Shaw on Our “Village”

Rod Dreher is one of the more thoughtful conservatives out there. He has a good set of posts today on various topics, but the one that most caught my eye included a link to a conservative almost as sensible, and usually well-worth reading. From that essay I read some good words about the current crop of US bishops dallying in collective self-delusion. A very interesting bit that uncovers the symptomatic laziness of the hierarchy:

Soon after the sex abuse scandal broke, several bishops suggested holding a new plenary council for the Church in the United States to consider what had caused that disaster and what needed to be done. The national conference of bishops proceeded to talk that idea to death over the next several years, then hired some academic social scientists to tell them what had happened. The plenary council didn’t appeal to the bishops, one suspects, because by Church law it would have required the participation not only of bishops but lower clergy, religious, and—heaven help us!—the laity.

Plenary council or no plenary council, we need to take a fresh look at shared responsibility in the Church. Openness and the sharing of responsibility in Church affairs at all levels—parish, diocesan, national—are indispensable. But when I made that point to one good bishop, he sighed and replied, “Consultation takes so much time.” Indeed it does, and much education and re-education now are necessary as well. But the future of the Church in America depends on it. Could the Holy Father please put in a good word for the idea?

Too bad Shaw had to muck up an otherwise intelligent essay with this clunker scapegoating the people holding parish leadership together and staving off clergy-in-their-boot deaths around age 50:

Sad to say, many good bishops and pastors seem to believe they have buried the last vestiges of clericalism by promoting lay ministries, including the work of salaried “lay ecclesial ministers” who by an overwhelming margin are women. Twenty years ago, in Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II correctly pointed to the lay ministry craze as an expression of neo-clericalism.

If it is “neo-clericalism,” a lot of lay people have had clergy teachers who were way too successful with the real deal. If it doesn’t look and smell like the Church in Shaw’s rose-colored glasses, it must be suspect. Too bad he forgets all about lay church musicians of the past centuries, not to mention the women religious working for slave wages teaching him and his kids. Craze. Heh. The man needs a history lesson, if not a transfusion.

Few people paid attention then, and the craze persists. In commending the laity of the United States, as he will undoubtedly do, could Pope Benedict perhaps say a word about that?

I’d hope such a word would be as disappointing to Shaw as B16 was to the tradis on Good Friday. Sometimes I’d like to see several tens of thousands lay people strike for a month or two just to watch the clergy and lay Catholic scribes like Shaw run around to try to piece together the end of a school year, 90 days of liturgy, or even a papal visit.

And also about personal vocation and its discernment as keys to finding the proper roles of all Catholics, but especially lay women and men, in the apostolate of the Church?

Why not the clergy, while he’s mentioning it? But please, spare us the scapegoating. A thank-you letter will do more nicely.

Rod rather saves his post from Shaw’s fumble by a postscript which discusses the possibilities of being a “creative minority.” A good finish that almost seems liberal:


And whatever the failings of our culture in these latter days, we are offered an unprecedented opportunity to build a resistance, in families and in communities. But being a creative minority requires creativity.

It also requires a worldview, or a view of faith somewhat wider than what the conservatives, crunchy or otherwise, can provide alone. Many conservative Catholics have gummed up the works over the past few decades rallying around their favorite banners. Even today, most throw in their lot with their beloved Republican party, trusting in their own brand of Americanism and the promises of a political organization smart enough to court their support, but not dumb enough (from a view of financial self-interest) to buy into the whole Catholic morality angle.

When Rod talks of resistance, it has an eerie echo from people I knew in the 70’s who were off forming communes, living off the land, harboring a simmering mistrust of The Man, or whatever term they labelled the Establishment. Some liberals got tired of that, I guess. Or they found resistance exhausting after a time.

Conservatives trying to steer the Church in the right direction are like sprinters racing on one leg. They’ll jar themselves quite a bit trying to get anywhere. They might eventually get to the same finish line, but it will take quite a bit longer.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Shaw on Our “Village”

  1. Todd:

    I read your post, and I’d like to ask two focus questions in response:

    1. Are you denying there’s a “neo-clericalism” among “lay ministries” at work in parishes and diocesan and regional structures?

    2. If not, are you disagreeing with Russell Shaw that it’s a bad thing?

    Because your post sure sounds like your disputing one of the above.

