77th Convention CLSA: Church structures fifty years after Vatican II

Pitt

It has been said that the Church, a two-thousand year old institution, thinks not in years but centuries. Although the Second Vatican Council concluded fifty years ago, we are still in the process of receiving the Council and implementing its work, and searching for understanding and new insights about the nature of the Church and her mission in the world.

Guided by the Spirit, we acknowledge that human struggles continue today just as took place during the Council; yet we know that the Church is in God’s hands.

In 1974, the Canon Law Society of America conducted a “Think Tank” to identify a focus for future research. It established the “Permanent Seminar” as an effort involving teams of scholars to research fundamental theological and canonical issues. The first of the three seminars addressed the Church as communion in which the participants attempted to synthesize the notion of communio from historical, theological and practical perspectives. The papers were later published in The Jurist 1976: 1/2.

Today’s emphasis on the notion of the Church as communio, Cardinal Walter Kasper points out, has led to new forms of “common responsibility” at all levels of the Church. Yet communio is not a description of Church structures. For the structures of the Church are not ends in themselves but a means for helping the Church to be more clearly the sign and instrument of fellowship or communion with God and with others. What, then, are and what should be the structures of the Church and the norms that express, promote and sustain the bond of communio?

Pope Saint John Paul II provides some guidance in his apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte when he invokes a spirituality of communion as the theological framework for the development of structures of communion and participation which ensure and safeguard communion among bishops, priests and deacons, and all the faithful (MNI 44-45). A few years later, in his apostolic exhortation Pastores gregis, the Holy Father points out that sharing responsibility for the life of the particular church is an essential element of the organic structure of ecclesial communion (PG 44).

Over the past fifty years we have witnessed tremendous changes in the life of the Church and in her structures. The Church has experienced remarkable growth and visibility; yet at times, her structures have met with difficulties in discerning how best to respond to the Council’s teaching and its decisions, to new needs and new developments.

As canon lawyers, we are challenged today to revitalize the church’s structures as instruments of pastoral ministry and genuine community. In defining the vocation of canon lawyers, Fr. Ladislas Örsy, SJ, describes our task as a partnership with the Spirit in building appropriate structures for the unfolding kingdom of God in human history.

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77th Convention Canon Law Society of America

Pittsburgh (USA), October 12-15, 2015 

Here the presentation

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Interview to Rev. Michael Soukar – Past President, Canon Law Society of America

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