Lay people’s relevant knowledge and competence gives them power in the church under Canon 212

…Lay influence, though, manifested itself in many ways. “The Hapsburgs could submit names of people they would not want to be pope,” Root said, a practice not revoked until Pope Pius X.

For Luther, every Christian participates in Christ’s three offices (of prophet, priest and king) in much the same fashion,” Root said. “The distinction between clergy and laity are that of functions and roles,” he added, since “for the good of the church, somebody needs to be given the responsibility for leading the church’s worship,” and other duties.

In extreme situations,” Root said, “the laity can remove clerical leaders and replace them and, in extreme cases, even substitute for them.”

Such is not the case in Catholicism due to a different theological understanding of the priesthood. “The laity cannot substitute for the priest,” Root said. “If you don’t have an ordained priest, you don’t have a Mass.”

The church, though, has not handled well its role, Root said. “Referring to the church as a monarchy is a mistake” dating back to the Reformation, he added, as well as references to the laity along the lines of “pay, pray and obey” and that the two rightful positions of the laity are “sitting before the pulpit and kneeling before the altar.”

Benedictine Sister Nancy Bauer, a Catholic University theology professor, suggested that Canon 212 “is a powerhouse” when conferring rights upon the laity to take an active role in the abuse crisis.

It says, in part: “According to the knowledge, competence and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

Reverence is key part of that canon, Sister Bauer said: “Outrage may generate a reaction but not necessarily reform.”

Canon 215, which give the faithful the right to form associations — even without the blessing of the bishop — is important as well. The right of association “is a human right,” Sister Bauer said.

While not offering an endorsement of the group, she said Voice of the Faithful, which started in 2002 in response to the sex abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston and now claims 30,000 members, is an example of how the laity can utilize Canon 215.

While synods and pastoral councils give an opportunity for the laity to make their opinion known to bishops, and laypeople filling parish and diocesan leadership roles also are helpful, Sister Bauer said, “the most powerful person is the person who answers the phone for the bishop and decides who talks and doesn’t talk to him, and manages the schedule and determines who gets to see him and who does not.”

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