Catholicism at the Crossroads
How the Laity Can Save the Church
By: Paul Lakeland
Review By: Fran Dechant
In an earlier acclaimed book, The Liberation of the Laity, Paul Lakeland analyzed problems in the American Catholic Church and proposed changes. In his new book, Catholicism at the Crossroads, published this year, he speaks still as the academic he is. But he intends "this work as a teaching tool addressed to an audience that is not trained in academic theology." I am certainly part of that audience and I find he has succeeded in imparting his ideas and information in a highly understandable way.
Disagreement in the Church, which Paul Lakeland cautions must be approached with prayer and discernment, is a sign of health. It is incumbent on the laity, of course, to shoulder a major burden in voicing disagreement, moving toward a healthier state in a Church that shows increasing symptoms of illness. Lakeland begins with a search for a definition of the term, laity. Since a definition cannot contain a negative, this poses a challenge. None of our usual descriptions will do. "Lay people are not priests." "They are not obliged to celibacy." "They cannot say Mass." "They cannot preach." What is the positive role of the layperson in the Catholic Church today? Finding that proper definition also opens the door to discovering what the laity must do and why they must start doing it right now.
Paul Lakeland gives some good reasons why lay people should take responsibility in the Church: "In the first place, we are adults and take responsibility. Second, it is clear that lately in the American Catholic Church our leaders in the faith have not been doing a very good job and someone has to fill the credibility gap that their failures have created. Third, we are baptized Christians and baptism into the community obliges us to take responsibility for its integrity." If the definition of a layperson is a baptized Christian called to ministry and that ministry is exercised particularly in relationship to the secular world, then our work is cut out for us. The first step lies in creating a more open and accountable Church which can regain its credibility and its power for good in the world we live in.
Lakeland calls for consideration of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic tradition. This leads us to question, of course, why maintaining a celibate male clergy in the face of plunging numbers of priests is preferred over guaranteeing access to the Eucharist by the people of God. Likewise, elevating women to their rightful place of equal leadership with men will be essential if we are ever to become a mature Church. I find Paul Lakeland’s call for returning to the close bonding of the bishop with his diocese that was the rule in the early Church a timely idea. Imagine the reciprocal cooperation and affection between the people and bishop when that bishop is permanently "married" to his diocese. Very little of the one-upmanship and political maneuvering involved in present-day episcopal appointments would remain.
Paul Lakeland is first of all a teacher. His exploration of the benefits and ill effects of globalization take the reader into more involved and abstract territory than other portions of his book. Granted, this is a many-sided issue and there are no easy answers. For the most part Lakeland makes his case directly and in language that can be readily understood by the laypersons he challenges. The Church needs our adult and well-considered participation now as never before. At this crossroads, all signs point to the laity as the most important players in the revitalization of a Church we have revered for many centuries.