Charter of the Rights
of Catholics in the Church*
* This fifth edition of the Charter is dedicated to Father Dennis Geaney,
O.S.A., who died on November 23, 1992. The word "Catholic" is used for "Roman
Catholic" and "Church" for "Roman Catholic Church" throughout this document.
The following groups affiliated with COR (Catholics Organizations for
Renewal) and parallel organizations in Europe have endorsed the Charter as of
CCC (Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics)
CITI (Celibacy is the Issue)
CORPUS (a national association for a married priesthood)
CTA (Call to Action)
FCM (Federation of Christian Ministries)
New Ways Ministry
Renewal Coordinating Committee
WOC (Women's Ordination Conference)
Christenrechte in der Kirche (Germany)
Droits et Libertes dans les Eglises (France)
European Conference for Human Rights in the Church
(federation of eight national organizations)
Although in the first instance this Charter was formulated by Catholics of
the United States, it is the result of dialogue among Catholics from many
countries. This dialogue needs to be continued. All suggestions for future
editions of the Charter should be forwarded to:
ARCC, 3150 Newgate Drive, Florissant, MO 63033
or Leonard Swidler,
The rights of Catholics in the Church derive both from our basic humanity as
persons and from our baptism as Christians. Membership in the human community
and membership in the community of the Church, therefore, jointly confer the
rights here presented which guarantee our dignity and freedom as persons and as
Fundamental human rights are clearly set forth in the United Nations Charter
(see Appendix II in the Charter Booklet). This Charter of the Rights of
Catholics in the Church presupposes the rights expressed in the U.N. Charter.
These basic human rights are supplemented by the common rights and freedom of
Christians bestowed at baptism, and which are based on: (1) the priesthood of
all believers, (2) the fundamental equality of believers, and (3) the prophetic
role of all believers.
Moreover, Vatican Council II urged the Church to read and learn from "the
signs of the times." One of the clear signs of the times in many countries is a
concern for human rights. The framers of this Charter of Rights for Catholics
maintain that faithfulness to the message of the Gospel mandates a concern for
justice in the Church, as well as in the world. The Church, by its very nature,
must labor for the liberation of those oppressed and marginalized by sinful
social structures, which often make it impossible for many men and women to
claim even their basic human rights. The Church as a People of God, and not
individual Christians only, is called to give witness to the love commandment.
This responsibility entails, especially, the renewal of the Church's own
structural organization where it is seen to foster injustice and to deny to some
Catholics the rights of persons and the freedom of Christians.2 "Justice is
love's absolute minimum" (Paul VI). The institutional Church, as a human
society, can therefore no longer justify an authoritarian and patriarchal order
appropriate to earlier stages of human development. The Social Justice teachings
of the Church, especially as set forth in Paul VI's "Populorum Progressio," are
presupposed by this Charter.
Fundamental to this Charter is the principle that all Catholics are radically
equal. Canon 208 of the revised Code of Canon Law states:
There exists among all the Christian faithful, in virtue of their rebirth in
Christ, a true equality with regard to dignity and activity; all cooperate in
the building up of the body of Christ in accord with each one's own condition
In other words, the equality of all Catholics is based on their one God, one
faith, one call and one common sacramental initiation. Therefore, rights and
equality are not diminished by the differing gifts and roles of Church members.
Christ has destroyed all divisions, "between Jew and gentile, male and female,
slave and free" (Gal. 3:28). Thus, because all are equally beloved by God, each
one's ability to respond to that God and to actualize his or her capacities
within the Church community, must not be limited by considerations of race, age,
nationality, sex, sexual orientation, state-of-life or social position.
The revised Code of Canon Law (see Appendix I) only partially articulates the
principles which should inform a just, loving, and therefore fruitful
relationship between Church authorities and the People of God.
