The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a case study in the confusion of roles that is becoming more and more a part of the Church in the United States. In many cases, there seems to be an earnest effort to blur the distinctions between the ordained ministry / priesthood and the lay apostolate.
I remember the ecclesial PC-speech I encountered a decade ago in the seminary, in an environment in which lay people and seminarians studied side by side. I enjoyed having lay people in class with me. What I did not enjoy was the political environment that came along with it, fostered primarily by administrators and faculty, I would have to say. The lay students had a “commuter lounge” in the seminary administration building, and documents made the distinction not between lay students and seminarians, but between “commuter” and “resident” students. Please.
Faculty members in American seminaries may claim that this is a concern that belongs only to people with a hyper-clerical view of leadership in the Church. Some snicker at the mention of Vatican documents such as this one. But how do they explain the way that lay “pastoral directors” in Los Angeles understand themselves and their roles? If this isn’t confusion, I don’t know what is.
On the national level, I notice that the USCCB is drafting a document entitled, Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: Resource for Guiding Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (see the agenda for the bishop’s meeting in November). What is lay ecclesial ministry, anyway? The latest form of clericalism, I fear.
Ultimately, I think, the effort to blur distinctions between priests and lay people stems from a nervousness about distinctions in general. Everyone must be the same to be okay. According to this world view, distinctions and difference are not okay, and the shrill persistence of Diversity Training is an ironic witness to the fact.
The same nervousness about distinctions sometimes arises in discussions of human sexuality. While the book of Genesis unapologetically declares in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them, I remember several discussions in my seminary years with individuals who believed in not only the equivalence, but also the essential sameness of men and women… that anything a man can do, a woman can do, and vice versa. This sort of ideology is, I think, rather destructive to the dignity of the person, and to the life of the Church. More on this another time.