37,000 Spanish laypeople have denounced the Church’s “excessive clericalism” and “high degree of paternalism”.

Driving the news

The complaint is contained in the Instrumentum laboris for the National Congress of Laypeople, which will bring together in Madrid from February 14-16 2020 some 2,000 lay representatives from all over Spain.

The working document is the fruit of the suggestions and feedback of some 37,000 laypeople from 2,485 parishes, congregations and other Catholic associations from all over the country.

As such, the document gives a good idea of the state of the Spanish Church on the ground, with its lights and shadows.

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Among those opportunities, the Spanish laity who contributed to the working document highlight the “growing awareness of lay identity” in the Church in the country.

They also point up the chance for Catholics to form creative minorities in the synodal style of Pope Francis and “who know how to take advantage of new opportunities and new spaces to announce Jesus Christ and the kerygma”.

The Spanish laypeople also welcome the push coming from wider society to “recognise the role of women in the Church” as well as to “take care of our planet as Common Home and work of God”.

Among the obstacles facing the Spanish Church today, however, the laypeople deplore “the loss of the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian life, the excessive clericalism and the low profile of women” in Catholic parishes and institutions.

Above all, however, the Spanish laypeople denounce the “lack of understanding of what the lay vocation means”, and lament that being a layperson “is still considered a second-class vocation” in the Spanish Catholic Church.

What’s more, that demotion of laypeople leads “to a vision of the priest-lay relationship based on opposition and hierarchy that, moreover, has as an effect a high degree of paternalism that hinders the spiritual growth of the lay faithful”, the Spanish laypeople complain.

Other problems the laity highlight are the “split between faith and life”, the “excessive dogmatism in the face of concrete personal situations”, the “closed and unwelcome communities”, the poor coordination between parishes, and the difficulty of “seeing the family as an evangelising cell”.

But that’s not to say the Spanish laypeople don’t see signs of hope, too, in their Church, above all in “the vocational and missionary commitment of so many laypeople” or the valuable work that Church charities and aid agencies continue to carry out in large part thanks to lay efforts.

Why it matters

The laity’s point in diagnosing the health of the Spanish Church is to suggest aspects to work on at the February Congress, and further into the future.

Aspects like the need “to ask ourselves what we are offering to people who are searching” for spirituality and for meaning in life, and “to reflect on why our message is not attractive” to present-day Spaniards, who are leaving Church practice in record numbers.

“We cannot give in to the temptation to isolate ourselves from the world because we understand that a vision of human beings incompatible with our faith prevails in the world”, the Spanish laypeople insist.

They thereby invite the Church and its members “to go out of ourselves and our communities to give testimony” with Christian witness in which “closeness and care of relationships… should be a priority”.

What’s next

Underlining the need for the Spanish Church to undertake an examination of conscience for its failings and shortcomings, the laypeople push their fellow Catholics to “a change of mentality” that emphasises communion and creativity.

A “communal conversion” so that the community “ceases to lose vigor” and “strengthens the sense of belonging”, the laity insist, stressing that “following Jesus is only fully achievable in community”.

Six priorities should guide February’s Congress of Laypeople and the future action of the Spanish Church, conclude the laity involved in the preparation of the Instrumentum laboris:

  • The promotion of the co-responsibility of laypeople so they can “be actors in ecclesial life and not simply receptors”
  • The improvement of existing Church groups before the creation of new ones, “reviewing how current ones work and what aspects have to be changed”
  • The participation of the laity “in leadership positions of the institutions of the Church that belong to them”
  • The discernment of new forms of participation for laypeople in the Church, such as official lay ministries
  • The strengthening of the family, the domestic Church, as an agent of evangelisation, the family being “one of the most fruitful ecclesiastical facets of our time”
  • The calling of the Catholic community not just to the sacraments, but to processes in which prayer and sacraments are present and “in which the concrete reality that people live is equally taken into account”

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