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‘Lay co-agents essential for Church leadership’ Detroit archbishop says

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. Credit: CNA
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. Credit: CNA

.- The role of the laity is crucial to the Church’s efforts to combat clerical sex abuse, Archbishop of Allen Vigneron said Thursday morning.

Speaking at The Catholic University of America on April 25, the Detroit archbishop explained that in his own ministry he had seen how lay collaboration is essential in Church governance, and has a natural place with the Church’s hierarchy.

“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’–others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” said Vigneron.

These “co-agents” take the form of both members of the clergy and laity, he explained, and could even include non-Catholics.

Vigneron was speaking at an event titled “The Way Forward: Principles for Effective Lay Action,” part of a series organized by The Catholic Project, Catholic University’s progam dedicated to helping shape the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The archbishop identified three particular areas in which co-agents were crucial to his own ministry, including the review board and finance council, and the archdiocesan synod which was convened in 2016.

Recalling that when he arrived in Detroit in 2013 the archdiocese faced a financial crisis, Vigneron said it was his lay advisors who were crucial in rescuing the situation.

“Without the wise advice of the [finance] council, I would not have been able to endorse the course that enabled us to avoid financial disaster,” said Vigneron, adding that the experience  gave him confidence that lay co-agents had an equally important role to play in solving the present sexual abuse crisis.

Vigneron also identified “victim-survivors” of clerical abuse as indispensable guide to helping him understand the trauma of abuse.

Meeting abuse survivors had, he said, “provided a unique and painful perspective of the enormity of the sins perpetrated against these innocents.”

“I hear incredible anger and disappointment, especially from those victim-survivors who have been driven away from the sacraments for the rest of their lives,” he said, while expressing gratitude and admiration for the many who had told him they remained committed to the Church.  

One of the key points of discussion in the ongoing debate about enhanced lay participation in Church accountability is the strain it could place on the hierarchical nature of the Church. The office of bishops to lead and govern the Church is divinely instituted, and many – including in Rome – are reluctant to pursue reforms which could be seen to undermine episcopal authority.

Vigneron rejected the idea that effective lay involvement would necessarily supercede or undermine his role as a bishop.

“It is the final firm determination of the bishop that secures the stable basis for consistent acting,” he said. “And no healthy approach to lay-clergy collaboration can contradict this aspect of Christ’s constitution of his Church.”

Collaboration would be most fruitful and effective, explained the archbishop, when “any actions taken to respond to the challenges of the current crisis are parts of a greater whole” which is in harmony with the Church’s essential nature. The “greater whole,” he said, is the entire work of the Church for the salvation of souls, final responsibility for which rests with the bishop.

“It is the particular competence of the diocesean bishop to be the trustee of this common good and to ensure that all particular ecclesial acts contribute to this end.”

Speaking after the event, Vigneron told CNA that he was preparing for the release of a report into clerical sexual abuse by the Michigan attorney general and that “there will be a great involvement of the lay faithful helping us as this unfolds.”

While the laity could play unique and expert roles in many areas according to their skills and experience, Vigneron said that it is vitally important that all the faithful maintain their prayer lives and work to hold people accountable for inaction.

The archbishop told CNA that healing the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church was a spiritual as well as structural labor.

“All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there’s going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.

“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we’re engaged in those challenges.”

Tags:
Catholic University of America, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Clerical sexual abuse

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