Pope Benedict Raises the Issue of Lay Jurisdiction Within the Church Again Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 21 January 2010 09:37
John Allen's article this morning on the Italian lay woman Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, a longtime official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who was named the new under-secretary of that council on Thursday is another indication that Pope Benedict is deliberately raising the issue of jurisdiction within ecclesial structures for the non-ordained.

There are many Vatican organizations and positions that simply cry out for substantial secular (that is, lay) expertise and leadership including the Pontifical Councils for the Laity; the Family, Health Care, Migrants and Immigrants, Justice and Peace, and Social Communications. But all are headed (and seconded) by Cardinals and Bishops. Although 38% of Vatican staff are not clerics, lay people seldom serve in positions of real decision-making authority.

If Sr. Enrica, who has held the number 3 post at the Congregation for Apostolic Life since 2004, is permitted to exercise her office alone, an office which has always been understood to include ecclesial jurisdiction, it forces the theological issue. And Flaminia Giovanelli's elevation makes it clear that Sr. Enrica's position is closer to a trend than a fluke.

Both Pope John Paul II, who first hired Sr. Enrica, and Pope Benedict are challenging the assumption that jurisdiction within the Church can only flow from Holy Orders, and are jump starting the necessary theological and practical conversation.

As I have noted before on ID, the issue at stake is governance and the laity, not just women. This has big implications for all the baptized who are not ordained; religious and lay, male and female.

Since I can never think in tidy politically correct categories, I have often been struck by the fact that the acrimonious debate over the ordination of women and feminism in general in the west has obscured and distorted several other critical discussions.

Like the fact that the debate over governance is not first and foremost a male-female issue. It is an ordained/non-ordained issue. And male cleric and non-ordained woman are not the only two categories at issue here. What about lay men?

Of the approximately 550 million Catholic men in the world, only 449,092 were ordained bishop, priest, or deacon as of 2007. That's .000816 %, folks. Only 8/100ths of 1 % of all Catholic men are ordained.

Yes, we ordain men but it clearly doesn’t therefore follow that the charisms, leadership and creativity of Catholic men, as a whole, have been honored and welcomed. (Of course, that also imply that simply changing the gender make-up of this tiny ordained minority would not mean that the charisms, leadership and creativity of women, as a whole, would have been honored and welcomed either.)

It has been my experience that the role of lay men is the least honored and appreciated one in the western Church today. The debate over feminism have made most western Catholics eager not to seem to be sexist. (This is clearly less true in cultures where women are regarded as inferior). In the west, because the image of the male cleric looms so large, there isn't a lot of room for another kind of strongly Catholic male image.

The debate over governance and leadership in the Church is not just, as it is so often portrayed, a battle of the sexes. It is most profoundly, a opportunity to consider the implications of the Church's teaching on the apostolic anointing of all the baptized (female and male), the insistence that the Church's primary identity is that of mission outward, and the integration of the “co-essential” (as Pope John Paul II put it) charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church.

As we become clearer about the mission and role of the laity, it sheds new light on the ordained priesthood, whose entire purpose for existence is the fruition of the baptismal priesthood, and the larger issue of leadership as well. If Church’s primary mission is truly outward, not inward, that has huge implications for all forms of leadership, ordained or lay.

A CNS story from March, 2007 (which no longer has a working link) acknowledged the larger issue of the role of the laity with these final paragraphs:

"Some sources noted that while attention is often given to the men-women ratio at the Vatican another slow but significant shift has occurred in the number of lay employees in the Curia.

Laypeople now represent about 38 percent of employees in major curial agencies, numbering close to 300 people. Fifty years ago, half of the 12 Vatican congregations had no laypeople on their staffs; among the handful of laity who did work there at the time, none were women."