STUDIES have shown conclusively that no distinction existed between clergy and laity until the second and third centuries of Christianity. Since then, decision-making on all aspects of Christian (later Catholic) Church life increasingly became the sole prerogative ofthe clergy.

It is arguably unhealthy for the Catholic Church to continue on this path of inequality. Hence, moves are overdue to restore the laity to their original pre-eminent status as equals of the clergy that they used to choose from among themselves.

Some such moves made by Vatican II were placed in the backburner by post-Vatican II Popes.

But not Francis, who now tries to fire up those moves again. Hence, local bishops might want to take a cue from him and perhaps launch (as a fitting way to celebrate the Year of the Laity) what I think are two programs that could put the laity on the road back to being the clergy’s equals.

First is a program to re-democratize the Church and admit the laity into administrative positions in parishes and dioceses. This would mean that pastoral councils cease to be puppets of the parish priest and dioceses take in more lay people into their legislative councils.

(This is a pipe dream maybe but in the long run, it could mean a return to the early practice of electing a lay pope. The last pope to come from the ranks of the laity was Pope Leo X [1513-1521]. He was not ordained a priest until after his election as pope.)

Second is a religious literacy program to put the laity’s knowledge of their religion at par with the clergy’s. This would mean teaching the laity their faith is, as social scientist Randy David rightly calls it, “a philosophy of life” or “a practical and meaningful guide to daily living” and not an outlandish ritual.

(The outrageous behavior of millions at the Feast of the Black Nazarene was grim proof of how low their level of religious literacy is. Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo was right to say, as reported, “This is not genuine religion.”)

So, why is there no serious program to correct this aberration? If the political and economic health of a nation depends largely on the level of literacy of the citizenry, so does the spiritual health of a Church hinge on the religious literacy of its members.

Clerics were originally chosen to serve the community. But because of their monopoly of power and knowledge, they have become masters of the laity. The tail now wags the dog and that is not healthy at all.

Nevertheless, more and more lay people are ramping up religious literacy on their own.

The clergy would do well to recognize this as a sign of a Catholic Church being reborn into a healthier and fuller life simply and without distinctions as people of God.