Church’s teaching on justice is relevant to how the Church treats its members

The 1971 Synod of Bishops tackled the topic of Justitia in Mundo (Justice in the World). Particularly relevant for the Church in our day is Section 3 of the Synod Report, where paragraph 40 states: “While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and life style found within the Church herself. ” Pádraig McCarthy
Here is Section 3. The full document may be found here.
III: The Practice of Justice
39. Many Christians are drawn to give authentic witness on behalf of justice by various modes of action for justice, action inspired by love in accordance with the grace which they have received from God. For some of them, this action finds its place in the sphere of social and political conflicts in which Christians bear witness to the Gospel by pointing out that in history there are sources of progress other than conflict, namely love and right. This priority of love in history draws other Christians to prefer the way of non-violent action and work in the area of public opinion.
40. While the Church is bound to give witness to justice, she recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes. Hence we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting and of the possessions and life style found within the Church herself.
41. Within the Church rights must be preserved. No one should be deprived of his ordinary rights because he is associated with the Church in one way or another. Those who serve the Church by their labour, including priests and religious, should receive a sufficient livelihood and enjoy that social security which is customary in their region. Lay people should be given fair wages and a system for promotion. We reiterate the recommendations that lay people should exercise more important functions with regard to Church property and should share in its administration.
42. We also urge that women should have their own share of responsibility and participation in the community life of society and likewise of the Church.
43. We propose that this matter be subjected to a serious study employing adequate means: for instance, a mixed commission of men and women, religious and lay people, of differing situations and competence.
44. The Church recognizes everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought. This includes the right of everyone to be heard in a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity within the Church.
45. The form of judicial procedure should give the accused the right to know his accusers and also the right to a proper defence. To be complete, justice should include speed in its procedure. This is especially necessary in marriage cases.
46. Finally, the members of the Church should have some share in the drawing up of decisions, in accordance with the rules given by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and the Holy See, for instance with regard to the setting up of councils at all levels.
47. In regard to temporal possessions, whatever be their use, it must never happen that the evangelical witness which the Church is required to give becomes ambiguous. The preservation of certain positions of privilege must constantly be submitted to the test of this principle. Although in general it is difficult to draw a line between what is needed for right use and what is demanded by prophetic witness, we must certainly keep firmly to this principle: our faith demands of us a certain sparingness in use, and the Church is obliged to live and administer its own goods in such a way that the Gospel is proclaimed to the poor. If instead the Church appears to be among the rich and the powerful of this world its credibility is diminished.
48. Our examination of conscience now comes to the life style of all: bishops, priests, religious and lay people. In the case of needy peoples it must be asked whether belonging to the Church places people on a rich island within an ambient of poverty. In societies enjoying a higher level of consumer spending, it must be asked whether our life style exemplifies that sparingness with regard to consumption which we preach to others as necessary in order that so many millions of hungry people throughout the world may be fed.

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  1. Mary Wood says:

    As we look at the worldwide church today, this document seems to be a product of folk living in an ideological utopia, a fantasy land.
    Love and rights, responsibility and dialogue, sparingness and sharing – anyone heard these mentioned recently by the top brass?
    It is related that soon after the Council when a French Jesuit mag was pushing forward, a worried Pope (Paul probably) called in the editors for a “chat” about the way they were tending. But they spoke with each other to such good effect that the Pope concluded, not with a reproof, but an exhortation: “Be apostles of the Church.”
    I think many of us would now say “Of Jesus Christ,” rather than Church. I sadly couldn’t recommend an open enquirer to go to my local (RC) church.

  2. Bain Wellington says:

    These recommendations (so far as bearing on the Church ad intra) were given effect to by the revised Code of Canon Law, which (along with the Catechism of the Catholic Church), is the single most significant fruit of “episcopal collegiality” since the Council.
    The key passage in this text (relative to Fr. Flannery’s opinions) is at n.44 :-
    “. . a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity within the Church.”
    This does not endorse a free-for-all. What, then, legitimately constrains diversity within the Church ? Answer : authority.
    See, e.g., Lumen gentium (n.14) :-
    . . . They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. . .
    (n.20, citations omitted) :-
    . . . Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.
    (n.25) :-
    . . For bishops . . . are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice . . . In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.

  3. We have all the right words…….Is anyone prepared to put them in to practice? ………..The comment is directed at the Vatican, but we all have to mindful of our behavior.

  4. Bain Wellington says:

    Darlene, the words in 40 are not “directed at the Vatican”, but (as you do, indeed, understand) at all of us – and especially at the life-style of clergy in the more affluent countries, I think.
    The Holy Father delivered a shocking message when he repeated this evangelical teaching on his last visit to Germany where the Church is lavishly funded. See his speech in Freiburg on 25 September 2011 during a “meeting with Catholics engaged in the life of the Church and society”. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2011/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20110925_catholics-freiburg_en.html

  5. This is a topic which is close to my heart… Many thanks!
    Exactly where are your contact details though?

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