Monday, 13 March 2017

Laity Beware

In conversation recently I was privy to some unsettling information about how badly we laity can be treated for simply being ‘Catholic’. I cannot name the Diocese in which these events took place; the parish or any individual persons, since that would bring persons into disrepute and would lack in charity. ‘X’ is allowing me to share the events only because s/he feels clergy can learn from them.

The information concerns a catechist (‘X’) who has been working in that capacity for 16 years under two successive parish priests. It is true that ‘X’ was unconventional by today’s standards: s/he would instruct the children that while it was legitimate to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion in the hand, the norm was still to show God great reverence by receiving Him on the tongue, preferably kneeling, asking the children if they would like to give this reverence to God. No child had refused in the previous ten years; all were happy to do so and many continued on for some years (except when at Mass in School –and why that was the case can only be a matter of speculation). It is also true that the previous pastor had refused permission to the school to use the sanctuary as a stage for an interpretative dance on First Holy Communion day, and since ‘X’ had supported this, it may have created a negative image of ‘X’ that played into these events.

When a new pastor was appointed ‘X’ asked to meet with him to determine how he wanted the First Holy Communion programme to run. The pastor, having been shown a copy of the materials used by ‘X’, and informed that the school provided the bulk of the instruction in at least weekly sessions (while the parish did only a monthly session), and that on the day of First Holy Communions the school would provide the music, the readers and offertory bearers (with the parish supplying only the servers and the Communion breakfast), ‘X’ was told to go on as before.

As such ‘X’ followed the established pattern of putting a note in the Bulletin calling a meeting for the parents of interested children. On the Sunday this was published the new pastor announced at the Notices at Mass that the meeting was cancelled so that the school could be more involved, but did not approach ‘X’ before or after Mass; and when approached by ‘X’ to ask what was going on simply said, “I’ll get back to you”. Then, on a Sunday in January, the children already in preparation by the school –a fact unknown to ‘X’– were presented to the parish at Sunday Mass. Not wanting to cause public upset ‘X’ wrote privately to the pastor asking why s/he had been cut out of the loop (so to speak); saying s/he felt the way things had been done was furtive; that it lacked transparency, and was damaging to his/her good name, s/he having been visibly sidelined by the public cancelling of the meeting. S/he also noted that it was hard to know how the school could be more involved, given the extent of their involvement (as noted above).  A three-line reply was received from the pastor saying thank you for your letter and “your concerns have been noted”, but no explanation was offered. ‘X’ replied by noting that his/her concerns had not been addressed, but this resulted the following Sunday in an announcement (at the Notices during Mass) that there was to be an open parish meeting with the Bishop the following Sunday.

At that meeting one of the parishioners said the pastor had been receiving hassle (though how they would know about the existence of private correspondence is anyone’s guess); the Bishop stated that the parish was to support its new pastor and that more people need to be involved now, while the pastor himself said the meeting had come about because he “had told ‘X’ (actually naming the catechist) to go on as before, then thought that was not for the best”. This left ‘X’ feeling publicly disparaged, so s/he made the decision to write to the local Episcopal Vicar, the Vicar General and the Bishop to say how hurt and disturbed s/he was by the sequence of events and the way the meeting had been handled, since it publicly named him/her and indeed left him/her all-but labelled a problem.

At any rate, replies to ‘X’s letter from the Bishop and the EV were once again three-line replies stating nothing more than “we acknowledge receipt of your letter” -not even that “the concerns had been noted”. At no stage was an attempt made by any of the clergy to dialogue on the issues or to seek reconciliation, though these are quite the ‘buzz words’ at the moment. In that workplace bullying might be described as “a blame culture, and the tolerating of aggressive behaviour”; where bullying can be verbal and nonverbal, creating feelings of humiliation and defencelessness with an undermining of the individual’s dignity, it might be said that ‘X’ experienced workplace bullying in that s/he was sidelined publicly from the pulpit; had his/her concerns left unexplained and was publicly named at an open meeting in the context of “someone causing hassle”.

