A Vatican report intended to form the foundation for next year's Synod of Bishops has criticized Roman Catholic politicians and other lay persons, saying they renounce their Catholic "identity" by following policies that go against church teaching.
The 40-page working paper for the 1986 worldwide gathering of bishops said that "inadequate or indeed falsified" interpretation of the mission of the laity compromises the integrity of the entire church.
Archbishop Jozef Tomko, who is secretary-general of the bishops' synod, said in a news conference that the criticism was not aimed at any specific individuals or countries. But the context was reminiscent of the conflict that erupted during last year's election campaign in the United States when several Catholic bishops sharply criticized Catholic politicians who failed to work to implement church opposition to abortion in civil legislation.
Tomko did acknowledge that one section of the paper referred to persons "involved in politics or some other professional field or trade union" who are "losing their own identity and spirit of Christianity, if acting in such a way that is against the faith."
The paper is to be sent to bishops around the world in preparation for the bishops' synod, scheduled to discuss the mission of Catholic lay persons in the world and in the church.
The three-part document says the growth of lay Catholic movements and increased lay participation in the church's pastoral activities have brought new benefits but also new problems including "the danger of confusion in the correct relationship between clergy and laity in the church."
It warns against both attempts at the clericalization of the laity and laicization of the clergy.
The document urges local bishops' conferences to organize "as wide as possible consultation of the laity" in preparation for the synod of 1986.
"The experience which in recent years some local churches have passed through urges renewed reflection on the ministries entrusted to the laity," the document says. "Such reflection cannot avoid considering attentively the true nature both of the ecclesiastical 'ministry' in general, and, in particular, the ecclesiastical distinctiveness of the laity, especially their 'secular condition.' "
Warning against both "secularization" and "flight from the world," the document says all members of the laity have an obligation to work in society to promote the common good and that they must base all their activities on church teachings.
The document urges all lay Catholics to work for the defense of the right to religious freedom, to promote human values and personal dignity and to combat "every form of exploitation and all forms of slavery which violate personal dignity and regard people as objects."
Lay Catholics must be educated "for active participation in political life, both national and international," the document says. It urges the laity to be active in defending workers' rights, in combating poverty and in the areas of science, technology and the mass media.
In all activities, lay persons and movements must continually "verify fidelity to the church" and remain in close contact with the Catholic hierarchy and with local priests.
The document says there is need to involve more than just small, select groups of Catholics in lay mission, so that "fruits may come not only from an elite, but also from the widespread masses of the laity themselves."