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This issue's letters and comments.


As Gregory Caridi notes (Easter 2022), there’s often been a rhetorical juxtaposition between the Church’s evangelical aims and its juridical structures, with the implication being that they exist in an inverse relationship: a healthy juridic life in the Church invites sclerotic naval-gazing and impedes the spirit of the Gospel; a truly evangelical and pastoral Church is one which is isn’t encumbered by its juridic norms.

I’ll readily agree, and even insist: a Church that cannot evangelize is a Church that fundamentally misses its purpose; therefore its juridical structures have to understand their purpose as fundamentally in the service of the mission of evangelization. However, I think it’s crucial to understand that bad governance in the Church is counter-evangelical, it witnesses against the Church’s legitimacy to proclaim the Gospel and discourages the faithful. While having a robust juridic life in the Church is no guarantee of good and just governance, having an anemic juridic life is a proven path to lousy governance. While few people will be evangelized by good governance, many will be dis-evangelized by bad governance. 

We’ve seen this in our own time. We’ve seen more than a few scandals that can be attributed to bad governance, because those entrusted with the responsibility of governance were negligent, were ignorant, or were downright malicious. What is needed is the development of habits of good governance, habits that derive, not simply from reserving the law of the Church as a tool to be used in certain instances and politely disregarded most of the rest of the time, but as the normative influence on the life of the Church and the relationships of the many pilgrim members of the mystical Body of Christ.

If I might make a few modest suggestions to this end:

1. There should be greater clarity on the part of competent authority when issuing norms, placing singular administrative acts, etc. regarding what they are and what force they’re meant to have. Authorities can exhort, encourage, admonish, and much more, but when they mean to compel by the power of the law, let them be very clear about it.

2. If not transparency, there should at least be a good deal of clarity in processes which regard persons or matters which directly affect significant numbers of the Christian faithful. If not (for privacy and the right to good reputation’s sake) a disclosure of the particulars of these processes, at least an acknowledgment of the generalities: what is happening and why does it happen this way. The “pay no attention to the internal process behind the curtain!” approach to significant scandals and controversies isn’t really helpful.

3. Speaking of processes: judicial processes in the Church seem to have a bad tendency of becoming quasi-administrative, where the outcome is achieved through bureaucratic formalities and mental gymnastics more so than a just investigation and capable argumentation before the judges. Furthermore, in practice, judicial processes should probably address more types of causes than the nullity of marriage and penal processes for clergy. 

4. The norms regarding the proper administration of temporal goods (property, money, etc.) are too often misunderstood or outright ignored, and this seems to create no shortage of opportunities for financial mismanagement or scandal. The proper administration of goods isn’t simply a pragmatic matter; it’s a reflection of whether or not we understand ourselves as stewards of God’s gifts or not.

This isn’t really an exhaustive list, nor is it meant as an indictment of every diocese, or any diocese in particular. There are plenty of unsung instances where ecclesiastical authorities work diligently to observe the law and promote good governance. Furthermore, I’m sure the senatorial generation of the Church will find these suggestions to be rather pie-in-the-sky; perhaps they are. I think they’re necessary, because I think they’re definitive ways that ecclesiastical authority can demonstrate its commitment to taking the Christian faithful seriously, not merely as an audience to be addressed and won over, but as stakeholders, so to speak, in the life and mission of the Church, possessors of rights and obligations that are taken seriously. If by Baptism we become a new creation in Christ, the Christian faithful have a great dignity, and great dignity requires a respect that is reflected in the actions of those who exercise power in the Church.

Joe Gehret, Indianapolis, Indiana

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