Belgian Catholics Call for Reform

NCR reports today of a reform initiative launched by 4 Flemish priests the week before Advent. 4 priests--so what? Well, by Dec. 1, 6000 Belgian Catholics had signed on. Money Quote:

Among the manifesto's demands, made "in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries," are that:-Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;-Communion services be held even if no priest is available;-Laypeople be allowed to preach;-Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;-As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.

As many of you will recognize, many of these points are already met in some areas. I was once part of a community of 6 parishes who shared one full-time priest and one priest and two deacons who visited a couple weekends a month. Most services most of the time were lay-led Communion services. The catch in many places is to find and, more importantly, to figure out how to authorize, the lay-people who are adequately trained for such a role. Or, of course, we could return to the standard, well-tested, well-thought-out means of authorizing pastoral ministers in the church: we could train and ordain them. Or, arguably, we might want to maintain a lay/cleric distinction even as we authorize greater roles for laity in the ministerial life of the Church.Laypeople do preach in many places, of course, and divorced people (sans annulment), in fact, receive Communion. Married men are increasingly commonly admitted to the priesthood, too. The question of admitting women to orders is a canonically different kind of question, but canon law is hardly irreformable or inspired. Even an authoritative (but non-infallible) papal description of women's ordination as a settled "no" doesn't seem to have settled that question among the faithful, including many of the ordained faithful.An intriguing note in the report: "Privately, and off the record, one Belgian bishop has applauded the manifesto." My Advent prayer is that he and other bishops who concur might speak up publicly. Privately, sure, but publicly. Please.

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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