Explaining the responsibility

Who is Responsible?

Every church, although based on what its members believe to be divine revelation, is also a human institution. As human communities, churches require rules. Thus canons provide guide lines for action and not beliefs, based on faith. These laws govern the external order of the church while instructing the faithful in their precepts of life. In this sense while analyzing a case study one should know, "the visible social structure of the church serve the spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of his body,"[1] mentioned in Lumen Gentium n.8. Then the primary function of the church is to recognize the presence of Christ through, "visible and efficacious sign of invisible gifts,"[2] the Church. Any damage to this visible church affects the mystical body of Christ.

A careful examination is needed in order to preserve the body of Christ present through this case study by addressing various issues at hand in relation to relevant canons. Then I would take a stand in explaining the responsibility of the Priest in preserving the faithful and strengthening their faith and their response to his call.

First and foremost no definitions on the laity could be cited in C.207, pg.1 though pg.2 affirms that the laity and clerics can assume a consecrated life. It refers to the same mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles confirmed in Lumen Gentium n.31 that the, "faithful who by baptism [C.204 and 867] incorporated into Christ share priestly, prophetic and kingly office and carry out the mission of the church in the world."[3] Polly and Fred as baptised Catholics have been carrying out this mission of the church through the promise made during baptism C. 868, and bringing up their children in a sacramental family C.226. This includes their duties in educating them in a Catholic School under C.793 and being sufficiently instructed in Catholics religious education C.804. On the other hand the Church also bears this responsibility in C.794 to provide education to all the faithful by promoting educational centres C.800 pg.1 and C. 807. It is interesting to note that their marriage seems to be an ideal one for fifteen years; hence I assume that they had a sacramental married life, filled with love C. 1055 pg.1 and they had a reasonable understanding of the Catholic faith.

However the behaviour changes of Fred noticed by Polly regarding his intensions of leaving the Catholic Church, is quite appalling. The case does not provide any information on their personal life nor their involvement in church activities nor their personal prayer life at home. Assuming that all these are being taken care, yet Fred's unrest is questionable? However the reasons cited by Fred are based on Fr. Smith's homily which is not quite worthwhile? I also assume that Fr. Smith has been a parish priest in reference to the time frame suggested in the case and homilies that Fred has heard. I am not sure whether this was the general feeling of the parishioners or only of Fred's. If it was a general comment then according to C.212 paragraph 3 clearly states that the faithful, "have the right ....in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church."[4] In this sense has Fred felt the need to inform Fr. Smith about his homilies or any of the faithful could have done so. However the case doesn't mention how Polly might feel about Fr. Smith's homily. In this sense is Fred right in his introspection of Fr. Smith being quite hard on him. Does Fred realise his responsibility as a laity towards the church?

In any case if it happens to be only Fred's personal opinion then one has to check the ulterior motives and the required disposition needed in having the right reverence towards Eucharist as stated in C. 898. Yet one should be held responsible for not protecting the reputation of Fr. Smith, as in C. 220 states, "No one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys, or violate to protect his or her privacy."[5] What is the role of Fr. Smith in preparing for his homilies?

On the part of the Pastor who is being obliged to continue his sacred studies C. 279 paragraph 1, by attending pastoral courses, theological meetings or conferences and seek knowledge on the secular sciences. It is unfortunate to see that the priest preaches the same thing again and again. Well to some extent Fr. Smith could be justified that the dogmatic teachings of the church doesn't change but rather deepens our understanding of faith and secondly homily strictly is not a teaching moment. Nevertheless, the faithful need to hear vibrant ways though which the message of Christ becomes relevant to our times.

The sudden enlightenment in the thought by Fred regarding the Word of God is the essence of religion, is indeed surprising. What might be the reason for such a sudden change was he being influenced by the Pentecostal Church, for his involvement for some time? How long is unclear? Being part of the Catholic faith was he visiting the Pentecostals and was discerning his decision for so long, possible?

I assume that Fr. Smith is a responsible Pastor and has followed his duties reasonably well. If he has failed then the C. 528 suggest that the Pastor has two responsibilities - first he is obliged to proclaim the word of God to whose living in his territory see C. 518 and has the unique responsibility to protect and instruct the faithful in their faith and seeking out those who have lapsed in their faith and encourage them to seek conversion. Secondly C. 529 clearly instructs that the Priest should visit their faithful regularly. In turn the faithful offer their support and indeed, "bound through obedience...to the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and declare as the rulers of the church,"[6] C.212 paragraph 1. There seems to be no such dialogue between Fred and Fr. Smith or any indication of his visit to Fred's family.

Further Fred, seems to feel a sense of remorse towards his parents for imposing their beliefs on him through baptism. It is surprising to note after so many years as a Catholic why is Fred feeling this way? C. 849 and C. 867 clearly affirms that the parents have the rights to get their child baptised and assume responsibility for the child's further continued in C. 851, where parents and godparents receive instructions, since an infant cannot take the catechises. So probably it is assumed that the child born in a Catholic faith would embrace the same faith as his or her parents, though one can choose as an adult. Fred's concern towards his children is quite unclear, nor the case mentions their age. I assume that they have already being baptised as infants, affirming the faith as their parents, then Fred must have had sufficient knowledge on the sacraments. Secondly his children studying in school, suggests that they are not baptised which is not likely to be the case. If so, C. 852 makes it clear that for an adult baptism the person should have reached sufficient reason under C. 97, where the person on completion of the seventh year is considered to have reached the cognitive use of reason. However an exception could be made, under C. 852, for those who are mentally and cognitively challenged provision is made under C. 777, in this case probably may not apply.

