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State of the Catholic Church Today – A Reflection to Facilitate Laity Action

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2015/01/30 08:26:27 (permalink)

State of the Catholic Church Today – A Reflection to Facilitate Laity Action

This note has been prepared by the E-VAAC Core Group to facilitate dialogue for a united approach towards a more vibrant Church
It is nothing new to state that we as Catholics are living in an abuse-ridden Church today. The credibility of the Church as an institution and as a norm-setting body has been severely undermined. This is clearly manifest in the rise of innumerable new-wave communities and declining Church attendance.  (Ref: URL-1 to 3)
We need to get our house in order and the lead has already been taken by none other than our own Pope Francis as is demonstrated by his hard-hitting sermons to the Vatican Curia in His Christmas message.
In a spirit of deep respect and love for the Church, we the laity feel the need to rally, to protect, and even redeem the values that our beloved Mother Church has always stood for. This we do in our own small way with the highlighting of some of the more glaring problems facing the Church at present and suggesting a way forward. We request you to critically review our submissions and dialogue with us in forming a strong and united response to the "signs of the times".
“The Church is not listening to the Laity” is the chorus today. While this is being stressed by everyone there is not much effort being made to ask “Is the Laity Listening to the Church”. We believe that the laity is not listening; this includes what the church says, doesn’t say and cannot say.  Take the Family Synod Survey for example:
  • The Family Synod was initiated in late 2013 and the new Pope (Francis) advocated a listening church. The media picked this up, the laity was thrilled and the idea gained momentum.
  • What the Pope did not disclose at the extraordinary synod in 2014, is how good the response was. How many of the 2900 dioceses worldwide responded. In India only 40% of the dioceses responded. In the US maybe a bit more. The figures must have definitely been known by the Vatican, but disclosure could be embarrassing.
  • What the Pope cannot say is that how many parishes responded to the survey as this has not been mentioned in the reports by the bishops that complied. We know for sure in a particular diocese 35% parishes did not participate and we are told it is true for other dioceses as well. Also the coverage of the cultural diversity in a diocese is not mentioned in the reports and therefore this is not spoken about. What the Vatican cannot say.
It is quite obvious that the church may take some decisions based on insufficient information. However a listening laity will hear this, appreciate the position of the Pope and understand that they are also part of the problem. (Ref URL- 4)
It is also seen that the action following earlier synods are minimal. A synod ends with a document and the follow through is marginal.
The laity feels that synods are like show business events where the message fizzles out after the show. This can be said for the ‘Year of the Youth’ last year and we may see the same this year for ‘Year of the Consecrated’.
The question that arises is “How can the laity contribute in making synods and events more meaningful for enhancing the practice of Church teachings?”
This note is mainly for reflection and dialogue among the laity. However views and guidance from the hierarchy is most welcome and solicited. A few thoughts on the current situation is given below
A Review of the Situation
The Catholic Church in its spirit to ‘Evangelize, Convert and Collaborate’ with a view to increase the number of baptized faithful has made several compromises along the way. This approach may have been taken forward in good faith, with the hope that the baptized people, with their cultures and traditions, will change in successive generations, through faith formation and will in time, come closer to God. However today we see a plethora of issues depicting conflicting interests and disagreement between different socio-economic and cultural communities within the church. This situation is seen across the religious, clergy and laity of the church. An example would be that developing countries oppose gay marriages while developed countries advocate it.  (Ref URL-5 to 9)
These issues make the functioning and governance in the church more complex. The laity needs to appreciate the pressures on the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and priests to manage the different pulls and pushes of the environment they work in. (Uneasy lies the Head that wears a Crown) Having said this we feel that it is also important for the hierarchy in the church to be more transparent. This is because today we are in an information explosion era and news spreads around very fast – when hushed-up issues come to light it spreads distrust among the laity. An example would be the secret recycling of child abuse perpetrators, when exposed, left a lot of laity disillusioned with the Church.
The Role of the Hierarchy
The role of the hierarchy calls for greater transparency, efficient administration and better knowledge and accommodation of laity needs.
  • Greater Transparency: The lack of transparency in handling child abuse cases made the laity go outside the church for solutions. Only when the legal and financial implications become serious did the church respond with a charter - ’Zero Tolerance’. (Ref: URL-10 to 13) Misappropriation of funds is another serious issue in the church today. This issue may go viral soon if the Church does not become more transparent.  The Pope has started the cleanup at the Vatican. (Ref: URL-14 to 18). Also the lack of transparency and listening has led to the  mushrooming of reform groups  (Ref: URL-19)
  • Knowledge of the Flock: It is clearly seen that laity engagement is dwindling in the church. This is because the church is not in touch with the times. The laity also needs to do much more to help the Church in bridging the gaps.
  • Events by the Hierarchy: Many events initiated by the hierarchy like rallies and synods are mostly for show and self-projection. It keeps the laity engaged and helps to project the event initiator to higher ups in Rome. Follow through of events is seriously lacking. It is the duty of the laity to highlight such events that consume much time, money and effort, but have no bearing on the current or future practice of the faith. They are a self-projection mechanism for self-positioning and promotion with insignificant or no plans for follow through.
Efficacy of the Diocese Functions
  • Efficient Administration: It has been found that most diocese have no proper records of their laity profiles.
  • Governance Process: Priests are forming associations and the laity is demanding a voice in selection of bishops. (Ref: URL-20 to 22). This is a clear sign of growing dissatisfaction within the Church.
