TO DEFEND CATHOLIC TRUTH
AND UPHOLD CATHOLIC RIGHTS
|September 8, 1997
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
15, No. 4
Then God said: "Let us make
man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every
creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them,
and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;
and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every
living thing that moves upon the earth."
(Gen. 1:26-28 RSV Catholic Edition.)
Associations of the Faithful
By Philip C.L. Gray, J.C.L.
God created man as a social being.
"This social life is not something added onto man...Through his dealings with others,
through his reciprocal duties, and through fraternal dialogue he develops all his gifts
and is able to rise to his destiny (Gaudium et spes [GS] 25)." Whether we believe in
God or not, whether we like it or not, our very nature demands interdependence.
Because we are social creatures, Jesus
established His Church as a society governed by the Pope and the Bishops in union with
him. Canon 215 acknowledges our natural right to form associations "...for charitable
and religious purposes or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world."
This same canon acknowledges the right to freely hold meetings to pursue the purposes of
the association. In recognition of our social nature, our Church established laws to
govern groups of members of the faithful associating together under a common purpose.
Given the comprehensive nature of the
subject, it is impossible to provide a thorough review of all the canons pertaining to
associations of the faithful. In an attempt to promote the healthy development of
associations among the Christian faithful, I will examine briefly the basic canonical
norms governing associations of the faithful. I will begin with a working definition.
Following this, I will address the role of ecclesiastical authority over associations, the
various types of associations of the faithful, their juridic status and the use of the
term "Catholic." In summary, I will apply these concepts to a paradigm of
An association of the faithful is an
aggregate of persons, with a common purpose congruent with the mission of the Church, who
freely associate in such a manner that rights are exercised and obligations acquired
without change to the status of each individual person who forms the association.
Christs faithful possess the natural
right and have the liberty "to found and to govern associations for charitable and
religious purposes or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world; they are
free to hold meetings to pursue these purposes in common (canon 215)." While the
association may acquire property and enter into contracts in the pursuit of its purpose
and fulfillment of its apostolate, the association exists because of the people, not the
goods it acquires.
By the very nature of an association, the
members pursue a common purpose. In secular society, many associations exist whose purpose
may or may not have Christian orientation. In contrast, associations of the faithful, by
nature, maintain a purpose congruent with the mission of the Church. As stated in canon
298 §1: "In the Church there are associations distinct from institutes of
consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, in which the Christian faithful, either
clergy or laity, or clergy and laity together, strive by common effort to promote a more
perfect life or to foster public worship or Christian doctrine or to exercise other
apostolic works, namely to engage in efforts of evangelization, to exercise works of piety
or charity and to animate the temporal order with the Christian spirit."
Because associations of the faithful must have a common
purpose congruent with the mission of the Church, competent ecclesiastical authority has
the obligation of vigilance over all in matters of faith, morals and ecclesiastical
discipline. The purpose of this vigilance is to promote the common good, protect against
the infringement of rights and duties and provide a venue of vindication when necessary
(cf. canon 223). This vigilance allows competent authority to visit the associations in
accord with the norms of law and the statutes of the association (Canon 305 §1).
Regarding public associations, the authority who erected it has direct supervision over
the association. Regarding private associations, ecclesiastical authority must respect
their autonomy but has the obligation to "take care that their energies are not
dissipated and that their exercise of their apostolate is ordered toward the common good
(Canon 323 §2)." He also has the right "to be watchful that the goods are used
for the purposes of the association (canon 325 §1)."
Two broad categories of
associations exist within the Church: public and private. Further distinctions made in law
are beyond the parameters of this article [cf. clerical associations (canon 302) and third
orders (canon 303)].
"Associations of the faithful which
are erected by competent ecclesiastical authority are called public associations (canon
301 §3)." In the decree of erection, the competent authority must bestow public
juridic personality on the association and grant it a mission by which it formally acts in
the name of the Church (canon 313). Only the Holy See, a conference of bishops or a
diocesan bishop have the authority to erect a public association of the faithful (canon
312). Before issuing a decree of erection, the competent authority must approve its
statutes (canon 314).
Only a public association can receive a
mission to teach Christian doctrine in the name of the Church, promote public worship or
pursue a purpose which by nature is reserved to ecclesiastical authority (canon 301 §1).
