32. Co-responsibility of the Laity
32. Co-responsibility of the Laity

32. Co-responsibility of the Laity

Last week, I focused on collaboration with the laity, affirming that the laity derive their right to participate in the ministry from their Baptism and Confirmation. Pope John Paul II wrote:

“In the context of Church mission, then, the Lord entrusts a great part of the responsibility to the lay faithful, in communion with all other members of the People of God” (Christifideles laici, 32).

Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council reiterates, “their activity within Church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the Pastors is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 10).

In Nigeria, do the laity feel they are responsible for the success of the mission? Rather than to the hierarchy, many Catholics are increasingly choosing to report through the media their unpleasant encounter with priests or something going wrong within their local Church. No doubt, the internet and social media have disintermediated the control of information. Yet, the hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority is ingrained in every Catholic, so much so that Catholics ordinarily know who to report to about something unpleasant happening in the Church. Does this trend of reporting online mean that we are not listening or are not listening enough or not responding enough to what we listen to? 

This is where co-responsibility comes in. Pope Benedict XVI said:

“Co-responsibility demands a change in mindset especially concerning the role of lay people in the Church. They should not be regarded as “collaborators” of the clergy, but, rather, as people who are really “co-responsible” for the Church’s being and acting. It is therefore important that a mature and committed laity be consolidated, which can make its own specific contribution to the ecclesial mission with respect for the ministries and tasks that each one has in the life of the Church and always in cordial communion with the bishops”[1].

The current Synod of Bishops is an example of the adaptation of co-responsibility. Unlike collaboration, co-responsibility is not only about the office one occupies or the function one performs, but about the mindset that the laity is also responsible for pastoral success. They need to see themselves as important for the success of the mission even as they evangelise in the temporal affairs of the world (cf. Lumen Gentium, 31).

Sadly, clericalism reinforced by below-average emotional intelligence among the clergy is the greatest threat to the co-responsibility of the laity. Like I wrote a few weeks ago about emotional intelligence, productivity is low when people are not valued where they work and by those they work for. When people consider something as their own, they tend to work harder to ensure it does not fail.

If the laity consider themselves as servants, people to be exploited and discarded, their love and commitment to the Church diminish. On the other hand, if they consider themselves co-responsible, they commit themselves to the promotion and defence of the Church and are unlikely to report online because people do not tend to wash their dirty linens outside.   

As I argued last week, some lay persons can be ill-willed, yet the tendency to go public is very slim if there is a general feeling of co-responsibility. I say this because the role of religion, the patriarchal culture in Nigeria and respect for elders regulate what people say about the Church and the clergy. Any online outburst must have been first discussed or reported to other lay persons or a priest or religious. Outbursts are often reactions to attempts at denial, intimidation, or cover-up.   

Indeed, whatever we achieve while working alone as ministers will always increase when we make the laity co-responsible for the mission.

May God continue to help us.🙏🏾


[1] BENEDICTUS PP. XVI, Message: To the Sixth Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action, 10 August 2012, in AAS, CIV (2012), 714-716. Available at URL: <https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/messages/pont-messages/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20120810_fiac.html> (accessed 05/02/2022).  

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