is the taking on of too much responsibility.
 
This type of leadership stifles the initiative of those who sit in the pews, as a one man at the top style chokes the development of new ministries and new ways.
 
So maybe the Spirit is telling us that more priests is not the need of the moment, but rather a more balanced sense of shared responsibility and creativity.
 
However, there are deep seated cultural values at work. People defer to the priest without realising. Experience in tiny parishes in Japan in the 1970s saw them thrive and find new life after the full time priest was withdrawn.
 
Although withdrawn with reluctance, there were positive results.
 
A study of the catechumenate experience carried out in Melbourne shows it tends to work best in communities where there is no full time priest, not because the priest is obstructive or disinterested, but simply because he is there and long held attitudes kick in.
 
The study concludes that shared responsibility and leadership is a powerful dynamic. But achieving this type of cultural shift is difficult and will not come overnight. It calls for a new conceptualisation.
 
A group founded in Australia, under the name of Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn, is putting forward the concept of Catholic Citizens to counter what the chairperson of the group, John Warhurst, describes as “Catholics who are dissuaded from challenging… and urged to accept discipline from the top.”
 
In the Church they can be professional and hardworking employees in education, health or welfare, but not decision-makers in the ordinary sense of the word.
 
But Warhurst says this is not their experience in everyday society, as Catholics have a proud record of citizenship as leaders in wider society in politics, social service and community organisations, but despite the Church’s strong support for the democratic way, as lay people, they are denied this space in Church life.
 
In partnership with priests, religious and bishops, the group is looking to explore and develop new models of leadership with better structures for the laity, especially women, in decision-making
 
Warhurst says that we do not just need a dedicated laity, but one that exercises its duties not just as members, but as Catholic Citizens. JiM