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The role of the Catholic laity, what am I missing?(22 posts)

The role of the Catholic laity, what am I missing?53T
Dec 18, 2002 10:47 AM
In Boston there is much excitement about the appointment of a an apostolic administrator to fill in for Cardinal Law as he gets out of Dodge. The new guy is being criticized for being almost as guilty as Law for not doing enough to blow the whistle in the 80s and 90s when he learned of rogue priests committing serious sins and crimes.

Here is what I cannot understand, or have a different understanding than everyone else: The members of the Catholic Church are calling for a greater say in church matters by lay people. I think that these people have a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of the Catholic faith. According to my education as a catholic, the church is run by the Pope, God's representative on earth. The use of the metaphor "sheep" to describe the faithful is far more than a cute image. The intent of the teachings of the RC Church is that people are indeed sheep-like in their obedience to the priest, the bishop, the Pope and God.

This should not be so surprising to folks. The church organization was established about 900 years before the rise of liberalism in Europe. Liberalism introduced the idea that governance of any people is accomplished through the will of the governed. The predominant European paradigm before this was that the King ruled as a representative of God. It is clear that in such a system there is no need for democracy.

It took 100 years for the idea of self-governance to take hold in theory, and another long period for it to spread through Europe. It also cost many lives to the guillotine in France and the musket and cannon in the English colonies. The idea is now widely accepted among intellectuals and the UN, but only about half-implemented in actual on-the-ground governments around the world.

The church saw no such revolution that would cause it to change its view on the role of the faithful, or the role of the clergy. It did however see many defections, most notably in the form of the Protestant reformation. The Church of England is hardly an example of a liberal institution (the Archbishop of Canterbury runs everything and the Queen is the Protector of the Faith)but there are many US-based protestant churches that employ liberal ideals in the administration of the churches work. That is why we see things like pastor search committees formed to maintain the leadership of some Christian US church groups. The members of the church truly are members, like a club. I never remember a Catholic text referring to "members" of the Catholic Church.

What am I missing? Do these lay people want to change centuries of church doctrine? Why can't they do what generations before them have done and leave the church. The scriptures are the same at their local Congregationalist church, but without the medieval influences that lead to foreign values and unacceptable outcomes. By foreign I mean values incompatible with American ideals of liberty and democracy, such as unquestioning obedience to the clergy. By unacceptable outcomes I mean the concentration of sexually deviant men into the clergy by limiting the selection of priests to only those that are willing to take a vow of celibacy.

There may be many who will take issue with the sexual part, but I've been around the block a few times, as they say. In NYC where I grew up, I knew five guys who became priests. Were they all particularly holy? Not all. Where they all particularly homosexual? Five out of five. Coincidence? Don't kid yourself. What better road to follow for a catholic boy who at age 8 or 10 discovers that the type of physical relationship that he desires is not allowed, ever. Once a catholic believer discovers he is facing a life of celibacy, a huge barrier to entry is removed and the priesthood becomes a real option. For most of us, it could never be taken seriously, despite any level of dedication to the teachings of the church, or Jesus.

Of course, why does being homosexual lead to c
Part Two53T
Dec 18, 2002 10:48 AM
Of course, why does being homosexual lead to child abuse? It doesn't. I do believe that having your sexual existence stifled at an early age does lead to deep psychological scars. Could this lead to higher rates of predatory behavior, particularly sexual? In the absence of better data, I'll bet yes.

In summary, stop the nonsense of calling for greater lay involvement. The cure for the Catholic Church is to leave it. It is not an adaptive organization, like our government. It is a take it or leave it proposition, like medieval Europe, where the Church grew up.

Thanks for reading, and please let your thoughts fly!
Dec 18, 2002 11:11 AM
You were doing fine until you veered off on the classic homosexual myth, that homosexuals are more apt to be child abusers.

You are correct in that if you don't like the church, it's probably best to leave it. But I think if you were better informed, you would find that the Catholic Church is an adaptive organization. It has to be, or it will go out of business, at least in this country.

It was only 30 years ago that priests stood with their backs to the congregation and said the whole mass in Latin. No method of birth control was acceptable. Then came Vatican II and it all changed. Now there are girls as altar "boys" and lay people giving communion.