Rights do not exist in isolation, but only in conjunction with corresponding
responsibilities. But it is vital to remember that no responsibilities can be
properly carried out without the safeguarding and exercising of those human and
Catholic rights. In view of these considerations, there is, then, a need for a
clear and complete Charter of the Rights of Catholics in the Church, rights that
are founded on (and limited by) the Gospel and on the authentic tradition of the
This Charter, therefore, proclaims the following Catholic rights.
No. 1. All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in
all matters. (C. 748.1)
No. 2. Officers of the Church have the right to teach on matters both of
private and public morality only after wide consultation with the faithful prior
to the formulation of the teaching.4 (C. 212, C. 747, C. 749, C. 752, C. 774.1)
No. 3. All Catholics have the right to engage in any activity which does not
infringe on the rights of others, e.g., they have the right to freedom of
speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association. (C. 212:2,3, C. 215,
No. 4. All Catholics have the right of access to all information possessed by
Church authorities concerning the former's spiritual and temporal welfare,
provided such access does not infringe on the rights of others. (C. 218, C.
221:1,2,3, C. 223:1, C. 537)
Decision-making and Dissent
No. 5. All Catholics have the right to a voice in all decisions that affect
them, including the choosing of their leaders. (C. 212:3)
No. 6. All Catholics have the right to have their leaders accountable to
them. (C. 492, C. 1287.2)
No. 7. All Catholics have the right to form voluntary associations to pursue
Catholic aims including the right to worship together; such associations have
the right to decide on their own rules of governance. (C. 215, C. 299, C. 300,
C. 305, C. 309)
No. 8. All Catholics have the right to express publicly their dissent in
regard to decisions made by Church authorities. (C. 212:3, C. 218, C. 753)
No. 9. All Catholics have the right to be dealt with according to commonly
accepted norms of fair administrative and judicial procedures without undue
delay. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223, 1,2)
No. 10. All Catholics have the right to redress of grievances through regular
procedures of law. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223:1,2)
No. 11. All Catholics have the right not to have their good reputations
impugned or their privacy violated. (C. 220)
Ministries and Spirituality
No. 12. All Catholics have the right to receive from the Church those
ministries which are needed for the living of a fully Christian life, including:
a) Instruction in the Catholic tradition and the presentation of moral
teaching in a way that promotes the helpfulness and relevance of Christian
values to contemporary life. (C.229:1,2)
b) Worship which reflects the joys and concerns of the gathered community and
instructs and inspires it. c) Pastoral counseling that applies with love and
effectiveness the Christian heritage to persons in particular situations. (C.
213, C. 217)
No. 13. All Catholics have the right, while being mindful of Gospel norms, to
follow whatever paths will enhance their life in Christ (i.e., their
self-realization as unique human beings created by God). They also have the
right to guidance that will foster authentic human living both on a personal
level and in relation to their communities and the world. (C. 213)
No. 14. All Catholics have the right to follow the customs and laws of the
rite of their choice and to worship accordingly. (C. 214)
No. 15. All Catholics, regardless of race, age, nationality, sex, sexual
orientation, state-of-life, or social position have the right to receive all the
sacraments for which they are adequately prepared. (C. 213, C. 843:1)
No. 16. All Catholics, regardless of canonical status (lay or clerical), sex
or sexual orientation, have the right to exercise all ministries in the Church
for which they are adequately prepared, according to the needs and with the
approval of the community. (C. 225:1, C. 274:1, C. 1024)
No. 17. All Catholics have the right to have Church office- holders foster a
sense of community. (C. 369, C. 515)
No. 18. Office-holders in the Church have the right to proper training and
fair financial support for the exercise of their offices, as well as the
requisite respect and liberty needed for the proper exercise thereof. (C. 231:2,
No. 19. All Catholics have the right to expect all office- holders in the
Church to be properly trained and to continue their education throughout their
term of office. (C. 217, C. 231:1, C. 232, C. 279, C. 819)
No. 20. Catholic teachers of theology have a right to responsible academic
freedom. The acceptability of their teaching is to be judged in dialogue with
their peers, keeping in mind the legitimacy of responsible dissent and pluralism
of belief. (C. 212:1, C. 218, C. 750, C. 752, C. 754, C. 279:1, C. 810, C. 812)
Social and Cultural Rights
No. 21. All Catholics have the right to freedom in political matters. (C.
