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A Short Listing of the Rights and Freedoms Guaranteed by the Code of Canon Law
Charles M. Wilson
Here is a short listing of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Code. The sections of the Code are largely determined by these headings as categories, under which specific legislation can be found.
1. The fundamental equality of all Christians based on baptism, and equality and dignity in action; the right and freedom to cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ (canon 208).
2. The right to evangelize nations (canon 211).
3. The right to petition, that is, to make known to one's superiors (pastors, bishops and others) one's needs, especially one's spiritual needs, as well as one's hopes (canon 212, #2).
4. The right to make recommendations: the right to advise pastors regarding the good of the Church, and the right to participate in the formation of public opinion and in the process of informing the faithful (canon 212, #3).
5. The right to receive the Word of God and the Sacraments from one's pastors (canon 213).
6. The right to participate in the public worship of the Church in accordance with the legitimate norms of one's own rite (canon 214).
7. The right to one's own proper spirituality (canon 214).
8. The right to association: the right to found and to direct associations which have charitable purposes, and which can be made to exist as an expression of Christian vocation/calling (canon 215).
9. The right to assembly: the right to hold meetings for the same purpose as to associate (canon 215).
10. The right to promote the apostolate and to one's own proper initiative in apostolic work, based on the right to participate in the general mission of the Church itself (canon 216).
11. The right to a Christian education (canon 217).
12. Academic freedom: the right to research, and the write to publish (canon 218).
13. Freedom from coercion in choosing one's station in life (canon 218).
14. The right to keep and preserve one's good name and reputation (canon 220).
15. Privacy: the right to have others respect what is most intimate to one's self (canon 220).
16. The right to vindicate one's rights (no, this is NOT a tautology!) in a court of the church and to defend those rights in the courts of the church (canon 221, #1), with equity, and in accordance with the law (canon 221, #2).
17. The right to "be" judged (canon 221, #2). (As opposed, of course, to having those who have disposition over elements of one's life drag out circumstances, delay, and otherwise deprive one of the clear-cut decisions to which one is entitled, and which one requires in order to get on with the basic business of living a Christian life).
18. The right to the legal process regarding sanctions; that is, the right to expect the Church to impose sanctions (punishments) ONLY in accordance with the law (canon 221, #3).
Now, lest there be any who might misunderstand the short synopsis above, permit me to list here the specific canons, quoted in their entirety. The reader should be careful to remind him/herself that the laws listed here are not exhaustive, and other laws may very well modify or even negate the law quoted here in specific circumstances. The matter is provided for purposes of exemplification and general information only, and is not intended as an exhaustive listing either of individual rights or obligations binding on the hierarchy of the Church.
The Ecclesial Rights Of The Laity: Relevant Canons
Canon 224In addition to those obligations and rights which are common to all the Christian faithful and those which are determined in other canons, the lay Christian faithful are bound by the obligations and possess the rights which are enumerated in the canons of this title.
Canon 225#1 Since the laity like all the Christian faithful, are deputed by God to the apostolate through their baptism and confirmation, they are therefore bound by the general obligations and enjoy the general right to work as individuals or in associations so that the divine message of salvation becomes known and accepted by all persons throughout the world; this obligation has a greater impelling force in those circumstances in which people can hear the gospel and know Christ only through lay persons.
#2 Each lay person in accord with his or her condition is bound by a special duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel; they thus give witness to Christ in a special way in carrying out those affairs and in exercising secular duties.
Canon 226#1 Lay persons who live in the married state in accord with their own vocation are bound by a special duty to work for the upbuilding of the people of God through their marriage and through their family.
#2 Because they have given life to their children, parents have a most serious obligation and enjoy the right to educate them; therefore Christian parents are especially to care for the Christian education of their children ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING HANDED ON BY THE CHURCH [emphasis mine].
Canon 227Lay Christian faithful have the right to have recognized that freedom in the affairs of the earthly city which belongs to all citizens; when they exercise such freedom, however, they are to take care that their actions are imbued with the spirit of the gospel and take into account the doctrine set forth by the magisterium of the Church; but they are to avoid proposing their own opinion as the teaching of the Church in questions which are open to various opinions [I suppose this applies equally well to theologians, however much many of them may disagree!].
Canon 228#1 Qualified lay persons are capable of assuming from their sacred pastors those ecclesiastical offices and functions which they are able to exercise in accord with the prescriptions of the law.
#2 Lay persons who excel in the necessary knowledge, prudence, and uprightness are capable of assisting the pastors of the Church as experts or advisors; they can do so even in councils, in accord with the norm of law.
Canon 229#1 LAY PERSONS ARE BOUND BY THE OBLIGATION AND POSSESS THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE A KNOWLEDGE OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE ADAPTED TO THEIR CAPACITY AND CONDITION SO THAT THEY CAN LIVE IN ACCORD WITH THAT DOCTRINE, ANNOUNCE IT, DEFEND IT WHEN NECESSARY, AND BE ENABLED TO ASSUME THEIR ROLE IN EXERCISING THE APOSTOLATE.
