Lay person, lay people, lay men/women and laity

Lay person, lay people, lay men/women, laity in the Instrumentum Laboris

This is a list of all the references to the above terms. In every instance, the reference relates to the role of lay people INSIDE the Church, co-responsible with the clergy, and/or in services provided by the Church.

There is not a single reference to lay people having a specific role in transforming their lives, communities and society.

How does this accord with the teaching of Vatican II, e.g. 

Lumen Gentium 33: Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.

Gaudium et Spes 43: Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to lay people.

Apostolicam Actuositatem 1: proper and indispensable role in the mission of the Church.

Instrumentum Laboris references


The revelations about child sexual abuse within the Church coincided with a loss of trust in many other institutions and sectors of the community. Partly related to this, but also to a number of other factors, is an increased demand for transparency, open communication, consultation and accountability at all levels with the Church and other parts of society. There is also a renewed desire for lay people to be co-responsible with clergy and for women to have greater roles of leadership.

Much has occurred by way of sharing episcopal authority with priests and of clerical authority with the laity in recent decades. Many national, provincial, diocesan and parish agencies, ministries, governing or advisory councils are now led by or largely consist of lay people. A signal of this change is the fact that the heads of some of the largest national Catholic organisations, including for education, social services and international aid, are all lay women. The Plenary Council may promote further progress in these areas.

Laity and Church Governance


The emergence of lay pastoral ministries in parishes, schools, hospitals and welfare organisations has given new vitality to evangelisation, pastoral care and outreach. This has led to an increase in collaborative approaches to ministry in the parish context. Many submissions recognised the need for appropriate formation and support to assist lay people in discerning and using their gifts wisely.

In some parts of the Church, there is unease about relations between clergy and laity, when people do not feel welcomed as partners in parish leadership, and when clergy are seen to be exercising power without accountability or transparency; a ‘culture of clericalism’ that promotes privilege and enables abuse of power is a significant concern. In other parts of the Church a very healthy relationship between clergy and laity recognises different but complementary charisms and opportunities for co-responsibility. There is a desire for consultative and collaborative approaches to governance at all levels in the Church and Diocesan Pastoral Councils and Parish Pastoral Councils are two widely supported avenues through which the expertise of lay people could be better utilised.


The contribution and role of women within the Church in Australia cannot be overestimated. Religious women make up nearly three-quarters of consecrated Religious and women make up more than three-quarters of all Church employees. Lay women lead and serve in families, parishes, schools, health and aged care institutions, lay associations and ecclesial movements, and many areas of service and works of the Church.


Submissions to the Council also raised what Pope Francis, among others, has identified as the danger of an unhealthy culture of clericalism within the priesthood and in the wider Church. At its most extreme, this has been identified as a significant factor in the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. It can also undermine the mission that belongs to the entire Church and discourage the exercise of gifts within it. Some fundamental questions arise in light of this concern: What are the causes of such a culture of clericalism? What are the theological, structural, psychological or spiritual influences that can contribute to it and how might the Church better equip its clergy and laity for mission today and for increasing co-responsibility in the decades to come?


All of this raises serious questions about the existing pastoral practice of parishes and the way in which the priesthood and episcopacy in particular are best lived in service of the mission of God. The sustainability of some parishes, and of the pastoral care provided by priests, can be an acute question for some country dioceses and is becoming more widespread in urban dioceses as well. In some rural and isolated parishes in Australia lay women and men lead Sunday liturgies in the absence of a priest.


Collaboration between the laity and the clergy in governance is already an established aspect of the Church’s life in many areas. An evaluation of this in the life of the Church in Australia would be worthwhile. These structures include Parish Pastoral Councils and Finance Committees, Diocesan Councils of Priests and Colleges of Consultors, Diocesan Finance Councils, Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Diocesan and Provincial Synods, and other canonical and non-canonical bodies.

Stefan Gigacz



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