Editorial - Closing the gap

News that the Catholic Church is considering major changes to the role of the laity in Church life is likely to spark considerable debate in the time ahead.

The suggestion that lay deacons may be appointed locally to assist priests may appear to some to be a radical step but in recent years a growing number of Catholics have been calling for such radical steps.

And it is not unprecedented. A similar move has already been made in Sligo.

For some, of course, it will be regarded as a step too far and a dilution of the authority of the Church. Those who hold such views will cite tradition and heritage as reasons to resist such a move.

It has to be remembered, however, that the Catholic Church, like all religions, is not simply a historical institution - it is a live body which must respond to a changing world.

In the past the Catholic Church has been slow to respond to calls from change from the lay community so this latest move is to be welcomed as a step forward.

If these proposal are implemented in the Derry Diocese it will go a long way to addressing the shortage of priests but it will also do more than that. Giving the lay community an increased role will also close the gap between clergy and laity, make the Church more accountable and help restore much-needed public confidence.

The position of the Catholic Church in Irish society has changed dramatically in recent decades, not always on its terms; now it has the opportunity to make a positive change.