Cardinal Bernard Law has ordered priests to ignore a proposed association of church members, calling the idea "potentially divisive" and angering some loyal Catholics.

Law says the church will not recognize a proposed Association of Parish Pastoral Councils, made up of volunteer laity who aid their parish in organizing, fund-raising and advising the pastor, according to a copy of a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Law issued the order from Rome on Wednesday night while discussing the clergy sex abuse scandal with Pope John Paul II. He instructed Bishop Walter Edyvean to draft a letter to tell priests of his disapproval.

"As pastor or parochial vicar, you are not to join, foster, or promote this endeavor among your Parish Pastoral Council members or the community of the faithful at large," Edyvean, the vicar general of the archdiocese, wrote on Law's behalf.

Law told parishioners last Sunday that he wants to find ways for the laity to become more involved, as part of a comprehensive plan to address the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

David Zizik, a lawyer who holds a bachelor's degree in theology, said he made the proposal because he wants to create a dialogue between the laity and church leaders. He proposed one person from each of the more than 300 parish councils get together as a group with archdiocese officials.

Zizik said the sex abuse scandal was the impetus for his proposal, but said there are broader problems, like the church's secrecy.

"I think there's been a misunderstanding," said Zizik, vice chairman of his parish council at St. Theresa in Sherborn. "I don't think they understand what I was proposing to do."

The archdiocese said an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council already exists, and the creation of another group would be "superfluous and potentially divisive."

But that group is hand-picked by the cardinal, and "doesn't represent the people," said Zizik.

In his letter, Edyvean wrote that "discussions have begun and will be extended on the topic of how to make the canonically recognized groups more effective in the archdiocese."

Jim Muller, president of Voice of the Faithful, a grass-roots group of Catholics that formed in response to the sex abuse crisis, said he was "bewildered" by Law's action.

"I find it amazing," he said. "What is wrong with the lay councils talking to each other?"

Muller, a co-winner of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for organizing a group of 150,000 American and Russian doctors, said the councils are the "backbone" of neighborhood parishes.

"These parish councils are among the most devoted Catholics in the church. They give up their time with no compensation in return to help with finances of local churches, to work on committees that run the schools," he said.

Frank McConville, a former parish council president at St. John the Evangelist in Wellesley, said he wished the cardinal was more open to working with the laity.

"That disappoints and frustrates me and doesn't make it seem like we're working in a collaborative spirit to address issues, and we really need to," he said.