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Columnist Valerie Schultz

The Catholic laity, or us laypeople, are most often and most easily defined in negative terms, by what we are not. We are not ordained priests or bishops; neither are we sisters or brothers or nuns or monks. We are just the regular people, the folks in the pews, the ordinary churchgoers expected to “pray, pay and obey,” as one little rhyme goes, or the ones who are “hatched, matched and dispatched” by the clergy members, to quote another. In positive terms, however, we are the people of God. We are the essential majority of the church.

Laypeople perform many non-sacramental duties for the church. We are teachers and theologians, lay ministers and group leaders, janitors and groundskeepers, cantors and lectors. Sometimes we are paid; more often we are volunteers. We are called to live our faith and evangelize the world just as much as the ordained are. We laypeople may actually have a better understanding of the world because we live in it. In addition to following Jesus, we have families and marriages and jobs and obligations that occupy the bulk of our time. We mostly can’t leave the world behind and go off somewhere special to be holy. We have to be holy in the midst of the world.

I have heard it opined that maybe the current shortage of Catholic priests is the Holy Spirit’s way of empowering the laity. That’s heavy. And heady. We are not used to having any power. We rarely think of ourselves as sacred vessels: Precious few married people have ever been canonized as saints. We are used to being referred to as sheep. This initial designation comes straight from Jesus — “I am the good shepherd … My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:14,27) — and we understand the spiritual implications of being members of the flock. But the metaphor only goes so far: We are not actually sheep. While each of us is a child of God, we are adult humans. Each of us possesses an intellect and a conscience, a heart and a soul, gifts we are supposed to use to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

Being a Catholic layperson is not so easy these days. In the midst of the crisis of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and subsequent cover-ups — although the immediacy of the word "crisis" may not aptly describe a situation that has prolonged itself for decades — we laypeople are still called by God to be the face of Jesus to a broken world, and to see the face of Jesus in everyone, even in the abusers among us. We stay Catholic even when there are sound reasons to pack up our faith and leave, because that’s who we are. We are challenged and sometimes stretched to the breaking point to remain in the church, to be church for each other, and to carry out the mission of the church. That’s our calling: to love and keep loving this world of ours.

There is a disconnect between us laypeople and the clergy, and I wish I knew how to bridge it. During a workshop I attended recently, a couple of priests were speculating on the reason for the current decline in reports of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. They put forward various sociological reasons, and I suddenly realized that they really didn’t get the obvious reason. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Hello? It’s because of us: the parents!” We no longer trust that the time our children might spend with the parish priest is innocent. We keep a sharp eye on our kids during every educational or extracurricular activity they are involved in, even — or especially — church activities. We don’t necessarily suspect all adult authorities over our children of having bad intentions, but we are always on alert. We hear the stories. We read the papers. We especially scrutinize anyone wearing a priestly collar. I submit that the decline in sexual abuse cases is likely due to a lack of opportunity. Perhaps those priests at the workshop missed this clear explanation because they are not parents.

I should have shouted all this, but I didn’t. I’m no theologian. I’m no expert. I can’t even be ordained. I’m just a laywoman.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com.

(2) comments

Jerry Todd

Webmaster - first line - "vice" is supposed to be voice. No way to correct.

Jerry Todd

Beautifully stated as to who Jesus' sheep are. We hear his vice. Often don't listen.

I remember when we lived in the Bay area there was an incident for which a number of us wanted a meeting with the Bishop of Oakland. There was a group of ordered priests running a parish in Union City in the East Bay. They were so evangelistic and joyful to be around, people from as far away as San Francisco would come to Sunday Mass. They were draining other nearby parishes of "sheep," which really upset their pastors, instead of learning what works.

They decided these upstart Franciscan priests and brothers were to be dealt with. In the end, they were driven out of the Diocese. Many of us didn't like it and asked for an appointment with the Bishop. His response? "I only meet with ambassadors." He didn't want to hear from us lowly sheep. My first experience with what Valerie called a "disconnect."

This morning, my wife and I attended the annual St. Francis School Awards Mass where one of her tutoring students was receiving an award. That was the first time I'd been in the new multi-purpose building, cafeteria. An amazing, huge quality piece of work. Of course, the funding came from the leadership of a pastor who knew how to run a business and to extract significant donations from folks who could afford it. He has been criticized for his tactics, like the crab feed/auctions and other events which raised significant funds. I'm sure there were private discussions that educed even more. Some wealthy folks like the publicity. Most do their charitable work in secret.

The Parish church site, a mile from the school, also benefitted from a complete building, parking and landscape overhaul, plus the construction of a huge youth center, multi-purpose facility, complete with first rate folding bleachers and retractable basketball hoops. Kitchen and meeting rooms rounded it out.

Today, 15 states are working to assure the legality of infanticide and at the same time the removal of statutes of limitations for any kind of child sexual abuse. An oxymoron if I've ever seen one. Who is really and literally destroying the children and the nation? Purveyors of mass infanticide and refusal to work for which their constituents elected them.

Mockers would have us kill off the strong leaders, so the sheep of church and nation are left without a shepherd. We Catholics are in a position to save both. It would be a favor returned, as the United States of America was likely one of the best things that ever happened to the Catholic Church. Why? Because it motivated the building of universities, hospitals, care facilities, schools and parishes to serve all in need. Why? Because it is our duty to serve God through love and kindness toward all, not suing each other for real and imagined harms.

Since this is also spiritual warfare in the political arena, I think it is safe to note the similarities between the abuse accusations against the highly accomplished pastor of this parish and the constant attacks by people of similar ilk against a President who has a 40 year record of getting things done, on time and under budget. Yes, there may be victims of two men like us, more than capable of sinning. Is it each individual's responsibility to overcome, or is it to exact revenge?

Yes, Valerie, we are the Church and its our money and service to mankind that is being taken to satisfy an old debt that should have had it's Jubilee Year long ago.

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