    See, because I don’t see his comment, “lay ministry craze” as meaning have no laity involved, active and responsible; or do you really think Russell Shaw, who you say is “thoughtful,” is unaware of how much is accomplished through responsible, active, engaged lay volunteers and employees and collaborators? He doesn’t know about all those laity who take a role in liturgy, school years and papal visits?

    Isn’t it just possible he’s making another point, that escapes the categories of your response, which seems a bit “touchy” to me?

    (I’ll add here–I don’t know that Shaw would disagree with you that any new, lay clericalists had old-style clericalists as their teachers; did you mean to suggest he did?)

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for asking, Fr Fox. I think the word we’re looking for is elitism or narcissism when we’re speaking of lay people who have become too full of themselves in looking too much like the priests of old. I think it might walk and quack like clericalism, but I’d say either term: clericalism or neo-clericalism is a misnomer.

    That said, I think individual subjective experience always conflates the situation. I don’t find most priests are a problem, even many of the younger generation so many Catholics seem to fear. In the same way, lay ecclesial ministers are much like the crop of clergy: earnest, holy, dedicated people who are doing a job with a sense of ministry. In each group there is a minority of psychologically troubled people who spread dis-ease, and generally subvert the gospel through their own behavior.

    I think Russell Shaw, like too many conservative churchfolk, has bought into the urban myth of the all-powerful lay minister terrorizing cowering clergy and pewfolk.

    What’s to blame? Poor formation and discernment. Shaw needs to move on; there is no crisis of “neo-clericalism” or whatever he wants to call it.

  3. Todd:

    Okay, I take your response to be a “no” to my first question (and I say that only to give you a chance to correct my reading of your reply).

    I do believe there is a “neo clericalism” or whatever label you want to call it. I believe it is not a “myth” that we have “lay ministers” (I use quotes because there is a valid theological question here in this terminology) who are operating out of a misunderstanding of the right interplay of responsibility between clergy and laity in the Church, and that misunderstanding creates a number of practical problems.

    I will agree “elitism” or “narcissism” aren’t bad terms for the phenomenon, but I guess I don’t see that as undermining my assertion that there is a confusion.

    There are many reasons for this, including bad catechesis, bad leadership, vacuums, etc., but among the reasons is sometimes folks who gain a position and defend “their turf”; tugs-of-war between lay collaborators and the clergy, and it comes in areas of responsibility that properly are clerical.

    This example may seem relatively modest to some, but it’s not to others: the exact role and scope of involvement of extraordinary ministers of the holy Eucharist.

    There are very valid questions of liturgy and theology at issue in how a parish makes use of this extraordinary ministry; but woe betide the priest who, however gently, sends back to his or her pew an extraordinary minister who is “filling in” but didn’t account for a concelebrant or deacon who happens to be present; let alone a priest who says, we might be overdoing it in how many we schedule.

    There will be sturm-und-drang over this alleged assault on the baptismal dignity of the laity, this “creeping clericalism” (a term that I’ve heard used in precisely this sort of situation, involving merely when the extraordinary ministers came forward, and whether they were to take the sacred vessels from the altar).

    And so it goes. I might also expound on commissions and councils that view themselves as boards of trustees, rather than advisory and consultative, teachers who resent the pastor giving direction on the shape and elements of Masses with children, not being deterred in the least by their own, acknowledged, unfamiliarity with liturgical norms–why does that even matter?–but that’s enough to say…

    The phenomenon, whatever you call it, is real, not an “urban myth.”

  4. Todd says:

    Fr Fox, some of what you describe, though very real, I have a harder time thinking of as any type of clericalism. By definition, clericalism implies a certain superiority of all clergy that would lie beyond the bounds of their vocation or expertise. In my life, maybe I’ve known two church musicians who felt that way to a pathological degree about church music.

    Individuals who disagree with a priest or a lay person on how something is to be done: in isolation, that strikes me more as a personality conflict, if not just a simple disagreement.

    If it’s a pattern with more than one instance, then more likely two people are failing to communicate. And if it happens with more than one person, then perhaps we have something more: a sin, a psychological flaw, maybe something with an “ism” on the end of it.

    I see where you’re going with Eucharistic Ministry. It wasn’t what Shaw had in mind (I don’t think) but it’s not a bad example to underscore my point.

