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Is it time for the Church to celebrate a Year of the Laity?

By Sarah Mac Donald - 05 September, 2017

“We now have an educated laity, perceptive of social change, anxious to play a part in the mission of the Church. We are foolish to ignore them.”

A leading lay advocate for married clergy has said it is high time the Church hosted a Year of the Laity which he believes could provide a forum for an exchange between the Church’s “once silent majority and the decision-making minority”.

Writing in the Catholic Times newspaper, Chris McDonnell, Secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy, said a Year of the Laity would provide the Church with a framework for open discussion in an honest and sincere manner.

He argues that as few parishes have a parish council and even fewer dioceses have a diocesan council, “There is no formal way that relevant discussions can take place” and, as options are so limited, only the media provides an outlet for discussion.

When matters are raised in media, through articles, letters and interviews, “it is all too easy to brush them away as dissident voices that can be ignored”.

Elsewhere in his article, the influential layman says it will be interesting to see how the 50th anniversary of the publication of Paul VI’s controversial encyclical, Humanae Vitae, will be marked next year in 2018.

“A teaching that has not had the acceptance of the majority of the faithful, the sensus fidelium, will no doubt be praised by a few with little opportunity for fruitful open discussion.”

Chris McDonnell argues that the anniversary of Humanae Vitae would provide the right time for a proclamation by the Church of a Year of the Laity.

In the past, in a working class community, with little or no educational development, the cleric held sway over the people, even if he himself was of limited education – his influence over others was enormous and ensured him respect. ‘Father says was a familiar phrase.

But, he notes, rapid change in recent years has swept that division aside like a flood breaking through a dyke.

The great uptake of tertiary education, widespread literacy and the availability of information through the Web have changed so much.

“We now have an educated laity, perceptive of social change, anxious to play a part in the mission of the Church. We are foolish to ignore them.”

He believes the concern for many, at present in a position of power, would be the place of women in the Church.

“Even writing that phrase about one half of the people of God is problematic, for we now have experience of a society that has come to accept gender equality as the norm.

“Our Christian mission can no longer come with the baggage of two levels of value attached to our ankles. We must face up to issues that will not go away.”

The father and grandfather adds, “Our rapidly increasing understanding of human sexuality has posed enormous questions that in previous years were not even asked, let alone answered.”

Chris McDonnell concludes by stating, “In his many parables, Jesus set his words in a familiar context that the people could understand. The Church needs to find the commonality of language in our own time. What better way than a declared Year of the Laity where all can contribute and all benefit from a prayerful seeking of the Lord?”

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