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Posted February 6, 2007

Book: The Rights of Catholics in the Church
Author: James A. Coriden
Paulist Press. New York. 2006. Pp. 145

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

The Rights of Catholics in the Church is a basic reference for those who want to know about or pursue their rights as Catholics. It is designed primarily to promote constructive involvement and equality among the member of the church, not to encourage litigious attitudes.

The author focuses on the lay members of the Roman Catholic Church because the laity seems most in need of knowledge about their rights. However, the rights outlined in this excellent and most accessible book apply equally to all Catholics, including deacons, priests, bishops, and members of religious communities.

An Excerpt from the Book:

A. The Right to Initiate, Promote, and Sustain Apostolic Activities


The church affirms the right of every Catholic to initiate, promote, and sustain apostolic actions. The faithful hold this right precisely because they actively participate in the mission of the church c. 216).

What is meant by “apostolic action”? The expression is Catholic shorthand for carrying on the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. “The apostolate. . .is primarily directed to making the message of Christ clear to the world by word and deed and to sharing his grace” (AA 6). It begins with the witness of a Christian life, proceeds to the proclamation of Christ, centers on the transformation of the temporal order, and never neglects works of charity (AA 6-8).

What is new here? Sharing in the mission of the church as it carries on the work of Christ has been a right and duty of the baptized since the very beginning. But for a very long time it was assumed that laypersons were invited and urged to participate in activities that were initiated and promoted by the hierarchy, that is, by the pope, bishops, or priests. What is new in this statement of a right is that both the initiative and the follow-through can come from the laity without prompting from the hierarchy. When it comes to apostolic actions, any member of the church can be a self-starter.

The canon adds one limiting factor to this right: no undertaking is to claim the name “Catholic” without the consent of church authority c. 216). It is a “truth in advertising” qualification. Attaching the label “Catholic” to a project or organization can lead others to think that it has a measure of official approval. If the promoters want to have that kind of identity, they are required to ask for it.

Another cautionary note is the concern for good order in the church. Apostolic efforts should be coordinated and not competitive; duplicated and divided efforts are sometimes harmful. For example, for many years there wree two very similar configurations of the Marriage Encounter Movement.

The source for this canon (AA 24-25) reminds everyone that, although apostolic initiatives can be established by laypersons and regulated by their prudent judgment, the church’s leadership must foster them, coordinate them, and see that they contribute to the common good of the church. This collaboration should be familial, like that between sisters and brothers.


The wife of a very successful funeral director was suddenly widowed at the age of fifty-six due to the tragic death of her husband. She had five children and several grandchildren and was a co-owner of the family business. She was also very active in her Catholic parish. She could have simply immersed herself in those family, business, and parochial concerns, but in addition to continuing those involvements, she initiated an organization to counsel the bereaved calling upon her own experience and knowledge. The organization she founded is called “Wounded Healers,” and it consists of groups of volunteers who help spouses, children siblings, and friends work through their grieving process. There was no such organization or ministry in her area at the time she began this work. She has helped the movement spread to many parts of the United States and Canada.


In the Catholic tradition, comforting the afflicted is one of the spiritual works of mercy. In this case it is closely related to burying the dead, a corporal work of mercy.

This is a classic example of an apostolic initiative taken by one layperson, based on her own experiences, learning, and gifts. The initiative was then organized and imitated so that it has benefitted thousands of people. The church is built up by such promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Table of Contents:

Part One: An Overview of Rights in the Church

What do we mean by rights in the Church?

Who possesses rights in the Church?

Part Two: The Rights of Catholics in the Church

1. Rights of membership, of belonging to the Church

2. Rights to word, sacraments, and pastoral care

3. Rights to initiatives and activities

4. Rights related to one’s state in life

5. Rights to formation and education

6. Rights due to due process

Part Three: Limitations on and Defense of Rights in the Church

What are the Limitations on the Exercise of Rights?

How can rights in the Church be defended or vindicated?