by MICHAEL OTTO
ROTORUA — Responding to concerns expressed at a Moot in Rotorua about the role of women and youth in the Church, as well as the relationship between clergy and laity, Bishop Peter Cullinane said that underlying the headings and discussions at the event, was a sense of “disconnect”.
This “disconnect” is between people’s aspirations and experience in the world they live in and their experiences in the Church, Bishop Cullinane said.
Some of the gap between the Church’s call to holiness and our experience is of our own making, due to our own personal unfinished conversions, he said. Some of it is because of our lack of full understanding of the Church’s history and liturgy. The remedy to the latter is ongoing historical and theological formation, he said.
But there are also gaps in the way the Church issues the call to holiness and the ways in which the Church facilitates our growth in holiness, he said.
“When good people, I mean people who love the Church and who want to play a part in the life and development of the Church, when they are telling us that they don’t feel connected, or they are not always nurtured, or that they feel marginalised, then, yes, we do have a serious problem.”
But Bishop Cullinane quoted evangelist Billy Graham who invited people who found a perfect Church to join it, but forecast it would be imperfect too.
The bishop referred to Vatican II’s model of the People of God, with the Church’s hierarchical structure being in that context, rather than vice versa.
The notion of the People of God, which is a horizontal concept, needs to “permeate our marrow, as a foundation of any rethinking or reshaping of how the Church’s life needs to unfold”.
“It is a concept that gives us the basis for radical equality. There is a radical equality of all members of the Church, before you even begin to consider the differences of role or calling. It is also the basis of co-responsibility. Again, before there is any consideration of what evolves from the sacrament of Holy Orders, there is already on the basis of Baptism, a shared responsibility for the mission of the Church.”
We are only beginning to become aware of all the implications of reimagining the Church as the People of God, the bishop said.
Noting Vatican II’s emphasis on dialogue and its related language of participation and conscience, Bishop Cullinane said dialogue has a sense of reciprocity, with all participants being enriched by the exchange. But in a totally top-down Church, there is no need for consultation or dialogue, he added.
“So, if we think we still have a long way to go, let’s realise how far we have come.
“The issue, I’m sure we all realise, is not ordained ministry as such, or hierarchical structure as such, but ways of exercising that ministry and hierarchical authority in ways that tended to marginalise and mute and not invite other people’s views.”
Bishop Cullinane said there were times when popes, bishops and parish priests needed to “act alone and get on with it”.
“But if a pope were to act routinely without reference to the universal college of bishops who, by divine institution, share responsibility with him for the universal Church, or if a bishop were routinely to make pastoral decisions without reference to the presbyterate, which theologically shares responsibility with him for the governance of the diocese, or without reference to pastoral councils of various kinds, or if the parish priest were routinely to act without reference to pastoral councils, they would be acting in a manner that is theologically out of order, and historically ignorant. . . .”
Bishop Cullinane said the point he really wanted to make was that faithfulness to Vatican II requires faithfulness to dialogue and to the structures of dialogue.
All social change, including that in the Church, requires particpation of the people as the agents of change. People must be treated as subjects who are active in thinking through and planning and implementing what needs to happen. They must not be treated as objects “to whom it is done”.
Bishop Cullinane said he could not offer easy answers to some of the issues raised at the Moot, but faithfulness to dialogue and its structures would be a move in the right direction.
by MICHAEL OTTO