By Michael J. White
Recently, Church Militant published "The Millstone Mandate." It offered an affirming perspective of the laity's role and responsibility in a Church crisis. Part II of "The Mandate" now engages a concrete plan of action by which the laity can heal the Church and restore the clergy to proper dignity and holiness through a firm, unrelenting and "charitable" collective and united action.
Throughout the religious history of the Old and New Testaments, the restoration of holiness has been consistently initiated and sustained by the lay faithful — never the religious leaders and clergy. This present crisis presents no exception to that historical paradigm.
Why? Because the clergy were always the ones who needed lay correction.
The collective lay action proposed in this article is a holy responsibility. It will enforce necessary changes in how Catholic Church leaders engage, report and become accountable for their non-pastoral, prudential (or otherwise) decisions.
The changes are identified in "The Millstone Mandate." If you haven't read it, please read it here. You'll better understand why this action is urgently needed — today.
The plan of action is extremely simple. From now on all you need to do is just put one small pebble in each collection envelope for every national and diocesan appeal. All the papal appeals, the appeals for the retired clergy and the national missionary appeals will be included. No distinctions will be made until the laity are given a full accounting of the ultimate uses of those appeals in a detail sufficient to justify our further discernment.
Out of charity for the ushers carrying these pebbles in collection plates (many are elderly), please don't use pebbles larger than a fingernail. But use them! Because this simple action will send a dramatic and unmistakable message of consequence requesting an immediate result across Catholic America.
Why pebbles? Because hundreds of thousands of pebbles will weigh like a "millstone" counterweight against the Catholic clergy's reflexive descent into bureaucratic inertia. They need a push. Let's help them. Each small pebble of "charity" will cure a crippling case of clerical indolence. The pebbles signal our lay Catholic unity in support of the Millstone Mandate. The clergy need to know why they're getting pebbles instead of dollars. They'll figure it out — soon.
The Millstone Mandate will hit Vatican and USCCB radar in a big way. Without our dollars, they've got nothing — except a new and urgent motivation to get moving! They've never before faced this kind of resolve in the laity aligned toward such an admirable and holy purpose.
What purpose? To restore the clergy into holy shepherds of the Roman Catholic Church!
We're about to bust the fusty, antiquated corridors of Roman Catholic "clericalism" wide open in the next few paragraphs. Hold on. They're not going to like this (especially in the Vatican), because the clerics can't find any objective refutation of what follows in canon law or Scripture.
Good shepherd Bp. Shawn McKnight of the diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri wrote an open letter on Nov. 16 to his entire diocese after November's "Baltimore Boondoggle" that focuses this topic:
We are too insular and closed in as a hierarchy, and so are some of our processes at the USCCB. The Second Vatican Council gave us not only the freedom but the obligation to utilize and engage the gifts and talents of the laity in the life and mission of the Church. History proves that we bishops are not capable of policing ourselves adequately on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Why not include the laity to assist us with this problem? The whole Church is needed to solve our problem which the whole world knows about. If we are going to move forward, we need to have authentic communion and a genuine synodal process. And this requires transparency and better communication between the clergy and the laity ... .
To emphasize his point, Bp. McKnight stated in the National Catholic Register:
This is not a matter of bishops capitulating, delegating or ceding authority to the laity; rather, we are called to utilize the gifts [and] talents of the laity, especially in the more important ecclesial matters. I believe transparency will require competent and well-qualified laity to be a part of the [McCarrick] investigation and that a full accounting of the final report be given to the public.
If the laity weren't imbued with an ultimate authority over non-spiritual (read: criminal, financial and operational) Church administrative issues, why would Bp. McKnight propose that any final report be given to the laity? Does a lawyer submit his final prosecutorial brief in an official corruption case to his parish priest or to a grand jury? The attribute of authority determines the proper recipient. Bishop McKnight got it right. Who didn’t?
The majority of his fellow American bishops in Baltimore didn't. Should obedience to the Pope constrain them from requesting evidentiary documents bearing upon potential criminal activity? That's a secular issue, not a religious issue. Perhaps the Vatican doesn't quite grasp that distinction. So clarification is due: American dollars aren't subject to vows of clerical obedience.
Not all clerical activities in the Church today are focused by spiritual or pastoral interests and decisions.
There is a vast horizon of Church activity in this world where a "Roman collar" bears absolutely no compelling credential of competence, credibility or experience. Here is where the individual gifts of the laity shine more brightly and abundantly by reason of simple mathematics: The number of laity in the Church is exponentially greater than the number of clergy. A bigger field produces a bigger harvest.
Consequently it is both imprudent and arrogant for the clergy to deny the Roman Catholic Church the benefits of those proportionately greater and more abundant individual gifts God has chosen to bestow on the laity.
Therefore, deferring to the narrow exception of spiritual and pastoral authority reserved to the leadership of the Church, the laity inherit the remainder — a plenary prerogative of authority and oversight over the Roman Catholic Church in all other areas of secular Church function, administration and engagement.
