When priests become the lock, gate, and watchman the lay faithful are excluded – Catholic Church News


By Matthew P. Madziva

The Synod on Synodality should be inclusive of all members of society.

In 2013 the Catholic Diocese of Gweru had its Strategic Pastoral Plan 2012-2017, a five-year pastoral plan. This common reflection and discernment process was assisted and facilitated by Professors Ranga Zinyemba and Dr.  Alice Zinyemba.  We proceeded as a Family of God, in line with Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa by Pope John Paul II.  Pope Benedict XVI observed in Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus that “Exceptional vitality and a theological understanding of the Church as Family of God were the most visible results of the 1994 Synod” (#3). In line with modern trends of holding such gatherings, I suggested that we de-role in order to proffer our suggestions and contributions without reserve. By this, I meant that we all must participate freely as members of the Body of Christ who are baptized irrespective of our lay or clerical status.

That suggestion, made in good faith, aroused the ire of one senior priest in the Diocese of Gweru. He was really averse to such a locus standi. In hindsight reflection, I realize that my suggestion was in a way a destruction of what he had held true for many years of priestly experience. He could not afford de-rolling; he could not sit at the same table with a parishioner as equals. He was up there, and the parishioners should be down there. The continued presence of the laity in such circumstances was to me reminiscent of the example of the persistent Syro-Phoenician woman ready to pick up the crumbs falling off the sumptuous munching done by the VIP table members (cf. Matthew 15:21-28). Though he might have been right to have such a stance to distinguish our meeting from that of the secular world, the way he did it sent some shiver in the lay faithful in the house.

Though this is not enough to clamp down hard on clericalism, it is a pointer to some of the entitlements of the problem. Such an attitude will not keep all warm under the tent. The same attitude is a hindrance to walking together and journeying together. The attitude is a mouth muzzle and is a kind of feudal view that maintains that women are not capable of anything beyond the kitchen. In view of clericalism, is it still true that the lay faithful cannot make sound decisions in terms of their faith? The answer is a capital letter NO, that is the reason Pope Francis is calling everyone to come on board to make a contribution and build the Body of Christ. Synod on Synodality is not abandoning your position in society but a realization that you are not alone and you need others as equals before God. It is also a loud testimony that we are all members of Christ making up the Body of Christ.

Walking together means talking to one another, not talking down to, but reverential talking to and respectfully listening to one another. Wanting special treatment leads to an unhealthy chinhu chedu /lokho ngokwethu mantra where special others claim it all at the expense of the looking rest.  Clericalism is a disease and virus that destroys and cripple active participation. It is a scourge that corrodes communion and highly feeds on misconstrued power and authority which forgets service and mission.

Ecclesial synodality as Nicholaus Segeja (ACS:2016) points out, comes as an expression of the pilgrim Church and the Church as communion in the light of Vatican II. In view of what he points out, a pilgrim Church really needs to look at its rearview mirror from time to time, to see what kind of dust it has made and its effects on the totality of the Family of God.

Characteristics of an African family; community, communion, union, and unity are why it was so common for olden boys (brothers) or girls (sisters) to share dresses as they went to see their loved ones. Even neighbors could easily borrow a suit from next door so as to look good before others. Other characteristics as raised by Pope John Paul II in Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa are, “care for others, solidarity, warmth in human relationships, acceptance, dialogue, and trust” (# 39-40). We cannot afford to put them aside as we journey together in faith.

The faithful are equally important members of the church and their voices need to be heard and respected.

In my opinion, there is no togetherness in a monologue. There is no synodality in a leadership punctuated by dictatorial traits and tendencies. There is no synodality if we cannot eat together, if, as they say, it is only “me, myself, and I”. In every situation, one is not alone. Pope Francis, in the spirit of the Vatican II Council, guides us through convoking the synod on synodality to walk together, engaging others in making decisions in parishes. Thus, the lay faithful should not only be important in raising funds for Church projects or to feed the priests. Their thoughts matter. There is no walking together in a consultative-telling that masquerades as a meeting. This is akin to making participants notice boards. The message from the pope is that as we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, we remain one, the faithful and the clergy alike. The language in the Lord’s Prayer gives me hope in the inclusivity Synod on Synodality seeks to achieve in the Church, “we”, “our”, and “us”.

