Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 69(3) August 2019

Editorial: This is the Age of the Laity

Dr Pravin Thevathasan

This is the age of the laity. The Church has reached a point in her history where the authority of the Clergy to speak and guide on matters of doctrine and morals has become very limited. There is a huge lack of respect for the clergy, and when they do speak out, clerics fear that speaking out may make things worse.

Many people were upset that so few Irish bishops spoke out against abortion prior to the recent abortion referendum. Why was this? It has been argued in some circles that bishops in many parts of the world have lost credibility. It is not surprising therefore that they prefer to stick to subjects that will be supported by the media: knife crimes, trafficking and the plight of migrants. They are unlikely to say much about abortion or euthanasia. Even inside the Vatican, there have been many financial and sexual scandals. The Pontifical Academy for Life is now largely irrelevant, filled with dissenting theologians. Membership is even open to those who are pro-abortion. In these areas relating to abortion and euthanasia, it is largely up to the laity.

But alongside the loss of authority caused by the horrific scandals and crimes with which the Church has greviously wounded people, there is another reason why it is argued we should not expect much support from our leaders. They do not appear, at all times to support key teachings of the Church.

It is now known that a group of liberal cardinals met annually from the late nineties at St. Gallen, Switzerland [1]. They wanted a reformist pope to succeed Pope St John Paul II. They did not get their man the first time. It is important to note that they did not want to be seen as pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia or pro-gay marriage. They simply did not want to focus too much on these issues. In the name of pastoral accompaniment, they wanted certain changes in the Church.

The spiritual head of the St. Gallen group was Cardinal Martini of Milan. In its obituary of Martini, the Daily Telegraph reports that Martini criticized the then-Vatican position on "embryo donation and euthanasia-calling for greater pastoral attention to the terminally ill." He even questioned the Church's teaching on abortion, suggesting that legalization had to be a positive development in that it could reduce or eliminate illegal procedures [2]. Martini was famous for his rejection of Humanae Vitae [3]. The spirit of Martini hovers over the Vatican.

And so it is concluded that we should not be surprised to read that Cardinal Parolin met LGBT activists working towards greater acceptance of homosexual activity throughout the world [4] . Or that Cardinal Joseph Tobin said in a nationally televised program that the teachings of the Catholic Catechism on homosexuality are "unfortunate" and "hurtful." [5]

Perhaps the most famous member of the St. Gallen group was Cardinal Danneels. I think that he is the personification of all that is currently problematic in the Church. He was caught on tape advising a man who had been sexually abused by a bishop to keep quiet about the crime [6](Lifesitenews, 19 March, 2019). It is also reported that Danneels told the king of Belgium that he could sign the abortion law in good conscience [7]. He regarded same sex "marriage" as a positive development. He cannot be entirely blamed for the demise of the Church in Belgium.

Although all of the above observations appear to be true, the Catholic Church as the Body of Christ has not lost its credibility. Good bishops have continued to teach with incredible courage. One thinks of American Bishop Thomas Tobin gently reminding parents that they ought not take their children to "gay pride" events. What an onslaught of verbal abuse he had to deal with for stating what would have been uncontroversial until recently.[8]

During crises, the Church has relied upon the laity to carry it through. At the UK March for Life in May 2019, there were 5000 prolife marchers, a few dozen clergy and one Bishop. But the unity of purpose was huge. And the message (life from conception, no exception) was made loud and clear. There is deep faith and authenticity among those who are remaining faithful to the Church. The bishops have a duty to teach us. We the laity have a duty to work in accordance with Catholic principles and natural law.

This is indeed the age of the laity. It appears to me that we must absolutely rely upon the faithful laity to rebuild the Church through this current crisis. And that is especially true in healthcare . If the Bishops cannot speak about abortion or if they cannot set out why the Church’s teaching on marriage and family is right and true then we, the laity, must. Just as St Paul VI asked of us right back in 1968 [9] .There is much to do. We as laity, must “put out into the deep” (Luke 5; 4) and do that work.

That really is what Catholic Action is all about.


  1.  Meloni, Julia. (2018, March 9th) Leader of St. Gallen ‘mafia’, “Ante-Pope” Martini prepared the way for Francis. Lifesite News.­pope-martini-prepared-the-way-for-fran
  2. Daily Telegraph 3rd september 2012. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini - Obituary.­obituaries/9517275/Cardinal-Carlo-Maria-Martini.html
  3. Thavis, John. Cardinal Martini: 'Humanae Vitae' cut off church from many people National Catholic Reporter, Nov 4, 2008.
  4. Montagna, Diane. Top Vatican cardinal receives LGBT activists working to decriminalize homosexual sex acts. Lifesite news, 5th April 2019­receives-LGBT-activists-working-to-decriminalize-homosexual­sex-acts
  5. Mainwaring, Doug. U.S. Cardinal Tobin calls Catholic teaching on homosexuality ‘unfortunate...hurtful’ Life site news Apr 18, 2019.­catholic-teaching-on-homosexuality-unfortunate...hurtful
  6. Cummings-McLean Dorothy. Admirers mourn death of liberal Belgian cardinal who was a huge Pope Francis supporter. Lifesite news Mar 19, 2019­death-of-liberal-belgian-cardinal-who-was-a-huge-pope-francis­supporter
  7. Dreher Rod. Cardinal Danneels, Euthanizer Of Belgian Catholicism. The American Conservative, March 19th 2019.­euthanizer-of-belgian-catholicism/
  8. Catholic Herald 3rd March 2019. Bishop Tobin Catholics should not support gay pride events­catholics-should-not-support-gay-pride-events/
  9. Pope Paul VI (1968) Humanae Vitae humanae-vitae.html