Canon Law Protects Rights, Hopes of Faithful
By: Brother Tom Carroll OFM
Sister Kate Kuenstler, PHJC, JCD, recently spent an evening with members and friends of FutureChurch. The canon lawyer from Belleville, Illinois, began her presentation on “Canon Law and the Rights of the Lay Christian Faithful” by reminding us that canon law is a gift to the church, largely unknown to the many. Vatican II changed our theology and thus our church structures had to change, and from that came the Revised Code of Canon Law, the final document of Vatican II, she explained.
Kuenstler shared that within canon law, the term hierarchy is not used. Because we are a participative group of people, the reference is to servant leadership. We all share in this leadership by virtue of our Baptism.
She emphasized that we, the Christian faithful, struggle to live and to work within the church, but we are aware that we must work together, no matter how difficult. Solidarity in this regard signals a connectedness within the community, being in full participation with one another in mutual responsibility and care. The action is on behalf of Christ: to teach, to sanctify, to live in the sensus fidelium.
Kuenstler reiterated that true loyalty to the church means that the Christian faithful must speak up and share our opinions -- a right and hope protected by canon law. The clergy and the laity assist each other and our various functions. “Do we realize this? Do we know that there are canons which work for the good of all the faithful?” she challenged.
Our presenter shared the aspects of several canons with us, stressing that custom is the best interpreter of the law. The community knows the best way because the Holy Spirit is reflected as living within us. We, as Christian faithful, have the right to make our needs and desires known to the bishop. “Frankly, we are obliged to express our opinions,” said Kuenstler. Furthermore, we have a right to join various organizations and activities without fear of repercussion. We have the right to Christian education and to receive the Word of God and the sacraments. And, if our rights are being violated, we have a process for administrative recourse. She walked us through some of the more appropriate canons that reflect our lives and roles in the church. But, she did caution that all of us, including the bishops, need to maintain a Christian attitude, need to be focused on our call and leadership within the church.
Kuenstler closed with the assertion that canon law must always be applied with equity — with a sense of pastoral charity, of justice with mercy, of the imitation of God’s purpose in the church and in the community. “We are the People of God on pilgrimage, seeking, hoping, believing,” she concluded. “May we continue to live our lives as disciples of Jesus.” (A podcast of this presentation is available for free downloading at www.futurechurch.org.)
Sr. Kate Kuenstler with Cleveland Voice of the Faithful leaders who
cosponsored the program with FutureChurch.