Feb 6, 2019
Can a one-day conference at a university breathe life into a cause that lately appears to have stalled: involving the Catholic laity in ending the crisis of authority and trust afflicting the Church in the wake of the sex abuse scandal? If not, here's hoping that at least it points a way out of the present impasse.
The February 6 session on this topic at the Catholic University of America brings together Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, university president John Garvey, theologian Christopher Ruddy, and others. I wish them well. Although there's already been plenty of talk about involving the laity in addressing the crisis, steps toward actually doing that have lagged so far.
Example: last November, as the American bishops meeting in Baltimore were preparing to tackle a proposal for a lay commission to handle complaints about bishops, the vote was sidetracked by order of the Pope. Rome's explanation was that it was better to wait for results of a late February meeting of bishops whom Francis has summoned to meet and discuss the abuse scandal. And then – who can say? Meanwhile the idea of involving the laity in holding erring bishops accountable is on hold.
This pattern of talk without action is hardly new. On the contrary, the question of the laity and their place in the Church has for a long time existed in a larger ecclesial context involving issues of authority and the distribution of responsibility. These matters, already pressing, are destined to become still more urgent as the shortage of priests gets worse.