Thursday, 27 May 2010

What are my legal rights as a Catholic?

Have you ever wondered what your legal rights are as a lay member of the Roman Catholic Church are? The following is intended to provide the reader with a quick summary of their legal rights and liabilities according to Canon Law as well as a relatively unknown legal agreement between the Vatican and other countries known as a 'concordat' that directly affect laity and/or clergy.


Concordats are legal agreements (often secret) between state and the Catholic Church that give the Church massive state subsidies and other privileges. They can effectively force liberal Catholics to observe orthodoxy, and can disadvantage non Catholics as well.

Concordat Watch is a website dedicated to ensuring that these agreements are made public and to protect the individual under civil law. A recent article by this group highlited how Canon Law can trump clerics' civil right.
"A Swiss priest was forbidden to research or publish anything about Opus Dei until its founder was safely canonised. A Polish priest was banned from investigating or writing anything about clerical complicity with the Communist Secret Service. And countless others who never make it into the newspapers suffer the same fate. For they are bound by Canon Law, the Church regulations whose jurisdiction is guaranteed by concordats — often in the very first article.
Concordat Watch also reported:
Gay Catholic group Acceptance had planned a forum to be held during the Pope's World Youth Day celebrations in Australia in July 2008. It was to be called "Living a Christian Commitment: Different Sexualities Among Catholic Youth". However, after pressure from the Vatican, the Jesuits withdrew their offer to host the gay young people, who are now forced to look for a non-Church venue.
Other concordat clauses enforce Canon Law on the employees of Church-run institutions, even though these are funded by the state. For example, the concordat with Hitler (1933, Article 24) is used to this day to fire teachers in Catholic schools if they remarry after a civil divorce.
European Union Lawyers have warned that Concordats endanger human freedom.
Several years ago Catholic New Times ran an article 'Know your basic rights in Canon Law' that should be required reading for all Catholic parishioners. Perhaps it should even be posted before they enter the church or attend any church function. Here's follows the article as it originally appeared in January 2006.

  • All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in all matters (Canon 748,1).

  • Officers of the church have the right to teach on all matters both of private and public morality only after wide consultation with the faithful prior to the formulation (C.212,C747,C749,C752,C774.1).

  • All Catholics have the right to engage in any activity that 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,C.215,C.223)

  • 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,C.223,C.1287).
  • All Catholics have the right in a voice in all decisions that affect hem including the choosing of their leaders. All Catholics have the right to have their leaders accountable to them. (C492,C.1287).

  • 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).
  • All Catholics have the right to express publicly their dissent in regard to decisions made by church authorities (C212,C.218,C.753).
  • All Catholics have the right while being mindful of Gospel norms to follow whatever paths will enhance their life in Christ; that is 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).

  • All Catholics regardless of race, age, nationality or sex and 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).
  • All Catholics have the right to have church office holders foster a sense of community. (C.369).
That same year (2006) Kevin E. McKenna published 'a concise guide to Your Rights in the Catholic Church. In his introduction the author explains the intent behind this book as follows: "In the midst of [sexual abuse] crisis, some lay people, fearing they had no rights or that their rights were woefully ignored, turned to civil authorities to prosecute allegations of sexual misconduct against clerics. At the same time this book is also aimed at protecting innocently accused clerics and their rights within the church.
For the purpose of this blog I have listed a summary of the 'Rights of the Laity' as provided in the same book as follows:

  1. Married Christians have the right to imbue the world with their charisms and spirituality (CIC 226, Par. 1:CCEO 400)

  2. The lay Christian faithful have the right to educate their children (CIC) 226, CCEO 627, Par. 1, CCEO 627, Par. 3)

  3. The lay Christian faithful have the right to freedom as citizens (CIC 227; CCEO 402)

  4. The Lay Christian faithful have the right to assume ecclesiastical offices when qualified (CIC 228, Par.1, CCEO 408, Par.2)

  5. The lay Christian faithful have the right to act as advisors to pastors (CIC 228, Par 2. CCEO 408, Par. 2)

  6. Lay Christian faithful have the right to acquire knowledge of Christian doctrine (CIC 229, Par 1, CCEO 404, Par. 1). They also possess the right to acquire the fuller knowledge of the sacred sciences taught in ecclesiastical universities and to obtain appropriate degrees (CIC 229, Par. 2; CCEO 404, Par. 2) They also have the right, when properly qualified and with requisite suitability, to receive a mandate from ecclesiastical authority to teach the sacred sciences (CIC 229, Par.3; CCEO 404, Par.3)

  7. Laypersons have the right to decent remuneration when employed by the Church (CIC 231, Par.2; CCEO 409, Par. 2)
If after reading all this you still have doubts about your rights in the Catholic Church, particularly as it affects your conscience, please read again what the Vatican II fathers said about that in an earlier blog
CIC Code of Canon Law, Codex Iuris Canoici
CCEO Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium

NOTE: Since the Renaissance Justitia (pictured above) is most often depicted with a set of scales typically suspended from her left hand, upon which she measures the strenghts of a case's support and opposition. She is also often seen carrying a double-edged sword in her right hand, symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party. The blindfold is intended to indicate that justice is (or should be) meted our objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identiy, money, power, or weakness: blind justice and blind impartiality. Source: Wikipedia

No comments: