| Year 1996 Canonical Studies, PP. 49-55
The Rights and Obligations of the Laity
(Fr. John Abraham)
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The theme of Rights and Obligations of the Laity is new in Canon Law. Although c.87 of the Old Code spoke of the rights and duties of Christians, it did not offer a list of those rights and duties. They were to be surmised from different part of the Code. The present Code from c.208-231 (i.e.24 canons) explicitly states the rights and duties of all Christ’s faithful and lay members of Christ’s faithful. However, the Legislator did not want to offer a rigorous systematic listing of rights and duties of Christ’s faithful. Hence already at the outset, he states that additional duties and rights do exist which are stated in other canons of the Code.

Many canonists have taken upon themselves the task of looking for groupings and connections between the 24 canons. This has surely helped in illuminating the contents of the individual elements. However, since the theme is very vast the complex in its theological implications and has numerous problems related to it, it would be unreasonable to attempt to present an exhaustive treatment of the subject. My intent and the circumstances allow only a modest presentation.

By this title I of Bk.II,Part I “The obligations and rights of Christ’s Faithful”, the code makes a declaration with the force of law about the fundamental rights of the faithful stemming from divine, natural and positive law, through baptism. These rights and obligations pertain to constitutional law and rank more highly than non-constitutional canons. They have precedence over human norms not in conformity with them. Every effort is to be made by competent authorities to see that these rights are recognized and guaranteed.

1) The first right declared in the first canon of this title says “there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful.” This is the principle of “radical or fundamental equality”, (same words are used in L.G. #). Speaking of this “principle of radical equality”, Dr. Javier Hervada the holder of the chair of canon law at the university of Navarre, Pamplona, writes: “the principle of radical equality means that all those who have received baptism are equal members of the faithful. One is not a member of the faithful to a greater degree for having received the sacrament of Orders or an ecclesiastical office. The rights of the faithful have the same force and enforceability for all: that which corresponds to what is just. Thus for example the obligation to the hierarchy is not more enforceable than the respect of a fundamental right. The obedience which the faithful owe to the hierarchy is as just and as much a right as the respect the hierarchy owes to the rights of the faithful.”

The equality is with regard to “dignity of the baptized”. Equality regarding the enforceability of the law and an equal vocation to sanctity. However not all the faithful have all the same rights and obligations. There is the principle of variety existing side by side to the principle of equality.

2) The juridical right of Christian parents to educate their children in the faith; and the moral right to spread the gospel to reach all people of all times and places (c.211).

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