Theologico-Canonical Reflections on the BECs (Msgr. Monsanto)

(Paper read during the Annual Convention of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines in Bacolod City, April 8-11, 2013)

Msgr. Rey Manuel S. Monsanto, HP, JCD
CLSP, Vice-President for Mindanao

INTRODUCTION: PURPOSE OF THE PAPER

The BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES (BECs) (2) are a very known, talked-about, and discussed realities in the Philippine Church today and in many places especially in Asia, Africa and South America (3). They are said to have their roots in the ecclesiology of Vatican II, especially in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, “Lumen gentium” (LG), and the pastoral constitution, “Gaudium et spes” (GS), and in the conciliar decree on the apostolate of lay people, “Apostolicam actuositatem” (AA). They are also mentioned in some papal documents, like Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation issued on December 8, 1975, Evangelii nuntiandi, 58, and Bl. John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter on December 7, 1990, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree Ad Gentes, Redemptoris missio, 51, and his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation isuued on November 6, 1999, Ecclesia in Asia, 25 which mention them as very effective means of furthering the mission of the Church. The Directory issued by the Congregation of the Clergy on the Pastoral Ministry of the Bishops and approved by John Paul II on January 24, 2004 titled “Aposotorum Succesores”, 215.e, gives only a sort of general description of BECs and even goes to suggest or hint that “in certain regions” parishes may be sub-divided into BECs. They have also been mentioned recently in the Propositions of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization where they are referred to in their more common name as “small Christian communities” and mentioned as one of the Agents/Participants of the New Evangelization (no.42) (4).

But so far there has been no Vatican document that deals with them ex professo officially defining what they really are and how they are canonically related to the universal Church and even to the particular churches in which they exist. Vatican says that they are under the supervision of the “Pontifical Council for the Laity” as can be seen in no.6.3 of the council’s document on itself and its tasks (see booklet produced by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 2012); but even the booklet does not say much concerning the BECs. In other words, up to now they have not been given definite official “canonical status” or recognition; neither have canonical guidelines on them been issued. And they have no canonical precedence with no known canonical provisions. This is the reason why they have been referred to as “extra-canonical” or “non-canonical” realities.

In the Philippines, the BECs have not only been praised by the Church but in fact during the Second Plenary Council (PCP II) have been made a thrust of the Philippine Church. In fact, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has created a special office composed mainly of all the Chairpersons of the Episcopal Commissions to deal with and follow up the BECs. They have become realities in many Philippine dioceses and parishes (5). They are said to have started first in the rural parishes among the poor, and strongly promoted first by the local churches in Mindanao at the start of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conferences (MSPC) in the early 1970’s. But now they are said to be also sprouting and growing in many urban parishes, even in Manila.

Due probably to the lack of Vatican definition and particular instructions or directives or at least guidelines on how they are to be structured and directed, it has been noticed that they are lived in many the many different places in many different ways according to the different situations and circumstances of living both socially and ecclesiologically. Hence, there have been questions on how to govern them and direct their activities in a more or less uniform manner, especially in the light of the Church’s hierarchical structures and canonical laws. And on account of their enthusiasm to promote the BECs and to give some semblance of “authority” and order, most have come out with their own “policies”, “rules and regulations”, and “guidelines”. Some of these “policies” have been seen as discriminatory towards the faithful who are non-members and even towards the “not-so-faithful” members of the units or cells (selda). In other words, some “policies” of some BECs have been considered too excessive and even stricter than Canon Law or the official laws of the Church, and so, have in fact alienated some faithful not only from the BECs but even from the Church – some have even stopped going to church, and in fact some have even been said to have gone to other non-Catholic ecclesial communities. There have also been complaints that some priests have even been heard to downplay other existing more traditional church organizations, associations and movements in their efforts to promote the BECs.

On account of these “lights and shadows” of the BECs, there have been growing requests from many sides to look at them from the point of view of the canons of the Code, and to see if there can be some “canonical guidelines” on them.

