Hours of Louis de Laval, France ca. 1480

DEBORAH: I just want to ask if I have understood the following correctly. I understand that we are all the Church and that it is not just the clergy, Pope or Magisterium. So when we talk about what “the Church” thinks about an issue, it should consider all views—not just those of the Magisterium. It seems to me that this is a great strength. Though we have a strong centre in the Pope and Magisterium we have a wide range of views within the Church and this is really vital and healthy. Now it also seems to me that the teaching of the Magisterium DOES take into account new ideas and DOES change—though perhaps very slowly. It never was an unchanging rock and developed as time goes on. It is like evolution in the natural world. It does seem to me, for example, that the Church DOES agree with the use of contraception, even though that may not the official teaching. Many in the church consider that, in some instances, abortion may be the only possible solution to an impossible and horrific solution. It seems to me that many in the Church consider that there is no such thing as a ‘female personality’ that means women are more suited to making the tea and such like. Many do not consider that homosexuality is a ‘disordered state’. All of these are views of ‘the Church.

I would be really interested to know if I have understood the situation correctly—and what I should think if I have misunderstood.

LOUISE: Well if you are wrong I am too as you have just described me.

ELAINE: Sorry but I have to say, through my experience whatever the Pope might say that the church is all of us, that is not the case in practice at parish level at the very least.  Obviously, laity may hold varied opinions but unless they can impact on the way the church is run/the way laity around the world is treated/the way decisions are made about laity by Bishops and Arches, for example, then can those laity opinions really be said to be the views of the church in any productive and meaningful manner?
It’s a good question because we should all feel that we ‘are the church’ but honestly, I can’t see it. Not in my experience and not in what I read from others  xx

DEBORAH: I know what you mean! But am just wondering if the way things are in practice is the way things ought to be. But of course the same can be said of all human endeavours

ELAINE: I think the way things are in practice needs to change to be far more of a collaboration. IMO the days of sheep and shepherd are long gone. Nobody needs telling or to obey a priest on pain of eternal damnation anymore; we need help, guidance, information, teaching. Blind obedience and being too scared to speak up against priests who do wrong has no place in any 21st century organisation! Yet these attitudes seen still so prevalent among clergy. Until clergy start leading the way and sacrificing their ‘career’ to make real stands against abuse when they become aware of it … any abuse not solely sexual … there is a huge gap between the experience of clergy as church and the experience of laity as church—IMO!!! Xx

PAMELA: Sadly I think ‘In it not of it’ re world also applies to the church whichever ‘model’ in operation … and has ever been the case … The only real model Emmaus & Matthew 18.20. .. wherever 2 or 3 gathered in my ‘name’… If the magisterium does not ‘act’ ‘in the name of God’ I feel duty/spirit bound to ignore … as flawed as WE all are.

CONSTANCE: There is the hierarchical Church, i.e. the Church of the ordained, the boys club—then there is the rest of us. And so many of the rest are looking elsewhere for spiritual help, nurture, advice, a sympathetic ear, etc. because we’re not getting it from the hierarchical Church. I know there is the odd ordained man who doesn’t fit the boys club mould but really, they’re a statistical blip.

LEANNE: I painfully agree with yo.

DEBORAH: But isn’t there another way to look at it? That the boy’s club is only one segment—and there is lots more outside of that segment—and we are all the Church? Eventually I believe that we WILL be heard!

PAMELA: Yes, indeed I believe that the Church changes from below the tip of the magisterial iceberg …

ELAINE: I believe our cries may be heard by God but will never be heard by clergy. Not as in hearing and acting because they can see we are correct in what we say. xx

DEBORAH: Just to add something—I know many priests because my husband was formerly in religious life. The priests I know well are all impressive and wonderful people who would agree with much of what is said on CWS! So—who knows—perhaps there are many allies amongst the clergy!

PAMELA: Agree Deborah … even if we have to train them …. :)))

LEANNE: Yes, that’s the way it’s​ supposed or meant to be! But it’s not what’s happening.

GEMMA: Why won’t they stand up and be counted? Privately it is one thing but shouting it from the roof tops another. Are they afraid? If they got together, in solidarity–the bishops cant sack them all.

ELAINE: Exactly my thinking Gemma! Often there have been many people who knew what was going on and also knew that these men had been the way they were for a long time—what happened was predicted to happen. It was always going to happen. It had happened before elsewhere. Yet what did they do? Colluded with the bishops and arches to hide it all, smooth things over, or pretend there’s nothing going on!!! If these “good” men would make some ultimate sacrifice in order to live as they should themselves, perhaps laity like us who are so badly treated and affected by clergy, might believe there is a glimmer of hope for the RCC! If they have the strong faith they profess then trust that even if you lose your position you will be ok – isn’t that what any priest would tell a member of his parish who lost their job?!!