No. 22. All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in
working for justice and peace in the world. (C. 225:2)
No. 23. All employees of the Church have the right to decent working
conditions and just wages. They also have the right not to have their employment
terminated without due process. (C. 231:2)
No. 24. All Catholics have the right to exercise their artistic and cultural
talents without interference (e.g., censorship) from Church authorities;
likewise all Catholics have the right freely to enjoy the fruits of the arts and
States of Life
No. 25. All Catholics have the right to choose their state in life; this
includes the right to marry and the right to embrace celibacy.
No. 26. All Catholic women have an equal right with men to the resources and
the exercise of all the powers of the Church.
No. 27. All Catholics have the right to expect that the resources of the
Church be fairly expended on their behalf without prejudice to race, age,
nationality, sex, sexual orientation, state-of-life, or social position. a) All
Catholic parents have the right to expect, where needed, fair material and other
assistance from Church authorities in the religious education of their children.
b) All single Catholics have the right to expect that the resources of the
Church be fairly expended on their behalf.
No. 28. All married Catholics have the right to determine in conscience the
size of their families and the appropriate methods of family planning.
No. 29. All Catholic parents have the right to see to the education of their
children in all areas of life. (C. 226:2)
No. 30. All married Catholics have the right to withdraw from a marriage
which has irretrievably broken down. All such Catholics retain the radical right
No. 31. All Catholics who are divorced and remarried and who are in
conscience reconciled to the Church have the right to the same ministries,
including all sacraments, as do other Catholics.
No. 32. All Catholics have the right to expect that Church documents and
materials will avoid sexist language, and that symbols and imagery of God will
not be exclusively masculine.
(I. Shafer's comment: The Notes refer to appendices which are not part of my
file. I'll try to locate them and post them at a later time.)
1 Cf. Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, III "The Practice of
Justice~The Church's Witness." (Rome, 1971).
3 For Vatican II documentation, see Appendix IV.
4 Where a right expressed in this Charter is treated in some way in the new
Code of Canon Law, the relevant canon is referred to after the right, and can be
found in Appendix I.
5 For Vatican II documentation, see Appendix IV.
When You Think Your Rights Have Been Violated . . .
1) Do what the gospel says: "Go and speak to your sister or brother; if they
listens to you, you have won them over." (Mt. 18) Attempt a personal
reconciliation. Try to meet with and talk to the person responsible for the
2) Go to the local due process office or dispute-resolution agency. Many
dioceses and some parishes have offices of conciliation, mediation or
arbitration. Some have a grievance officer or ombudsperson who can intervene or
put an informal process in motion. This process is strongly recommended in the
Code of Canon Law (C. 1733, etc.)
3) File a petition with the diocesan tribunal (i.e., the bishop's court).
Canon 221.1 states: "The Christian faithful can legitimately vindicate and
defend the rights which they enjoy in the Church before a competent
ecclesiastical court." The chief judge (called judicial vicar or officialis) and
secretary of the tribunal are located among the diocesan offices, and they
should offer instruction on how to file a petition to begin a case.
4) Appeal administratively; that is, appeal to the church administrator who
is the superior of the person responsible for the violation, e.g., from the
school principal to the pastor of the parish, from the pastor to the bishop.
This is an official and approved procedure: confer canons 1732 and following:
a) The diocesan bishop is the administrative superior in the diocese, and
appeals should be addressed to him.
b) Appeal may be made from the bishop to the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in
Washington (the representative of the pope in our country), or to the
appropriate congregation in Rome. (The congregations and their competencies are
listed in the front of The Official Catholic Directory).
c) The Apostolic Signatura in Rome is the high court which supervises all of
the other church courts and corrects abuses of administrative authority. The
"second section" of the Signatura hears appeals against such administrative
violations. (Officials and addresses are also listed in the front of The
Official Catholic Directory.)