There is perhaps an excuse for the Bishop in that he may have been given erroneous information, for ‘X’ had been Parish Bookkeeper and Vulnerable Persons Link Person as well as Catechist, and it might have seemed that there was a monopolising of lay roles here, yet the reality is that several parishioners there generously gave of their time and in multiple roles –indeed a quarter of those attending Mass there have an active role in the parish. I have seen the list displayed in the parish hall of all parishioners who undertake tasks (which range from Fundraising via coffee mornings and raffles through Piety Shop Manager, Gardening and Cleaning Teams to more formal roles of Annual Financial Returns Officer, Buildings Manager, Gift Aid Officer and Housebound Visitors) so there was no monopolising of roles by ‘X’. That said, while the Bishop may not have been aware of the extent of lay involvement in the said parish, the same cannot be said for the Pastor who either failed to determine the extent of lay involvement in his new parish, or simply failed to disclose it to the Bishop before seeking a meeting with him and the parish. Perhaps the excuse we might make for the pastor is that very early in his time in the parish he gave his ear to those who appeared professional and integrated, and was swayed by them.

Conceivably, the cause of all this may simply be that ‘X’ was excluded in order to eliminate the Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue and to include so-called ‘liturgical dance’ to the First Communion Mass, or simply that the group from 25 years ago sought ways to return to prominence by getting the new pastor’s ear. Interestingly, within a month of arriving the new pastor asked if the collections at the Old Rite Mass (requested by a group of parishioners on the publication of Summorum Pontificum) were being sent to the LMS or kept for the parish; ‘X’ pointed out that they had always gone to the parish as it was a parish Mass, not an LMS Mass –but one wonders why the new pastor would have thought otherwise in that this was a Mass asked for by a parish group and attended mainly by parishioners (about 6 or 8 people attended from outside the area).

What this scenario sadly shows us is that Catholic laity cannot expect to receive support from their local Catholic pastor or the local Catholic Bishop in the promotion of ‘the Faith we have received’. Perhaps it is not out of place to say that one may not even expect to receive the support of Rome, since we have seen a lot of changes in the last fifty years.

Sadly, ‘X’ has now disengaged from his/her parish. My purpose in writing this Post is, fundamentally, to encourage clergy to consider not making any changes to their new parish in the first year of an appointment, and to take that time to get to know the characters of the parish. Had the new pastor done so he may have become aware of the actual extent of lay participation in the parish; avoided falling into furtive behaviours and into naming individuals at a public meeting of the parish in the context of being ‘hassled’. Clergy might also like to consider that those who carry tales and complaints to them (no matter what their profession: teacher, medic, lawyer) are often the ones to be avoided -professionals are not immune to the human frailties that affect us all, and can still be inclined to bring others down so as to achieve their own ends or a position of higher prominence. Bishops might like to reflect on the fact that handing over too much responsibility to laity does not empower but disempowers the many at the hands of the few. What is needed is the promotion of priestly vocations, not a clericalising of those who dominate among the laity. What inordinate ‘lay ministry’ can do is set up disempowerment and division amongst the laity, while creating a clergy who fail to become Fathers to the parish and thereby unable to care for the common good, having lost control of the parish to those laity who wrangle best.

15 comments:

  1. Thank you Andrew. My description of what you have written can be summed up in one word - scandalous.

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    1. Thank you 1569.
      I have tried to simply relate facts and avoided naming the Diocese, parish or individuals concerned so as to protect their good names. The facts are related only so that clergy will, as I said in the post, take time to get to know the characters of the parish for a year or so before they act on what they hear, and after consultation with the former pastor. The virtue of prudence is required, I think, when a pastor takes up a new appointment.

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  2. Hi Andrew. In the last line of the first paragraph you have either let it slip that X is a woman or simply missed out your forward slash.
    Fr Richardson

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  3. Thank you! I will make the correction as I reply to these comments.

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    1. This language is not very appropriate

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    2. Thank you, but does your comment not refer to the comment below and not to my reply above?
      God Bless.

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  4. What a load of bollocks this is. If you spent as much time caring for those in need rather than spouting drivel, the world would be a slightly better place. Your mother will get over it.

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    1. This post obviously hit a personal nerve for you or are you ashamed and that's why you didn't put your name to it. However I do think the language isn't appropriate for a Catholic blog post.

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    2. Thank you, Maria.
      Its possible that 'anonymous' has been engaged in a similar situation and that this is why they have not given a name, though a pseudonym was always possible. You are right that the language is inappropriate; I considered deleting the comment for that reason but have chosen instead to publish and reply.
      God Bless.