  • Fear to Govern: When a priest retires he is fully dependent on those who were his juniors and hence is careful in handling critical issues that may impact his juniors negatively in fear of future repercussions. This silences those that wish to stand up what is right and good. The laity needs to work together to protect priests of integrity. (Ref: URL-23)
Effectiveness of Ministries
We see that there is a lack of rigor in assessment of the scope, coverage and progress being made in most ministries. Also there are very weak systems in place. Strengthening these could help to manage the ministry better and ensure continuity. In many cases it is found that the functioning of ministries is person dependent.
  • Family Apostolate: There are sporadic activities that take place in isolation. In most dioceses there is no overarching plan that shows how many laity need to be covered in a program and how many are actually covered. 
  • Youth: Youth engagement in Church activities is decreasing. Youth programs need to be designed in tune with the times and also aligned to the needs of the youth.  The laity needs to support the clergy in enhancing engagement. 
  • Catechetical: There is a major gap in faith formation activities between confirmation and marriage and the church does not have any concerted program to bridge this gap. The quality and coverage of programs also needs to be looked into.
  • Pastoral Care: We do not see a clear focus for the work done under this ministry. Unanswered questions: What issues are they trying to solve? What program for laity coverage do they have? How is a diocese better off because of this ministry? Many such questions need clarification and in all probability there may be very few or no answers.
Business of the Church – To bring people closer to God
The church welcomes people from, all walks of life, communities and cultures into its fold. This is done with the hope that in time they will move closer to God. The obvious follow through of this would be a very strong faith formation orientation program. Much work needs to be done, to enhance the quality, frequency and coverage of faith formation activities, in order to guide people on the right path. However the big problem is that there is no rigorous plan to even monitor the existing practices. This period of youth formation is an important phase in a person’s life and it is our belief that this is the root cause of most problems in the church today.
Good faith formation will build better families and offer better children for vocations that in turn will enhance faith formation. Hopefully stronger faith formation may reduce the misbehaviors, of persons professing the faith, in the long run.
The laity needs to dialogue with the church and take an aggressive role to enhance faith formation. Even though efforts might not show immediate results, in the long term we feel benefits would be assured.
The other issue that impacts faith formation is the credibility of the persons professing the faith. For example Faith formation programs executed by those involved in child abuse or church fund embezzlement will not carry much weight. 
The “We Know all this – Tell me something new” Syndrome
We get many responses, like “We know all this – tell me something new” from senior clergy as well as the laity. The answer is we know most things after the boat has sailed. What about doing something before an issue blows up? Can we not facilitate timely intervention before an issue gets out of hand, instead of turning a blind eye? Knowing and not acting is as good as not knowing at all. Some high profile examples where intervention could possibly have helped:
The case of the Nuncio: The Vatican has placed its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, under house arrest on charges of sexually abusing children. (URL-24) This is not a case of an overnight perpetrator.  His behavior must have been going on for years. My question is; could no one have raised this issue at the initial stages, before it became public? The laity too has a responsibility of raising issues and also supporting those who raise such issues. Very often an issue could be raised from within the clergy fraternity itself as they are generally the first to know. But this does not happen for fear of being victimized. We feel that priests and nuns with integrity must be supported as they risk being marginalized or worse. On the positive side we could say a priest that rose to such an high position like a nuncio must have some sterling qualities. A timely intervention may have saved a talented priest, curtailed the number of victims and protected the image of the church – many may say this is a dream but I would like to work towards making such dreams a reality.
The Case of the “Bishop of Bling”: Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, spent a mind-boggling $43 million on home renovations at his palatial pad in Limburg, Germany. (URL-25)   It is very difficult if not impossible to spend such a large amount in a day. Could not the laity have made a timely intervention to stop this misappropriation of funds at the initial stages? The message is: Timely action can save a priest, prevent further damage and protect the image of the Church.  
The Question
Given the current circumstances with its pros and cons, what is it that the laity can do, to effect change in order to bring about a more vibrant Church?
Probably the first step towards improvement is to know where to start.  A suggestion is to use an instrument called the ‘Diocese Health Check’. This would help to determine the diocese’s strengths and also improvement areas to work on.
The Diocese Health Check – An Assessment instrument developed by E-VAAC
The ‘Diocese Health Check’ instrument has been developed to provide a mirror reflection on the current state of the diocese to its local hierarchy. It will help to bring out the strengths of a diocese and also areas that need to be worked upon.
It is meant to make the laity, clergy and religious more aware of what can be done if they are interested in a more Vibrant diocese. The intention is to motivate and persuade the laity, religious, clergy and bishops to perform their roles better. This can be done by building on strengths and working on improvement areas identified. It could also be a trigger to motivate dialogue among all entities in the diocese. At a higher level it could lead to a sharing of best practices across dioceses.
We look forward for a dialogue to move towards a more vibrant church. Inputs, support through alliances, offer to work jointly and in collaboration, are most welcome.
The E-VAAC group is a small lay organization of faithful Catholics formed in late 2014. The aim is to facilitate better understanding, harmony and unity in the Catholic community, by building a greater level of awareness and alertness among the faithful, to meet challenges and move towards a more vibrant Church. email – evaac.group@gmail.com
Reference URLs are given in the following pages
Church Base Data

