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Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church

Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church

The Church desperately needs a Constitution
Catholic scholars joined forces to write one 

The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research has submitted revolutionary proposals to the Synod on Synodality, a worldwide consultation of Catholics kick-started by Pope Francis on the theme of a more participatory church. The Institute proposes that the Catholic Church adopt a Constitution that would underlie its ecclesiastical laws. The Constitution would revolutionize the present structure of the Church.

According to Prof. Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, now Chancellor, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland: “This proposed Constitution is the best idea the Catholic Church has had in centuries. It gives due respect to the God given dignity of every member, puts Christ front and center, loosens the strangling, controlling grip of imperialism and clericalism and lets the Church breathe again, love again, include again. We need this Constitution. It is our bridge to the future.”

The constitutional text is the result of a year’s work by an international, interdisciplinary working group of 25 academics, coordinated by the Wijngaards Institute. The draft text was further scrutinized by a wider group of scholars resulting in the final text being signed by over 60 international experts.

The Catholic Church is currently structured around an unelected, self-selecting male-only priestly caste, which alone wields all legislative, executive, and judicial power. It inherited this structure from the centralized authority of the Roman Empire and feudal society in the Middle Ages. Laypeople, who account for more than 99% of church members, are excluded from church governance, and women and LGBTQ people doubly so on account of their gender and sexual orientation.

The new ground-breaking Constitution for the Catholic Church proposes to radically overturn that structure. It codifies democratic features which are consistent with precedents in the bible and church history, and the fundamental human rights which successive popes have encouraged states to respect, but which current church law is far from integrating.

The full text with all the signatories can be read here: Proposed-Constitution-Catholic-Church. You may recognize some of the writers of this draft.

Creation of Global Continental Synod Board

On September 17, twenty-seven participants met from five of the seven regions where continental assemblies will be held. Presentations were made by members representing each of the continental assemblies: The intent of these presentations was to better understand to what extent the episcopal national reports from the bishops are in sync with the reports from the People of God.

European Continental Assembly

Mary Varley with Root and Branch from the UK: They conducted a content analysis of each of the 22 diocesan syntheses, the findings of which differed markedly from those of the national synthesis submitted by the bishops. 95% of the dioceses called for inclusivity and equality; 91% called for women to be ordained; all identified both women and LGBTQ+ as excluded groups; almost all called for co-responsibility and the sharing of authority in the Church at the top level; 100% identified the clergy sex abuse as nullifying authority of the hierarchy. The bishops’ national synthesis, drafted behind closed doors by a hand-picked committee of nine, every one of them employed by Catholic dioceses or institutions, swept lay concerns under the virtual episcopal carpet.

Colm Holmes with We Are Church Int’l from Ireland: The bishops’ report indicates that Ireland has strongly rejected the model of Church of the past. In its place they have welcomed the concept of a synodal Church. A strong desire was expressed for women’s involvement in leadership in ministry including both ordained and non-ordained. Concern was shown for the LGBTQI+ community and the harsh treatment they have received. There is a call for greater involvement of the laity in full participation. The call for reform across all 26 dioceses was unmistakable in this report. Nothing significant was left out from what the People are seeking.

Rosa Murray from the Scottish Laity Network (SLN) from Scotland: Many in Scotland have chosen to move forward on a journey of discipleship. In the SLN Journey of Discernment gatherings of sometimes 60 to 100 people, it was evident that devoted Catholics were feeling disillusionment, disenchantment, and isolationism. Responding to Pope Francis’s call for us to enter into the synodal process, the Scottish Laity Network shared in their synodal submission concern about clericalism, abuse, isolationism, the positioning of women, the LGBT community, divorced/separated couples, and lay people having an equal role in leadership in our Church. One of the few hopeful signs in the Scottish Bishop’s synthesis was their acknowledgement of a key SLN recommendation which is that the Church enter into “a year of forgiveness” for all those who feel hurt, abused, marginalized and rejected by the Church.

Miriam Pawlik with the German synodal Path in Germany: She was not on the call but submitted her written report. This report clarifies how the Germans got a head start on Synodality as early as the 19th century and why they are far ahead in moving forward today in a genuine synodal style with bishops and the people making decisions together. To simplify the read, a yellow-highlighted version is provided in the 1st attachment.

Portugal’s national synthesis from the bishops was very reform-minded as well and challenging of the Church.

We’re beginning to get a picture of what the Church faces from the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, and Portugal.

