From the July 14, 1962 issue of America, a prescient call for the laity to take a greater role in church life:
As Catholic school enrollment in the United States moves toward the six-million mark, and public school students in Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes move toward a four-million record, we realize more keenly than ever how necessary it is to draw more of the laity into religious education.
Necessity imposed by numbers, however, is only approximate reason for turning to the laity. The command of our Lord—”Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19)—has always included the laity. St. Peter made that clear when he told the people: “You . . . are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that you may proclaim the perfections of Him who has called you out of darkness . . . ” (I Pet. 2:9).
From St. Peter to Pope John XXIII the teaching remains the same. And today Pope John has put it into very practical terminology. Cardinal Cicognani, papal legate to the Inter-American CCD Congress in Dallas, last year, revealed that the Pope had explicitly instructed him to urge increased participation of the laity in their Christ-given mission with this motto: “The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in every parish.” The CCD, as its constitution declares, is essentially a work of the laity, and the motto that Pope John gave was, in fact, a reminder of a law that has been on the books for some time (ever since the codification of Canon Law in 1918)—in Canon 711, par. 2.
Several bishops have stated recently that laymen who teach religion and proclaim the good news of Christ in CCD released-time classes share in the magisterium of the Church. The most authoritative statement of this kind came from Cardinal Cicognani. The papal legate said that’ the layman is “a person in the Church with all the rights and duties of a Christian,” and the layman who teaches religion “continues and extends that sacred teaching of the magisterium, which is nothing more or less than the prolongation of the teaching of Jesus.”
The strength of that address, the most illuminating and emphatic yet issued from the Holy See on the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, lies behind the plea of a Sister of Charity, in this issue of AMERICA, that the CCD be the chief organization in every parish. The strength of that address lies behind Bishop Charles P. Creco’s insistence that the CCD must be given the same status as Catholic schools. The chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the CCD frankly scored the “glaring imbalance” between the money spent on Catholic schools and ” the niggardly sums and skeleton staffs set aside to educate the majority of our children, who are attending public schools.” The nearly four million children receiving CCD instruction are only half of the Catholic children in public schools.
As the population grows, Bishop Creco points out, it will be more and more necessary to make the parish itself, rather than the parish school, the center of Catholic education. Some bishops, instead of building Catholic schools, now build catechetical centers close by public schools; a trained sister is principal of each center, and the teachers are members of the laity. The Bishop of Winona, Minn., has thirty of these centers in operation. The Bishop of Rochester, N.Y., has just spent $400,000 on one.
Might it not be a good idea, incidentally, to combine catechetical centers with shared-time operations? The rooms of catechetical centers could be used for cultural subjects as well as for religion classes, while “secular” subjects are studied in the near-by public school. It would open up the possibility of five religion classes a week instead of the abbreviated instruction our public school children now have—or do not have at all.