As a public association, the members act in the name of the Church when fulfilling the
purpose of the association. Because of its public nature, the authority who erected it has
direct supervision over the association and specifically has the right to confirm the
election of the moderator, install a moderator presented or name a moderator in accord
with the approved statutes; name the chaplain or ecclesiastical assistant (canon 317 §1);
designate a trustee to temporarily direct the association (canon 318 §1); remove the
moderator for a just cause (canon 318 §2); direct and audit the administration of goods
and reception of offerings and alms (canon 319); suppress the association or otherwise
declare it extinct in accord with law (canons 320, 120 §1).
In contrast, private associations exist by
private agreement, freely made among members of the Christian faithful, with the intent to
attain the aims mentioned in canon 298 §1 (canon 299 §1). By far, private associations
of the faithful are the most flexible and less restrictive means for the Christian
faithful to pursue a common purpose as a group. While ecclesiastical authority maintains a
certain degree of vigilance over private associations as noted above, the guidance and
direction of the association comes from the members in accord with its statutes (canon
321). Any further influence and involvement by ecclesiastical authority depends on the
level of recognition the association seeks. From least to most structured, private
associations are categorized as (1) de facto, (2) recognized, (3) praised or
recommended, and (4) private with juridic personality. Unless a private association
receives juridic personality from competent ecclesiastical authority, the association
itself has no rights or obligations in law. However, its members may collectively assert
their rights and obligations, even by proxy (canon 310). This will be further discussed in
the example below.
A de facto association of the
faithful exists by common agreement among its members but has no recognition from Church
authority. Because this type of association seeks no recognition from the Church, its
statutes do not require review by ecclesiastical authority. This lack of review of
statutes allows great flexibility in development and discharge of the apostolate. It also
encourages less structure, which may promote conflict, division and ultimately the demise
of the association. The lack of review of statutes by competent authority encourages a
perception of secrecy. For this reason, the law clearly states that "no private
association of the Christian faithful in the Church is recognized unless its statues are
reviewed by competent authority (Canon 299)."
Due to the necessity of structure for a de
facto association to survive and flourish, all members should participate in the
approbation of clear and concise statutes. The members should exercise cooperation,
flexibility and most importantly sincerity of faith. Its moderator should possess strong
administrative skills and a deep knowledge of our Church.
The Saint Joseph Foundation would fall in
this first category of private associations. Like most, it also has a separate secular
identity as a non-profit corporation under the law of Texas and its tax exempt status has
been recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Because it was
established as a non-membership corporation under state law, one might wonder if it is an
"association of the faithful" at all; but the fact that its incorporators,
directors, officers, staff, those who support it and those who ask for its assistance are
members of the Christian faithful working together with a common purpose, I believe that
it does fit my working definition given above.
A de facto association that allows
its statutes to be reviewed by competent ecclesiastical authority receives recognition as
an association by that very fact (299 §3). It is not necessary that the association
receive approval of its statutes, nor that it even receives formal recognition. This
presentation of statutes to the competent authority, usually the diocesan bishop, is
simply a way of informing the bishop that an association exists with a specific purpose
congruent with those mentioned in canon 298 §1. Because the association allows its
structure and objectives to be known to competent authority, this step of recognition
encourages greater dialogue and cooperation between the members of the association and the
formal structures of the Church. At the same time, the association enjoys the same
autonomy a de facto association enjoys.
An association that is praised or recommended by Church authority but does
not possess juridic personality enjoys similar autonomy and flexibility. The main
difference rests in the level of review by competent ecclesiastical authority. While the
law does not explicitly state that the bishop must approve the statutes before praising or
recommending the association, certainly no bishop will praise or recommend a group that he
does not agree with. If the association wants his praise and recommendation, it will have
to accept his critiques and suggestions.
Finally, a private association can receive private juridic
personality. This occurs only after the competent authority has reviewed and approved the
statutes and issued a formal decree granting juridic personality (canon 322). While this
is the most structured of private associations, canon 322 explicitly mentions that the
approval of statutes by competent authority does not change its private nature. This
clearly demonstrates the intent of the law to protect the autonomy of private associations
and allow the Christian faithful to freely guide and direct them according to the
prescripts of the statutes (cf. Canon 321). With juridic personality, the association
itself has rights and obligations in law. When asserting or vindicating rights and
obligations, entering into contracts or performing any public act in the Church, it is not
necessary that its members act collectively. Rather, the association itself acts when
represented by legitimate authority according to its statutes.
