There is a sinister spirit pontificating in contemporary Roman Catholic leadership. It is a kind of religious fundamentalism; and it is unwelcome, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

In the name of orthodoxy, today’s Catholic fundamentalists condemn and denigrate believers who study, ask questions, and call for a serious discussion. Increasingly silent about about sexual abuse in the church, and about past and present episcopal complicity in sexual abuse, they shout instead about the evils of questioning celibacy for ordained ministers, respecting the nature and dignity of gay men and women, and asking why women cannot be ordained.

Men in Renaissance robes who loudly proclaim “respect or life” are working overtime to squeeze every bit of life out of their church. People who challenge their authoritarian crack-down are labeled “disobedient,” or “anti-Catholic,” or “in grave sin.” Priests are silenced and removed from leadership positions and theologians are condemned, often without any genuine discussion about their research and thought. There is a major Catholic exodus from the church and our bishops applaud it as a necessary institutional purification.

We are not living in the middle ages. Every man and every woman has dignity and rights: to be, to enquire, to think, and to express one’s thoughts.

And every Roman Catholic man and every Roman Catholic woman has rights stated and guaranteed in Roman Catholic Church law.

Here a few significant Catholic rights (and the number of the canon in church law that affirms it):

Basic Rights

All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in all matters. (C. 748.1)

Officers of the Church have the right to teach on matters both of private and public morality only after wide consultation with the faithful prior to the formulation of the teaching.4 (C. 212, C. 747, C. 749, C. 752, C. 774.1)

Decision-making and Dissent

All Catholics have the right to a voice in all decisions that affect them, including the choosing of their leaders. (C. 212:3)

All Catholics have the right to have their leaders accountable to them. (C. 492, C. 1287.2)

All Catholics have the right to form voluntary associations to pursue Catholic aims including the right to worship together; such associations have the right to decide on their own rules of governance. (C. 215, C. 299, C. 300, C. 305, C. 309)

All Catholics have the right to express publicly their dissent in regard to decisions made by Church authorities. (C. 212:3, C. 218, C. 753)

Due Process

All Catholics have the right to be dealt with according to commonly accepted norms of fair administrative and judicial procedures without undue delay. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223, 1,2)

All Catholics have the right to redress of grievances through regular procedures of law. (C. 221:1,2,3, C. 223:1,2)

All Catholics have the right not to have their good reputations impugned or their privacy violated. (C. 220)

Ministries and Spirituality

All Catholics have the right to receive from the Church those ministries which are needed for the living of a fully Christian life, including:

a) Instruction in the Catholic tradition and the presentation of moral teaching in a way that promotes the helpfulness and relevance of Christian values to contemporary life. (C.229:1,2)

b) Worship which reflects the joys and concerns of the gathered community and instructs and inspires it.

c) Pastoral counseling that applies with love and effectiveness the Christian heritage to persons in particular situations. (C. 213, C. 217)

Catholic teachers of theology have a right to responsible 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. (C. 212:1, C. 218, C. 750, C. 752, C. 754, C. 279:1, C. 810, C. 812)

Social and Cultural Rights

All Catholics have the right to freedom in political matters. (C. 227)

All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in working for justice and peace in the world. (C. 225:2)

All employees of the Church have the right to decent working conditions and just wages. They also have the right not to have their employment terminated without due process. (C. 231:2)

For a more complete explanation of Catholic rights and responsibilities, please consult:



  1. As a Catholic, I struggle with my own hypocrisy of agreeing in conscience with these God-give rights and yet remain in the prison of my past by continuing to support Catholic organizations (including my parish) with my “time, talent and money”. The reformer, Jesus, never built a building nor took up a collection, yet I support those who do by suppressing my conscience to resist. Every week my Sunday envelop accuses me of hypocrisy while knowing full well what Jesus thought of hypocrites.

    Thanks for helping me see this.

  2. Thanks very much Mr Greenleaf.

    Speaking of Catholic fundamentalism reminds me of two incidents. The first took place more than ten years ago at a small meeting of open-minded bishops, when they were asked “What is your biggest concern today for your people?” They agreed, “Fundamentalism,” in the sense of blind and literal adherence to Church teaching, without nuance or recognized room for interpretation.

    The second took place at a Notre Dame summer graduate session five years ago. A young mother in her 30’s declared, “My parish raised money to send me to Notre Dame so I could learn Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body, and come home and teach it in the parish. Did you know,” she continued without a hint of irony, “that most Catholics don’t accept the Church’s teaching against contraception?!” I asked whether simply presenting the official teaching would be enough to change people’s minds. That idea hadn’t occurred to her. She just assumed that when people heard the correct teaching they would immediately begin to think exactly what they were told to think.

    Both these example have to do with lay fundamentalism, and I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that many of the laity really want this illusion of sturdy, impermeable, eternal Church authority. There must be some way to invite individuals to move from rigidity to flexibility without leaving them defensive and aggressive about losing their perceived safety net.

  3. Study of the various and sometimes contradictory views of the Gospels introduces students to critical thinking. It has to! So what has the Church done? It has moved the emphasis in religious education from the Gospels and Jesus to doctrine and catechism, but without the historical context, and without honesty concerning the messy process of doctrinal development. Gone is the commitment to producing “thinking Catholics” that I saw in the church of Vatican II, that inspired me in my theological studies, and that led me to my choice of career as a religious educator. The current Vatican is not committed to the pursuit of the Truth, the Vatican is afraid of the Truth.

    1. Very well said Mona! So let us our best to continue the search. One of our oldest Catholic principles is that theology is “faith seeking understanding.” John

  4. Thank you, thank you for this. For me, “All Catholics have the right to follow their informed consciences in all matters.” (C. 748.1) is one of the most precious ideas in Catholicism. I hope it is alright if I link to your entry on my blog. It is so spot on to what I feel about much of Catholicism.

    1. Claire Thank you for your comments. Of course you can make a link on your blog. Collaboration and mutual support are essential in genuine church reform. Thanks again John

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