Document on Clergy and Laity to be Written

I was tempted to read between the lines throughout this article on the relationship between clergy and Catholic faithful. I would really like to read what you think. How would you write this document if you were able to contribute to its content? Love to read your thoughts. Don’t be shy! DrNick

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican is studying a possible document on the relationship of clergy and laity, which touches on the sensitive issue of the administration of the church’s goods, Vatican sources said.

The sources denied an Italian report that the document will issue instructions on the reorganization of U.S. dioceses that face financial pressures in the wake of the sex abuse scandals — in particular regarding parish closings.

The sources, who spoke to Catholic News Service June 28, said the document under preparation only marginally touches on the topic of parish closings and, if published, will be directed at the universal church. The form of the document has not yet been determined; it may be an instruction or a less formal circular letter, they said.

“The main topic here is the respect of norms regarding the nature of the priesthood in collaboration with laypeople, especially as it is affected by the restructuring of parish life,” said one source familiar with the draft document.

“In some countries, new forms of parish structures have been created in which the priestly ministry appears weakened — in practice, the priest’s role risks being reduced to that of a celebrant of the sacraments, while teams of laypeople are put in charge of management. But the office of governing is part of the priestly ministry,” he said.

The preparation of the document is being guided by the Congregation for Clergy because it has competence over matters pertaining to the administration of ecclesiastical goods. In that sense, the sources said, the document will touch on the matter of parish closings, which often involve the loss or redistribution of the church’s assets and properties.

In the United States, parish closings have sometimes prompted protests among the faithful. In several recent cases, the Vatican has upheld mergers of parishes but said that church buildings that were closed must be reopened and “used in some manner as determined by the bishop.”

Vatican officials have privately expressed reservations about some of the parish closings and the way they were handled.

One Vatican official said, however, that the document under consideration would not seek to emit specific norms for the United States.

“If that were the purpose, we would have talked to the (U.S.) bishops’ conference,” he said.

“The focus of this study is much wider. In the United States, there is the issue of parish closings. In Europe, there are other problems tied to a lack of clergy. The situations are diverse, and the Holy See wants to give a universal response,” he said.

The sources said the clergy congregation had been studying these issues for several years. They said it was still too early to say when — or if — a document would be published.



4 Responses to Document on Clergy and Laity to be Written

  1. anne southwood says:

    I don’t normally do lengthy posts, but this excerpt from LaStampa 6/28 story makes me wonder if both writers were in the same room:

    For this reason, the Congregation for the Clergy in agreement with other departments has prepared a specific document, which will be released after the summer, possibly in October, that is specifically dedicated to the reorganization of American dioceses.
    The document is currently being examined by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, chaired by Archbishop Francis Coccopalmerio. Obviously the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also interested in the matter. It will provide guidelines on how the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, and each individual diocese must act to rebuild its presence in their area.

    A “classic” negative example of the reorganisation linked to the economic problems is that of Cleveland, where the Holy See has decided to send an apostolic visit, or rather, an investigation to look into whether the decisions taken by the Bishop Ordinary Gerard Lennon were adequate. He announced that 29 parishes will close and another 41 will be merged. The restructuring plan which will cut 52 parishes out of 224 is already in effect. Other cities in which word about closure has been heard are Camden, New Jersey, Allentown, Pennsylvania and New York City. The reasons that prompted the decision to close parishes in Cleveland have been the flow of population to outlying areas, the financial difficulties that have seen 42% of parish budgets finish in the red and the shortage of priests. Now this last point is questioned by the Vatican and the apostolic visit will serve to ascertain the facts. The Vatican has asked Lennon to stop his policy of savage cuts. In Boston, amongst many other controversies, he closed 60 parishes. So far the Vatican has not had any luck.

    The protests of the faithful against these cuts have been numerous and loud and have even reached the Vatican. This uprising inspired the creation of a document which is based precisely on the nature of participation at the grass roots level that the Church in the United States has, therefore giving an important role to the laity. The philosophy is that of making a distinction between parish and the church. A diocese in difficulty does well to reduce the number of parishes, but must maintain churches and chapels where they exist, perhaps entrusting the care to families of the faithful who are willing to look after them and keep them open. Then on Sundays it is easy to send a priest to celebrate Mass. This solution would take into account various factors, the first being the singular issue of distances, which in the United States are so large. Outright closure of places of worship often oblige the private faithful of the parish to take long journeys to participate in the holy Sunday service.

  2. tony & doreen jannotta says:


    From a perspective of U.S. catholic issues, and the challenges in and around the Chicago archdiocese, here are some comments.

    Vatican norms will be so vague and virtually useless if they are not focused of specific issues in specific places around the world. Diverse issues and challenges demand specific guidance.

    Vatican-concocted norms without specific input from each region, and remedies and alternatives proposed by those regions will be useless.

    Parish closings are driven by

    -shrinking parish membership

    -increasing debt

    -priest shortage

    Overall numbers of catholic laity are in a virtual zero-to-slow-growth cycle.

    The growth in catholic laity is coming from Hispanic and immigrant European populations. Otherwise laity growth is nil.

    Priest ratio to laity is shrinking because of the priest shortage. U.S. seminaries have close to a majority of foreign born and/or non-English (1st language) students.

    The notion of a priest focus being primarily pastoral and liturgical is foreign to the Vatican.

    Vatican sees the role of the priest as CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, to assure cash flow and asset management are protected. Then the priest has time to shepherd the flock.

    To relegate the management and administration of a parish to the laity is anathema to the Vatican.

    Tony Jannotta, permanent deacon

  3. Gaile Pohlhaus says:

    I would use the principles of Vatican II as articulated at the American Catholic Council, in particular the thoughts of Sr. Joan Chittister.

  4. survivor's wife says:

    And this “document” will help how?

    Waste of time and energy to state the obvious.

    Tony and Doreen, I couldn’t agree more.

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