Fairfield University professor's latest book, "The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church" steps into the breach left by the crisis in the church


"Paul Lakeland's book is a real and much-needed contribution to the church in these troubled times. It gives us heart that there can be a genuine theology of the laity and a vision of the church that is both faithful and radical. And it helps us see how to build the institutional practices and structures in support of the church's overwhelmingly important mission."

Mary Jo Bane, Thornton Bradshaw Professor of
Public Policy and Management, Kennedy School of Government,
Harvard University

A new book by Fairfield University Professor Paul Lakeland, Ph.D., "The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church," will be an eye-opener for most people, including those who fill the pews of Catholic churches throughout America each Sunday. They might be surprised by the stark perception of Pope Pius X who wrote in 1906 that "the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors." But even more, they are likely unaware, as Dr. Lakeland's book reveals, that the role of laity in the Church was not always so powerless. In fact, for the first two centuries of the Church, he says, all members were considered as one priestly people.

In his book, Dr. Lakeland, professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, writes, "From the twelfth century onwards two notions - one monastic and one more juridical - conspire to cement the unfortunate understanding of the laity as passive and defined negatively, which the church largely held until the Second Vatican Council."

The present crisis in the American Catholic church, he maintains, "stems from a two-fold source: lay people are powerless while bishops are accountable to no one but the pope and the curia." The number of lay people involved in church ministries has grown enormously over the past 30 years, he notes, largely due to the shortage of priests.

Yet, he says, "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."

At the same time, the "passivity of the lay majority, who have for too long failed to voice their concerns for what is, after all, their church," creates a major problem in the church's structure, Dr. Lakeland says. If we all took our responsibilities as Christians seriously, he asks, "what could the church look like?" Serious change, he allows, "will take a lot of time and be mightily resisted by many." But Dr. Lakeland says, "I do not believe that we can refuse the challenge to reimagine our church in a fashion that would be faithful to its heritage and faithful to its dynamic character."

Included in Dr. Lakeland's vision for a renewed church are "changes in ministry and governing structures in which accountability will be central and 'servant leaders' will include women and married people."

"The Liberation of the Laity" is published by Continuum of New York and London and is available on amazon.com. Anyone interested in a copy for review should contact Georgina Bringley. Phone: (212) 953-5858; Fax: (212) 953-5944; e-mail: georgina@continuum-books.com.

To contact Dr. Lakeland for comment, please call (203) 459-0591 or (203) 257-0455 (cell). For additional assistance, please call Nancy Habetz, director of media relations, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647 or (203) 451-1725 (cell).

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 21, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 307