Church reform groups support call for Year of the Laity

Year of Laity for a church of mercy? Rene Reid of CCRI’l gives Organisation’s support – dr. james kottoor (Chicago).            

(In the pic: Pope Francis greets Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas in Washington in this September 2015 file photo. Farrell heads the newly established Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. (CNS/courtesy The Texas Catholic)

James kottoorWhat is it that you friends want and long for? A Church of dictatorial rulers, steam rolling their diktats: “Thou shalt & Thou shalt not” on innocent common folks euphemistically called the “Cattle class” (that is what we are and ought to be in the ‘company of Jesus’, who started his life in a lowly place of a cattle shed, more below)?

Or a church of “holy sinners” (sancti peccatori) repeated several times during the family synod? Or a Good Samaritan Church looking for the robed and wounded  man on the road side? Or a Red-cross church running about to save the dying in the battle field(our war-torn world)? Or a haggard looking prodigal-father Church, out at the compound gate leaving behind  his house with wide open doors, but looking  far ahead for the return of his prodigal son to cover him with hugs and take him in to celebrate?

Princely or Cattle class?

First let us explain and justify our addiction and attachment, yes to the derogatory, demeaning phrase: Cattle Class. It is because, our umbilical cord is rooted in  Jesus who alone can and should nourish us and from whom we refuse to be separated in the words of Peter: “To whom else shall we go?” We are not called to follow any Princely class created by a church of  Emperor Constantine but of Jesus and Jesus alone who emptied himself  joyfully to descend to the detestable dirty surroundings of a cattle shed because there was no place for him in any respectable surrounding inns, nor is there among the respectable class of today either.

Nor can we live like generals in an army in posh comfort zones and fight like foot soldiers to do and die for a cause Jesus who came to lay down his life —  for the poor, the sick,  the hungry,  the homeless, the deaf and dumb, the imprisoned,  the dying, the thoroughly and totally marginalized without land, labour and lodging! Nor did Jesus look around to find a respectable address to stay. Recall his soliloquy: “The birds of the air have nests…..the Son of man has no place to rest his head.”

So both the shepherds and the Kings from the East  had to descend to the level of the Cattle class  of cows and donkeys to meet Jesus, to be with Jesus. Just as the cross of Christ is foolishness to the wise of the word, the unparalleled comforts of the princely class in the Church today are an insult to the way Jesus lived his three years of  public life. Therefore, the exhortation of Francis to the laity to turn upside down the pyramidal hierarchical structure.

No structural inequality

The central point in the celebration of the year of the laity should be first of all to wipe from the church all man-made structural inequalities like clergy-laity divide and to establish once and for all the equality that ought to reign in  a family. In the church there are to be only men and women, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, parents and children, and experts in various fields and charismatic persons. All should serve one another and the community according to his/her capacities, and receive from the community his/her basic needs as in a family. Those who do not work according to his/her capacities should not eat.

Some of the burning issues in the church today like office bearers in the community — election of bishops, celibacy, community worship, marriage, divorce, LGBT people and many more should be frankly discussed vertically and horizontally and settled by common consent. Since humans have light of reason and personal views, freedom of expression are to be enforced and things should be settled through common or majority consent. Education through dialogue and discussion is to encouraged every where. No use saying, church is not a democracy. Even from time immemorial the accepted principle was: Vox populi, vox Dei, Voice of the people is the voice of God. At leaset listen to St.Augutine’s council: “Unity in necessary things, diversity in unnecessary things, but charity in all things.”

Gender Equality

Needs and issues of the people of God will change from country to country and continent to continent. So it will be foolish to insist on creating and enforcing too many rules and regulations to be applied universally. Land reform, interfaith marriage, women’s ordination to diaconate, priesthood for conducting community worship, role of women in the Church and any number of issues can come up for discussion. One thing to be accepted by all is that there is nothing under the sun which cannot be discussed. In a male dominated Church and society, the first equality to be discussed and settled is gender equality between men and women.

‘Man without woman is not fully human, and woman without man is not fully human, either. Each without the other is a piece of humanity, incomplete’, as  Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life,  once said. So there is no question  encouraging women to beg for something as a concession like ordaining them up to diaconate only. It was a woman who brought forth Jesus body and soul first. Only hundreds of year later,  male priests started  bringing him sacramentally present on the altar. So let them ask for full gender equality or nothing. This is what some 14 Indian Sisters, a five-year-old theological group, wrote to Pope Paul 2nd on  31st October 1994, in response to Pope John Paul Il’s encyclical excluding women from priesthood.

“When the time had fully come, God  sent forth  His Son, born of a woman…”(Gal.4.4) It was the divine plan to choose a woman to enter into the divine saving act in a unique way. She brought into this world the Incarnate Son of God without the help of a man. How can those who believe in the call of May to be the mother of Jesus exclude women from bringing in the Sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist? The divine call is gratuitous and how can human decisions bind God not to give a specific call to an entire class of people, in fact half the number of human beings based merely on gender differences?”

