While the immediate roots of the crisis that is currently shaking the Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere lie in clergy sexual abuse, its more fundamental dimension is ecclesial in nature. The issue at stake concerns the relationship between church leaders and the laity. Many lay people have expressed their deep anger at the way in which some bishops and cardinals, and even officials of the Roman Curia, have dealt with clerical pedophilia.

Not only have these church leaders failed to grasp the nature and extent of clergy sexual abuse but they have also exhibited a total lack of accountability toward the laity. As a result, grassroots movements have been formed to initiate church reform not only in the training of future priests but also, and more importantly, in the ways in which the roles of the laity are understood and lived out in the church. What is required then is a more adequate theology of the laity. This essay intends to contribute to such a theology by examining the nature and function of the laity in the early church.

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