By Bernard Prentis
THE third suggestion which is
put forward as being necessary if the modern Catholic parish is again to be a living community is that : " All parishioners should he organised so as to be able to help the parish priest and share
with him those duties which fall properly within the lay sphere."
Not so long ago an ecclesiastic of high standing was " representing " the parents of a number Of Catholic parishes at a meeting of the Local Education Authority. The committee questioned the authority of the priest to speak for all the Catholic parents concerned. His answer
shocked the " democraticallyminded " committee. and, for that matter, the two Catholic members of it. " Don't worry about the parents," said the priest, " they will do as I tell them."
In this case neither the committee nor the priest, nor the parents themselves recognised the parish as an entity in its own right, a living, vital community which might well have deputed with full powers the priest who in fact "represented " them. The priest thought and spoke of the parents not as fellow-members of a community in which he held a special place, but rather as the " faithful," his people subject in all things to his authority, even in a matter which is obviously a responsibility shared by the parents. the Church, and the State.
"Priest-Carried " We Catholics are often accused of being " priest-ridden " by those who are able to quote just such examples, but the fact is rather nevertheless
that we are " priest-carried." The priest is asked to do so much for us, we do so little for ourselves that the weight of the whole organisation of the parish is on his shoulders.
Mgr. Flynn, Bishop of Nevers, speaking of the desertion by the laity of their duties in the temporal affairs of the Church and the parish community says: "Often the clergy tolerate this desertion and gather unto themselves many activities foreign to their sacerdotal functions. And from this there results on the part of the parishioners a too individual piety or a careless passivity, and on the part of the priest an excess of purely perssonal power and the appearance of authoritarianism. Without co-operation the parish loses its vitality and risks hardening in a general paralysis.'
It is plain that the words of the French bishop apply with equal force to our own country. But unlike the situation in France, the laity in Britain have not deserted the tasks they historically discharged in the management of the parish and its communal life; they have never undertaken them or been permitted to undertake them. But it seems certain that the time is ripe for parishioners to take their share in those matters falling within lay competence and so to relieve the parish priest of his present crippling burden.
The need was so obvious at the time of the passing of the 1944 Education Act that almost overnight an organisation of Catholic parents, in their capacity as voters and electors, came into being. The Act having passed into law these organisations have largely lapsed into " passivity." In medieval times the functions of the laity in the organisation of the parish were well defined, and their historical relic is the Parish Council which, in country areas to this day. has powers in respect of consultation and decision. In 1919 the Anglican Communion by Act of Parliament re-established the Parochial Church Council and the law recognises this body as a legal corporate entity. So that the organisation of some similar corporate parochial body in our Catholic parishes may, according to taste, he thought of either as a return to traditional forms, or a progress to modern " democratic '' methods.
The Parish Council
The suggestion is. therefore, Ilial the full enrolled member of the parish who is supporting the clergy and the parish by a contribution in proportion to his income. should also contribute to the management of the parish in its lay activities and functions, and that normally that contribution will be, as in other associations which form part of his life, in attendance at meetings, counsel in discussion, and the use of a vote. The vote, it is suggested, should be used in the selection and appointment of a Parish Council which shall act on his behalf in advice and management of those affairs which fall within the lay sphere.
The need for some such lay consultative and functional committee is already admitted by many bishops and parish priests who have studied the special problems of the modern parish, and there arc many who also realise that there are executive functions belonging to the parish as an integral community which would be more appropriately discharged by layfolk.
The new Canon Law2 which came into effect in 1918 envisages " boards " for the administration of the goods of the Church, consultative, and even executive, in which laymen have part. in the Netherlands this parochial council is composed of the parish priest and four laymen appointed by the bishop. The putting forward of names of suitable persons for appointment by the bishop might well be among the functions of the parish assembly and the use of the vote of the full member of the parish.
Among the chief jobs this parish council could perform would be the collection of the contributions which it has already been suggested each full member of the parish should undertake to pay. the administration of parochial property. including the fabric of the church. schools. school hall and the fabric of the presbytery.
Some of the reasons which seem to make the erection of such a parish council desirable in these days are: 1. At the present time there is no permanently organised body which may be said to represent the laity in the parish. or for that matter, the parish as a whole. 2. Apart from some favoured souls there is no official body, to which the parish priest may turn for advice, if he wants it, on matters primarily affecting the members of the parish in the proper lay sphere, e.g., education, youth work, etc.
3. There is no organisation through which the layman can exercise any contrail through advice or authority to rtomote or check any plans the parish priest may have for the extension, improvement or provision of any of the necessities . of the modern parish, the financial burden for which will ultimately have to be met in the main from his cons tributions.
4. There is no organisation to which the parish priest may. with the authority of the bishop, pass some of the burden of responsibility for lands, buildings, works, decorations and repairs.
5. There is nothing by which the parish as a living community can he represented when the necessity for it arises, either in the religious sphere in diocesan matters, or in the proper secular spheres of education or local government.
6. There is no universal and offi
ciai parochial means° by which the parents or the layfolk of the parish can delegate to the parish priest, if, as is.quite frequently the case, he is the best person to represent them, the power to do so.
7. As the various forms of Catholic Action-the lay apostolate -arc multiplied in a flourishing parish and the various societies. sodalities and other organisations begin to compete both for money, space and loyalty the necessity for an "outside " overriding body is clear. Its function would be to apportion the various facilities the parish may possess and to coordinate them according to some more generally acceptable plan than the preference of the parish priest. the forcefulness of the curate-incharge or the vigour and good standing of the chief of the particular claiming society or association.
8. It is specially necessary in these days of more and more State and local government control in all departments of life that there should be some body, to which without violence to its own principles, the State or local government body may refer as representing the interests of the parish as such.
9. Equally it is necessary for the reasons outlined above that there should be some quasi. or seeming democratic " body which can speak for the people of the parish as a community with ordinary rights which the State or local government body must respect. which can suggest, demand, caution or reprove not merely with the authority deriving from the stir; traditional respect for " the cloth " and the office of the cure of souls. but with the recognisable authority of a constituent body of a democratic community.
In a parish of five thousand souls the parish council might consist of 20 members elected by the full members of the parish. five members appointed by the various societies or clubs. the parish priest and a representative of the bishop. • This would give a total council of 27. It could meet at least once a month and it would still be largely consultative and policy-making. From it, by election within the council and the appointment of the bishop, could he erected a Parish Council Executive Committee to which the actual administration of the temporal affairs of the parish could be committed, possibly also by trusteeship, the ownership of the parish property. The permanent chairman of the executive committee would be the parish priest. From the general parish council it ought to he possible also to appoint sub-committees for specific purposes, of five or six members each without unduly burdening the willing.
1La Croix. Feb. 10, 1948. 2Codex Juris Canonici, 1519, 1529, and following.