Pope Francis has said that clericalism “tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace” of all believers, whether they are lay or clergy, and has called for the clergy and laity to “stand together” in seeking justice.
“No one is baptised a priest or bishop,” the Pope writes in a letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. It comes after the Commission hosted a Plneary Assembly on the public role of the laity earlier this month. The Pope said he hoped the discussions would not “fall into a void”.
In the letter, released at the Vatican, Pope Francis stresses that baptised Christians, whether clergy or laity are united by a call to holiness and witness. He adds that in lay Catholics’ work for the good of society and for justice, “it is not the pastor who must tell the layperson what to do and say, he already knows this and better than we do.”
The Pope goes on: “It is illogical and even impossible to think that we, as pastors, should have a monopoly on the solutions for the multiple challenges that contemporary life presents. On the contrary, we must stand alongside our people, accompany them in their search and stimulate their imagination in responding to current problems.”
Pastors are not conceding anything to the laity by recognising their role and potential in bringing the Gospel to the world; the laity are just as much members of the “holy, faithful people of God” as the clergy, the Pope says. “We are called to serve them, not use them.”
Pope Francis insists that the discussion on the role of the laity must not fall into the trap of thinking “the committed layperson is one who works for the church or is involved in matters of the parish or diocese” – creating a “lay elite” – but must recognise that most Catholic laypeople live their Christian commitment in their homes, neighborhoods, cities and countries.
“The faith we have received is a gift that came to us, in many cases, from our mothers and grandmothers. They were the living memory of Jesus Christ within our homes. It was in the silence of family life that most of us learned to pray, to love and to live the faith,” the Pope writes. Ignoring the role the laity have always played in passing on the faith is therefore dangerous.
In societies where “the disposable culture is established, leaving little space for hope,” Francis writes, committed Catholic laity and their families “seek not only to survive, but among the contradictions and injustices, they seek the Lord and desire to give witness to him.
“What does it mean for us pastors that the laity are working in public life?” the Pope asks. “It means we must try to encourage, accompany and stimulate all the attempts and efforts that they already are making to keep alive hope and faith.”
Pastors must be close to their people, he writes, “opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them, reflecting and, especially, praying with them.”