Irish Catholics are calling on their bishops to ensure “real and meaningful” lay participation in the “new” Church post-pandemic.

– In the time of coronavirus, co-responsibility between ordained and laypeople “increasingly important”

“These are very difficult times for the Irish Catholic Church and have been greatly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic”, the Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) alerted in a September 23 press release.

Recalling that “the participation and contribution of the laity has been crucial in the reopening of the churches and the continuation of essential parish services”, the ACI appealed to the Irish prelates ahead of their meeting October 6-7 “to consider carrying out research and to organise Diocesan Assemblies to identify how real and meaningful lay representation at parish and diocesan level” can be achieved.

The co-responsibility of laypeople in the Church, along with religious, priests and bishops, is an ideal that was enshrined at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

According to the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (37), laypeople have the right to “openly reveal” to their bishops “their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God”.

Bishops, in turn, are to “recognise and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the Church”.

In that spirit, the laypeople of the ACI alerted their bishops that “the recognition of the contribution of the laity and the right of access to structures enabling participation of the People of God in the work of the Church becomes increasingly important on a daily basis”.

“If ever there was a time for the People of God to be allowed to play their rightful part in the church and for the structures, called for in Lumen Gentium 37, be set up to enable them do so, it is now”, the ACI stressed.

– Demands for greater accountability

In a letter to Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Kieran O’Reilly, the Episcopal Secretary of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, chair of the ACI Anthony Neville set out a series of demands to their pastors for a more equal balance of power in the Church between bishops, priests and laypeople.

Those demands to the Irish Bishops were sixfold:

  1. Carry out research to establish the situation in every parish to inform future strategy for the renewal of our church in Ireland.
  2. Organise Diocesan Assemblies which would have the critical objective of identifying how real and meaningful lay representation at parish and diocesan level can be most effectively achieved.
  3. Establish in every parish a new model of parish pastoral council which obliges both clergy and lay members appointed/elected to be accountable to the broader parish community.
  4. Set up Diocesan Pastoral Councils in each diocese, whose members are accountable to the broader diocesan community.
  5. Train and support parish pastoral workers in each parish.
  6. Establish technology training and support service to parishes in each Diocese to enhance communications and outreach.

That project of reform and renewed co-responsibility the ACI is pushing for the Irish Church is made even more urgent by the fact that a 2019 ACI study found that less than one-fifth of Irish parishes had effective working parish pastoral councils.

Apart from being a way for laypeople to exercise their God-given leadership and administrative talents, “a parish pastoral council is a minimum requirement to organise and carry out a limited Mass schedule under the pandemic regulations”, the ACI recalled in its latest press release.

Last October, too, the ACI handed over to the Irish bishops a submission on the Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church.

Almost a year later, however, and the ACI has not yet received an acknowledgement of the submission, nor have reports of the Episcopal meetings contained reference to its contents, the association lamented.

On Novena, more news on the Irish Church:

Irish priest warns bishops’ cozying up to alt-right is “reaping a bitter whirlwind”

Irish Catholics denounce bishops’ refusal to publish reports on state of dioceses: “The clericalist culture of secrecy must end”

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

Irish Catholics warn bishops lack of lay leadership of “serious concern”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.