But that’s not our experience. It simply doesn’t happen!

As Gemma says, bishops couldn’t sack them all (they say they can’t oust one lone rogue priest let alone good priests doing the right thing!!)—so what exactly is making seemingly good people condone and facilitate and hide away harm being done to laity?!

The whole clergy who act in these ways are exhibiting an extreme lack of faith and failure of faith so why on earth are laity in awe of them and thinking they can do no wrong?!

I think it becomes a much deeper question then … we should be living the Gospel values yet so many of us, when we see the opposite being lived out, happily go along with it and ignore wrong doing in some weird thinking that says it protects the church or the clergy…?!! What exactly are we watching play out here….?  xx

PAMELA: well the sheep are hungry I am sure … but also collude in a sense by their acceptance of the ‘norm’ .. .and tolerate the ‘hatched, matched, despatched’ function … until some crisis emerges … i.e. abuse etc. I agree dEBORAHwith your observations except that it can be painfully slow and take great strides backward or refuse to face issues at the end of its nose, e.g. shortage of priests etc.

ELAINE: Definitely the boys are aided and abetted by passive and unquestioning laity. Yet even when crisis occurs, still so many are unable to find their tongues.

PAMELA: All the more reason those who have one speak out … so others may hear … despite any inability of the hierarchical ‘church’ to ‘hear’ … it will nurture the silent, shame the complicit and spotlight the guilty.

ELAINE: completely agree, although speaking out isn’t necessarily well received by fellow laity or clergy and can result in harm to the ‘whistle-blower’ for want of a better term and extra layers of protection for the clergy concerned. There is a definite brick wall and laity will only be tolerated if they shut up when told to do so and go away when clergy desire that. If you cross that line of disobedience you’d better watch out, as some of us know to our cost  xx

PAMELA: I have been that whistle-blower Elaine and know to my cost having taken clergy to court … emerged ‘successful’ … having lost job, peace, friends. This is not the place to go into detail or dwell on past battles … albeit won … but it is enough … to keep faith with the truth. Someone once asked Michelangelo why he sculpted the back of statues that nobody could see. He answered, ‘because God sees’.

MAUREEN: I agree. I often think of the Pope & Magisterium as like the “government” of the Church. Just like our political institutions. Just because I am an American does not mean that I agree with Trump, or because I am a Canadian that I agree with the party in power.

ELLIE: I entirely agree Deborah. The trouble is that the Magisterium ignores the sensus fidelium (can never remember if that is the correct phrase). I still hope that things will change.

CLARA: Oh, ours is a big and long story. We know sacramentally we are all priests, though not ordained for the purpose of the priestly role, task, and mission. Up to now the pathway to institutional power and structure is open to ordained priests.
There is a realization for the need to include women in the “institutional” power structure—however slow! Women, of course, hold enormous power . The difficulty the Church of Rome had with American nuns is that America’s culture and structures were largely shaped by orders of sisters working with the education, health, and social structures of an immigrant church and their families—hospitals, schools, religious and social ethics.

Many known saints and uncanonized saints have ripped through obstructed grace with their lives, vision, and service—confirmed by the Spirit working in them.

We are at the beginning not the end of the work of the Spirit. When we refer to the church this has two meanings, the hierarchical church, and the body of believers. Primacy of conscience is the recognition that there is always more than the law. Reconciliation recognizes the Church and the church always fall short of the glory and breadth of God. In my view there is really no definitive answer only the hopeful, optimistic, informed, and prayerful dialogue. We are saved and develop together.

DEBORAH: These are really exciting thoughts—thank you.

RUTH: A couple of thoughts and suggestions re this interesting topic. Deborah, I recommend the International Theological Commission’s 2014 document on The Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church. The ITC has an advisory role so its publications are not official church teaching, but they do carry some weight. You might also like to read John Noonan’s work, an example of which can be found at this link.

DEBORAH: Thanks so much—that is really helpful.

CLARA: Thanks so much for these references. I always count it a great blessing when family and friends whose focus in their profession is theology or philosophy share resources.

SARAH: Thank you for the links!

