By Fr. John Mansford Prior, SVD
The Conventional Parish It is not sufficient to make liturgical, catechetical and pastoral suggestions for giving new life to the parish.(1) The conventional parish is culturally monotone and limited to a commonsense view of life.
It depends upon the ordained pastor and his pastoral council where top-down authority is centralised through controlled channels. This ideal of comprehensive organic integration reflects a stable, rural society with its well-ordered, organic community. All components are synchronised by the central authority in order to achieve accord. Such a parish or diocese does not see the need to balance divergent movements through complementarity, but integrates or eliminates them in the name of harmony. In this conventional ecclesiastical culture there is little room for particular interests, social diversity, cultural pluralism or religious non-conformity, let alone for questioning authority. These are viewed as detrimental to the common good.
Unsurprisingly this conventional Catholic culture was marked by authoritarianism, elitism and patriarchalism. Such a parish culture conforms closely to that of the rural Asia of yesteryear or the conformist cultures of authoritarian Asian governments today. Without a radical change in parish culture and pastoral care, ecclesial movements, Protestant or Catholic, to the left or the right, will absorb Catholics who no longer find a place in the monochrome parish.
Where BECs are little more than parish wards, leadership tends to be in the hands of one person only; here authoritarianism can become the norm. In a clerical church BECs leaders will tend to be mini-clerics. I find that a BEC leader who is a retired member of the armed forces will tend to “command” (the troops!); a teacher will tend to “teach” (their students!); a civil servant will tend to “administer” (the office), a traditional cultural leader will employ the ways of traditional (patriarchal) leadership. As Claver points out, “the Kind of leadership in dialogic, participatory and co-responsible communities like the BECs … is just the opposite [of the leadership we encounter in both the clerical church and in society at large which is] authoritarian, intolerant of criticism, not sharing power or responsibility.” (Claver 2009: 119). To go beyond Vatican II we would need to develop counter-cultural communities over against the prevailing culture of both church and society. Where a substantial minority feel that their religious needs are not being met they may join a new religious movement either within or without the church. We have, then, to identify religious and pastoral needs. And if BECs are to function as creative networks within a genuinely participatory church, then we must replace the hegemonic culture of the conventional parish.)(2)
Dialogic, Participatory, Co-Responsible Leadership?
However – praise the Lord! – in many cases BEC leaders are not primarily functionaries nor administrators but spiritual leaders. Many, though by no means all, BECs evolve some form of collective leadership and decision making. These BECs create open spaces for thinking and articulating which fosters an attitude of engaged criticism while developing their members’ organisational, communication and leadership skills. Team leadership and common deliberation on life issues cultivate a sense of responsibility for the condition of society. Such (weekly) discerning, reflecting and praying, when the need arises, leads towards common action on common problems. If the action is to be at all effective, the decision has to be communal also.
Where BECs are creatively active, they struggle to find an appropriate balance between personal, entrepreneurial ministerial ‘charismatic’ leadership and ordered, constitutional, differentiated roles within the church (Gros 2006: 34-41). This occurs either through the creative initiative of dynamic lay people working autonomously, or through ongoing training leadership programmes that “evoke … the leader … who can bring others to share their thoughts and concerns.” (Claver op.cit.)
The Second Vatican Council provoked cultural pluralism within Catholicism on a broad scale. This led to the rise of many new movements including the emergence of BECs. Some BECs interpret the council as a call to engage the world and take up social justice issues (a Gaudium et spes church) while others read the council as calling for a more devotional church (a ritualistic church) (See, Claver 2009:111-115).3) Often, but by no means always, BECs take the former line, while charismatic groups take the latter. The conventional parish is not coping with these contradictory trends. In many cases parishes have evolved into a complexio oppositorum (a complex of contradictions) of different organisations which live side by side without any meaningful reciprocal enrichment. ‘The whole of Catholicism — has to decide whether — the development of its identity must be that of a great network of sites [each] reserved for a registered clientele, or of an open ‘sanctuary’, humanising, hospitable [where] — ‘each one has their gift, each one their burden.’’ (Claver 2009:111-115) ”(4)
1) This seems to be the approach of various Episcopal conferences (Eg.Philippines, India, Indonesia) and also theologians such as Jesus-Angel Barreda (Barreda, ‘The Church’s Apostolate’, 358-360).
2) I am leaving doctrinal issues aside and concentrating on cultural and pastoral concerns. I concur with Walter Hollenweger that Pentecostalism has a Catholic root and this explains why comparatively few Catholic charismatics leave the church (Hollenweger 1997, 144-180). ‘One could say that Pentecostalism is a way of being Catholic without accepting the juridical structures of the Catholic Church’ (Hollenweger 1999, 33-44).
3) Claver categorises BECs into three types: liturgical BECs, developmental BECs and liberational BECs.
4) Claver seems to presuppose that BECs celebrate the Eucharist regularly. Asian Catholics are found in widely-scattered communities most of whom receive only occasional ministry by an ordained pastor. A sacramental community is nurtured by a sacramental ministry. By restricting the ordained priesthood to university-educated, celibate members of the community and making the vocation full-time and life-long we are preventing our communities from becoming Eucharistic by denying them regular sacramental celebrations. One or other of these restrictions could be lifted. There will be no enduring Catholic response to the rise of Pentecostalism as long as we fail to ordain an adequate number of presbyters to serve Eucharistic communities in the context of rethinking the whole issue of ministry (Burrows: 1980, 2006). Burrows laid the theological groundwork for a rethink of ministry in the Catholic Church in his 1980 book. More recently (2006), quoting the Annuarium Statisticum, he gives the following data: from 1978 to 2003 the number of Catholics in the world grew from 757 million to 1.07 billion. To serve 300 million more Catholics in 2003 there were 15 thousand fewer priests. For rethinking grassroots team ministry, see Lobinger, 1998 & 2004. As long as we neglect to do so Catholics will continue to look elsewhere for their spiritual and personal nourishment.