In my opinion there seems to be a reasonable psychological tension that Fred has been going through for some time. Probable reasons could be cited: was he being influenced by the Pentecostal churches and tries to reason his faith and beliefs e.g. his reactionary thought towards his children's baptism. Have the Pentecostal teachings challenged Fred's inability to give witness to his faith. Is Fred worried that his children might be removed from the Catholic School if he happened to join them, a sense of conditional clause attached here? May be he is concerned about his wife Polly or worried about what Fr. Smith or his parishioners might think of him.

However he hasn't spoken to anyone about his intensions of leaving the Catholic Church except to Polly who is in a state of shock. In my opinion if a person has made up his mind to leave the Catholic Church, might well be able to do so. No one would force one to embrace a faith that is contrary to his conscience. The second Vatican Council has affirmed that a person endowed with freedom of choice is, "an outstanding manifestation of the divine image,"[7] further enumerated in CCC. 311. Having not been clear on the school policies that might insist children studying in Catholic school because his father is a Pentecost seems a bit too farfetched.

In my opinion if Fred wants to leave the Catholic Church is free to do so, as long as he accepts the sacraments, ecclesiastical governance and especially the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, seems to be within the varying degrees of communion with other Churches. As far as I understand that in the mind of Fred who is being misguided might see no difference between Christian denominations, for in his mind he is still a Catholic, though it is considered as sinful. However if Fred under C. 751 has consciously and intentionally denies the Catholic faith automatically becomes apostasy. It is unclear as to the real intensions or underlying motives of Fred to leave the church, as he hasn't made up his mind.

In terms of responsibility either Polly would meet the parish priest and discuss the issues at hand, or the Parish priest might suggest ways and means to strengthen his faithful. Assuming that Polly and Fred are unable to reach a consensus and has decided to meet Fr. Smith and disclose the matter. I assume that Fred may not be willing to face Fr. Smith.

In assuming the role of Fr. Smith, my response to Polly would be in accordance with the allegations put forth by Fred. First of all, it is important to have a word with Fred either by visiting his home, knowing his intentions and instructing him according to C.298 pg.1 and C.301 pg.1, by encouraging him to involve in the activities of the church. In doing so one would feel a sense of belonging which might enhance the grace within Fred. In turn Fr. Smith might invite Fred to attend few biblical classes, or send him for some catechetical courses which would strengthen him spiritually as in C.213; opening up a new world for Fred to meet other catechises and to see the role of the Church from a wider perspective. It is also important for the Priest to make sure that the faithful are rightly instructed in sacraments especially Baptism, the initiation into Christian life C. 851 pg.1.

In the process of education if Fr. Smith feels that Fred is growing in his deeper understanding of faith should provide the sacraments under C.843 as an extraordinary minister. In this sense a priest has not only strengthened the faithful but also has provided under C.209 an interrelationship between the faithful which was missing in his life (Fred) and also has educated him in his response to the rights and duties of the church.

According to C. 766, the Laity (Fred) could be allowed to preach in the church depending on the provisions of the Bishop and without prejudice, C. 767 pg.1. C.536 insists that all the faithful of the church should be able to play a part in parish planning and decision making as expressed by John Paul II, in Christifideles Laici, while working in close relationship with their parish priests. It is important for the faithful to be part of such forum which would help them to defend their rights in churches forums, especially for those like Fred who might think that church has infringed their rights mentioned in C. 218. The priest should also encourage people to take part in the Eucharistic liturgy as participators in the sacred action as insisted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, than just being mere spectators.

However most of the simple people in the parish are not aware of the developments that are taking place within the Canon Law C.18. Sometimes the Lay people would be judged by a parish priest, resulting in misunderstandings.

Thus the Canon Law ironically is quite precise in some places and not so clear on the rest regarding the expectations of the faithful which might tempt the clergy to limit their role to mere satisfaction of canonical requirements sufficient for a Christian living. Nevertheless the responsibility lies on both the Laity as well as the Pastor in taking care of his flocks and instruct them according to the teachings of the church.


  • Joseph T. Martin, A Handbook on Canon Law, Wilson and Lafleur Ltee, 2nd edition, 2007.
  • Michael Trueman., J.C.L and Pete Vere., J.C.L, Surprised by Canon Law, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004.
  • Gaudium et Spes (Part I, Chapter I), in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II
  1. Joseph T. Martin, A Handbook on Canon Law, Wilson and Lafleur Ltee, 2nd edition, 2007, p. xvii.
  2. Ibid., p. xvii.
  3. Ibid., p.81.
  4. Michael Trueman., J.C.L and Pete Vere., J.C.L, Surprised by Canon Law, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004, p. 15.
  5. Ibid., p. 17.
  6. Ibid., p. 43
  7. Gaudium et Spes, Part I, in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, No. 17

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