Friday, June 10, 2011

Who would fear a Catholic Bill of Rights?

In the late 1700s, grassroots founders of the United States wrote a “Bill of Rights”.  This document’s purpose was to limit what the government could or couldn’t do regarding individual liberties.  It is a cornerstone of American culture of freedom and has been a model for other governments on protecting people’s rights. 

Similarly inspired, the American Catholic Council (ACC), a grassroots organization, has drafted a Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.  They draw upon not only the American Bill of Rights as an example, but upon Catholic Doctrine regarding human rights and responsibilities.  They also held listening sessions to gain the people’s input.

The current draft of the Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities is as follows:
 1. Primacy of Conscience. Every Catholic has the right and responsibility to develop an informed conscience and to act in accord with it.
2. Community.
Every Catholic has the right and responsibility to participate in a Eucharistic community and the right to responsible pastoral care.
3. Universal Ministry.
Every Catholic has the right and responsibility to proclaim the Gospel and to respond to the community’s call to ministerial leadership.
4. Freedom of Expression.
Every Catholic has the right to freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent.
5. Sacraments.
Every Catholic has the right and responsibility to participate in the fullness of the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
6. Reputation. Every Catholic has the right to a good name and to due process.
7. Governance.
Every Catholic and every Catholic community has the right to a meaningful participation in decision making, including the selection of leaders.
8. Participation. Every Catholic has the right and responsibility to share in the interpretation of the Gospel and Church tradition.
9. Councils. Every Catholic has the right to convene and speak in assemblies where diverse voices can be heard.
10. Social Justice. Every Catholic has the right and the responsibility to promote social justice in the world at large as well as within the structures of the Church.

This weekend in Detroit the ACC will present this Bill of Rights to a few thousand conference attendees in hopes of ratification.  This seems a positive thing for a church riddled by abuse scandal after abuse scandal.   Yet Detroit’s Archbishop Vigneron has issued multiple warnings for laypeople to avoid the conference and threatened to defrock priests who attend.  Though event organizers have repeatedly tried to work with him, he has not responded.  Instead he has drawn incorrect assumptions and told his flock to stay away based upon false accusations of the ACC.  Despite ignoring multiple efforts for communication initiated by ACC leaders, he is quoted in the news as saying the opposite – that he has tried to communicate with ACC leaders and been ignored.  In response to and in spite of the Archbishop’s violation of the 8th Commandment “bearing false witness”, conference registration has soared.

Who would fear a Bill of Rights?  Why would an institution that focuses on God-given free will fear a document that guarantees protection of people’s free will?   Why would the church, comprised of the people of God, want to preserve unchecked power for ordained people and not guarantee any rights to laypeople?  Especially in light of abuse scandal after abuse scandal, why wouldn’t people insist that the church's governance model change?

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