Clergy-laity relationship

Sunday June 18 2006

Tensions in clergy-laity relationship

At the recently concluded pre-PMPC III convention for the laity, regrettably the one overwhelming grouse among the participants from all three dioceses was the unfavorable clergy-laity relationship. This unhealthy relationship aroused deep emotions among all the participants and if we were to conduct a survey I bet it would also be a main grouse of lay Catholics all over the country.

In the past the clergy was everything for the laity. Besides being the spiritual guide they were also the educator, counselor and even sometimes the financial providers for their parishioners. No major family decisions were taken without consulting the priest who was placed on such a high pedestal. The latter earned this high esteem in the hearts of the people by their caring attitude and love.

With rapid socio-economic developments over the 30 years, the nation has evolved to become an industrialized power. A new generation of leaders, who were the products of the new education system that stressed only on academic achievements at the expense of morals and good values, took over the reigns of power.

Parallel changes in the Catholic Church saw a new generation of clergy and laity taking control. Contributions and sacrifices of the earlier generation were ignored and sometimes even ridiculed. The more educated laity with their tremendous skills in many fields was not acknowledged to be utilized by the clergy.

Instead they introduced numerous new rules and formations for the laity to make them toe the line. Very high sounding terminologies and campaigns were introduced for what used to be simple teachings of Jesus. These changes have kept away many highly qualified and intellectual members of the laity. In fact many have become strangers in their own church.

A major grouse of the laity is that the clergy has lost the human touch with the people. They do not go down to the very people whom they are supposed to serve. It is sad that so many families out in parishes have never been visited by their parish priest. Despite failing to carry out pastoral visits, they are quick to “punish” the wayward by refusal of the sacraments and burial..

The church is run like a political or business institution where there is no place for compassion and forgiveness in enforcing the church laws. In fact unreasonable refusal for burial and sacraments has driven many Catholics away to other faiths.

The attitude of our clergy that they are indispensable and next to God contributes a great deal to their problems with the laity. This “I know all” syndrome belittles the intelligence and capabilities of the layman. Their attitude of “take it or leave” is deplorable. Of late we have witnessed young priests abusing and showing disrespect for “ignorant” elderly parishioners. In some places this has even resulted in ugly untoward incidents.

In today’s rapidly changing materialistic world, family life has become so complex and challenging. Bringing up children with good values is the biggest challenge and needs full time involvement of parents. Divorce and immorality are so rampant and are increasingly becoming accepted norms even among Catholics. To add to this burden is the job related and financial constraints. The clergy refuse to understand the torments the laity has to contend with everyday of their lives.

There is general agreement that the clergy refuse to listen to the laity. Numerous slogans, campaigns and special occasion days are launched year after year but these remain as a campaign per se.Feedback from the people is not encouraged and entertained.

Transparency in day to day administration of the Church is badly lacking. Lay people are not consulted and sometimes important facts and figures regarding finance and property sale are intentionally hidden from them. It must be remembered that the laity comprise 90% of the Church and everything that belongs to the Church is rightfully theirs.

Government’s policy of racial segregation has seeped into the Church causing racial disunity. Instead of trying to overcome this by adopting common language sessions we are further segregating the people by actively promoting the incorporation of vernacular languages and cultures into our system.

Today priests are seen as Chinese or Indians and each ethnic group wants the priest of his own. There is a power tussle going on silently in most parishes based on ethnicity.

Inappropriate mannerism and dressing of the clergy in public is a real cause of concern for the laity amidst their non-Catholic friends. The clergy must remember that they are priests twenty-four hours and not when celebrating the mass only.

The laity’s contribution to this deteriorating relationship should not be underestimated. They fail to see that priests are just as human with all the weaknesses. They too affected by the fast moving materialistic world where spiritual and moral values are brushed aside in the pursuit of wealth and power. The laity should not just scrutinize their weaknesses; instead we should impress them with our simple Christian way of life.

As we struggle to improve our secular life, we should also work closely with our clergy to enrich our spiritual life. Priests are in acute shortage and they are overworked although many among them never stop toiling and struggling.

We fail to appreciate their sacrifice of leaving their loved ones and worldly possessions to become one with us. We have to accept them as members of our families and be ready to serve and support them in every aspect.

There is an urgent need to foster a better clergy-laity relation based on the unselfish and non-egoistic love of Christ. In this relationship both are equal.

There should be mutual love and respect for each other, as we all workers in the Lord’s vineyard, where He alone is the master. Each of us, either laity or clergy, is bestowed with His love in the form of our talents and skills, to be shared freely with one another. Unless we can do that we will not be worthy followers of Jesus Christ.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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