French laypeople are overcoming their own reluctance and the resistance of priests to claim their “rightful place” in Church leadership.

– Archbishop: Laity must assume “real responsibilities” in Church mission

Responsibility for chaplaincies, for parish foster homes and pastoral care programs, for the celebration of funerals… the list of Church leadership tasks being given to the non-ordained in France is growing, as La Croix reported March 17.

Whether those lay leaders are salaried or volunteers – and the latter are now in increasing numbers, due to the financial difficulties of many French dioceses – they’re part of the Laity in Ecclesial Mission (LEME) movement, a program that’s now some fifteen years old.

However, due to discrepancies in how the LEME initiative is being implemented from diocese to diocese, French Catholic lay leaders are finding more or less support in terms of monitoring and assistance, and more or less recognition of the valuable services they provide.

Whereas for example the diocese of Créteil, in suburban Paris, celebrated the twentieth anniversary of LEME in its parishes in October 2017, in the neighbouring archdiocese of Paris the LEME program didn’t even begin until September 2018.

That introduction of LEME in the Paris archdiocese was at the behest of newly-appointed archbishop Michel Aupetit, who implemented the program to accompany the “lay faithful who are committed to the service of the Church”.

Aupetit said at the time that alhough the Paris archdiocese was “still fortunate enough to have a significant number of priests”, it was also important “to place the laity in a more accurate position in the ecclesial mission, so that they can accept their pastoral duties, assume real responsibilities and know how to give an account of their mission”.

– “Priests don’t know very well how to implement this collaboration with the laity”

But that assumption of “real responsibilities” in the French Church on the part of laypeople is still coming up against obstacles.

In the first place, the laity’s own reluctance to take on roles traditionally carried out by the ordained.

“They [the laity] may find it difficult to leave the organisation to do pastoral work and take their rightful place”, diocesan delegate for the service of the LEME of Nanterre, Véronique Goubert, admitted to La Croix.

The LEME program is also encountering resistance from priests, who “don’t know very well how to implement this collaboration with the laity”, Goubert added.

But the diocesan delegate in Nanterre insisted that “the important thing is that the difficulties in the mission, because surely there are some, can be overcome so that the lay person leaves their mission without regret and feeling overwhelmed”.

– Transferable skills for life beyond a (temporary) “Church job”

The path of French laypeople to the corresponsibility for the Church envisioned for them as early as the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s is gradually being smoothed out, above all in those places where the LEME program has been in place now for several years.

In the dioceses of Créteil or Versailles, for example, the LEME initiative sets out an entire process for the promotion of laypeople within the ranks of Church responsibility, from an initial proposal phase where parishes propose their ideal candidates for mission right through to the evaluation of charisms, discernment, training and commissioning.

“A mission that is well defined from the outset is carried out correctly and makes it possible to review the situation”, Anne Sudan, director of the service for the accompaniment of the laity in the ecclesial mission of the diocese of Versailles, explained to La Croix.

Another benefit of the now well-consolidated LEME programs is that is the commission given to laypeople is for a period of three years, extendable once only.

“We have understood the risk that people may stay for twenty years in the same position. They can grow tired or become impossible to replace”, explained Oratorian and theology professor at the Institut Catholique in Paris, Luc Forestier.

Priest Forestier says the Church is also conscious, in the LEME program, that laypeople commissioned for mission need transferable skills, which the Church is keen to supply.

“This makes it possible not to be locked into ‘Church jobs’ and to be able to rebound in another sector after the end of one’s mission”, explained the Oratorian.

Next on Novena:

Vatican anti-abuse expert hits out at clericalism, Catholic “paternalism”: “Every baptised person is co-responsible in the Church”

Irish diocese prepares for life without priests

Catholic women call global Church strike: “The all-male, celibate hierarchy has failed to live the Gospel”

“Lay” congress in Spain leaves bittersweet clerical taste: “Priests should give us oxygen to breathe”

Vatican secretary: “Laity are not to be seen as ‘auxiliaries of the hierarchy’, but as equally responsible for the faith”

Irish priests renew call to bishops to remedy lack of lay involvement in parishes

Women take charge as theologians, “deaconesses” in Switzerland, France


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.