Lording Over the Laity

In her review of Leonardo Boff's "Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church" (May 5), Marianne Sawicki says that the Vatican objected to Boff comparing "sacramental worship to means of production that polarizes the clergy and laity into two conflicting classes" and adds that "the comparison limps because (God's) grace is not a material thing." But however limping that comparison, Boff's position is not "provincial" or peculiar to Brazilian culture, as Sawicki suggests. In "Stamp Out Sacramental Tyranny," an article in this month's (May, 1985) U.S. Catholic, Fr. Andrew Greeley discusses the subject, noting that "the clergy still enjoy lording their power over the laity."

The essential point is that in the Catholic Church the priestly caste claims that within the Church it controls the grace of God, which Catholics believe necessary for salvation. This control is exercised chiefly through the sacraments and the regulations affecting their administration. Thus, unless a Catholic is in danger of sudden death, he may not be absolved of sin unless he confesses to a priest. In Catholic theology, a bride and groom minister the sacrament of matrimony to each other, but under normal circumstances, their union would be considered sinful unless a priest had witnessed and blessed the ceremony. Nowadays, the Catholic clergy will not bless a marriage or even administer baptism--considered the most necessary of sacraments--except under prescribed conditions. Much more could be said of this subject, but this is enough to indicate that Boff has a point even if his comparison limps.



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