As autonomous of formal
Church structures, all private associations freely select their own moderator and
officials, freely administer the goods they possess and freely choose their own spiritual
advisor, who must be confirmed by the local ordinary (canons 324, 325). According to law,
no apostolic endeavor nor association shall bear the name "Catholic" without the
express permission of competent ecclesiastical authority (canons 216, 300, 803 §3, 808).
While this norm is not always known or followed, it is meant to protect the faithful
against misrepresentation by groups that do not promote the true Faith. Any association
bearing the term "Catholic" in its name should have proof of consent by
competent ecclesiastical authority.
In application of these principles, I choose the educational
endeavors of parents to illustrate the usefulness of these norms. There are a growing
number of parents who home school their children. Recognizing their primacy by natural
obligation to educate their children, these parents choose to home school for a variety of
reasons. In dioceses across the United States, bishops are attempting to regulate these
educational endeavors, particularly in the realm of catechesis. Some pastors refuse to
allow children to receive first sacraments unless the children attend the parish religious
educational program. In most instances, the catechists have no more ability to teach the
Faith than the parents. Not being the parent of the child, the catechist lacks the
God-given primacy to form the child. In a greater breach of natural rights, some bishops
attempt to regulate the actual educational endeavors that occur within the home.
Many parents form or join home schooling
associations before any issues arise. Others form loose associations with the primary
purpose of vindicating rights that may be violated by unnecessary ecclesiastical
regulations. When an active association exists with the purpose of promoting and
supporting the parents primary obligation to educate their children, home schooling
endeavors seem to produce more fruit. Furthermore, they are able to address common issues,
such as attempts to regulate education within the home.
Even though a home schooling association
may be incorporated in secular law, unless its statutes are reviewed by the diocesan
bishop, it has no recognition in canon law. Furthermore, unless the association has
juridic personality, the association itself has no rights in law. That means when the
parents want to respond to attempted legislation by a bishop, they must do so
collectively. This is done in one of two ways. Either all parents can represent themselves
as a crowdwhich may not go over too wellor each parent can sign a mandate
granting authority to one or several persons to act on behalf of all.
To promote a strong educational endeavor
in the home and to safeguard the rights and obligations enjoyed by parents in the
education of their children, I make three suggestions. First, if you do not belong to a
home schooling association, join or form one. It is always encouraging to have others
share our predicament. Besides, after a day at home with all the kids, it may help to have
an adult to talk to. Secondly, mail your bishop a letter introducing the existence of the
association and enclose a copy of the statutes for his review. It is not necessary that
you ask for his approval. It is extremely helpful that he know of the existence of the
association and that you promote constructive dialogue. Finally, it is possible that the
statutes of the association would include a proxy mandate granting the moderator, either
alone or with other officers, the necessary authority to represent the members in an
ecclesiastical forum. If this was done, each member would have to sign a copy of the
mandate so the one delegated could prove his delegation. These three steps would encourage
a stronger educational milieu within the home, discourage suspicion among ecclesiastical
authorities and provide great flexibility in the discharge of business, particularly when
issues arise that require immediate attention.
These same suggestions could be modified
to fit any number of situations that exist among the faithful in the Church. Examples of
such situations include groups of Catholics who wish to form a community, a prayer group
or an organization that would provide charitable acts for the needy. The very fact that
they associate freely makes them a de facto association. To protect their
apostolate and promote unity within the Church, it is most helpful to draw-up statutes
organizing the association and following the suggestions noted above.
In closing, I emphasize a self-evident
truth often overlooked. Man is a social creature. As such, we are interdependent on others
in our pursuit for heavens glory. God created us male and female and ordered us to
fill the earth and subdue it. We cannot subdue the earth alone. By divine institution of
marriage we fill the earth and by the natural use of associations, freely formed and
directed in Christian charity, we can subdue the earth, conquering all for Christ and His
bride the Church. Christ Himself did not go it alone. He first chose to be a part of a
family. He then chose twelve apostles to assist Him in His public ministry. In addition to
the twelve, there were many others, especially women, who followed Him and promoted His
Prayerfully, let us follow His example.