An international network of scholars within the Catholic Church is working on a 'new church' constitution for the third millennium. It is designed to give legal as well as practical effect to the internal rebellion and schism of the past 25 years. Their identity has not been disclosed in any overseas publication, but the project is obviously extremely important.
A copy of a draft constitution being circulated throughout an international computer network has just been forwarded to 'AD2000.' It speaks for itself. The document - which is simply a collage of 'religiously correct' demands - is directed to the substitution Of a 'democratic' for a hierarchical Church. The result would inevitably be a conflict for control between 'parties' and the legal consolidation of the present bureaucratic control.
The rebellion's politically correct 'new church,' as mapped out by a world-wide scholarly élite at work on a "Constitution," encompasses elected popes on fixed terms, (subject to 'judicial' constraints), Church laws made by 'parliaments', 'gay' and women priests, and theological dissent made legitimate.
A recently intercepted "Catholic Constitution Draft 4" being circulated via a computer network to members of the "Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church" carries the name of Professor Leonard Swidler, a Philadelphia-based "Executive Committee member" of the Association who teaches at Temple University and is editor of the Journal for Ecumenical Affairs.
In his introduction to Draft 4, Swidler explains: "James Biechler and I were commissioned by the National Board of Directors of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) at the fall 1993 meeting to begin the process of drafting such a Constitution, eventually to be circulated as widely as possible and revised accordingly, ultimately leading to its adoption at a "Catholic Constitutional Convention (see my essay 'Toward a Catholic Constitution')."
We learn that Draft 3 was previously communicated to "about 60 other organisations and scholars the world over" and that "European Catholic Reform groups have also promised to work to produce such a Constitution. It is hoped that African, Australian and Asian groups will do likewise."
The final draft of the Constitution, says Swidler, is to be "distributed as broadly as possible world-wide, especially to organisations like the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Canon Law Society of America, Catholic Theological Society of America, Catholic Biblical Society, etc., etc., and counterparts in other countries."
Ultimately, a "Catholic Constitutional Convention" in the year 2000 or 2001 is planned.
The 10-page text of Draft 4 (dated 5 November 1994) titled "A Proposed Constitution of the Roman Catholic Church" is described as "The framework within which the Roman Catholic Church governs itself" which "sets forth the fundamental rights of members and the basic structure for decision-making and action within the Roman Catholic Church."
The Constitution's revolutionary. proposals speak for themselves:
CHURCH GOVERNMENT: "Local, regional, national, continental and international leaders shall be elected to office through appropriate structures, giving serious voice to all respective constituents; Leaders shall hold office for a specified limited term; A separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, along with a system of checks and balances, shall be observed; All elements of the faithful, including women and minorities, shall be equitably represented in all positions of leadership and decision-making" (Ill, A, 3d-g).
"On the international level the National Councils shall every ten years elect a General Council, which shall be responsible for the formulation of the laws governing the Universal Church. This General Council shall function as the main decision-making body of the Universal Church. The Bishop of Rome, the Pope, or papal delegate, shall be the Chair and a layperson elected from the House of Clergy and Laity shall be the Co-Chair of the General Council" (III, B, 13).
CHURCH LEADERS: "Leaders on all levels shall be appropriately trained and experienced. They shall be chosen in a manner which shall give a serious representative voice to all those who are to be led by them. This is especially true of the local Pastor, the Diocesan Bishop, and the Pope. At least, concerning these three, both laity and clergy are to be representatively involved in their elections"; "All leaders shall serve for specified terms of office. That of Pastor is for five years, renewable once. That of Diocesan Bishop and Pope is for ten years, non-renewable" (III, C, 1- 2).
"The General Council shall establish a Supreme Tribunal which shall serve as a court of final appeal for all cases brought before it by lower courts. The Supreme Tribunal shall hear cases charging illegal or unconstitutional actions by the Pope" (IV, B, c, 1-2).
RIGHT OF DISSENT: "Catholic teachers and scholars of theology have a right to academic freedom; the acceptability of their teaching is to be judged in dialogue with their peers, keeping in mind the legitimacy of responsible dissent and pluralism of belief" (II, 7).
MORAL TEACHINGS: Should [promote] the helpfulness and relevance of Christian values to contemporary life" (II, 12b); "All married Catholics have the right ... To choose appropriate methods of family planning" (II, 16b).
"All divorced and remarried Catholics who are in conscience reconciled to the Church retain the right to the same ministries, including all the sacraments, as do other Catholics" (II, 15b).
THE PRIESTHOOD: "All Catholics, regardless of ... sex, sexual orientation, state-of-life ... have the right ... To exercise all ministries in the Church for which they are adequately prepared, and according to the needs and with the approval of the community" (II, 13b).
THE MASS: Should involve "Worship which reflects the joys and concerns of the gathered community" (II, 12a); "The Parish Council with the Pastor, either directly or through committees, shall bear ultimate responsibility for Parish worship..." (III, 4).
A positive feature of this 'new church' Constitution is that it may force Catholicism's internal schism into the open and offer Catholics a clear-cut choice: the politically correct work of an academic élite or Christ's 2,000-year-old Church built on the Rock of Peter.
Indeed, it is quite possible, given the present state of Catholicism in many Western countries - and if some opinion polls are to be believed - that many (nominal) Catholics may actually prefer the former alternative.