RUTH: The real question is what we mean by “the Church”. There is often a creative and healthy sense of interpretation, rejection and appropriation re church teaching and the faithful. While the teaching on contraception and, to a lesser extent, abortion are widely disregarded (Catholic countries such as Spain where abortion is legal are statistically no different from non-Catholic countries with regard to the incidence of abortion), other teachings on social justice etc. seem to have more widespread acceptance. I also find it interesting that, when I left Zimbabwe with my family in 1988 as a new Catholic, I joined a Catholic parish and our children went to a Catholic school, so my friendship circle when I came to live in England was primarily made up of Catholics or people associated with Catholicism. That was when I was a stay-at-home mother, but when I later studied theology and went on to work in academia, I became part of a wider network of Catholics through my theological networks. My friends who came to live here from various overseas contexts and in various social/religious groups—mainly Anglicans, evangelicals and non-believers—seemed to remain in more socially conservative groups when they made new friendships. My Catholic friendships are incredibly diverse in terms of culture, race and gender. For me, that attests to the fact that Catholicism remains a very broad church, and teachings are continuously filtered through the experiences and relationships that make up ordinary Catholic life. I also suspect that Catholics from the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK, are deeply influenced by Protestantism so that they are much more legalistic and moralistic than our more flamboyant Mediterranean and Latin American counterparts, where Catholicism remains much more embedded and embodied in popular culture and is not simply a narrow regime of moralising as it so often risks becoming in both liberal and conservative circles in the UK and the US. That’s all rather impressionistic—anyone want to do a PhD on it?!

HELEN: Direct translation from Latin not always a good idea in Northern Europe including Uk and Ireland due to the cut and dried way Germanic, English, some Slavic and ScandInavian languages are used and how they influence the surrounding culture (or so it was said sometimes at home). The Irish language (and possibly Celtic languages in general) is different again, with its own flow and structures, or so it world seem.

SYLVIA: I always thought the Magisterium included the laity/ the Faithful ?

EUNICE: John Shea, an American writer, speaker and theologian (and ex-priest) describes the Church as “Here comes everybody!”

DEBORAH: These are all such interesting points of view. Thank you.

PAMEA: Once a member of international movement with many flamboyAnt members and lots of cultural difference evident … so always thanked God born Catholic in UK with grandfather protestant which gave added ‘balance’ to my ‘Roman’ ‘Irish Catholic’ experience! 🙂 however a shame not more opportunities to experience the international cultural diversity of this broad church at parish level to give perspective to the local experience. Agree totally your ‘impressionistic’ assessment Ruth.

FELICITY: God’s house has many rooms.

WENDY: Very interesting. Thank you. Will you please elaborate on your statement regarding the Church of Rome’s difficulty with American nuns? Thank you.

JULIA: Here it is. Better said than if I tried. Vatican ends controversial investigation of U.S. nuns.

WENDY:  Thank you. I am aware of that. Your comment regarding the nuns being responsible for teaching and developing the Catholic culture in the US had never occurred to me. Should have been aware of this having benefited from 16 years of education by the good Sisters. It is a part of my soul and heart and guides me continually and assists me in development of informed conscience.

JOANNE: The magisterium is patriarchal and therefore often resistant and reactive. It tends to be influenced by what will sustain it in its current form, rather than what is truth (and Christ told us that truth will set us free). Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air.

MARIAN: My feeling about the development of the magisterium is that the church didn’t like/ couldn’t operate within the gospels and the mandates of jesus’ kingdom, so they made up the magisterium and pretend that it always existed.

JULIA: Yes, I agree. But the word church has always had different meanings. I tend to think institutional church or Vatican as exemplifying one form of church. But then there is the rest of us. We are the church. If I mean the Vatican etc. I use that term. I never, I think, say just church when I mean the institutional church, the Vatican. We are all justifiably church. We count. While God doubtless tries to help the hierarchy I never believe they are perfect and must be followed. Primacy of conscience is very important for me. I’m intelligent and educated I can decide many things for myself after prayer and reflection on the teachings of the church. Here I mean the church through the ages. Ah, that brings up the historical church. I’m big on that. What did the saints have to say. The councils. Former popes. Development of doctrine is important. How did the church reach its present beliefs.

PAMELA: Whilst I agree & value the rich treasury of intellect & sainthood I wish there were more representatives of the church in our time like the Cure d’Ars who on receipt of a petition against his practise as a cleric added his own signature to the list.

ROSE: There are so many aspects to this. One is, to my mind, the following: Men tend to be hierarchal. Women tend to operate more horizontally. (I hate to generalize because it’s always held against us but it seems true. Maybe it’s learned behaviour!) When men get together, they seem to search out their place in the rank, i.e. I own a BMW. He owns a Caddy. On the other hand, women tend to look for ties that bind. Your mother was born in Boston? So was my great-grandmother!. That sort of thing. Since men have generally been in charge in Church and Society, things tend to be structured hierarchically. Jesus didn’t seem to be that way which is why I feel women always “got” him and still do …. despite all the BS they have to put up with to remain loyal followers.

JULIA: I briefly dated a man who said that Jesus said that heaven had various levels of occupation—some higher, some lower—we wouldn’t all be equal in heaven. I was, of course, appalled. Where does it say that?!?! “In John when he said ‘In my house there are many rooms/mansions.'” “Yes, where does it say they will be different, hierarchically structured?” “well they’d have to be. How else could they be!” he really couldn’t see that the quote in no way said that there would be hierarchy in heaven. We parted soon after…