As long ago as 1947 1 remember seeing a voting slip for the Spanish referendum of the day in a small village north of Gerona. The space marked "si" had been firmly ticked with a rubber stamp before the would-be voter had received the slip. It then dawned on me that the Communists were not the only ones who rig elections — which was then rather a shock.
Democracy can have its drawbacks, as the many Liberal voters so under-represented in Parliament now know once again. But democracy in the Church, in the sense of reasonable participation in the decision-making process, is practically a non-starter, not because of any particular malice, but just because we have not thought out what we are about. Parish councils sprang up like the grass and as rapidly withered in most places. The best are vaguely advisory and nearly everywhere, when it comes to real decisions, Father decides.
What a contrast with a local Anglican parish council which, during a three month gap between vicars, ran the parish admirably, invited in "supply" clergymen as required, looked after the sick, the old, and the catechetical work, and ultimately and quite normally participated in the selection process by which the new vicar was chosen.
At deanery and diocesan level confusions for us continue. First prize for the best definition of the
By Mgr. BRUCE
exact relationship between the Priests' Deanery Meeting and the Deanery Pastoral Council, or between the Diocesan Senate of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. At national level exist the Commissions, not much known or loved despite considerable hard work. They are appointed bodies, with advisory functions, usually enjoying a de facto power of self-perpetuation.
In short, it is all rather a muddle, and a muddle for which we are paying a big price in disillusionment. Busy people do not for long care to play the game of fictional participation, especially wlhen financial decisions are always elsewhere.
I know of no one who maintains that the bishop has to make every single decision affecting the life of the Church in his diocese. Nor of many who maintain that all power in a parish be reserved to the priests. Perhaps a first step would be parish councils with rights and duties and clearly defined functions. It may just he that as a community we are so underrepresented in national political life because we have no tradition of serious lay involvement in church life.
We have a number of lessons for them, but in this at least perhaps we could learn from the Anglicans and the Methodists.