The present crisis in the American Catholic Church stems from a two-fold source: lay people are powerless while the bishops are accountable to no one but the Pope and the Curia. While the number of lay people exercising ministries in the church has grown enormously (largely due to the shortage of priests), there has been little or no theological reflection till now on the genuine role of the laity. It is only from such reflection that structural reform of the church will come. The first half of "The Liberation of the Laity" concentrates on the fortunes of the laity, theologically speaking, between Vatican I (1870) and Vatican II (1962-65). It examines the growth of the "new theology" in France in the 1940s and 1950s and shows how in the work of one of its leading practitioners, Yves Congar, much of the vision of the laity expressed at Vatican II was anticipated. Seeing the years after the council as decades of missed opportunities to recognize the role of the laity, the book then turns to a series of constructive proposals for the liberation of the laity, and thus the liberation of the church.
It discusses the importance of "secularity," the need for a "lay liberation theology," and the centrality of the struggles against global capitalism in the mission of the church. It ends with a chapter envisioning dramatic changes in ministry and governing structures, in which accountability will be central, "servant leaders" will include women and married people, and both ecclesiastical careerism and the College of Cardinals will be history.
Paul Lakeland is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Fairfield University. He is the author of five books, on women's ordination, Hegel, liberation theology, and the intersections of theology with critical theory and postmodern cultural theory.
Part 1: The Century of the Church; 1. From Vatican I to the New Theology; 2. The Search for Lay Theology; 3. Collegiality, Co-Responsibility, and the Council; 4. Theology of the Laity Since Vatican II; Part 2: Lay People in Today's Church; 5. Secularity; 6. Liberation; 7. Communion; 8. Mission