13. The Laity in Civil Society and in the Church: Christians possessing skills, competence and scholarship adorn eminent professions in the academic, intellectual, socio-economic, political
and administrative areas of Indian society. Their contributions in the many and varied sectors of private and state-owned enterprises are well documented and some have occupied responsible positions in commercial, industrial, defense-and-security-related areas of the Indian State.
14. In the years after Vatican Council II, there have been several Church documents stressing the role of the laity in the Church. There have also been a renewed self-understanding and consciousness of the laity as the People of God that is reflected in the activities of lay associations and movements in the Church. These range from the self-managed pious associations at the parish level to the charismatic movements and national organizations like the All India Catholic Union. Some of these are active in fostering inter-religious dialogue, others in promoting inter-cultural activities, and still others in bringing about Christian renewal. There are church organizations (e.g. Youth Groups) giving credible Christian witness in the political and cultural sectors, helping the deprived and offering philanthropic services to those in need. Yet the competence, opinions and initiative of the laity are mostly left out of consideration in policy making and decision taking in the church!
15. The Laity hemmed in by Church Structures: There are vexing questions as to whether, in practice, the laity occupies its rightful place in the Church. Are their human rights respected? Are members of the laity recognized as adults and equal partners of the clergy in the Church? It happens that Christians whose leadership roles are recognized in civil society find themselves sidelined in the Church. Often enough lay participation in Church affairs is limited to a few. Apathy on the part of the laity could be a reason, but more often it is the systematic exclusion of the laity from most areas in the Church that has been responsible for their reduced participation. The clergy- laity divide is the outcome of a centuries-old understanding that sees the clergy as representing the essential core of the Church and the laity as its peripheral members.
16. Many factors have contributed to this divide. First of all, division of labour, social stratification, power relations and a hierarchy of authority are to be found in civil and secular society and also in the Church. In the ensuing divisions, the laity in the Church is at the receiving end and, for the most part, is controlled and dominated by the clergy. It is not likely that such a laity will confront domination in secular society and campaign for egalitarianism at all levels.
Given the diminished status of the laity, how will it effectively challenge and fight the evil of caste in India when it is itself a victim of the hierarchical culture in the Church? Faced with the truth that a distinctive mark of the Reign of God is building community and fellowship, the laity is ill prepared to struggle against the graded social hierarchy in civil society.
17. Insufficient awareness of the ground realities stemming from the composition of the Indian Christian community is another malaise that sharpens the laity-clergy divide. Dalits and Tribals, the subaltern groups, suffer from a triple discrimination. Treated as outcastes for centuries, Dalits had lost their right to freedom and human dignity. They suffered from a tarnished image of self-identity and unwittingly internalized the new reduced identity. Secondly, owing to their conversion to Christianity, they were deprived of sc.ne of their constitutional rights and privileges that Dalits belonging to other religions like Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism enjoy. Thirdly, because of the treatment meted out by the so-called high caste Christians, their own fellow Christians in the Church looked down upon them. In addition, Dalit women face additional discrimination because of being women among Dalits!
18. Status and power are central notions that operate in a stratified society. In such a social hierarchy, power gets centralized and concentrated in those who are entrusted with authority. In a bureaucracy the higher one ascends the more centralized and concentrated becomes the power placed in a person. There is a tendency to take those at the lower rungs for granted. This destroys the soul of participatory culture, the very essence of democratic governance, where the will of the people is paramount.
19. A similar culture and structure prevail in the Church. By proclaiming itself as a community of faith, the Church is called to witness to the unity willed by Christ. However, the constant yet unnecessary efforts to stress the roles that differentiate the clergy from the laity militate against the building of true unity among God's people. The laity is allowed only a subsidiary function. Noble Christian and religious values that should be practised by the clergy and laity alike are diluted and contribute to the building up of structures that are dysfunctional. Regaining the original Christian vision of an egalitarian model of life would require that we search for alternative models of structuring and functioning in the church community. The participative model reverses the many assumptions and dynamics of the past and may provide a vibrant and viable alternative to civil and religious society.
20. The Consequence of a Culture of Non-Participation: Participative culture is the very soul of the new grassroots level democratic institution. However, the laity is handicapped in carrying out this task since, within the Church, participative culture is rarely valued, fostered and promoted. What prevails in the Church is the hierarchical culture with its sharp edge of clericalism. There does not exist for the laity adequate space for exercising responsible ministry in the Church. They are kept out of significant areas of decision- making in the Church. Besides, the increasing appropriation of non- clerical functions by the clergy leads to a further shrinking of space that belongs to the laity. There is need to insist on the legitimate rights of the laity and on the duty of the clergy to vacate the space that rightfully belongs to the laity. The laity is neither an inert theological category, nor an isolated segment, but a constitutive part of the Christian community as understood in Vatican II. A theologically enlightened church community could help reapportion the rightful functions proper to the clergy and the laity.
21. The structures of participation initiated by Vatican II, like parish councils at the local level, pastoral councils at the diocesan or national level are handicapped by three ailments: their 'consultative' character, the prevailing 'nomination' culture, and the irregularity in their being convened. Even the finance committees are no exception. Because of these ailments, the participatory role of the laity envisaged by Vatican II for the renewal of the Church remains mostly a dream.
22. Exercise in self-governance and responsible exercise of authority for the common welfare are central to the new democratic institutions like panchayatiraj, self-help groups, voluntary organizations and peoples' movements. These are positive developments for humankind as a whole at the level of person and community. Like other persons in the Indian polity, the laity could join those who seek the welfare of people through these initiatives. However, responsible participation in the affairs of the Church is limited and restricted for the laity.
23. Insufficient awareness of the ground realities regarding the very identity of the Christian community in India is another malaise that sharpens the laity-clergy divide. These are seen not from the perspective of common discipleship but from the clergy's vantage point within a hierarchical structure and culture. In this scenario, the values of the Reign of God as taught by Jesus are blurred or, at times, even totally absent. Educating and forming the laity, wherever it takes place, is 'from above' and seldom occurs in an atmosphere of dialogue and communication that is present among equals. The absence of a 'servant model' that fosters fellowship and unity in the Church raises questions about the kind of authority that the hierarchy seeks to exercise.
24. A well-developed political theology would put the laity in the forefront of the Church's service to the world. The absence of such a theology, however, gives the hierarchy an 'excuse' for not encouraging a democratic and participative culture within the Church. Such a theology is missing from seminary formation in India. Besides, candidates to the priesthood or religious life often come from societies where interactions are patterned on a caste- based hierarchy. Even when ordained, such persons reinforce the 'controllers-controlled' relationship that perpetuates the clergy-laity divide in the Church.
25. The Awakening Call: The wake-up call to act as true followers of Christ keeps coming from different quarters: from the concerned protesters in the Christian community, from the shocked citizens of the country, and above all from the Holy Father himself. In the country at large, turmoil has been raging relentlessly. Dalit awakening and their mobilization at the social and political levels have been responsible for the rapid topsy-turvy in the political processes, electoral formations and alliances. Many individuals and parties with their social base among the Dalits have captured, exercised, and tasted power. In doing so, the newest phase of the Indian socio-political process has probably begun, not only for the Dalits but also for all who dream of an egalitarian society in which liberty and progress are to be enjoyed by all. Will the laity be ready and prepared to collaborate in this phase and participate in it wholeheartedly? The powerless are empowering themselves at a rapid pace. However, entrenched in the social evil of caste and imprisoned within structures that discourage participation, it is not likely that the Laity will support and contribute to the liberation struggles in Indian society that is caste-ridden. The cleavage between prescription and practice renders the presence of the laity in civil society less effective.