Another Voice: Laity has strong role to play in Catholic Church’s renewal

Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]

July 20, 2021

By Carrie Frank

During the Covid summer of 2020 I found respite in Explore Buffalo tours to see the many architectural wonders of our region. But who would think that this would lead me to a greater exploration of my Catholic faith?

On every tour there would be beautiful church buildings and stories about the people of faith who built them with scarce resources and donations of time and talent.

But more than that, I viewed many buildings built by Catholic forebears that established critical foundations of our community. These included schools, hospitals, homes for children and aged, and services to the infirm. It got me thinking about being Catholic and the power of communities of faith.

Like many Catholics, I have a strong grounding in my faith and the teachings of Jesus but had become angered by the child sex abuse, the past behavior of church leaders, and the overall lack of connection to the changes in societal norms over the past centuries.

Had my eyes and heart not been opened by the power of Catholic faithful of the past, I am not sure I would have accepted when asked to join the Diocesan Renewal Task Force to think about our Catholic churches in the Diocese of Buffalo in the future.

The one overarching theme that came out of our task force was to make the people of the church central to its renewal. The future church cannot be focused on buildings or centered on a pastor or bishop but must be co-led by the laity and focused on providing for the needs of our people. We need our church to nurture us in ways that today’s virtual world and institutions cannot, to reinforce our faith through engaging in sacraments and acts of charity for those in need.

As a part of the Roman Catholic faith, we are bound by laws of the central church, some of which are also in need of renewal; however, even with those constraints, we have room to regain our focus on what a church community can be.

Professionally, I learned how structures play an important role in organizational behavior. The task force recommendation for Families of Parishes as a structural model elevates lay leadership, formalizes more roles that can be filled by women, and limits the clericalism that enabled the past abhorrent behavior. It recognizes diminishing resources, decentralizes decision-making to regions and calls upon the people of the church in collaboration with priests to form their “Family” to meet regional needs.

To achieve the potential of Families of Parishes requires Catholic people to lean in. Whether active, lapsed or considering a faith home, please grab hold of the mantle to renew the Church in Christ’s image.

Carrie B. Frank is a retired health care executive and volunteer on the Diocese of Buffalo Finance Council.