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Selections from ARCC LIGHT
the ARCC Newsletter 
edited by James E. Biechler, Ph.D.

A Question of Rights
Catholics Have a Right to a Renewed Church

By James E. Biechler

"You folks in ARCC are always whining about problems in the church. The Second Vatican Council has done its work of church reform. Can’t you just be satisfied and give the rest of us some respite from your complaints? If you can’t be satisfied why not go to an institution that suits you?
--H.M.Y., Onamia, MN 

So, you are suggesting that ARCC fits right in with the rest of this "nation of whiners!" We prefer to think of ourselves as fitting right in with the historical "Jesus movement" which was characterized from the beginning as a "protest" movement. Jesus himself was a reformer who was unsatisfied with the Jewish culture of his day, even though all Jews saw that culture as based upon the word of God and governed by the Torah. Jesus did not accept the divinely legitimated priestly establishment as the last word in the service of God. 

The movement which Jesus began has a divine discontent at its heart. "Satisfaction" is a word not in the Christian vocabulary. We remember the saying of Jesus: "After you have done all these things, say 'We are unprofitable servants [Lk 17:10].'" When we pray "thy kingdom come" we are acknowledging that there is much work yet to be done. The "kingdom" is unfinished business. 

You are correct to point to the reform activities of the Second Vatican Council. But reform does not happen in the Vatican. Even superficial evaluations of Vatican II make it clear that the church is still far from being what the council envisioned. Granted, some wonderful improvements have been made. But even these have revealed many additional areas and problems which need attention. ARCC is one small voice pointing out specific shortcomings in our church’s practice of justice. 

Perhaps more Catholics would join us in our mission if they had anything but the most elementary grasp of Vatican II’s vision for the church. When the work of the council was taken home for implementation the task before us was monumental. As implementation proceeded, many Catholics, priests and bishops included, lacked the theological and historical education to understand the changes and the real need for them. That education is still a desideratum. 

For one thing—and of special importance to ARCC—Vatican II put a new emphasis on the fundamental equality of all the baptized. This New Testament doctrine seemed to clash with the understanding of many bishops and lay people that the church was a divinely established "monarchy," with pope and bishops as rulers. The historical truth is that the early "Jesus movement" was communal and democratic. Unaware of this history, many Catholics found themselves threatened: priests and bishops thought their authority was being weakened, and lay people felt uneasy seeing their friends and neighbors in the sanctuary. 

ARCC is not the problem. Our activities are necessary (unfortunately!) in order to point out areas in which church order and gospel ideals are in conflict—sometimes at the highest levels. Just consider the recent heavy artillery the Vatican has rolled out against lay people engaged in liturgical and governance roles. Even bishops were aghast at the Vatican action and there is a scurrying about now to kill, by means of a thousand qualifications, the so-called "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest." The English hierarchy assures us that England and Wales were not meant. Bishop Stecher of Innsbruck blasted the Vatican leadership for sacrificing everything "to a definition of church office for which there is no basis in revelation." Recently Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles was attacked by Mother Angelica for his work on liturgical reform. Vatican II’s enemies are very active. 

ARCC believes that Catholics have a strict right in justice to a reformed church, to a church in which all of the baptized enjoy a true equality (Canon 208). We also hold that Catholics should be able to "vindicate and defend the rights which they enjoy in the Church before a competent ecclesiastical court" (Canon 221, §1). As any educated Catholic knows, fifteen years after this canon became the law of the church, it is still not possible to vindicate these rights because diocesan tribunals are all but exclusively limited to processing marriage annulments. The result is that most of our so-called "rights" are still fictions. 

Scripture shows us a picture of Jesus bringing a message of compassion and equality to a social world of exclusivity and juridical purity. The "kingdom of God" he preached was to be a society of open commensality where the justice of God was lavish and openhanded. No one in the world today thinks of the Catholic Church as practicing lavish and openhanded justice. ARCC believes that Catholics have a claim in justice to a church which corresponds to New Testament teaching. 


Dr. Biechler, an emeritus professor of religion, is a member of ARCC's board of directors. He also holds a licentiate in canon law and is a longtime member of the Canon Law Society of America. 

E-mail Comments to Dr. Biechler

Other voices

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(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 18 July 1999
Last updated 18 July 1999
Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer
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