Canonical Rights

If you quizzed most Catholics about their rights in the Church, you’d probably get more than a few who would summarize those rights with the words “pray, pay, and obey.”  Apart from the fact that those are really responsibilities, not rights, they convey the common notion that the folks in the pews really don’t have any rights.  But the Church’s Code of Canon Law makes it clear that all the Christian Faithful do, in fact, have rights within the Church. Canons 208 to 231 outline those rights.

Thyn include the right to make known their needs and desires to the pastors of the Church (212.2), and to make their opinions known to both their pastors and to other people (212.3).  People have a right to receive assistance from the spiritual goods of the church, especially the sacraments (213).  The Christian Faithful have the right to freely found and govern associations for charitable and religious purposes, and to hold meetings to pursue these purposes (215).

People have a right to religious education (217), and those involved in sacred disciplines like the study and teaching of Theology have the freedom of inquiry and prudently expressing their opinions (218).  We have the right to a good reputation, and the right of privacy (220).

Perhaps the least known right of the faithful expressed in Canon Law is the right of due process.  According to canon 221, “the Christian faithful can legitimately vindicate and defend the rights which they enjoy in the Church before a competent ecclesiastical court in accord with the norms of the law.”  That means what when our rights have been violated, we have the right to seek redress.  The Church maintains tribunals, not just to process marriage annulments, but also to allow people to defend their rights.

It’s true that many in the Church—including some of her pastors—believe that their will is law.  But the Church’s own legal code makes it clear that all the members of the Church have rights, and have the opportunity to exercise those rights in charity and justice.