I was raised Catholic by two devout parents, went to Catholic schools, was an altar boy, etc., but I never really bought into the deal and got out as soon as I was able. I'm not a big fan, but I'm no detractor, either. It wasn't for me, so I left. I won't bash it because it didn't suit me.

The thing about priests molesting kids sickens me, but believe me, the nuns dished out more abuse on me than you can imagine. I think that is an almost universal complaint among Catholic school kids. Priest molesters have gotten a lot of press, as they should, but it's all out of proportion. A very small percentage of priests are bad, and an even smaller percentage abuse children. It's easy to forget that in our sensationalist news climate.
Dec 18, 2002 11:30 AM
Thanks for your comments. I also left the church as a teen, since it held no attraction for me.

I do specifically disagree with the idea that homosexuals are more likely than the general population to abuse childern. Perhaps that was not clear in my post because the system cut me off without warning and I had to split the post in two. What do you think of the total repression of sexuality as a precursor for abusive behavior? Is that really a crazy idea?

Nuns are not an issue in the US due to lack of numbers. It is the huge national attention being given to lay particpation that prompted me to post. (Voice of the Faithful, etc.)
Seems unlikely but. . .czardonic
Dec 18, 2002 11:09 AM
. . .perhaps the Catholic church is finally on the verge of an enlightenment of reformation of some sort?

Then again the perception of these problems and the agitation among the laity seems limited to American Catholics, no? What are the chances of a split between American Catholics and the Vatican?
Classic case of stay in the Church to try to reform it or leaveeyebob
Dec 18, 2002 1:01 PM
altogether and start anew. I was raised Catholic and like many others left when it stopped making sense to me. I don't know about the premise of joining another Christian sect (no offense intended with the use of the word sect) or how that would float with Catholics. I honestly don't know any that ever "switched" religions. The ones that I know either are still practicing or quit religion all together.

Rigidity and ReformJon Billheimer
Dec 18, 2002 1:31 PM
First of all, very lucid commentary above! However, I would suggest that the reform that you say is being called for in the church already occurred. Depending on one's view that watershed event is either called the Reformation or the Protestant Revolt. Luther's ideas with respect to the individual's relationship both to God and to the church can be seen as more than a theological departure. They also accompanied the liberalizing historical process of the secularization of the state and the separation of rational thought and enquiry from faith.

Will the catholic church adapt? If it is to continue to exist in modern secular democratic societies such as North America and Western Europe it will have to. Conservatives, however, point to the fact that the church is growing in less developed areas of the world such as Africa, etc. So perhaps the church can afford to see itself become increasingly irrelevant in the developed, post-modern world.
JonLen J
Dec 18, 2002 1:46 PM
Please e-mail me at


Jon are you inferring that it's just a numbers game?eyebob
Dec 18, 2002 1:49 PM
That's what it sounds like in your last paragraph. If they have more converts in Africa to make up for those that are leaving in NOrth America, are they okay with that?

Jon are you inferring that it's just a numbers game?Jon Billheimer
Dec 18, 2002 4:47 PM

I don't know if they're okay with a declining presence in the U.S. and Europe or not. I'm just suggesting that if they're not then they're going to have to move off their absolutist stance on issues of church governance as well as some doctrinal issues.
Thanks for your input53T
Dec 18, 2002 5:42 PM
As you point out, the depth of the conceptual gap between an open democracy like the US government and the closed heirarchical-all-the-way-to-God system of the RC Church is huge. These two systems bracket the entire history of governancy from the very early "God calls the shots" model to today's progressive republic, where ABC news doesn't mind taking a run at the Senate majority leader.

I think this depth of this gap is too much for American catholics, as manifested by the recent confused calls for empowering the laity. I agree that a substantial decline of the church in North America is quite possible.

