Laity Rules O.K.! ... but not yet
NINE YEARS AGO, the National Council for the Apostolate of the Laity was set up by the Irish Hierrarchy in accordance with the wishes of Vatican II. The Council was to redefine the role of the laity within the Church, giving the flock genuine, not merely connsultative, power.
But the Irish bishops are a cautious lot. Each bishop nominated one lay person to the Council and the reesulting unwieldy body which included such notable radicals as James Dillon, ex-leader of Fine Gael, and. Vincent Grogan SC, ex-leader of the Knights of Columbannus - has been a costly gesture but hardly recognises theespirit of Vatican II.
Despite the fact that all the laity were nominated by bishops, the Council was still potentially too radical for the Hierarchy. It was given no specific powers and no area of special concern. Its plenary meetings were chaired by the President of the National Lay Council who was, of course, not a layman but an archbishop - Dr. Thomas Morris, Archbishop of Cashel.
In 1977, the Council deegenerated further into a nearrmoribund state. Its original chairman, Maurice Cosgrove, former General Secretary of the Post Office Workers' Union and President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ended his term of office in 1976. His successor has yet to be appointed. And Mr. Cosgrove, a pious Limerrick trade-unionist long an advocate of Catholic Action, has retained the post against the constitution of the Counncil.
The Council met late last year and asked the bishops to' nominate a sub-committee to investigate the matter, which they did. Meanwhile, Mrs. Theresa Brennan, Secreetary of the Council, resigned in frustration early in 1977. She was not replaced.
Last October, the subbcommittee reported back to the Hierarchy in Maynooth. It recommended that the number of lay people on the Council be reduced and that it be given real powers. At a press conference after the meeting, Bishop Cahal Daly promised 'a new era for the laity, they will be given real powers in areas affecting lay people such as religious education.'
But since then the bishops have done nothing. There is still no sign of a new chairman to the Council. Mrs. Brennan still has not been replaced although she is now handling routine corrrespondence for the Council on a voluntary basis.
The Council remains the same size and has the same members as it had before the sub-committee was formmed. And the bishops have now told the Council that even on the limited question of religious training for childdren, the Council will only have an advisory role.
Last month, Bishop Cahal Daly issued a joint pastoral letter with Dr. Dermot Ryan on their impressions of the Synod in Rome last Septemmber. They reiterated at length all that was formulated in the original document on the laity in 1964 after Vatican Council II. The Irish Catholic Church today gives a disstinct impression of deja vu.