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Suggested Text for Organizations to Introduce
A Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church
as a Working Document

Link to Introduction

This Constitution, intended for the governance of the whole Catholic Church, is offered to be of service to the Catholic Church throughout the world, for adoption or adaptation according to local needs.  It has relevance to local communities, parishes, dioceses, national and other groups right through to General Councils, and for all officers of the church.

The text of the Constitution, including its Preamble section, in its consultative form has been widely available through both the Internet and local groups and organizations.  It was therefore not intended to have been written from an exclusively Western world perspective.

This document is a governance document.  Some readers may therefore be disappointed that it is not written or expressed in theological language or in terms of ecclesiology, e.g., it does not list the aims which the church exists to serve.  But governance is its focus, in order to concentrate the competence in this much neglected aspect.  However, it has been drawn up from the pastoral perspective, recognizing that the principal level or forum of Christian life takes place at community or parish level, and therefore, through the notion of subsidiarity, it is at that local level where most of the decision-making should take place.  It is only when matters have a wider consequence, or are beyond the competence of the community that decisions take place at other levels.  This Constitution is radically different from the pyramid model, which in the church has evolved over the centuries resulting with the Pope & Vatican at the pinnacle, the laity at the bottom, and with the priests, bishops and religious orders somewhere in between.

In presenting this Constitution it is emphasized that the Preamble must also is given the same status as the text for the governance of the church.  The Preamble contains essential statements relating to humanity within the context of creation, our commitment through Baptism to proclaiming the Gospel, and places our rights and responsibilities in that context.

The intention of this Constitution is to empower the Christian community to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom.  The emphasis is twofold:

  • (1) that through Baptism everyone has a common membership, therefore status cannot be accorded because of a specific role, vocation or commissioning.  There are no classes of membership.
  • (2) maximum decision-making authority is placed with the local christian community, as their responsibility, to develop their pastoral role without external interference or restrictions.  The members of the community really are in control.  Therefore decisions are only referred to "broader" councils, e.g., diocese, or national when the matter is beyond the competence of the community.  This is therefore a reversal of what has become familiar, i.e., where parishes are considered to be merely units of a diocese, and all dioceses very much under the control of "rome."  The bishop no longer therefore has a plurality of roles: president, chief executive, head of judiciary, as well as principal pastor of the diocese instead, this Constitution frees the bishop to focus on diocesan-wide pastoral responsibilities.

These two aspects restore a sense of balance to the role of the individual member and his/her community within the context of the church.  The membership, parishes and communities really are key to the life of the church.  Thus the General Councils and the church officials become very much servants (rather than masters) and there is, more importantly, the potential mechanism for council decisions becoming implemented instead of foundering on bureaucracy and apathy or abandoned through intimidation.

Finally, this document is no longer a draft.* This version was produced jointly by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) with their European colleagues.  At the January 1999 European Network conference, it was presented as a Working Document to the member groups.  It is hoped that readers will find it encouraging and its eventual adoption a possibility.  Comments and responses are welcome, as a revised version is planned in 2001.

John Gibson, European Network

*Note: Leonard Swidler, in his Introduction, calls this document a draft. This is simply a matter of definition. Swidler uses the term "draft" to indicate a document that continues to be open to study and revision, in other words, a "working document."

Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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