Personaly, I don't think the Church should reform. I would respect the institution more if it stuck to its guns and went down insisting that the Church's rules are God's rules and no human or group of humans can change them. Admitting now that Jesus was actually a practicing Jew and that the Church's rules were developed in plage-ravaged Europe are were designed primarily to raise money and defete the Muslum hords would be a sell out.
My experienceCaptain Morgan
Dec 19, 2002 6:52 AM
It appears that there is a perception that the bureaucratic organization of the church is of major importance to practicing Catholics. In the past 10 years of going to mass, I cannot recall very many instances when the Pope was even mentioned. My experience is that the priests are more involved (or at least appear to be) with local ministries. I couldn't give a rat's ass about what happens in the Vatican.

I switched to Catholicism 15 years ago before I got married. In my view, a Christian is a Christian, and it doesn't matter to me how one decides to practice that faith.
Pay attention in church53T
Dec 19, 2002 7:48 AM
At every catholic mass the celebrant asks the congregation to pray for "...our holy father, John Paul II, and all the Bishops and clergy..."

You do go to church on Sunday, right?

Do you give a rat's ass about the writings of Pope? The encyclicals and bulls? They are very important to understand if you wish to be a good Catholic, like you promised the priest when you converted.
SeriouslyCaptain Morgan
Dec 19, 2002 8:20 AM
I think you know what my comment meant about the Pope. The Pope is rarely mentioned during the homilies. I did not intend to suggest that a recited line such as "we pray for the Pope, the clergy, and all the faithful...". I also pray for you every Sunday, but to say that you are never mentioned during mass I think would be an accurate statement.

Please name the significant encyclicals and bulls over the past 15 years that have affected me, and I would be better able to comment whether they are important to understand. Have there been any significant changes relevant to Catholics since Vatican II?

The suggestion that Catholics follow around the Pope and clergy like mindless sheep is ridiculous. It does, however, provide ammunition for agnostics to criticize any type of organized religion.

Also, I wish I has $1 for each individual that has told me that they left the church because some nun slapped his wrist with a ruler in Catholic School. I would have enough money for my dream road bike. While I cannot eliminate the possibility that in some instances it has led to a disillusionment with Christianity and the Catholic church, I believe that it just provides a sufficient excuse to sleep in on Sundays. I am not suggesting that this makes someone a bad person, but to cast blame on something that happened 30 years ago is ridiculous.
Dec 19, 2002 9:26 AM
You pray for me and I am not mentioned in the ceremony, therefore anyone you pray for is not mentioned in the ceremony. This logic is Miss America level at best, but I digress.

Vatican II was not a significant change for Catholics. I don't think the issue is change, I am talking about understanding. You cannot be suggesting that you studied John XXIII's Pacem in Terris ( when you were converting? To become a Catholic did you have to read JP II's Laborem Exercens (, and understand the relationship between the Pontif's thoughts on labor to Carl Marx's?

To condemn organized religion, Agnostics and athiests do not need to accuse Catholics of following the Pope around like sheep (interesting choice of words on your part). They need only point to the Crusades, Northern Ireland, Palestine, India, Nazi Germany, the World Trade Center, and several other places where organized religion has been the source or the tool of mindless death and destruction. Organized religion is undeniably the worst thing that has happened to humanity in the last 2000 years. It served its purpose once, but it is a bad deal today.

Life is short so I sleep in whenever I can, Sunday is no exception. Remember, there is no afterlife for me.

What I urge you and your fellow Catholics to do is learn what it means to be a Catholic, why all Christian churches are not the same, learn the roots of your beliefs. Then you should proudly practice your faith the way God meant it to be practised, or get out of the Church and stop living the lie.
SeriouslyCaptain Morgan
Dec 19, 2002 10:52 AM
In order to be a good husband, need I read books that come out on how to be a good husband? To be successful in business, are you suggesting that I need to read every publication that is written on the subject? The Pontif's thoughts on labor in 1981 is irrelevant to me. I did, however, read a good portion of the text, and therefore I believe that I am now a better Catholic.

Your beliefs that religion was at the heart of many catastrophes are somewhat skewed. If I go out and kill someone and say that it is due to my belief in Islam, does that mean Islam was truly responsible? Or, could it be that I really never did it in the name of Islam in the first place, but it provided an adequate excuse for my evil deed?

Your argument that religion created the world's evil is flawed. As you know, agnostics do not believe in God. However, several agnostics (Charles Manson, Pul Pot, Mussolini) have killed in its name. Since their non-belief of God directly created the evil, everyone should be a believer so as not to be evil, right?

