As Lay Movements Mushroom, Catholic Bishops Offer Guidance

Article excerpt

The highly structured Roman Catholic Church is keeping an eye on the spirit-led "new movements" founded by lay Catholics.

For the first time, Pope John Paul II called a Rome summit for bishops on how to work with a church blossoming with charismatic lay leaders, small-group piety, retreats, social activism or Holy Spirit celebration.

"The bishops have the task of discernment to help the movements find the right path," the Vatican's senior doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said at a gathering last month of 100 cardinals, bishops and some movement leaders.

"The movements can be a great help because of their missionary impulse," he added.

Catholicism's "ecclesial movements," some dating from the Second World War and others from the 1960s and 1970s, formed mostly in Europe but now have branches worldwide. Still others have arisen since then, focusing on a particular spiritual gift - a "charism" - that a founder or group may want to emphasize in their Catholic lives.

"A certain `testing' of movements is taking place in the church at the present time," said Portland Archbishop John Vlazny, one of three American prelates attending the conference in Rome.

In a report to his diocese, Archbishop Vlazny said the movements are having an effect everywhere - on July 2 he ordained as deacons two men who are members of a new movement called the Brotherhood of the People of Praise.

For a hierarchical church organized from the pope in the Vatican down to local bishops and their parish priests, spread of the movements have been a challenge.

The movements' calls for serious commitments have prompted men and women to enter the depleting ranks of the priesthood and orders but also have come across as spiritually superior, exclusive, or as a rival voice to the bishop.

"More than a few bishops . . . have difficulty in accepting the movements," said Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Bishops. He added in remarks at the Rome event that if a movement does not adapt to the local church setting, a "crisis" can arise.

"Many of the movements are alive and active here in the United States," said Richard McCord, executive director of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth for the U.S. Catholic bishops.

"It's our role to help the bishops understand their particular gifts to the church," he said of his office. "Catholics really identify church through their parish. The movements usually exist outside the parish."

When John Paul II held a Synod for the Laity in 1988 some church leaders treated the movements with suspicion. But last year the pope hosted 500,000 movement members and leaders in St. Peter's Square and called them "the fruits of the Holy Spirit."

Of all the possible groups, Mr. …