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PARISH (DIOCESE) CONSTITUTION PROCEDURAL GUIDELINES

PARISH (DIOCESE) CONSTITUTION PROCEDURAL GUIDELINES

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PARISH (DIOCESE) CONSTITUTION PROCEDURAL GUIDELINES

I. GOALS

This is what a Parish (or Diocese) Constitution (or Covenant) should have when fully developed. They may not be immediately obtainable, but for progress it is vital to have a vision of these goals; only then can strategies to reach them be developed. Reminder: It is absolutely essential that the parish write a Constitution, and then live by it.

1. Decision-making power

All aspects of parish life should be under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, which in subsidiarity will be in line with the Constitutions of higher bodies; any action contrary to it would be void. The rights and responsibilities of all parish officers and agencies should be clearly spelled out. Lay women and men as well as clergy should have real decision-making power - not merely advisory.

2. Representativeness

All bodies of the parish, esp. the Parish Council, should be equitably representative, being chosen from the entire community, including all elements, e.g., women, men, young, old, single, married.

3. A Bill of Rights

The rights of all individuals and groups must be spelled out clearly in a Bill of Rights/Responsibilities section

4. Due Process of Law

There needs to be a judicial body which can adjudicate all complaints and protect the rights of all as listed in the Constitution; it needs to have real decision-making power to which everyone is subject. 

5. Accountability/Transparency

All decision-making must be accountable to its responsible superior and eventually the whole parish. With appropriate safeguards for personal privacy, all decision-making must be transparent to all.

II. INTERIM STEPS

1. Start where you are

“Rome was not built in a day” - nor was it transformed in one either! Remember, the best can be the enemy of the good. Start wherever you are in your parish by using the possibilities that are actually present. You get involved in your parish by volunteering, accepting a responsibility. Make yourself, and like-minded “democracy-oriented” parishioners, accepted so your opinion will carry more weight. Note: Canons 537 & 1280 require Finance Committees with decision-making power.

2. Dialogue

If you don't already have a perfect parish with a perfectly functioning Constitution - and fellow parishioners are not going to immediately fall in line when you suggest that you ought to have a fully democratic parish with a Constitution - perhaps they will need to be persuaded. You too will have much to learn from them and together with them. The way to make all this happen is through Dialogue, meaning first of all respectful, open listening, and then clear, respectful explaining of your ideas. As the ancient Latin phrase has it: Festine lente! Make haste slowly!

3. Education to Change Consciousness to Pro-Democracy/Constitution

Many Catholics will be very suspicious, or even worse, of the idea of a democratic Catholicism and of a Constitution. Many will have the “feeling” that such “politics” does not belong in a sacred body like the Church. In the wake of all the sexual abuse scandals, this is beginning to change, and the momentum should be seized upon. Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be done in order to usher in a more democratic Catholicism and a Constitution is changing Catholic consciousness to accept and affirm them. This will require a massive education program through books, articles, lectures, study groups, field visits....

4. Making All Accountable and Transparent

In the wake of the national clerical sexual abuse scandals, it is imperative that all decision-making be completely transparent. This is especially important in financial matters. Use whatever bodies are available to urge transparency/accountability - personal conversations, public statements at meetings of all parish bodies, letters, parish bulletin....

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