#2 LAY PERSONS ALSO POSSESS THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE THAT DEEPER KNOWLEDGE OF THE SACRED SCIENCES WHICH ARE TAUGHT IN ECCLESIASTICAL UNIVERSITIES OR FACULTIES OR IN INSTITUTES OF RELIGIOUS SCIENCES BY ATTENDING CLASSES AND OBTAINING ACADEMIC DEGREES.
#3 LIKEWISE, THE PRESCRIPTIONS AS TO THE REQUIRED SUITABILITY HAVING BEEN OBSERVED, LAY PERSONS ARE CAPABLE OF RECEIVING FROM LEGITIMATE ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY A MANDATE TO TEACH THE SACRED SCIENCES [Emphasis mine and added].
Canon 230#1 Lay men who possess the age and qualifications determined by decree of the conference of bishops can be installed to a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte in accord with the prescribed liturgical rite; the conferral of these ministries, however, does not confer on these lay men a right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.
#2 Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation; likewise all lay persons can fulfill the functions of commentator or cantor or other functions, in accord with the norm of law.
#3 When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of the law.
Canon 231#1 Lay persons who devote themselves permanently or temporarily to some special service of the Church are obliged to acquire the appropriate formation which is required to fulfill their function properly and to carry it out conscientiously, zealously, and diligently.
#2 With due regard for canon 230, #1, they have a right to a decent remuneration suited to their condition; by such remuneration they should be able to provide decently for their own needs and for those of their family with due regard for the prescriptions of civil law; they likewise have a right that their pension, social security and health benefits be duly provided.
There are a relatively small number of Catholic organizations and publications which are doing an outstanding job of defending Catholic truth and promoting "genuine" reform (as intended by the Council, rather than by some post-conciliar reformers), but often Catholics stand in need of competent "professional" advice and assistance in the defense of their rights, particularly in defense of their God-given right to receive the AUTHENTIC teaching of the Church in accordance with the lawful norms of the Church. To respond to that need the St. Joseph Foundation was incorporated in October, 1984.
The St. Joseph Foundation is not a trouble-making organization. It does not seek notoriety, publicity, or a political agenda of its own making, whether that political agenda is considered in either the civil or religious fora.
In almost every case of abuse within the Church the cause has been that some individual in a position of authority has chosen to substitute his or her personal opinion or preference for the teaching of the Church, or in place of her laws, and then imposed them on the people. There are, thusly, TWO injustices committed. The first is the denial of the authentic teaching and worship to those who are entitled to both by divine right. The second is that the very person responsible for the injustice in the first place further abuses the power of that position by frequently resorting to techniques of delay, evasion, obfuscation and sometimes even of intimidation to deny those whose rights have been violated any redress or due process. The abuse is particularly insidious because promulgated or proclaimed rights are essentially meaningless if the means of vindicating them is non-existent.
The 1983 Code quite explicitly states that: "Christ's faithful may lawfully vindicate and defend the rights they enjoy in the Church before the competent ecclesiastical forum and in accordance with the law." Though the Code explicitly establishes the principle, most Catholics are not aware of the rights they DO have, and even those who do often do not know the procedures which can be used to vindicate and defend them. It was for this specific purpose that the Foundation has been formed. It is the work of the St. Joseph Foundation both to inform Catholics of their right to know and live by the teachings of their faith, and to provide "professional" advice and assistance to those who believe their rights are being denied them.
It will respond to Catholics in need of assistance, and endeavors to undertake its tasks with due regard both to the rights of the individual AND the well-being of the Church....such that at times even the undeniable rights of the individual may, even when an objective right HAS been violated, considerations other than justice (charity, for example) may dictate that the injustice be suffered quietly.
It is NOT recommended that Catholics, except in the most severe circumstances, take action to bring the Church before the civil courts. It has become a frequent thing of late, often for very frivolous reasons, some among which have involved matters such as the remodeling of a church by the pastor, the firing of a Church employee, contested either by the employee himself or by friends among the congregation, even by the pious practices of the faithful which have been placed under some restraint by their own pastors. There are several vital reasons why recourse should be sought FIRST in the church's own courts: 1) secular courts simply lack the authority and competence with religious matters necessary to resolve the issues adequately; 2) any secular legal action involving the Church runs the enormous risk of setting a legal precedent of government control not only over the Church, but over its day-to-day administration and life. Such precedents, however small, often partake of the Arab proverb of the camel and the tent, and might well lead to a pattern, if not of domination then at least of harassment, of the Church by the State. Several current cases in the civil courts, brought by individuals and organizations other than the faithful themselves already represent this particular danger with some serious degree of probability.
If you have the firm conviction that your critical rights are being systematically violated and have no idea what to do about it, or who to approach as to the proper method of vindicating them, the Foundation may be contacted at:
The Saint Joseph