Among English-speaking Catholics

The even quieter revolution

The “liberal” movement that Cardinal Léger is leading in the French-Canadian church is already under way among the clergy and laity in the rest of Catholic Canada. Here, the changes are less controversial than they are in Quebec — but no less startling

ERIC HUTTON July 14 1962
Among English-speaking Catholics

The even quieter revolution

The “liberal” movement that Cardinal Léger is leading in the French-Canadian church is already under way among the clergy and laity in the rest of Catholic Canada. Here, the changes are less controversial than they are in Quebec — but no less startling

ERIC HUTTON July 14 1962

The even quieter revolution

Among English-speaking Catholics

The “liberal” movement that Cardinal Léger is leading in the French-Canadian church is already under way among the clergy and laity in the rest of Catholic Canada. Here, the changes are less controversial than they are in Quebec — but no less startling

ONE OF THE TRAGEDIES of the Catholic church, Cardinal Léger recently told a large gathering of laymen in his Archbishopric of Montreal, is that its members tend to think of it as consisting only of priests and bishops. The cardinal, whose readiness to liberalize the tradition-bound structure of Quebec Catholicism is described in the accompanying article, told his hearers:

“We priests baptized you — but you have to baptize the factory and the street. What is going on in the factories, the commuter trains, the houses, w'e clergy don't know'. Most of the time we have to keep silent or speak only about essentials. But you know' . . . Your role is to go forth and sanctify the w'orld in which you live.”

To many of Cardinal Léger’s audience. this call for personal evangelism was revolutionary talk. But it also described a revolution that is actually in progress, w'ith little controversy and less publicity, among English-speaking Canadian Catholics.

There is no direct connection between the revolutions in Quebec and the rest of Catholic Canada, except the fact that both stem from the manifest liberalism of Pope John XXIII.

It is true that compared with radical changes laymen see in "the factory and the street" the differences between Catholic Church procedures today and even five years ago may seem trivial, but any change in the "ageless church" appears revolutionary to many people.

Basically the changes involve an unprecedented interfiltration between clergy and lay Catholics: a major penetration by laymen into the affairs of the church, and a minor but even more interesting liberalization in the lives and functions of priests and nuns. Qne small example:

Recently Archbishop Philip Pocock of Toronto, with the approval of Cardinal James McGuigan. whose influence on Catholics outside Quebec is equivalent to Cardinal Léger’s in Quebec, called on religious sisters working in administrative posts in

Catholic hospitals to mingle more with the patients. Previously they had worked behind the scenes in impersonal devotion. Now they will become acquainted with the personalities and problems of people from the w'orld outside. The patients, in turn, will get to know as human beings the dedicated nuns who run the hospitals.

A NEW DEAL FOR CANADIAN NUNS

"It’s just part of our increasing emphasis on the church as a partnership proposition." explained one priest. There’s a new deal too for nursing sisters, who until recently spent their waking hours in a rigorous round of nursing and religious devotions. Now picnics and other outings are arranged for their relaxation. Canadian missionary nuns in the Bahamas once were martyrs to the tropical climate. Now' they enjoy some of the pleasures other Canadian women seek in Nassau — at their own beach club.

Until recently the sisters of teaching orders were required to go directly to summer schools when regular school terms ended, while lay teachers were free to enjoy the long vacation. Now teaching sisters get what amounts to a summer vacation, in which they can pursue special interests or hobbies like painting and writing. The church has discovered an added dividend in this relaxation of the cloistered regimen in which nuns lived previously — they are healthier and work better together as a result. Change has even come to the traditional garb of nuns. Those whose duties require travel by automobile no longer are required to wear the elaborate vision-restricting veils characteristic of some orders.

There are diehard anti-Catholics who insist that Catholic laymen are not permitted to read the Bible, since the interpretation of Holy Writ is the prerogative of the priests. This has always been an exaggeration, but it is true that laymen have recently been given roles as religious instructors and leaders of religious discussions that formerly were the exclusive duty of

priests. At the Catholic Information Centre in Toronto no fewer than 150 young men and women serve as coinstructors. teaching Catholic religious principles and procedures both to groups of fellow-Catholics and to nonCatholics who come to the centre for religious enlightenment.

This is an experimental project authorized by Cardinal McGuigan. and similar groups are springing up across Canada and in the United States. Two top jobs at the centre which could not conceivably have been filled by anyone but priests a few' years ago are now held by laymen. The executive director is Paul Harris, formerly a successful dictaphone salesman. The director of the radio, television and film department is a double novelty — not only a layman but a woman. She is Bonnie Brennan, formerly with the CBC.

Beginning in September, Englishspeaking Catholics will notice a change in the very ritual of their church services. Congregations w'ill be required as part of the “partnership proposition” to take an active part in the services, in the form of responses to the priests’ recitations and more singing by the congregation. This is also on Cardinal Légers program.

Catholic officials believe that these small steps are only the beginning of greater changes within the church organization. These changes will come out of the church's General Council which opens in Rome on October 1 I. attended by representatives of all the dioceses of the Catholic world and the heads of all orders within the church.

For the past three years one of the commissions which will report to the Council has been considering changes in the training and function of the clergy. Its recommendations are expected to be of special interest to English-speaking Canadian Catholics. These may include:

□ A movement toward more and smaller churches. Traditionally the Catholic pattern has been large congregations. large churches, large staffs.

□ Younger pastors. The Catholic priesthood has long been a sort of civil service in which promotion was by seniority except for few exceptionally brilliant men. It w’as notunusual for a seminary graduate to be ordained at twenty-four (the youngest permitted age) and to remain an assistant pastor for twenty-five years before getting his own parish. With more small churches to be served a priest might become a full pastor w'ithin three or four years of his ordination.

□ Greater variety in the functions of priests. In the past a priest who discovered early in his career that he did not particularly want to be a traditional parish priest had nowhere much to go. He either became an unhappy parish priest or suffered a loss of status by going into some form of church work. A recommended change might enable a priest to decide, without loss of status, that he prefers a specialty like family counseling or boys' work to parish duties.

Undoubtedly the most unusual topic expected to be discussed in the General Council is the question of marriage for Catholic clergy. There is no likelihood that the vow of celibacy will be lifted from the ordained priesthood itself. But there has been a strong move within the church to permit the marriage of deacons, an order one step below the priesthood. At present. Catholic seminary students take vows of celibacy when they become subdeacons, two orders below the full priesthood.

The dispensation would probably be used for two purposes. First, to recognize devoted work by older married laymen and confer on them greater power and prestige in their church work. Second, to enlist younger married men into missionary work. In pioneer mission fields w'here there are few Catholic families, married deacons could demonstrate the ideals of Catholic family life and at the same time serve as ministers to congregations of converts.

ERIC HUTTON