Christus Dominus 17 begins:
Various forms of the apostolate should be encouraged, and in the whole diocese or in any particular areas of it the coordination and close connection of all apostolic works should be fostered under the direction of the bishop. Thus all undertakings and organizations, be they catechetical, missionary, charitable, social, familial, educational, or anything else pursuing a pastoral aim, should be directed toward harmonious action. Thus at the same time the unity of the diocese will also be made more evident.
It’s a tough challenge in the best of times. With the arrival of a new ordinary in Kansas City, things are understandably in the shuffling process. We had two lay people rather high up in the chancery ranks who were let go after years of service, one was replaced with an experienced pastor, the other by a university professor. After their replacements were named, they were quietly invited back to help with the transition for a year, but declined. Since then, the diocese has made at least one new hire to cover old duties set aside in the new administration. CD clearly places the responsibility for harmony of effort with the bishop. That’s any leader’s responsibility: pastor, choir director, employer. If the work force, the choir, or the parish is falling apart, leaders can’t pass the buck. Their job is not to do, but to oversee, hence the Greek word for bishop, episcopos, means “overseer.” And the bottom line is: you have to see.
The faithful should be earnestly urged to assume their duty of carrying on the apostolate, each according to his state in life and ability. They should be admonished to participate in and give aid to the various works of the apostolate of the laity, especially Catholic Action.
Catholic Action is defined by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as “the organized work of the laity that is performed under the direction or mandate of a bishop in the fields of dogma, morals, liturgy, education, and charity. In 1927 Pope Pius XI gave the term its classical definition as ‘the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy.'” (If you wanted it, Neil or other regulars can no doubt give you a substantial history of Catholic Action.) But other lay efforts “which either directly or indirectly pursue a supernatural objective, that is, either the attaining of a more perfect life, the spreading of the Gospel of Christ to all men, and the promoting of Christian doctrine or the increase of public worship, or the pursuing of social aims or the performing of works of piety and charity” are also praised by CD. Essentially, lay people can effectively minister even outside of “official” channels, so long as the overall effort retains some “harmony.”
CD 17 concludes by acknowledging present day circumstances yet again. Unlike the time of Trent, the laity often surpass the clergy today in education, even in theology. This must be considered in judging the overall harmony of a diocese. Bishops are encouraged to show concern for more than “spiritual and moral circumstances,” but also the “social, demographic, and economic conditions” of people. Note this: “Religious and social research, through offices of pastoral sociology, contributes much to the efficacious and fruitful attainment of that goal, and it is highly recommended.”
Vatican II says to use expertise, even secular-based, to effect the mission of the Church, and more: an improvement in the life of people, so far as a bishop can do so. In my experience, dioceses can be spotty in their application of this. Some parishes exceed their chanceries in their attention to ministry, both in effort and effectiveness. Catholic Charities might be the most visible face put on ministry in most dioceses. But I’m hard-pressed to think of any other effort that, across the board, you find fruitful in more than a few sees. Dioceses seem blessed with a handful of leaders in a handful of “departments.” But from place to place in a chancery, the quality can be a mixed bag. Or perhaps your dicoese is doing great things with some consistency. If so, what are they?