The Personalist Project

A constitution is the founding document of a formal association. It lays down fundamental principles; it defines "a people who are collectively sovereign." In other words, it forms a corporate subject. It turns a collection of individuals into a deliberate, distinct people.

In late 18th century Poland, for example, a new constitution was drawn up, part of whose aim it was to "elevate the status of the burghers" as over and against the monarchy. Learn all about it in this short video clip that came up in my Gab feed this morning:

What I'm trying to say is this: The laity of the Church need a sort of constitution. And by Church I here mean not the hierarchy centered in Rome but the body of believers, the people of God centered in any given place. We need to embody ourselves as a definite corporate subject that can relate itself to our priests as such. Not adversarially, but spousally—as complementary opposites, ordered toward mission, i.e., new life.

I'll say again what I've said many times before: I'm not talking about abolishing the priesthood or the hierarchy. Nor were the Poles of that trying to get rid of the monarchy. Rather, they were about a re-distribution of social and economic power to better reflect modern "discoveries" surrounding the rights and dignity of the individual.

Similarly, the structural changes I'm calling for are about re-distributing "power" in a way intended to reflect organic theological, philosophical and experiential developments of the modern period, including especially those regarding the dignity of women, the subjectivity of the person, the nature of marriage, and the value and distinctness of the lay vocation. 

(I put quotes around power because the kind I'm talking about is only analogously related to power in the secular sense. "Power" in the Church is deeper and more comprehensive, and it's suffused with divine grace. Call it agency or authority or decision-making or charism. Or help me find a word that comprises all of those things.)

Comments (7)

Paul Rodden

#1, May 5, 2021 5:23am


Through no fault of its own, the laity seems to remain in a blindspot which sees the priest rather like the Wizard of Oz, to my mind: fear of a small man pretending to be someone very, very, important. For, the veil which hides this fact - he is meant to be a nobody (supposedly as signified by his vestments), but in the average parish, is tacitly considered superior to everybody - is kept in place through a convenient catechetical oversight...

So, in many ways, even priests who consider themselves 'pro-laity', don't do much to disavow the laity of that sort of superstitious, magical, gatekeeper (sacerdotal), view of priesthood, where everyone looks to 'father' as the mediator of everything: therefore remaining mute, docile, and well-behaved (or else face perdition).

'In persona Christi', like the sacramental nature of the priesthood, are great on paper: but sadly, that's where they seem to remain and, that the Catholic Church seems to be the only organisation left on earth which functions like a bunch of aristocrats rather than Apostles, sadly, that seems to be exactly what has been attracting many of the new priests and seminarians I've met.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, May 5, 2021 9:42am

I agree, except maybe with the idea that it's through no fault of our own. There are mitigating circumstances for sure. Still. We should know better by now. And we should do better. 

Paul Rodden

#3, May 5, 2021 10:17am

I agree. I'm not a progressive (nor a Traddie), although, it seems to me, catechesis - in any parish we've been in - completely elides anything important (apart from doctrine and morals), so how can people know better?

Catechesis seems to be just parroting the 'same old stuff'. How can we be seen as faithful, and not in 'dissent' (i.e., from the way things have always been = in alignment with some sort of 'magisterium' (qua, the will of the gatekeepers of the parish: lay or clerical))?

Katie van Schaijik

#4, May 5, 2021 11:23am

I think it only takes "a few good men", including women, in each place. A few "filled with the Spirit", who have basic understanding and courage. They will lead and teach and demonstrate. And as they do, more and more will "get it" and become capable of challenging the status quo without dissent.

Also, it will take a well-articulated set of principles and precepts to go by, including one something like this:

As Catholics, we accept and adhere to the teachings of the Church. We respect the authority of the Pope, our bishop, our pastors and other clergy in their respective ecclesial offices. In matters within our competence as lay men and women, we believe God’s will for us is discovered through group conscience. [Group conscience involves three basic components: Everyone with something to say gets to be heard; we vote; we accept the outcome of the vote.] 

And this:

Our group is autonomous and self-supporting, resisting outside interference and declining outside support. In particular initiatives and projects, we cooperate freely and gladly with our clergy, with other parishes, with the wider community and other individuals and groups that share our aims and values.

Paul Rodden

#5, May 5, 2021 12:44pm

Thanks for that. V. helpful. Start off small, as witnesses...

I think what you say in the article is spot-on, too. Especially that, as soon as you stick your nose out, people assume you're wanting to pull down the whole edifice (because there are too many in our parishes that are in a power struggle (based in their own narcissistic agendas, 'left' or 'right').

I suppose that's where the idea of a constitution comes in...

Katie van Schaijik

#6, May 6, 2021 9:04am

Yes. What a constitution does, besides laying down fundamental values and principles, is separate and enumerate powers. It identifies zones of freedom and responsibility for different "branches" of a given people. The US Bill of Rights, for instance, specifies the limits of federal government power as over and against the individual and the States.

A key challenge of the ecclesial moment is to identify and define the authentic competency of the laity. Clearly, we have no competence to say mass or give absolution. But we can do accounting. We can teach. We can own and supervise and maintain buildings. We can initiate and manage all manner of outreach ministries...

None of that is manifest in the status quo in parishes, where the pastor has not just prime, but SOLE authority. No wonder we withering on the vine.

Paul Rodden

#7, May 6, 2021 9:08am

Thank you. Sadly, your last paragraph sums it up, but what you've said is helpful and resonates. Being a Brit, I have little concept of a Constitution in the US sense, but outlining what you have, is necessary...

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