Does that principle sound strange? It shouldn't. Our U.S. Constitution operates under that same principle: Those rights not specifically reserved to the federal government are reposed in the 50 states. Jesus' teaching also follows this same principle. All activities not specifically enumerated and reserved as "forbidden and sinful" by God are available to His children for their mutual participation, enjoyment and enrichment.
Did Jesus specifically appoint Catholic bishops and cardinals to adjudicate whether a given behavior constitutes a criminal felony that should be reported? He didn't. So they shouldn't.
But they're doing it anyway. The Catholic clergy has clearly overstepped the bounds of their spiritual authority in presiding over such determinations! This is the fundamental issue at the root of the present crisis: The bishops and cardinals acknowledge no such limit on their own authority. But that factual limit remains. Their hubris merely camouflages the fact that they obtained no such authority from God, the laity or law enforcement to make such determinations.
Do you now see how cock-eyed the authority invested in the Catholic clergy has become? It begs a key question focused by the Millstone Mandate: Who then holds guardianship over that comparably more vast and comprehensive authority in the Roman Catholic Church beyond the narrow exclusion of faith and moral authority properly reserved to the Catholic clergy?
Who calls the clergy out for going off their own rails? Another synod of the same clergy? How's that been working these past 20+ years?
Who are the ultimate guardians of the Church? Surprise! We are — not the clergy. Never heard that before? How convenient. You were never told …
This is why Bp. McKnight properly identifies the ultimate authority to which the Catholic clergy answer in non-spiritual administrative actions and decisions in the laity - not the clergy. Remember: They got us into this mess! We didn't lead them there. They did it all by themselves. Puppies that wander require a leash.
If the plenary authority of oversight properly reserved to the laity in such non-spiritual administrative actions and decisions in the Church is then ignored, deflected, denied or simply stonewalled by the clergy, what then?
The Millstone Mandate proposes that it is the right and responsibility of the laity to demonstrate "charitably" to the clergy where the true non-pastoral authority, power and resources of the Roman Catholic Church are ultimately reposed on earth. We keep their leash in our wallets.
If those powers and resources have been usurped by the pride and hubris of shepherds gone AWOL with a bloated and disproportionate sense of their own importance, those powers and resources are easily reclaimed by their rightful and ultimate guardians.
We simply repatriate that authority from the clergy with "pebble payments" — starting now.
So what will be the logical result of this proper re-alignment of lay and clerical authority within the Church, according to the distinctions just defined?
No Pope, cardinal, bishop or priest claims any superior capacity, authority, divine right or spiritual charism to administer non-pastoral Church matters than any qualified layperson!
The vast majority of Catholic clergy went to seminaries of varying academic distinction and spiritual orthodoxy. They never practiced international, corporate, criminal, securities or contract law. They did not become experts in audit practice at bulge-bracket accounting firms. They never became specialists in real estate finance, landlord representation, construction management, building maintenance or information technology. They did not get advanced degrees in finance, asset management or achieve partnership at an investment bank. They don't hold securities licenses. They are typically not medical doctors or experienced hospital administrators.
Most have never had to "compete in the marketplace" to confirm competence or credential in these disciplines. Most have never had to achieve any personal billing threshold, net profit target or sales revenue quota in their entire lives. Few have paid a mortgage by the sweat of their own brow, or been fired, foreclosed or demoted by reason of such quantifiable personal failures.
They are priests of God. They celebrate the Mass, feed us with the Eucharist, baptize babies, counsel the confused, uplift the downtrodden, reconcile our sins, marry us, bury us, sometimes teach us and deliver weekly homilies that can uplift, challenge, inspire or bore us to tears — providing ample opportunities to enhance our personal virtues under either circumstance. And we love them.
But to expect them to do what we lay people can do better than they ever will is folly. And for them to assume or even aspire to that level of expertise in such matters is abject hubris and pride.
Fact check: They've made a total mess of it. They're miserable amateurs in such matters — and their tragic outcomes in these endeavors have proved it.
When (if?) the bishops and cardinals gain the personal humility to admit their gross incompetence in non-pastoral matters by verdict of massive financial settlements, grand jury reports, crony clericalism, cover-ups and ineptness in confronting criminal behaviors, they'll admit they've got nowhere else to go but to beg the laity for help. They are wayward, headstrong children who have answered to nobody but themselves for too long. They're out of control.
So we won't encourage them with more support. We will remind them with less leash.
Remind them of what? That we, the laity, are appointed by God as the ultimate guardians, evangelizers, sustainers, and fail-safe repositories of faith in the Roman Catholic Church.
Sounds weird, because we weren't taught that by Sr. Mary Prudential as a cradle or even convert Catholic. But it's absolutely true. And once you understand this concept and the responsibility that goes with it, the Millstone Mandate begins to make sense — one pebble at a time …