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    3. Dear Anonymous,
      Actually, the post makes no mention of any individuals, so you have made (and I'm sorry to say in a very impolite tone) assumptions you ought not to have made. Since the post simply relates facts it cannot be 'b.......s' or 'drivel'. Facts are facts; no more, no less. Further, you cannot know what I do in regard to 'caring for people', which is another assumption. All in all, you have offered only a bitter-sounding comment that does not bode well for your spiritual health. God Bless you though; I shall pray that God will grant the healing of any bitterness in your heart.

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  5. I feel I have to defend Andrew here. Yes he is known for his loyalty to liturgical norms and to the Catechism, but this does not mean he does not care about people: he spent a year voluntarily visiting the homeless and drug-addicted youth on City Centre streets at night; was spoken well of to me when he was visiting the housebound with Holy Communion and highly thought of by work colleagues who describe him as insightful, a good communicator and compassionate. ‘Anonymous’ should perhaps get to know Andrew beyond his loyalty to the Church’s teaching and norms –and perhaps try to grasp for him/herself the reality that caring for people and loyalty to the Church are not mutually exclusive -after all, the saints known for their charity are not also known for breaking norms and heresy –they are always loyal to the Church!
    I will ask Andrew to re-do his post so the chronology and facts are more clearly enunciated and the purpose of his post better clarified.

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    1. Father only someone with a bitter axe to grind or a raw nerve wouldn't see what the post was saying. I believe this person knows more than they are letting on or perhaps must be the cause of the problem if they can even suggest who "will get over it" God Bless you both

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    2. Thank you Maria.
      Yes, as I said, it may well be the situation spoken of here has been undergone in the experience of their own parish by the writer of the comment who, as you say, may have an axe to grind or had a raw never touched. It may even be someone from the parish Andrew alludes to here, or who knows the parish. We cannot tell.
      God Bless you and yours.

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  6. Andrew should know that, in my own experience,"your comments have been noted" has been the stock answer for more than one bishop when confronted with abuses to correct. The default position seems to be that in any confrontation between laity, priest and bishop on questions of orthodoxy, the bishop always comes down on the side of the priest, but note, ONLY when the laity are upholding orthodox teaching, liturgical rules, or doctrine.

    So, God you bless Andrew for speaking out. I'm very disappointed that you are a so-called "Extraordinary Minister", as I believe that is a grave misappropriation of a role that should only belong to a priest, but you are young, and I think, seriously misled, but you are by no means alone. Please consider that in penal times, the faithful only received the Blessed Sacrament from a priest, at the peril of his life, and not from a deputed layman/woman. Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament - and the priesthood - was at its highest then. It seems to be at its lowest, now.

    As for "Anonymous", his/her post makes no sense.

    Therese

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    1. Thank you, Therese.
      Yes, "your comments have been noted" can be used as a way out of tackling issues, but it actually does noting to address/tackle them. I see such replies as tantamount to an admission of 'Yes, we have handled this poorly, but cannot say so". And I suspect it is often when Orthodoxy is being upheld and innovation challenged.
      I think it is true to say that Andrew is aware of the problem of laity handling the Sacred Host (he always receives on the tongue). While this can appear a contradiction, I believe Andrew has always justified his part in this ministry on the grounds of "If the priest is not taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound and Holy Mother Church has authorised me to do it, I will do it and pray for the guidance of Saint Tarcisius". Granted that this was during the Roman persecutions, it still gives some support for the taking of the 'Holy Mysteries' to the housebound/shut-ins. The role truly belongs only to as priest and the Church knows this, since the EMHC is described as not belonging to those ministries by which the laity take an active part in the liturgy; it is not a role 'proper' to the laity.
      I agree that respect for the priesthood is very low today; I think the pushing of lay-led parishes and ministry is a covert way of eliminating priests. We may even speculate that the push for lay-run parishes is a work of the devil, not of the Holy Ghost as some (who lack spiritual insight?) claim: only the devil could want fewer celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice, which draws the graces of Redemption into the world, being as it is THE SOURCE and summit of the Christian life.
      God Bless you and yours.

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