Oceana Continental Assembly

  • Kevin Liston with South Australian Catholics for an Evolving Church (SACEC)
  • Core issues in the national synthesis submitted by the Australian bishops include:

Strong support for Synodality but it is more aspirational than achievement. People are concerned and feel a need for a deeper sense of community. They share a desire to grow in the faith, in spiritual formation, catechesis for young people. Expressions of ‘welcoming back to the Eucharistic table’ are positive but hypocritical for those who are excluded: LGBTIQA+ people, divorced and remarried and cohabiting couples. Barriers are described as ‘subjective feelings’ related to “seemingly restrictive practices.” The hierarchical model of decision-making has negative implications which can be the antithesis of Synodality.

What is left out of the bishops’ report that were called for by the people:

Recognition of the disastrous decline in church engagement was not followed up with any possible strategy for reversing the trend. The need to ground community formation in personal and community experience. The need for people to speak up and for clergy to listen, are noted but no action is suggested. Any reference to the extent to which parishes are controlled by the clergy. Recognition that clericalism is a major barrier to synodality. There is no acknowledgement that the treatment of women in the church, (role, status and function) is out of step with the higher standards of contemporary civil society.

US and Canadian Continental Assembly

Ann McIntyre from Canada: The Synod was greatly appreciated. Some expressed doubts about the outcome of the synodal process due to the Church seen as a rigid institution unwilling to change and modernize itself and fear the synodal outcome had been predetermined. Yet hope was always present. One sign of hope are small groups whose members engage in sharing their faith. The promotion of such Small Christian Communities is strongly encouraged.

The issue of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples has taken on particular importance. Some felt “pastoral abandonment” due to the problematic history of Residential Schools and the intergenerational trauma. Many Canadian Catholics are painfully aware of these realities. This has resulted in a loss of credibility of the hierarchy by the faithful as well as by people outside the Church. Some expressed concern about how certain groups are excluded from the Eucharist (divorced and remarried, people who identify as LGBTQI+, etc.). They are not welcomed to participate in the sacramental life of the Church.

All regional reports acknowledged receiving requests that women be granted access to ordained ecclesial ministries. This would greatly help with the problem of clericalism which is still present in the church.

To read the full national synthesis from Canada, click here.

U.S. National Synthesis: Following our synodal gathering, the USCCB published their national synthesis. It is surprisingly an honest summary of the points made by the people in the parish and diocesan reports. To read the full national synthesis from the U.S., click here.

Asian Continental Assembly

Alan Doulton with E-VAAC in India: In India 129 of the 132 dioceses participated in the Synod Consultations. By and large the people were happy about the process of consultation. The experience of sharing feelings brought a sense of inclusivity. People also went away with an expanded view of the Church.

The national FABC synthesis has not yet been made public, but the impression is that it will be a watered-down version of the consultation findings. The selection of the writing team for the synthesis was closely controlled by the hierarchy. Clericalism appeared to be the major concern and the root cause of many other issues in the Church. The second point of concern was formation. The ‘field readiness’ of seminarians being ordained was stated to be far below par. Much of this was attributed towards formation gaps. Formation at all levels and across different entities was felt to be insufficient. Discrimination was the third area of concern among the laity, religious as well as clergy. Visible behaviors clearly highlight inequality along socio-economic, gender, intellectual as well as caste lines. While an estimated 100,000 people participated in the synodal process in India, many issues that were raised across the world were not addressed by the bishops. Women’s ordination was a highly underplayed issue though women’s participation came across with this point strongly.

Ed Gerlock (former Maryknoll priest) from the Philippines: He said even though the Philippines prides itself in being the only actual Christian country in Asia, the experience of the synodal process in the Philippines was much the same as what Alan Doulton had described for India. The high point for the Philippines is that the Jesuits are known for their formation programs – the East Asian Pastoral Institute – and people come from all over Asia to participate in these.

Ashik naz Khokhar with Active Youth Group in Pakistan: The laity were not involved in Pakistan to participate in a synod nor permitted to prepare the report for the Synod. It is most unfortunate as parishioners and young people requested to their parish many times that the Synod is happening, and they would like to send some recommendations. They also wanted to be allowed to conduct an event with the laity, but their pastor would not allow them to conduct any session regarding the synodal path.

Pakistan bishops behave as dictators and treat the laity – both men and women – as subservient. If lay people raise their voice for positive reform in Pakistan, then the bishop or priest rejects them and bans them from coming to church. It is not known whether any diocese or National Bishops’ conference sent in a synthesis to the Synod office.

