Pope says pastors must 'serve, not use' laypeople

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Clericalism is a danger to the
Catholic Church not only because on a practical level it undermines the role of
laity in society, but because theologically it “tends to diminish and
undervalue the baptismal grace” of all believers, whether they are lay or
clergy, Pope Francis said.

“No one is baptized a priest or bishop,” the pope
said in a letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for
Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The
fundamental consecration of all Christians occurs at baptism and is what unites
all Christians in the call to holiness and witness.

In the letter, released at the Vatican April 26, Pope
Francis said he wanted to ensure that a discussion begun with members of the
Pontifical Commission for Latin America March 4 “does not fall into a

The topic of the March discussion, he said, was on the
public role of the laity in the life of the people of Latin America. In the
letter, Pope Francis said 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.”

“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,” he said. “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
recognizing their role and potential in bringing the Gospel to the world; the
laity are just as much members of “holy, faithful people of God” as
the clergy, the pope said. “We are called to serve them, not use them.”

Pope Francis insisted 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 recognize 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
wrote. Ignoring the role the laity always have played in passing on the faith
is dangerous, he said.

In societies where “the disposable culture is
established, leaving little space for hope,” the pope wrote, 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

“What does it mean for us pastors that the laity are
working in public life?” the pope asked. “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 said,
“opening doors, working with them, dreaming with them, reflecting and,
especially, praying with them.”

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