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Church laws face fascinating challenges

Prof Emeritus Fr Francis Morrisey (left) and Dr Chad Glendinning of St Paul University at the convention.


The Antilles Canon Law Society (ACLS) held its 13th annual convention last week (September 25–28) in St Lucia. Sessions were held at the Benedictine monastery, Mount of Prayer, in Coubaril.

The four-day annual convention began with a concelebrated Mass September 25 at the Fatima RC Church, La Clery, Castries. Chief celebrant was Archbishop Robert Rivas OP of Castries. Dame Pearlette Louisy, the Governor General of St Lucia was the specially invited guest at the Mass and at the dinner which followed at the monastery. Fr John Persaud, General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) welcomed all to the convention.

According to a brief report from participant Felix Edinborough, day two began with a presentation by Canon lawyer, Fr Francis Morrisey, Professor Emeritus of St Paul’s University, Ottawa, Canada.

Fr Morrisey, the only member from the Americas and the Caribbean on the Commission created by Pope Francis to work on the ‘New Laws of Marriage’ spoke on ‘Some changes in the world today which affect Canon Law’.

Fr Morrisey highlighted that since the promulgation of the 1983 code, Catholics in many parts of the world were free once again to practise their faith as they so desired, and the Internet had created instant communications and new ways of reaching others through social media.

On the other hand, he said, the scandals of sexual abuse had not yet raised its ugly head –– at least not publicly – and public enquiries into financial operations had not yet begun.

He added that people became more sensitive to human rights, and the influence of secularism meant that religious and spiritual values cherished by so many in the past, no longer hold the same attraction for people. “And a number of persons have begun to develop their own form of spirituality – perhaps based on a ‘cafeteria’ approach of taking what they like and leaving the rest aside,” he said.

Fr Morrisey then addressed ‘Some changes within the Church which affect Canon Law’. He commented that a number of lay persons are now working on a full-time basis and this has grown “exponentially” while priests are fewer and some are not equipped to work with women.

Another change is that the permanent diaconate is gradually growing into its own in many places with numerous possibilities for new ministries, and the number of Catholics who belong to one or more of the new movements and associations in the Church are “astounding”.

The results of the RCIA programme, he said, have been such that many parishes have been “radically renewed” by members who now have a keen sense of parish community and what it should stand for. He noted the blossoming of the Church in Africa and in certain parts of Asia will inevitably lead the faithful to moving away from a law centred on the first-world traditions and customs.

Fr Morrisey continued, “Religious institutions are experiencing a decline in numbers, as we see today in many parts of the world….When the code was promulgated, we did not have the institution of ministerial juridical persons to assume sponsorship of apostolic works, previously in the hands of religious.”

Another fact which Fr Morrisey said that cannot be overlooked is each year, throughout the Church, many men and women – bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, catechists, lay missionaries, and workers for social justice – give their lives for the Gospel and suffer violent death.

The developments in ecumenical dialogue that is witnessed today, stated Fr Morrisey, would not have been possible 30 years ago and the phenomenon of World Youth Days and the ongoing involvement of youth in the life of the Church raises a number of “fascinating challenges” on how to keep the interior fires burning in the years ahead.