Monday, July 30, 2018
Great wisdom. . .
He said: Laicization is not the proper penalty. It is not a disgrace to be a layman in the Church.
How tempting it is to think of laicization as a penalty. It is certainly true that to be suspended from priestly faculties, from episcopal office, or from higher office is a punishment due those who dishonor the office with their behavior. Those who dishonor the office in certain ways cannot be allowed to hold the office and to fail to remove them from office would be to condone their conduct. No one wants that. Yet the punishment is not to be lay. The punishment is to lose the office(s) once conferred upon that person but, as I was well reminded, it is not a disgrace to be a layman in the Church. It is obvious but not so obvious we do not benefit from saying it again. It is not a disgrace to be a layman in the Church.
So what would constitute a proper punishment? Several things were mentioned although some may not be available. One suggested a sort of penal monastic life, out of the public eye and with the rest of a person's life devoted to prayer, meditation, repentance, and the fruits of repentance. Obviously Rome may still have such a place but few other traditions have something similar. Other suggestions were similar -- banishment and complete removal from the public life of the Church. Another reminded us of a more ancient possibility: excommunication. Now that would be something to capture notice -- especially since we seldom here of this used anymore. To excommunicate is to hold the unrepentant accountable in the most profound and spiritual way. I am not suggesting this but simply admitting that discipline: excommunication until articulum mortis. The goal of this is not simply punishment and banishment from the sacramental life of the Church but to make it clear that this most serious sin must be answered with the most solemn call of the Church to repentance.
The modern times in which we live do not pay all that much attention to the seriousness of excommunication or to its consequences. In other words, many folks simply shrug their shoulders and find another church or they use this as proof positive that the Church (and therefore God) is cold, aloof, judgmental, uncaring, and without compassion. Since the threat is so seldom raised, the act of excommunication itself is like a toothless tiger. I cannot help but wonder if restoring this ancient practice might send a grave warning to the leaders whose behavior has occasioned such rebuke or whose leadership failing has ignored these serious sins. Surely Satan delights in the faults and failings of the most visible of church leaders!
But to get back to my point, being a layman is neither an insult nor a crime but a noble and honorable estate. It does not deserve denigration nor should we treat the laity as if somehow there was some disgrace to their lack of churchly office. Perhaps we have presumed this truth too long and need to say again and often that all the estates of the Lord are good, honorable, gracefilled, and worthy estates. Husband, wife, parent, child, employer, employee, servant, slave, etc., have earthly attachments of honor or contempt to them but not in God's Word nor in His Church. As Lutherans, this is one of the gifts and fruits of the Reformation -- the rediscovery of vocation (that does not apply simply or only to religious vocations or offices in the Church). To be defrocked and therefore laicized is the requirement that Church owes to those who violate their calling and their duties as church leaders but it, in and of itself, is not the punishment. We should not presume that removing the office is the end of the case for McCarrick or any whose scandalous life and conduct have cast shame upon the good and noble Church, betrayed the offices conferred to them in good faith, or are found guilty of false teaching. No, there is much more the Church must do to those whose egregious behavior scandalizes the good work of the Church. Making them laity again is a consequence of this moral failure but not its punishment. And let us well remember those who, in complementary form, work in partnership to do the work God has called us to do, priest and people together.