Last week, I explained the fundamental difference between the Church’s governance system and democratic institutions. Given the benefits of democracy and the push for more participation of non-clerics in the Church, would a democratised Church be an alternative?
First and foremost, since the Church is the body of Christ, a total revision of the constitution of the Church is not possible. This is because, since Christ is the source of authority, no human authority has constitutive power. In other words, neither the pope nor an ecumenical council can alter the structure of the Church because none has the authority to do so. This is unlike a democracy where power belongs to the people.
Second, there is a fundamental difference between the purpose of the Church and of a democratic system. Christ established the Church for the evangelisation and salvation of souls. Hence, the Church’s supreme law is the salvation of souls (Can. 1752). Modern democracy seeks to guarantee equality, liberty, autonomy, and emancipation absent in dictatorial systems. The emphasis in modern democracies is more on how to safeguard these concepts rather than how democratic governance functions and can be a good and worthy system for humans.
These ontological differences between the ecclesiastical and democratic systems make any attempt at syncretism damaging to their individual nature. Therefore,
Rather than seeking a “democratisation” of the governance structure of the Church, discussions should focus on the application of democratic values such as equality, emancipation, liberty, autonomy, and participation. These values already exist in the Church.
First, there is fundamental equality among the faithful stemming from our baptism. Canon 208 states: “From their rebirth in Christ, there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ according to each one’s own condition and function”.
Second, everyone is called towards holiness (Can. 210). As the Second Vatican Council puts it, “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity…the classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one” (Lumen Gentium, 40-41). Therefore, the salvation of souls and canonical equity (a blend of justice and mercy) accompany the application of laws for everyone (Can. 1752). Consequently, since every baptised person enjoys true equality, there is no discussion on emancipating someone who has always been free.
As I wrote last week, being a cleric is a privilege granted by Christ and to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). Hence, when compared with the laity, the law imposes tougher penalties on clerics for offences committed. For instance, canon 1370 §1 states: “A person who uses physical force against the Roman Pontiff incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if the offender is a cleric, another penalty, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, may be added according to the gravity of the crime”.
On liberty and autonomy, canon law provides that the faithful are “at liberty freely to found and direct associations” to promote Christian vocation (Can. 215). The law also emphasises that all the faithful have the right to be free from being forced to choose a state of life (Can. 219), to vindicate and defend the rights they possess in the Church in the competent ecclesiastical forum (Can. 221 §1), to be judged according to the prescripts of the law (Can. 221 §2), and not to be punished with canonical penalties except according to the law (Can. 221 §3). Furthermore, the law provides that “no one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses nor to injure the right of any person to protect his or her own privacy” (Can. 220).
Stemming from the fundamental equality and universal call to holiness, everyone participates in the mission of the Church and is co-responsible for the success of this mission, each according to one’s state of life. Hence, synodality, which simply means “walking together”, has been the bedrock of achieving this mission of Christ. Next week’s post will discuss synodality.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾
Reading this piece gives a simple but core narrative of what the Church focuses or should focus. Nice read