help is on the way

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 30, 2007

Richard Sklba, auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee, indulges in some ominous knuckle-cracking so as to prep the archdiocese for more widespread employment of the creature variously termed the "parish director," "parish life coordinator," and "lay pastoral minister": an innovation which -- like the martial law imposed by Soviets on their puppet republics -- he would have us believe is a regrettably necessary expedient and at the same time a happy augury of the future. Sklba's smiling prose assures us, repeatedly, we WILL like our medicine (from the July 12 Milwaukee Catholic Herald):

Listening to the experience of people across the nation, it is clearly important that such an appointment be made officially and formally by the bishop, and that adequate preparation be given to the parish community which will be receiving the team of parish director and assisting priest.

Officially ... formally ... "adequate" preparation. D'you get the sense contrary voices from the pews are likely to get a welcome and judicious hearing?

An opportunity for the parish council to speak with people actually involved in this model seems important to clarify any misconceptions, even before its formal inception, and an official installation by the bishop at one of the weekend parish Masses is necessary for people to appreciate the official character of this model of pastoral care.

"To clarify any misconceptions ..." The misconceptions here referred to are clearly limited to the parishioners, and the "official character" of the "official installation" leaves no doubt that this gift is not the sort that can be returned to sender.

These recommendations have been part of our own practice in Milwaukee from the very beginning. The importance of preaching in the pastoral shaping of a parish community is a given for anyone who has ever filled that role. This poses challenges, given our present liturgical laws.

Notice the little zinger in the last line? The "present liturgical laws" the bishop refers to is, in reality, Canon 767, by which the homily is reserved to a priest or a deacon, which in turn reflects an unbroken Catholic practice with theological roots in Romans 10 ("How shall men believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent?" vv 14f). Clearly Sklba feels the "challenges" posed by the doctrine of Holy Orders can be overcome with a little pastoral creativity.

It has become clear to me that parishioners must appreciate the full pastoral authority of a parish director, and that a good match between parish director and assisting priest be established from the beginning. Finding mutually respectful team members can be a challenge.

What is the force of Slkba's "must" in the first line above? Are we to read it as part of an implied conditional hinging on the qualities of the director ("If this scheme is to succeed, the director must be worthy of the respect appropriate to one in authority")? Or is it, more likely, a diktat underscoring the faithful's lack of choice in the matter: You parishioners need to get it through your skulls that the lay director will be planted on you just as an ordained pastor is, and -- get used to it -- your opinion before and after the fact counts for zip.

When they were first dreamed up by woozy ecumenists in the years of the Second Vatican Council, lay pastoral ministers were (in Jerry Fodor's phrase) "a cure for which there is no adequate disease." We have the post-Conciliar liberal episcopacy to thank for working unremittingly to introduce the desired illness: they managed to empty the seminaries with a swiftness no persecution could rival. And finally, having presented us with the disease, they gleefully produce the medicine.

Now get that look off your face, and Open Wide.

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