RADICAL proposals for re-organising Church structures in Britain into councils made up of Bishops, clergy and elected laymen were published this week by the Union of Catholic Students.
They will be discussed, together with proposals from
other major Catholic organisations, at a meeting of the National Council of the Lay Apostolate tomorrow (Saturday). Afterwards, agreed-on conclusions will be sent to the Bishops of England and Wales and a committee will work out means of bringing them into effect.
The students' report sums up five weeks' study of Vatican H's Decree on the Lay Apostolate.
Its main idea is that in the past there has been too sharp a distinction between the roles of clergy and laity, as if one were concerned only with spiritual matters and the other with temporal.
Instead, say the students, both must see their roles as mutually interdependent: "The whole mission of the Church is precisely to sanctify the temporal order."
To achieve co-operation, they suggest that experimental councils be set up, first in parishes, then in dioceses and finally on a national level.
The parish council, says the report, should consist of the clergy, religious and laymen elected by the congregation.
It would be in charge of running lectures, courses, liturgical experiments. of
establishing new groups "especially in the field of social work", promoting unity with other Christian Churches and helping the clergy with the general running of the parish, particularly with finance.
It would be "useless" to set up these councils according to a rigid pattern on order from the Hierarchy, the report goes on. Instead, they should develop more or less spontaneously from discussion groups that are studying Vatican II's documents.
At present, most parishes do not have such groups, the report goes on. In fact, "the Council documents are a closed book. Discussion groups in each parish are an essential prelude to the renewal that must take place". Similarly, on the diocesan level, the report suggests forming councils consisting of the Bishop and representatives of the clergy, of the parish councils, religious congregations and diocesan-wide organisations.
The diocesan council would co-ordinate the work of parish councils and diocesan organisations, help with administration and finance and form diocesan policy on matters such as schools, seminaries and social services.
Then, a national council representing the diocesan councils and national organisations "is essential in order to formulate policy on major issues and to utilise the vast resources which have remained untapped".
It would require substantial financing and a full-time staff. Under it, specialist committees could carry out research on the work of the Church and give advice "in fields such as education, demography and in particular sociology".
On the international level, perhaps similar re-organisation in other countries would lead to a world council. In the
meantime, parishes, dioceses and the Church in Britain as a whole "must avoid" looking "inward".
Instead, "action must be taken now towards the alleviation of world poverty, famine and illiteracy".
The students urge action on Cardinal Heenan's Lenten call for clergy and laymen to work in developing countries and they urge support of voluntary relief bodies and pressure on the Government to increase its overseas aid.
Explaining the theological thought beh ind their proposals, the studsnts refer to the Council's Constitution on the Church.
"All people," they say, "have the potential vocation to be committed people of God." The only ones who can be excluded "are those who have known and have positively rejected God".
The relation of worshipping Christians to the world at large is that they provide "a liturgical representation of the whole by the few".
They add: "We have to interpret the Decree on the Lay Apostolate in the light of the total function of the Church— to bring Christ to all men and to sanctify the world."