The Code of Church Law, 1983
Source: The Code of Canon Law. A Text and Commentary, ed. J.A.Coriden, T.J.Green and D.E.Heintschel, London 1985; quoted here as CCLTC.
- Duties of the faithful regarding the magisterium
- The academic freedom of theologians
- Only men can be installed as lectors or acolytes
- By temporary deputation lay persons, including women, may be readers, Mass servers, cantors, preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism and communion
- The extent of infallibility in the magisterium
- Levels of response to the magisterium
- The teaching authority of bishops
- Only men can receive Holy Orders
Canon 212, § 1. The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.
Canon 212, § 2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.
Canon 212, § 3 . In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.
Canon 218. Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the magisterium of the Church.
Canon 230, §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications determined by decree of the conference of bishops can be installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte in accord with the prescribed liturgical rite; the conferral of these ministries, however, does not confer on these lay men a right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.
Note. Installation on a permanent or stable basis in these two ministries is limited to men and to those who have reached the age specified by the conference of bishops. In the United States that age is eighteen. A special liturgical rite is to be followed. Installation, however, is not an order. Episcopal orders are not required to install lay men validly in these ministries; this is to be done by the bishop or the major superior of a religious order. By installation a minister does not acquire any claim to financial support in the Church; he does not become a cleric (c. 266, §1). CCLTC, p. 167.
Another problem encountered since 1972 is the restriction of installation in these ministries to men. The basis for this restriction has been questioned throughout the process for revising the Code. These are truly lay ministries, are not intended as steps toward sacred orders, and the restriction to males appears an unwarranted discrimination. The limitation, however, has been retained in the canon. The difficulty in practice is that many of the functions installed lectors and acolytes are to perform have already been entrusted to women as well as men. Women are authorized to proclaim the readings before the gospel, and in some countries such as the United States the conference of bishops has permitted them to read from the same location inside the sanctuary where the gospel will be proclaimed. Women are authorized in many dioceses to distribute the Eucharist as extraordinary ministers. What would be the impact on the community if some who provide these ministries were to be installed but others, equally qualified and experienced, were to be denied installation merely on the basis of sex? It would seem to belie the provisions of canon 208 on the equality of the baptized. CCLTC, p. 168.
By temporary deputation lay persons, including women, may be readers, Mass servers, cantors, preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism and communion
Canon 230, §2. Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation; likewise all lay persons can fulfill the functions of commentator or cantor or other functions, in accord with the norm of law.
Canon 230, § 3. When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of law.
Recognizing the practical facts and being faithful to the possibilities in Sacrosanctum Concilium 29, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (nos. 68-70) has provided for lay persons of either sex and without canonical limitation on age (although clearly they must be old enough to do the service appropriately) to supply some of the same services as installed rectors and acolytes. These additional roles are classified in the pre-Code documents as liturgical ministries; although the canon does not employ the same terminology, these services may still properly be termed ministries. CCLTC, p. 168.
The 1917 Code restricted ministry at the altar to males (CIC 813). The revised Code does not retain that canon; in virtue of canon 6, §1 it ceases as Code law. However, canon 2 specifies that liturgical law remains in effect. The provisions of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (no. 70) permit women to be appointed to ministries performed outside the sanctuary. They may also be permitted to perform some that are carried on inside the sanctuary; proclaiming the readings before the gospel is explicitly mentioned (no. 70) and distribution of the Eucharist is referred to, implicitly admitting women to the sanctuary (no. 68). Although a subsequent instruction indicated that women are not allowed to serve as altar servers, the Code no longer states this prohibition and the force of this later instruction ceases. The provisions of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal need to be interpreted in keeping with conditions of particular churches. CCLTC, p. 168.
Canon 749, § 1. The Supreme Pontiff, in virtue of his office, possesses infallible teaching authority when, a supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful, whose task is to confirm his fellow believers in the faith, he proclaims with a definitive act that a doctrine of faith and morals is to be held as such.
Canon 749, § 2. The college of bishops also possesses infallible teaching authority when the bishops exercise their teaching office gathered together in an ecumenical council when, as teachers and judges of faith and morals, they declare that for the universal Church a doctrine of faith and morals must be definitively held; they also exercise it scattered throughout the world but united in a bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter when together with that same Roman Pontiff in their capacity as authentic teachers of faith and morals they agree on an opinion to be held as definitive.
Canon 749, § 3. No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.
Canon 750. All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith; it is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths.
Canon 752. A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.
Canon 753. Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul.
Canon 1024. Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination.
The question can be raised whether discrimination based on sex is justified within the Church both because of the scriptural warrant and because of the need for the Church to be consistent in practising what it preaches if it is to be credible in its social magisterium.
An earlier version of the listing of rights included a canon based on Gaudium et Spes stating that the obligations and rights common to all Christians apply without discrimination on the basis of, among other factors, social condition or sex. This has not been retained in the final listing. There has been, however, a genuine effort in the 1983 Code to eradicate many expressions of sexual discrimination found in the former one. For example, there is no longer discrimination on the basis of sex relative to domicile (c. 104), transfer of rite (c. 112), precautions clerics are to take to protect continence (c. 277, §2), regulations concerning the confessional (c. 964) or the place of marriage (c. 1115) or burial (c. 1177). In cases of converts, polygamists and polyandrists are treated alike (c. 1148, §1). The law concerning religious applies equally to men and women unless the text or nature of the matter evidences otherwise (c. 606). The most notable exception is the regulation on papal cloister, which applies only to monasteries of nuns (c. 667,. §3). Women may serve in tribunals even as judges (c. 1421, §2), may be authorized to preach in churches (c. 766), and may be called to exercise pastoral care of local communities (c. 517, §2).
The major discrimination in the Code is between clergy and laity, rather than between men and women. Two exceptions are the restrictions to lay men of formal installation as lectors or acolytes (c. 230, § 1), and the impediment of abduction that can be incurred only when a man abducts a woman and not vice versa (c. 1089).
There remains, however, the exclusion of women from ordained ministry (c. 1024), and therefore from the offices, functions, and ministries that are restricted to clerics. Not all of these entail an exercise of the power of orders. For example, only the ordained are capable of exercising the power of governance in the Church (c. 129, §1), and offices that entail the exercise of that power are restricted to clerics (c. 274, §1).
This does not exclude women from creative, active roles in the Church. To implement the new way of thinking characteristic of the revised Code will take time and effort, providing ample opportunity for all in the Church to explore the full implications of the canons on equality, obligations, and rights. There is need for further theological clarification of the relation between ordained ministry and the power of governance, especially in light of the restriction regarding women being ordained. It must also be admitted, however, that the continued discrimination, even based on theological arguments, may be discouraging to many in the Church. CCLTC, p. 141.
- Marie-Thérèse Van Lunen Chénu and Louise Wentholt, The Status of Women in the Code of Canon Law and in the United Nations Convention, Praxis juridique et religion 1 (1984) pp. 7-18.
- Marie-Thérèse Van Lunen Chenu, Human rights in the Church: a non-right for women in the Church? in Human Rights. The Christian contribution, July 1998.
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