This is not a secret but most people don’t know the whole truth:
The American Catholic Church has some internal crumbling going on.
Daily media constantly highlights the most visible issues like the sexual abuse scandal, church leaders intervening in politics, dioceses settling lawsuits and filing bankruptcy and even how the fluctuating economy has affected charitable contributions. Just below the surface are two more significant concerns: the severe decline of new vocations to priesthood and the mass exodus of Catholics leaving the church.
A little while back, there was a listening session in our parish for the people to share ideas about what to do in case their parish would be priest-less in the future. A lot of passionate discussion ensued and ideas were put forth. This happened in parishes all over the diocese and suggestions were compiled into a single list that would be the focus of the second round of meetings on the topic.
Two nights ago, that next round of listening sessions happened… although this time only priests, deacons and some parish staff were invited. (I wasn’t there so my account is secondhand.) When I saw the list of “Initial Recommendations” (which was supposedly the combined ideas of people in all the parishes around the state) I was stunned.
Why didn’t you include the roles of lay people?
On the list were 21 recommendations… 2 to build new churches… and 19 to either combine parishes or eliminate a priest at an existing parish.
What stunned me was that there was not one iota of a thought about the roles of lay people… stepping into leadership and ministry roles / filling the workload gaps of tired priests / acting like the disciples that they want to be. Even more disheartening was that many such suggestions were offered at my parish… and I know people around the state who would have also put these ideas on the list. Where were they?
Meeting attendees were asked how they felt about the recommendations… one priest said, “It makes me tired just looking at this…” A deacon reiterated that the only solution was to somehow get more vocations to the priesthood. Several sentiments related to “This is too overwhelming” were added.
Evidently, there was some talk about getting back to the ways of the early church when everyone played a significant role… which I found hugely ironic given that the opening prayer of the meeting was just that:
All who believed were together and had all things in common… Every day they devoted themselves to the meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Can you say * [ D i s c o n n e c t ] * between opening prayer and Initial Recommendations?
The people are the reason why the church exists in the first place.
Was it lost on the larger group? The people are the reason why priests and deacons are needed at all. If you don’t include the people in any aspect of your thinking, you’re going to be standing alone in your church building… which we can see from the data is not going to be long in the making. Today: 22% of Catholics attend Mass weekly.
Tomorrow: How to Create a New Model for Parish Leadership. Stay tuned.