.The Pope is so consistent in his vision for the Church that reflects the mind of Christ, bringing into the tent, worrying about sin but not the sinner, and engaging with everyone without exception. Some disciples walking with Jesus tried to quieten the shouting blind Bartemeus but Jesus said ‘Call him’ (cf. Mark 10:46-52).  Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium challenges the whole Church to throw away the throwing away, exclusivistic, and sidelining culture. His message is that of an embracing, comforting, and caring Church which as he says should keep its doors open. If a priest becomes the lock, gate, and watchman the lay faithful are excluded. In many ways, the priests are like Pharisees multiplying rules yet they are not ready to follow those rules. Little wonder that ZCBC had, until lately only a Marriage Tribunal Office designed to superintend and facilitate the nullification of marriages yet they did not have an office for supporting marriages through conselling, accompaniment, spiritual direction, and confession.

Priests do not be like the Pharisees who multiply rules that they do not follow

Pope Francis is our new torch bearer. He says, like Jesus, if we are like them in all things then what makes us different? We have to be like Christ who was misconstrued by most Jews but especially by the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees for being differently exemplary.  This was the dawn of a new social and cultural reality, Christianity. By baptism Christians are equal and all children of God. Pope Francis says as he addresses people at the opening of the Synod, 09 October 2021, “In the Church, everything starts with baptism. Baptism, the source of our life, gives rise to the equal dignity of the children of God, albeit in the diversity of ministries and charisms. Consequently, all the baptized are called to take part in the Church’s life and mission.” It then irks the mind to find a priest not comfortable sharing a discussion as an equal child of God with other children of God. This to me constitutes militating against participation, communion, and mission, hence a drawback against Synod on Synodality. My advocacy is not getting rid of the office of priests, for that will be absurd and insane of me, but merely bringing awareness that the best thing that has ever happened to humanity, the priesthood, maybe an elephant in the room. This, unlike other elephants that find themselves in rooms, should not be gotten rid of. Priesthood, however, does not bring with it superior cognitivism but it gives one a better chance of thinking about things celestial and divine. In actual fact, it should as in Eucharistic celebration, be the rallying point of participation, communion, and mission. The Vademecum for Synod on Synodality puts it succinctly “Participation is based on the fact that all the faithful are qualified and are called to serve one another through the gifts they have each received from the Holy Spirit. In a synodal Church the whole community, in the free and rich diversity of its members, is called together to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern, and offer advice on making pastoral decisions which correspond as closely as possible to God’s will” (p.13). Vatican II helped us to navigate from a hierarchical Church to The People of God, where the new way of being Church will be sitting in a circle instead of having one of the children of God sitting on the other side of the desk facing the vulnerable rest.

If anything, the priest should facilitate the efforts made by the pope to see the Church moving in one direction as one, holy, apostolic, and prophetic. The vehicle Pope Francis is using today is that of synodality, distinguished by participation, communion, and mission. This, in my humble opinion, enhances our identity, community, and mission as a church. Robert Stagg, in his book Pastoral Leadership, recognizes a three-legged stool in pastoral power. 1) power from above, the bishops who laid hands on our heads conferred what we call legitimate authority from above, and we were then sent to serve 2) This power is also derived from below, from our congregations. This reminds me of something Pope John Paul II said in Pastores Dabo Vobis when he reminds priests that as Shepherds after the heart of God, we are from people and we return to people. The pastoral power that springs from within us, according to Stagg, is the third and last leg of the three-legged stool. This, as he puts it, feeds on our gifts, our talents, and our passion. He calls it the power in our belly, p.23 of A Pastor’s Toolbox: Management Skills for Parish Leadership edited by Paul A Holmes 2014. We are then serving in vain if we decide to skip the lay faithful in decision-making that affects the whole Church, for their absence takes away one of the three legs as suggested by Robert Stagg.

Stagg’s suggestion is in line with the rules of the Church, concerning the laity’s participation in governance. The 1983 Code of Canon Law reveals that there are various forms of cooperation in the exercise of juridical power in which different categories of the faithful, although not holders of power, properly intervene in its exercise. This contrasts with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which completely prohibited the laity from exercising the power of governance in the Church. Members of Christ’s faithful “can cooperate in the exercise of this same power in accordance with the law,” according to Canon 129# 2. There are three main ways in which the laity can participate in the exercise of the power of governance: cooperation, consultative cooperation, and other forms of cooperation like electoral participation and informative cooperation. Clericalism as a state of the mind feels threatened when the laity is close by. Clericalism thus becomes a drawback and a disease to Synod on Synodality.

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