Canon Law: on Self-Supporting Church


By Fr. Daniel Kamanga – Rome

The fact that the Church – as a community of faith, hope and charity – exists in space and time is something we cannot de-ny. Being divine by origin, the Church has a divine element. At the same time, she was established and constituted here on earth as a resultant reality of human element too. The Church is both a spiritual community as well as a visible and social organism. It is within this context of space and time that she carries out her unique mission which has obviously a plurali-ty of proper ends. To accomplish her mission (cfr. cc. 222§1, 1254§2, 114§2, PO, 17), she needs material and economic assistance. For instance, there is need for well-constructed, maintained and furnished church edifices that can provide a conducive environment to a worshipping community, there is need for supplies of vestments, statues, candles, bread and wine and sacred vessels in which to carry out the proper cele-bration of divine worship. In addition, she needs to provide a decent support for the priests and other ministers to enable them concentrate more on their sacred ministry and pastoral services. In fact, since they dedicate themselves to the preaching of the gospel, they have the right to receive their living from the same gospel (Lk. 10:7, 1 Cor.9:14). Further-more, it pertains to her mission too to carry out works of apostolate and charity, especially towards the needy. To fulfil such objectives, there is need for resources of material and economic nature.

No doubt, material and economic issues relating to the sustenance of the Church have always been and continue to remain delicate. They are issues that do not probably enjoy much consideration and appreciation. They are issues that bring discom-fort and embarrassment to some quarters. These are issues that have never been easy to deal with and worse still they are often times articulated on uneven paths. Many times, there is a temptation to proceed wrongly in two symmetrically opposed directions. On one extreme, there is demand of an impossible spiritu-alization of the Church, radically separating the “spirit” from the “matter” and hence demonizing mon-ey. The other extreme has been to identify the Church with a purely human society, simply in search of wealth and worldly success. That said, money – as an instrument at the service of the mission of the Church – remains something positive and precious, of more: it is something necessary.

That mission of the Church, for which resources of economic nature must serve, devolves equally on eve-ry baptised person. Not only does baptism incorpo-rates a person in Christ but also constitutes them the People of God. As sharers in Christ’s triple munera, the Christian faithful are called upon to equally and actively participate in Church’s mission, of course, each in accordance with their proper condition (c. 204 §1). On account of that incorporation, we can proudly say, “we are the Church”, or “that Church is us”. As Christ’s faithful, we constitute and form the Church. Consequently, every Christian faithful has a role to play in the building of the Body of Christ, according to their condition and function (c. 208) . From that shared responsibility, no one should fail to take note of the material needs of Church, no one should fail to generously contribute for the achievement of her mis-sion. On this basis, it is logical that the Church should demand or require from her members those things which are necessary for the purposes proper to it (c. 1260). In fact, the obligation to support the Church is none other than the demand of being a Christian. It is interesting to note that in pursuing this right, the Church does not use her power to compel nor does she impose penalties but appeals for the generosity and responsibility of the faithful (c. 1261).

Based on what has just been said, it is justifiable to say that supporting the Church is first and fore-most a voluntary and free-will responsibility. The responsibility to support falls on “We” or “Us”, as constituent members of the Body of Christ. Self-Support is a fruit born of this “We” or “Us” or “Our” responsibility. In fact, as a term, “Self-Support” is nothing but a call upon each and eve-ry Christian to support the mission of the Church from their own resources and God given talents. The Christians themselves must support the Church’s mission without relying more on external aid and support. Such way of thinking is analo-gous to statements in the book of Proverbs such as: “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well” (5:15). In other words, consider your means, don’t go begging from other sources, but seek your life’s sustenance from your own resources. In this line, St. Basil, in one of his homilies stated thus: “Don’t go knocking on other doors. The well of one’s neighbour is always narrow. It is much better to meet your needs through your own work than to be lifted up suddenly thanks to another’s support, only to lose all your resources straight afterwards” (S. BASILIUS, Homilia II in Psalmum 14, 109). Probably, from such viewpoints we can link our own proverbial wisdom: “twakupempha tuna soni” and “sikadzakokha kaopa kulaula”.

The obligation to support binds every baptised irrespective of their juridical sta-tus, whether laity, religious, or clergy, of course with some qualifications. In can. 282 § 2, for example, clergy are encouraged but not obliged to give to the Church or to works of charity what is surplus from their Church income. Simi-larly, priests are to use moneys acquired on the occasion of their exercise of some ecclesiastical office primarily for their own decent support and the fulfil-ment of the duties of their state. They should be willing to devote whatever is left over to the good of the Church or to works of charity (PO, 17). Professed members of religious institutes, although they may not have personal admin-istration of their goods, are exhorted likewise (c. 668 §1). Despite such exam-ples, the obligation to support binds particularly the laity, considering their secu-lar quality and in particular their involvement in secular economic affairs as a source of financial wealth. It is primarily for them to provide because temporal goods are found in mundo, and the laity are in mundo in the full and active and sense (cfr. A. Del Portillo, Faithful and Laity in the Church, Montreal, 2014, pp. 203-205).

To enhance the laity towards a generous support, we need to likewise consider the corresponding duties of the administrators of such goods. Firstly, there is accountability, that is, the juridical obligation to respond for an action or state of affairs of which someone is the cause. This presuppose willingness and ability to act with transparency, in the sense of availability and increased flow to the public of timely, comprehensive, relevant, high quality and reliable information concerning governance activities. In other words, an openness that takes the form of sharing information and reporting on the discharge of our duties. It is very scandalous to deal with money without transparency, to manage the assets of the Church as if they were personal assets and it is worse to manage the ‘widow’s loose change’ in a dishonest manner (Pope Francis: 21 May 2018). Like Jesus Christ, an administrator should speak openly to the world and say nothing in secret (Jn. 18:20). Secondly, there is stewardship, that is, an active responsibility of that which is entrusted to our care through managing, nurtur-ing, controlling and proper administration so that available resources meet the desired goals (Pope Francis: 8 March 2014). Stewardship then entails use of resources, money, time, talent and service in a responsible manner. Thirdly, to support the Church with needs presuppose knowledge of those needs. The laity, from whom that support is primarily expected, have a right to the required infor-mation and the pastors have an equal duty to communicate to them such needed information. “Given the competition that exists today for people’s time and at-tention, parishes and dioceses that wish to be successful in stewardship and de-velopment must pay careful attention to the effectiveness of their communica-tion. The choices that are made about how to most effectively ‘tell our story’ or ‘make our case’ can be crucial to success” (USCCB, Pastoral Letter, Steward-

ship: A Disciple’s Response, Washington DC, 1992).

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