The full letter may be published if readers or CCRI is interested.    In the mean time let discussion start to enforce equality in the church,  starting with Gender-equality, even if the year of laity is not announced. james kottoor, editor, ccv.

Rene Reid

Please read below Rene’s interview with NCR

By Peter Feuerherd, in NCR, Aug 17, 2017                                          

Emboldened by Pope Francis, church reformers are endorsing a call by the Brazilian bishops for a Year of the Laity, expanded to include conferences and observances around the world from November of this year until November 2018.

The meetings will focus on why "the people of God need to be treated equally in the church" and "the people taking the Gospel out into the world," Rene Reid, director of Catholic Church Reform International, told NCR. We refreshed our website! Drop us a line at to tell us what you think. We value your feedback.

Groups lining up in support of the Year of the Laity include Catholic Church Reform International as well as Call to Action, she said. Participants from those groups will be urging an increased role for the laity in the church. They will promote lay participation in the selection of bishops, an end to mandatory celibacy for clergy and openness to allowing the Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics as well as the LGBTQ community.

Reid said the impetus for the movement comes from Pope Francis. "He wants the people of God to step up and take a leadership role, and we are," she said. Catholic Church Reform International began in 2013, after Reid took a pilgrimage to Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and reflecting upon Pope Francis' call for change in the church. A writer, former religious and director of religious education, Reid, based in Reno, Nevada, was inspired to connect church reform groups around the world. Thanks to the internet, she has made extensive connections.

She said that priorities for discussion during the Year of the Laity gatherings will focus on concerns of local churches. In Brazil, that can mean an interest in land reform. In India, Reid said, Catholics are concerned about the roadblocks to interfaith marriages placed on Catholics. In Kenya, there is interest in allowing ordination for lay people to lead the Eucharist in isolated communities where priests rarely go.

The meetings planned for the Year of the Laity are to take place in 2018 in Londrina, Brazil, in January; near Dallas, Texas, in October; and in San Antonio, Texas, and Aparecida, Brazil, both in November, to close out the official year.

The Catholic Church Reform International website promoting the Year of the Laity says that its purpose is to "have the People of God from around the world actively supporting Pope Francis's vision for a decentralized Church that addresses the needs of the local dioceses and is universally more welcoming and less judgmental. But for the renewal of the Church to actually come from the People, the People must become more active in Church governance."

Catholic Church Reform International has asked Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who heads the newly established Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, to encourage bishops to endorse the Year of the Laity. So far, there has been no formal endorsement.Advisors to Catholic Church Reform International include Americans such as Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister; Fr. Jim Connell of Catholic Whistleblowers and Zach Johnson, Call to Action executive director.

Other advisers include Paul Hwang, Woori Theological Institute, Seoul, Korea; Fr. Paschal Kearney: retired Irish member of the Holy Ghost Fathers/Spiritans, Australia; Peter Mbuchi Methu: Interfaith Africa, Kenya; Alloys Nyakundi, liaison with Small Christian Communities, Kenya; Don Pribor, church worker justice organizer for Call To Action, Mexico City and Brazil; Michael Redfearn,  Canada; Peter Johnstone, Catholics for Renewal, Australia; Fr. Richard Kipyegon Soi, Kenya; journalist and author James Kottoor, India; and Eduardo di Silva of We Are Also Church, Norway.

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a member of the planning committee from India, said she hopes that the conferences will explore ordaining women as deacons. She also said that the situation of the Dalit, a tribe in India among the poorest of the poor, and who constitute the majority of Catholics in the country, should be addressed.

Christina Reymer, a member of the planning committee from Hamilton, New Zealand, said she is concerned about her five adult children and their relationship to the Catholic faith, and hopes that the planned Year of the Laity will make the church more relevant for millennials.

"I hope for a new church to emerge out of the ashes of this crumbling edifice we are witnessing — one that is inclusive, and welcoming of all, one that my children could feel connected to, relevant and inspiring," she wrote in an email to NCR.

Her children, she said, reflect the diversity of young Catholics. One is a rocket scientist, who believes God is a human construction and no longer relevant. Another she described as a traditional, pre-Vatican II Catholic, who prefers the Latin Mass and is an attorney. Another is a gay man, pursuing a career in international politics. The other two are in business. All have an international perspective.

The Year of the Laity is needed, she said, because "we are treated by church hierarchy as children who are never allowed to grow up. The old model of 'pray, pay and obey' is all that we are expected to be satisfied with. It simply is not good enough."[Peter Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR’s Field Hospital series on parish life and is a professor of journalism at St. John’s University, New York.]

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