I do not believe that the world would have been better off without organized religion. I do not need to look any further than my own daughter praying before meals, asking questions about God, and singing songs about God. I did not instill these traits in her either - she got them from daycare and Sunday School. Not bad for a 4 year old. Sometimes the student becomes the teacher.
Dec 19, 2002 1:09 PM
The rules for being a good husband are codified, so reading is not required although it can help. The rules for being a good Catholic are written down. Your parish priest can point you to those writings. Yes, you must read books to be a good Catholic. I have not met a person who claims to be a good Catholic without ever reading some of the Bible.

If you kill someone in the name of Islam, it does not mean Islam is responsible, you are responsible. But we must ask, why did you kill someone in the name of Islam? If you were not a Muslim, would you have done the same? If there were no divisions by religion, would the same impetus be there for you to kill? Would you know who to kill? Does not providing an adequate excuse for killing promote killing?

Agnostics are uncertain about the existence of God. Atheists believe there is no God. Your logic again is Barbie-esque. If non-believers kill therefore believers do not kill. This is specious. History is not full of instances where people kill in the name of Agnosticism or atheism, except maybe for the agrarian reform in the early Soviet Union. There were other factors at play there besides religion, or lack of.

Your daughter is curious and intelligent, therefore religion is good. Seriously, your writing and reading comprehension is excellent, your grasp of facts is good, but your application of logic to your argument (If A then B, if not B then not A) is very poor.
Last comment for the dayCaptain Morgan
Dec 19, 2002 2:15 PM
I agree about the simplistic/poor logic. I had attempted to simulate your Barbie-esque argument that A) people killed in the name of religion, therefore B) religion is bad. Perhaps my attempt at mocked logic was not evident.

I agree that reading the Bible is important. I never claimed I do not read the Bible. I thought that we were discussing Catholic/Vatican documents. I did read the Pope's book a few years back, however. Most people would be surprised that he described in detail his admiration for other non-Christian religions.

There are good Catholics (Christians) and bad Catholics (Christians). The difference between the two is NOT what they read, but rather how they live their lives.

Take care
Pardon my interruption, but...eyebob
Dec 19, 2002 1:41 PM
Posted by: Captain Morgan Dec-06-02, 11:35 AM

"Using the same logic, I would say that a couple of (in)famous atheists include Charles Mason, Mussolini, and Pul Pot. Therefore, I could argue that your atheism is actually a dangerous form of freethinking which facilitates the killing of fellow human beings."

Could you please use other examples than these three over and over? Well, at least you got the "athiest" reference right the first go around. What'd you do, write a paper on this in school one time?

I really expect more for my entertainment dollar than this Captain.

Yeah, I knowCaptain Morgan
Dec 19, 2002 1:54 PM
Sorry Bob. I agree with you -- won't happen again.

Here is something else for your entertainment dollar (rated "G"). My 1 year old loves it:
What does Nazi Germany have to do with Christianity?DJB
Dec 20, 2002 7:22 AM
Have you bought into the myth that Hitler was acting in the name of Christianity?

"History is not full of instances where people kill in the name of Agnosticism or atheism, except maybe for the agrarian reform in the early Soviet Union" (from another post)

In the last century, tens of millions of people were killed in Communist countries like the U.S.S.R, China, Cambodia and North Korea. In whose name were they killed?

"Organized religion is undeniably the worst thing that has happened to humanity in the last 2000 years."

Communism is the worst thing to happen to humanity - ever.

"Remember, there is no afterlife for me."

Not very good questions.53T
Dec 21, 2002 3:25 PM
Hitler has nothing to do with Christianity, he did have a problem with Jews, wouldn't you agree? Whether the organized religion is used to identify the evil or the victim, my point is the same.

You have a problem with logic as well. You point out that millions of people were killed in several countries, with no apparant connection to organized religion. How does this bear on my argument that large numbers of people were not killed in the name of athieism? Are you suggesting that the people that you refered to were killed in the name of athieism? I thought they were killed in the conflict between the US and the USSR. Are you suggesting that the cold war was based on athieism?