"If they ever take away our radio, suspend our newspaper, silence us, put to death all of us priests-bishop included, and you are left alone-a people without priests-then each of you will have to be God's microphone. Each of you will have to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always live as long as one baptized person is left alive."
Oscar Romero, quoted in Messengers to the Kingdom by Jon Sobrino S.J.
I begin to understand by Romero scared the bejeesus out of some of the Vatican Curia in the three years he was archbishop of San Salvador. And I wonder how closely Morris West, author of the Clowns of God, followed the persecution of the church in Central America. Because he echoes that message in the novel. When the time comes, the little people, the lay people will have to carry on the work and the sacraments of the church whether they are ordained or not. Imagine how well that went over with old men who had spent their lives climbing the ladders of power.
In the novel the pope believes he has received a vision of the coming end times, the parousia. And the encyclical he is preparing is discovered. The curia could probably take the middle part of the equation. After all the church believes that Christ will complete history at some point. It's the private revelation and the pope's prescription for dealing with the expected chaos. The idea that in a time with no ordained men or women available, the laypeople would have to carry on the mission of the church as best they could went over like the proverbial lead balloon.
Romero's problem was smaller in scope but no less pressing.