URL-1: International Mass Attendance: http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/intmassattendance.html

URL-2: Frequently requested Church Statistics: http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html

URL-3: A Micro-scoping View of U.S. Catholic Populations: http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.in/20...microscoping-view-of-us-catholic.html

Family Synod Survey
URL-4: Global Survey of Roman Catholics - Family Synod: http://bendixenandamandi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ExecutiveSummary.pdf
The Catholic Church and Community Cultures
URL-5: World Values Survey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Values_Survey

URL-6: Dalits petition Vatican: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/da...nst-discrimination/article6694525.ece

URL-7: Dowry System in Christian Communities: http://www.catholicethics.com/forum-subm...dowry-system-in-christian-communities

URL-8: Oriental diocese divides Syro-Malabar Catholics in Delhi: http://mattersindia.com/oriental-diocese.ivides-syro-malabar-catholics-in-delhi/

URL-9: Cohabitation before Marriage: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=397

The Church and Child Abuse
URL-10: Catholic Church sexual abuse cases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_sexual_abuse_cases

URL-11: Pope Francis supports zero tolerance of child abuse: http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pop...s-supports-zero-tolerance-child-abuse

URL-12: Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn under Vatican investigation: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability...bert-finn-under-vatican-investigation

URL-13: UN condemns Vatican over child sex abuse: http://www.smh.com.au/world/un-condemns-...r-child-sex-abuse-20140205-3222k.html

The Church and the Mystery of Money Management

URL-14: Vatican bank chief to step down amid restructure: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28221671

URL-15: Vatican cleans up scandal-hit bank: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/10.2186/Vatican-cleans-up-scandal-hit-bank

URL-16: Settlements and bankruptcies in Catholic sex abuse cases: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlements...kruptcies_in_Catholic_sex_abuse_cases

URL-17: Secret accounts paid for clergy misconduct: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collect...ut-left-archdiocese-finances-exposed/

URL-18: The church's deep pockets: http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-ca...butler-did-it-and-myths-about-atheism

Mushrooming of Reform Groups
URL-19: Catholic Church Organizations and Reform Groups:  (http://www.catholicchurchreform.com/reformGroups.html
Governance Issues and its Impact

URL-20: US priests form new national association: http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/us-priests-form-new-national-association

URL-21: Lay groups seek to offer input on bishop selection: http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/l...ups-seek-offer-input-bishop-selection

URL-22: Consulting the Laity on Candidates for the Episcopacy: http://www.votf.org/Bishops/Furthering_Evangelization_2013.pdf
URL 23: Priests fear of losing pension: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=necD...r%20of%20losing%20pension&f=false
Cases to Ponder

URL-24: Former Papal Nuncio Accused Of Sex Abuse: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/10/archbishop-jozef-wesolowski-extradition_n_4577241.html?ir=India

URL-25: Bishop spends $43 mil on house: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/03/28/how-the-bishop-of-bling-spent-43-million-renovating-this-house/


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