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:
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.
(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.
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."