Africa Continental Assembly

Fr. Joe Healey with Maryknoll society in Kenya: The African Continental Ecclesial Assembly (Synodal Gathering) will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Wednesday, 1 March to Tuesday, 7 March 2023. This assembly will involve 100 delegates — , priests, deacons, religious and lay Catholics. The delegates will be chosen by the SECAM Office in Accra, Ghana in consultation with others. This assembly is a chance to deepen the listening and discernment of the synod process and demonstrate that the synod is designed as an ongoing process rather than a one-off occurrence.

The Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) is a compilation of the National Syntheses worldwide including over 30 countries in Africa. The most hopeful report came from The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference which represents the Catholic bishops of three countries — South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini. Being the most liberal region of Africa, their report recommended: “Widen the preaching circle to women and other laypeople, change the leadership style from autocratic and bureaucratic, move away from clericalism, and build more inclusive and welcoming communities. This report is quite different from the reports of the Bishops’ Conferences of Eastern Africa. The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) in their National Synthesis emphasized that the process can only be successful through the quality of listening, dialogue, and a desire to relate in new ways. The bishops said there was a need for a change in the style of formation at all levels for new ways to emerge, postulating the formation and training of adults, catechists, liturgy groups, parish pastoral and finance committees as well as Small Christian Communities (SCCs).

Alloys Nyakundi with Young Adults Seekers from Kenya: Most parishes in Eastern Africa are large and have both priests and assistants working cooperatively. Catechists often give the homilies, but they are not permitted to give the Eucharist. As a result, most Catholics do not receive the Eucharist on Sundays. Many parishioners prefer the homilies given by the catechists over those given by the priests. The catechists who are lay people can relate to the lives of the people. Young people are not given the opportunity to speak out and bishops do not address the real issues facing young people. Unlike South Africa, LGBT people are not accepted in Eastern Africa. Women are treated as second class citizens. They are the ones cleaning the churches, but they are kept out of leadership positions. Only rarely are women accepted as catechists. Mostly this position is held by men. The finances are most often handled by priests as they don’t entrust this duty to the laity. While lay people contribute money to the church, they have little awareness of how that money is being spent. Small Christian Communities are prevalent in Africa but are often abused by priests who take advantage of them. If women get pregnant outside of marriage, they are condemned by the priests. While the men involved suffer no blame, the women are denied the Eucharist and, for students, even an opportunity to continue in school.

Central and South America Continental Assembly

Mary Guerra serves on the board of CELAM but unable to make this meeting. Our understanding is that the bishops and people are coming together through the CELAM gathering and are having productive meetings in full collaboration.

It is inspiring to hear these reports and to see the diversity throughout the world. It should become apparent to Pope Francis that one set of policies will not work for the universal Church. The principle of subsidiarity will inevitably emerge from this process with the most immediate level of the church community incorporating liturgies and policies consistent with their culture.

Next gathering scheduled: This group will gather again on Saturday, October 29, 2022, allowing time for all national syntheses to be made public. Knowing what is in each of these reports will be critical to how this board proceeds.

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A Nun’s Journey has been gifted to Catholic Church Reform Int’l, a non-profit organization. All purchases of this book are tax-deductible and will go to support the reform movement of the Catholic Church. Go to Amazon to purchase a Kindle e-book for $9.99, the paperback edition for $19.99, or the hardback edition for $29.99. For a personalized autographed copy, click on www.ReneReid.com and click “Order” in the top left corner. When you have read the book, it would be helpful if you go back to Amazon and click “rating” to rate it and write a review. Your support for this project is most appreciated.

When you make a donation to support our cause, you join with others who are investing in restoring our Church to what Jesus intended. The dollars we receive are used to run our programs and to reach a broad spectrum of the People of God. We are focused on reaching out to the Faithful, reform activists, as well as those who feel abandoned by the Church. A significant share of funds are currently going to support our online Zoom Small Seekers Community for young people . Your personal contributions in offering your suggestions and your donations are most appreciated.

Walking the journey with you, in peace,

Our CCRI strategy team

Rene Reid, director

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"...Until we raise a common voice, we will not only not be heard, we will not even be listened to....   

My hope is that by speaking out together - a strong chorus of calls for reform - we can provide a common, a clear, a strong and ongoing voice for the yet incomplete vision of Vatican II.

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