TERM I: O.C.A.C. Canon Law

Canon Law at the Old Catholic Apostolic Church is a much more reduced Code of Law, by comparison with complex Canonical Legislation as that of the Roman Catholic Church, for example. But there are several aspects of Church Life common to all Churches. Clergy obedience to the Ordinary (aka the Presiding Bishop of a Diocese) is a common feature, required to maintain a decent level of discipline and orderly functioning of the Church. It may not always be easy to observe due obedience to one’s Bishop’s instructions, especially when guidance conflicts with one’s personal views, but it is crucial to maintain one’s promise of obedience, because it is a shared value to which all members of Clergy are obliged to, so one single breach rams straight into the whole Community. It becomes a selfish act. Other important common values are loyalty, truth, honesty, fidelity and love (Clergy often refers to love by another name: Charity).

It sounds so common-place, you may feel inclined to ask yourself “why are they telling me this?”… Because starting something is not especially hard-going… It’s keeping it going that’s tricky. One’s wedding day is not that difficult, all those promises said at the Altar and such… But Life is tricky, give it time and circumstances will show you it can be difficult to uphold the promises once made with the best of intentions. Church life is no different. One day circumstances, events, words, actions or lack thereof may trigger a problem upholding one’s promises (let’s call these your vows) once made to the Bishop on the day of your Ordination.

An old and wise Priest once offered me the following solution:

“Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling like smacking your Bishop’s chops with a wet sardine, that is the right time to ask yourself whether the issue will matter that much in five years time. If the answer is NO, walk away. If the answer is YES, walk away as well… faster!”

You are not alone. Churches themselves are subject to rules they did not create. In contemporary legal order, Churches, religious institutes, congregations, monastic orders and other organisations are subject to rules and laws in the following exact Order of Precedence:

  1. National Law of the Host Country.
  2. Specific Laws of the Host Country.
  3. Regulations, either national or regional.
  4. The Church Canonical Code of Law.
  5. The Religious organisation’s Constitutions.
  6. The Religious organisation’s By-Laws.

This is sometimes difficult to situate as how it may apply in practice. Laws are complicated, so there is no point giving complex examples. Let’s suppose a religious congregation constitution or by-laws (internal ordinances and such) specify the bells must ring joyfully at 6:00AM every day, but Local Authority regulations enforce peace and silence between midnight and 7:00AM. The Congregation will have to change its ordinances to match local Law.

Now, let’s suppose a Monastic Order affiliated to a certain Church, says in their Constitution (the Order’s) that a request to say a Mass of Intentions for the Soul of a loved departed will cost a fixed price of £50. This is actually a guaranteed example of instant conflict with Church Law in any Church, because it is classed as the Sin of Simony. The rule would have to be changed, as a charitable donation completely at the full discretion of the donor is the rule. And even if the donor does not donate anything, the Mass would still be said in intention of the departed Soul. Heaven has no price tag on it. In other words, the Economy of Salvation is free-of-charge.

Medieval Church Manuscript

So in our modern Legal Order in most countries, Churches, Monastic Orders, Religious Congregations and Institutes, and a variety of other Faith organisations, have to comply with standard national Law. For example they may have to be incorporated as non-profit companies or charities. This in turn is required to organise the things that come with the territory of modern life; say, a bank account is probably necessary to pay services bills such as water, gas, electricity, telephone, broadband and so on.

Next, they might have a Code of Canon Law if they are a Church. Or they may have a Constitution if they are a religious organisation as aforementioned, incardinated (affiliated) to a particular Church, which means they also have to comply with the Code of Canon Law of the Church they are affiliated to.

Thus, members of a religious organisation are subject to the Ordinances and Constitution of the organisation they belong to, as well as the Canon Law of the Church Family they belong to, and Statute National Law of the Country they live and exercise their religious ministry.

These general principles apply to almost all Churches and religious organisations, except the Roman Catholic Church and organisations affiliated to the Latin Rite (the Roman Catholic Church). The Roman Catholic Church – the HOLY SEE – is actually a Nation-State (Vatican), recognised as such in International Law. So this status has implications to how churches, parishes, religious organisations, monastic orders, religious congregations of consecrated life and others have their legal status set up. Most are organisations so-called as “constituted as organisations of Pontifical Right. The legal consequences of their status have many complex ramifications, which are out of scope for us.

Mandatory Reading

The Canon Law Module must be completed with a short written test, covering the Old Catholic Apostolic Church Code of Canon Law. Ordinands must be familiar with our Governance Rules and National Regulations affecting the exercise of our Pastoral ministries.

This is a Stop-Test, which means you may only progress to the next module, after passing successfully a knowledge test. You are permitted to consult study material for this test.

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