This week the Bishop of Lancaster, Michael Campbell, rebuked a lay group pushing for greater lay involvement in the Church, saying it was not recognised in his diocese and describing it as a self-styled “vocal interest or lobby group”. Here a leading member says the bishop is mistaken
A Call to Action (ACTA) is a movement of more than 2,000 lay and ordained Catholics that was founded by seven priests towards the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. ACTA is definitely not a group of dissenters but a group of loyal and mostly long-serving members of various bodies in the Church who draw on Scripture and the tradition of our much-loved Church throughout the ages.
ACTA takes its inspiration from the Second Vatican Council and the 1998 One Bread, One Body document of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales that promoted collaboration between clergy and laity. ACTA is not about changing Catholic doctrine but is a movement from below rather than above, which enables it to be a channel for impartial opinions on pastoral practice. Its principal concerns are structural and participative, not doctrinal.
Solidarity and subsidiarity in internal democracy are paramount in ACTA; its elected chair is a laywoman and its elected vice chairman is a senior priest from a religious order. Members of their respective diocesan groups choose delegates to ACTA’s core leadership group. ACTA has members and supporters in almost all of the dioceses in England and Wales, and its purpose is to develop and foster a culture of openness within the Roman Catholic Church and to promote dialogue with our bishops, clergy and laity, for the benefit of all members of the Church. All ACTA diocesan groups have sought meetings with their bishops and most diocesan bishops have agreed to sample what Pope Francis calls “the smell of the sheep” and engage in gracious dialogue.
ACTA welcomed the election of Pope Francis and his more collaborative, transparent, and reformist leadership of the Church and his attempts to deal with the “signs of the times”. Church scandals had arisen from hierarchical mismanagement that put the dignity of the institution as more important than the God-given dignity of the human person, be they young or old. However many of the People of God in ACTA had been concerned that during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, there was a move away from honouring the Second Vatican Council document that outlines the role of the laity, Lumen Gentium, and the bishops’ One Bread, One Body to a situation where the laity were once again only called on to just “pay and pray”.
This downgrading of the laity’s role in the Church is evidenced by increased clericalism, the imposition of a new clumsy Latinate-grammar liturgy by the Roman Curia, the closing down of parish councils, and the failure by our bishops to consult as widely with the laity as with the clergy on a response to the Synod on the Family. However, we in ACTA in the diocese of Northampton were pleased when Bishop Peter Doyle joined us for one of our meetings. It is ironic that the Church’s largely celibate clergy aren’t more open to listening to the People of God who have particular experience of the joys and hopes of contemporary marriage and of family life, which in the words of the late Dr Jack Dominian should be a “domestic Church”.
Michael Phelan is a member of the ACTA steering group, a deacon in the diocese of Northampton and a trustee of The Tablet