Reformer Persists While Church Resists

David Zizik thought he had a good idea to help the Roman Catholic Church, so much so that he has pressed ahead with it in the face of resistance from Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law.

Zizik wanted to unite parish councils throughout the archdiocese of Boston and give the most loyal Catholics : those who volunteer countless hours overseeing parish finances, religious education and youth ministries : a chance to collaborate and revitalize their churches. Donations were down in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal and many Catholics were demoralized. But the church flatly rejected Zizik's proposal.

When Law got word in April of the plan for an Association of Parish Councils, the cardinal ordered every priest and bishop under his command to ignore the group. He said an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council already existed, and the creation of another group would be "superfluous and potentially divisive."

Zizik was stunned. He had proposed the new organization to work alongside the hierarchy, bringing together a broader representation of Catholics than the existing council, which he said was handpicked by the cardinal. Zizik said his group would be distinct from the fast-growing Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization trying to effect change but not necessarily in concert with church leaders. Law has publicly tussled with that group as well, over whether archdiocesan charities should accept donations from reformers.

Despite Law's directive on the parish association, Zizik was not deterred. He and others have decided to move ahead and are working under a new name: Parish Leadership Forum. They continue to discuss their goals with the archdiocese and feel they have allayed some of church officials' fears. "We need to strengthen parishes. That's how to einvigorate the church. That's where the action is," Zizik said. "We need to pool resources, provide support, provide a forum for ideas and concerns within parishes that mobilizes parish leaders."

The idea for the group came after the release of archdiocesan records that church leaders knew about sex abuse allegations against priests dating to the 1960s but did not keep offending priests away from children. Zizik became convinced that victims could have been spared if parish leaders had an easy way to communicate with each other as the accused clergymen were shuttled among church assignments.

Commentary

Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi

Welcome to the "excluded" Catholics of the world, Mr. Zizik! It is an honor to have you join our membership. It is such an easy group to which to belong. All you have to do is have an original thought that even remotely challenges a bishop's power and command, and you're in!

The heart of the matter is one of control and intimidation by the bishops. They do not listen to laypeople. They are not trained to listen to "the faithful" because our position on the church's pyramid of power is at the basement level. When you have a penthouse apartment with a great view, you don't listen to people living far below you.

The fact that Sacred Scripture and theology both insist that the Holy Spirit resides in all who are baptized, that we are all, in the scriptural phrase, a "priestly people," holds no water with ecclesial commanders such as Bernard Law and his ilk. It has taken bishops a long, long time to arrive at their present positions of power within the church. They remain extremely reluctant to surrender any degree of that power. The facts are that these men are selected by the Vatican and that laypeople have no voice whatsoever in the selection process. This is not how it was in the early church where laypeople had a strong voice in selecting their ecclesial leaders. Now these leaders are imposed upon us through a clearly political process. Once again, centralization of power is having a corrupting influence. If bishops were at all beholden to the people of their diocese (instead of to Vatican bureaucrats), do you think the present scandal would have been as likely to occur? Indeed if bishops from the beginning had approached abused victims and their families with pastoral hearts, the present scandal might have been avoided completely.

David Zizik, I commend you for "thinking outside the box". Unfortunately that's also a dangerous place to be with a church leadership that values power and command far above the service Jesus intended them to exercise within his faith community.

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