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Introduction to Constitution

Toward a Catholic Constitution: Introduction

Details

Toward a Catholic Constitution:
 Introduction

Set up a Constitution for the Catholic Church. Those were the instructions of Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). There have in fact been numberless elements of a Constitution in many of the Church's documents over the centuries. Further, there are even substantial portions of a written Constitution which are now part of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. However, that "partial Constitution" is not complete, nor does it talk about the democratic sharing of responsibilities to the extent that many of the past governance structures of the Catholic Church have done.  

Flowing from the vision projected by and the energies released at the Second Vatican Council is an increasingly broad movement toward writing, adopting and living a Constitution in the Catholic Church. That Constitution would be in the spirit of Jesus' Gospel of liberation and love and adaptive of the most mature governance principles available at the edge of the Third Millennium.  

The following pages are a draft of "A Proposed Constitution of the Catholic Church." The draft has been drawn up on the basis of Gospel values, Church history and theology, canon law, Vatican II documents, the "Fundamental Law of the Church" (Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis) commissioned in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and the experience of civil constitutional law of the past two hundred years. The Constitution's list of rights and responsibilities is drawn from the "Charter of the Rights of Catholics in the Church," drawn up with world-wide consultation by the "Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church" (ARCC). This Charter, in turn, is partially based on the 1948 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" of the United Nations.  

This Proposed Constitution has been carefully researched, thought through, and drafted by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC). It was then submitted to many, many individuals and groups, including the European Network of Rights in the Church - and now the International Movement We are Church (IMWAC) - and consequently re-revised numerous times. Nevertheless, it is obviously intended as a draft to launch a discussion which must range long, wide and deep before the Constitution will begin to be accepted as an effective instrument to undergird the governance of the Catholic Church.  

The discussion needs to include the experience and wisdom of groups such as constitutional lawyers, experts in political science, canon lawyers, theologians, church historians, pastors, bishops, popes, business people, sociologists, psychologists, educators, etc., as well as parents, young persons, older persons, women, men - in short, all categories of the members of the Catholic Church. We will also want to learn from the experience of persons of other churches which have developed various forms of responsibility-sharing, democratic, structures in their own governance; we will want to learn by their positive and negative experiences.  

Perhaps the most important change that must be brought about in order to make a Catholic Constitution a reality is a change in the consciousness or mentality of Catholics, laity and clergy. The Catholic tradition and community must be seen and experienced as a living source of how to make life meaningful and vital - whole, (w)holy, as something liberating for which mature Christians feel a reciprocal sense of responsibility. That includes an adult sharing in claiming rights and accepting responsibilities, in short, a sharing in democracy - in a Constitution.  

Therefore ARCC and Network urge:  

a) That all Catholic individuals, organizations and groups focus their attention on a deep and wide reflection, thorough discussion, and eventual action on the idea, principles and specifics of Catholic responsibility-sharing, of a democratic Catholicism and a Constitution for it.

b) That all constructive suggestions on how to improve the Constitution be submitted in writing (address at the end). Remember, this is a constitution, not a compendium of all theology or desirable laws - therefore brief and limited to essential principles, procedures and structures

c) That all Catholic individuals, organizations and groups use every creative means to disseminate and publicize the idea, principles and specifics of a democratic Catholicism and of a Constitution - e.g., through newspaper and periodical articles, newsletters, letters to the editor, textbooks, homilies, lectures, classes, radio and TV broadcasts, e-mail, World Wide Web.

d) That all Catholics urge their pastors not to wait for action from above or below, but immediately start in motion a process bringing together all the ements of his parish to draw up a "parish constitution" by which the parish will be governed. There are no restrictions on this matter in the 1983 Code of Canon Law; it lies completely in the hands of the pastor to initiate without any permissions needed. 
   

While it is true that a subsequent pastor would not have to honor his predecessor's Constitution, the ball would have been set rolling, and it would be difficult to reverse the momentum. This would be especially true if several pastors were successfully to inaugurate Parish Constitutions. Clearly a successfully drafted and implemented Parish Constitution would also have a very positive effect on other parishes and on the diocese.  

e) That all Catholics urge their bishops not to wait for action either from above or below, but immediately start in motion a process of bringing together all the elements of his diocese to draw up a "diocesan constitution" by which the diocese will be governed. There are no restrictions on this matter in the 1983 Code of Canon Law; it lies completely in the hands of the local bishop to initiate without any permissions needed. Moreover, there is the shining example of the "Diocesan Constitution" of Bishop John England of Charleston, SC (1820-1842), arguably the most outstanding bishop in American Catholic history.  
     While it is true that a subsequent bishop would not have to honor his predecessor's Constitution, the ball would have been set rolling, and it would be difficult to reverse the momentum. This is especially true if several bishops were successfully to inaugurate Diocesan Constitutions. Clearly a successfully drafted and implemented Diocesan Constitution would have a very positive effect on the parishes in the diocese, and on other dioceses.  

f) That all "religious" use their special charism of a long and intense experience of constitutions, democratic structures, dialogue and subsidiarity, especially in the profound revision and renewal of structures all religious societies went through in the years after Vatican II - that they use this charism to help the Universal Church understand that these democratic principles expand and deepen one's Christianness. 


Each Society of Religious ought to consciously strategize how it can make this sharing of their experience of and wisdom about democratic structures and spirit in the Church a priority in their apostolate to the universal Church. Further, each religious society ought to seek out collaborative groupings with other religious societies - and lay and priestly organizations.

The journey to a written and adopted "Constitution of the Catholic Church" will doubtless be long, arduous and probably also serpentine. But it is a journey that a growing number of Catholics increasingly feel must be undertaken. Those of us so convinced now have not only the privilege but also the responsibility to push on in the journey, even though we personally may not arrive at the final destination.  

Professor Leonard Swidler, Religion Department, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA  
Tel: 215-204-7251; Fax: 215-204-4569; E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
web: http://astro.temple.edu/~dialogue/Swidler/swidvit.html

   
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