Setting up a new laity council in the way described in the Southern Cross (18-24 February 2015) will almost certainly fail in its stated objective “to give a platform to the laity to have their voice heard”. Firstly, it is well established in the field of organisational development that initiators of participatory structures like the laity council will not get meaningful commitment and participation from the members unless they involve them in the conceptualisation and development of the structure from the very beginning. Hence the adage: ‘Nothing about us without us’. To rely on the uncertain expertise of a large unwieldy group of diocesan appointees “to plan the future structure and life of the laity council”, especially after the structure has already been planned, is unrealistic. It would surely have been better to start by inviting a small group of lay organisational experts from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm the proposed laity council before taking decisions about its structure and functioning.
Secondly, the method of selection of the diocesan appointees is critical to the successful functioning of the laity council as a relevant institution. If past experience is anything to go by, selection will most likely continue to ignore what Pope Francis warns against in Evangelii Gaudium, 31: “(the bishop should)… listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear”.
Unless the current top-down approach gives way to a more consultative approach, the new laity council will be another white elephant, and a waste of time and money
Brian Robertson, Cape Town