    From a liturgist’s angle, the problem shows up the clumsiness of many pastors in arranging for and giving respect to the ministry of distributing Communion. I can see how a priest or lay person being asked to sit down in the middle of Mass would be miffed. It’s a needless small embarassment that might indicate a casual approach to this ministry by the celebrant or his MC. If it happens more than once, I’d say the pastor (or liturgist) is open to a firm correction.

    Whenever I have a surprise con-celebrant or deacon, I make sure one lay minister knows she or he can take the Mass off from duty, and I do it before Mass. In a parish without a liturgist, that’s the job of the celebrant or pastor.

    When the diocese tells me they’re not sure how many clergy will come to a Mass we’re hosting, I don’t recruit lay people at all, even if I’m asked to do so. If the clergy lack the respect to allow proper planning, then that chalks up as more of a liturgical abuse than “too many” lay people involved in liturgical ministry.

    As for uppity lay people, I wish I had more of them. At least you know you have bodies with passion and a pulse. With patience, a good pastoral minister can steer a group like that, earning respect, loyalty, and support. But that kind of regard may need to be earned in some places. None of my lay colleagues in ministry expect is just because they have a degree, experience, or are a published composer or author.

    And if that is slow in coming to a new priest, perhaps the fault lies also with the methodology of the previous pastor.

    No, I’m pretty much convinced widespread lay clericalism is a myth. I’m also convinced that the concern about priest-lay boundaries is more worrisome for clergy who lack the skills to enter into an effective partnership with lay people. While I’ve seen some crazy liturgy things over the years, I’ve never seen the priest-lay boundary get confused in any significant, let alone systemic way.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    If some priests can’t or won’t lead their parish the only alternative is for the laity to step in. Anyway, the laity SHOULD be the leaders in the temporal affairs of the parish. Pray, pay, obey? Not anymore folks; not anymore.

  6. Liam says:

    A Sunday comment (I reduce my viewing and commenting during Lent, liberated somewhat on weekends):

    Lay control over the temporal affairs of parishes is far from a panacaea to cure clericalism. Over history, it has usually led to secular elites maintaining control for generations. The Roman system was designed to frustrate that, but that didn’t prevent it from being coopted.

    But it is blindness to go on talking of lay vs clerical control; it misses the real problems utterly. Framing questions in light of that is a bankrupt if comfortable perspective.

    In reality, there is no purely structural solution to the problem. There are many threads to it, and many ways people get distracted by one and ignore another, et cet.

    My experience in relatively independent Catholic intentional communities is such that if I had to choose an impoverished “model,” it would be the simple-pastor-in-charge one. The lay led varieties have been disasters. Catholics don’t tend do lay leadership well (actually, we tend to do it very poorly); and many Protestants silently dread ex-Catholics coming into their congregations and aspiring to leadership therein. This is no apologia for clericalism. Merely that what is usually contrasted with is worse.

    A collaborative pastor is wonderful – so long as he is also unafraid to (1) confront and set boundaries around others who abuse the collaborative model and (2) keep the congregation’s focus on Christ rather than itself (this second point is imperative – anything smacking of wallowing in our wonderfulness should be nipped in the bud very quickly). Unfortunately, the gifts for collaboration and fearless confrontation tend to be separateed (I’ve seen them combined, but it’s not common).

    A blessed Lent to you all.

  7. Re: Jimmy’s comment…

    The idea that the pastor would not also direct the temporal affairs of the parish has appeal — “let him focus on the spiritual” — but I think is misguided. For one, the division of “temporal” and “spiritual” is itself a very problematic way of thinking, particularly for a sacramental faith! I.e., a sacrament, by definition, is both “temporal” and “spiritual.”

    So, for example, is hiring and managing staff, temporal or spiritual? My guess most would say temporal; fine, then the pastor doesn’t select who will be DRE? Music director? Catechists? liturgists? These folks’ visions are not tightly bound up with the spiritual? So is the proposal that other people would hire and manage them, and yet somehow, the pastor will still be providing the essential, spiritual and liturgical direction? That’s dreamland. And so it goes with framing a budget, and so forth.

    I don’t know what the right formula is, but I do believe, based on albeit limited experience, that the pastor has to exercise all three munera: priest, prophet, and “king” — but the latter need not mean dictator.

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