SOUTH BEND, Indiana — When Bishop Frank Caggiano wanted to launch a tech-savvy initiative for the evangelization of young adults, he recruited a handful of laypeople experienced in youth ministry.

Together, they assembled a polished, multi-faceted program, including catechetical videos, through which teens could explore their faith online.

Then he asked some teens what they thought.

“The first thing out of their mouth: ‘Bishop, videos? Oh, come on. Podcasts!’” Caggiano said, who leads the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The experience gave him an even greater appreciation for the need of co-responsibility between laity and clergy in fulfilling the Church’s mission, he said.

Caggiano recounted this story at a session of the “Called and Co-Responsible: Exploring Co-Responsibility for the Mission of the Church” conference, hosted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame on March 4-6. The three-day event is part of a series of programs hosted by Notre Dame as a response to the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Church.

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The talks at the event addressed different facets of “co-responsibility,” a phrase Pope Benedict XVI favored over “collaboration” to describe the relationship between laity and the clergy.

“Imagine the tsunami of grace,” Caggiano told the participants, “if we can motivate every baptized person not to pass it off to the bishop, or the pastor, or to the lay leaders, but everyone to take responsibility.”

Some speakers took issues with the language the Church uses for laypeople exercising various functions.

John Cavadini, a theology professor at Notre Dame and director of the McGrath Institute, criticized the term “lay ecclesial ministers.”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops favored the term in their 2005 document on lay participation in the Church, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry.”

Cavadini said the phrase “lay ecclesial ministers” moved the Church backwards towards a clericalist, pre-Vatican II mindset where “the priesthood of the baptized was understood as a metaphorical priesthood” that merely participated in the ordained priesthood.

By using “lay ecclesial ministers,” Cavadini said, one confuses the ordained priesthood of Holy Orders with the ‘royal’ priesthood of baptism.

He said the term ‘flattens’ the role of laity by making them like ordained priests, but subordinate to those who are ordained. Priests, on the other hand, are made ‘laypersons plus’ as they try to live “an augmented version of the priesthood of the baptized.”

While Cavadini said that he does not have a substitute for the term “lay ecclesial ministers,” he expressed his desire to start the conversation on how to better portray the role of lay people who work in the Church.

Kerry Robinson, who strives to connect lay expertise with Church management as executive director of Leadership Roundtable, spoke to participants about how co-responsibility could help in healing the Church, especially as it wrestles with the issue of clergy sex abuse.

Robinson emphasized the importance of diversity when making decisions at the upper levels of Church administration.

“We need diversity to be good stewards,” she urged. “No solution moving forward will be complete without the presence and authority of women.”

Robinson said she is “haunted” by the questions of “where were the women at the tables of decision-making when the crisis broke in 1995, or 2002, or 2018,” and how the Church could have acted differently with women voices at the table.

Betsy Bohlen, the chief operating officer for the Archdiocese of Chicago, oversees the day-to-day operations of the archdiocese, and offered some practical glimpses at how she integrates co-responsibility into her work.

She spoke about the different roles clergy and lay leaders can exercise in Church management, and how each can offer their expertise for the greater thriving of the Church.

Bohlen said she finds that bishops and other clerical leaders appreciate the help extended by her and her lay colleagues.

“[Bishops] do feel like they’ve been given this very large burden without the right experience, and that they’re being asked to make all kinds of day-to-day decisions that really prevent them from thinking about evangelization and ministry,” she said.

When asked by a pastor at the conference whether a more management-focused lay leadership could be numb to the pastoral considerations necessary when running a parish or diocese, Bohlen rejected the idea.

“This isn’t about taking away pastoral decisions, it’s about making better ones,” she said.

Bohlen gave as an example her role over the years in the painful decision to close down Catholic schools in the archdiocese. If a priest with less expertise held her position, he may have shuttered the poorest schools first, she said.

Instead, Bohlen applied her business insights — cultivated at such institutions as Harvard Business School and McKinsey & Company — to discover that those schools sometimes had greater potential than wealthier ones, but required a few tweaks to get back on track.

Still, she admitted that bringing her expertise to the table did not dissolve the importance of Church hierarchy.

Bohlen said she seeks the archbishop’s approval on “all kinds of things that, if I were running a business, I’d just make the decisions.”

Knowing what day-to-day decisions Bohlen can make without consulting the archbishop requires a mutual understanding on the part of both parties, she said, and a spirit of teamwork.

Colleen Moore, the director of formation at the McGrath Institute, called on clergy to recognize the barriers of intimidation and admiration in their relationships with laity in their day-to-day working relationships.

Moore referenced her friendship with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark. She described the cardinal as someone with lots of authority, as well as a “large frame, and a weight-lifter on top of that.”

Despite these attributes, Moore said Tobin seems aware of the effect his bearing might have on others.

“When I think of him, I don’t think of a towering or foreboding presence,” Moore said. “I think of his warmth, of someone who has literally bent low to speak to me.”

Bishop Bill Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee closed the conference by speaking about how the Church could promote co-responsibility at the local level.

Wack provided the example of a parish in his diocese coming together to care for an elderly man who was on the verge of death.

Even though there was no priest available to offer the sacraments, Wack said, various laypeople aided the dying man in their own way by providing companionship and bringing the Eucharist to him. The priest finally arrived a day later to anoint the man before his death, but the delay did not preclude lay parishioners from stepping up and showing mercy.

“This is the Church alive,” Wack said. “We are the people God has called to be his Church.”

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