This paper, therefore, is an attempt to answer those requests. This is an offshoot of the 19th CLSP (Canon Law Society of the Philippines) Convention in Surigao City last April 26 -29, 2011 that discussed the untrodden topic: “TOWARDS A CANONICAL STATUS OF THE BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES”. It was, after so much discussion, with temerity (6) that the convention approached the topic – as if testing the waters – as there is no specific canonical ground to begin with. In order to help us canon lawyers in our search for light, we invited people we considered “experts” on BECs like Abp. Orlando Quevedo, OMI, DD, Archbishop of Cotabato, Abp. Romulo Valles, DD, then the Archbishop of Zamboanga (now Archbishop of Davao), and other priests and several lay people; and we tried to see if there may be canons that can help in canonically reflecting on them. The only tangible result of the convention on the part of the members of the CLSP was to finally assign the further study on this to the canon lawyers of Mindanao where the BECs are very real, have been recognized and promoted since the early 1970’s and even before, and where in fact the many faces or forms or models of BECs are discernible.

It is, therefore, in view of what has been said that this paper is presented. However, first, this paper will really not venture yet into the deeper realm of proposing a “canonical” definition of the BECs, but simply reminding BECs as they are of the “canonical parameters” within which they live and move; secondly, this is certainly not a “finished product”, the “final answer” but a sort of “working paper” (an “instrumentum laboris”) that hopefully will further stimulate canon lawyers and those working with the BECs to discuss the topic deeper along canonical lines (7), and finally formulate and propose firmer guidelines for approval by the CBCP (8).

It is to be noted that our discussion of the BECs will be mainly based on the Philippine experience (9).

Division of the Paper:

This paper will be divided into three parts:

PART I: AN ACCEPTED UNDERSTANDING OF BECs
PART II: SOME CANONICAL REFLECTIONS
PART III: POSSIBLE GUIDELINES

PART I will simply present the more accepted description and definition of BECs among those who have closely studied, and followed-up their development, and which is applicable to all types, forms, stages, and models. This definition that details their characteristics will be the basis for our canonical reflections in Part II. At the end of this part we will present some “complaints” against some of the actuations of some BECs.

PART II will be a presentation and discussion of the possible canons applicable to the BECs. There will also be a discussion of what may be considered as “parameter laws” going beyond which or at least not watching out for them may lead to possible “violations” of some canons and church doctrine, especially on the basic human right of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom; these “violations” have, in fact, become the bases of the “complaints” against some the actuations and practices of some of them.

PART III will be the presentation of some possible “guidelines” for the BECs – we will present both the “positive guidelines” for the promotion and growth of BECs, and those that may be better avoided by them (sort of “negative” reminders). These are just “suggested guidelines” that we hope would be the bases for more discussions, especially by the members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. From these discussions and exchanges of opinions, hopefully surer and firmer guidelines can be issued by the bishops to guide the BECs in the Philippines.
PART I: AN ACCEPTED UNDERSTANDING OF BECs

A LEGAL LACUNA: LACK OF PARTICULAR CHURCH DOCUMENTS ON BECs

While it is true that we can indeed ultimately trace the seeds, the idea of the BEC to Vatican II; while it is true that it has been accepted and endorsed by the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America (CELAM) the late 1960’s (1); while it has been accepted in Eastern Africa, and of course by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC); while it has been made a thrust of the Philippine Church by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in 1991, and already endorsed by the dioceses of Mindanao during the early convocations of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) in the early 1970’s, however, we must admit, as noted above, that no Vatican document has treated the BECs ex professo clearly defining what they are and especially their canonical status. And there is no document, such as an instruction telling us whether they have to be instituted all over the universal Church and how they are to be structured and governed.

This “lacuna legis” or “gap in the law”, if we may call it that way, at least even of general guidelines can be the reason why while they are made a thrust in places where they exist, they are in the strict sense of the word NOT a “must program” of and for the universal church. And this can be the reason why there is no particular name for it (2), no particular model or form to be followed, no specific way of implementing and running or directing it. In the Philippines, PCP II itself acknowledges the different names and forms of BECs when it says in Article 109 of its decrees: “Basic Ecclesial Communities under various names and forms – BCCs, small Christian communities, small faith communities, covenant communities – … in both urban and rural areas…..” Hence, BECs do and live their BECs in their own diverse ways. This hunger for guidelines so they can run more or less along the same lines and according to unified ways (3) can also be the reason why in their enthusiasm those running the BECs and their members just make their own “rules” and craft their own “policies”, some of which have been considered as “too strict”, “too demanding” (“too much”) and some of which even seem to go counter to the idea of what a BEC should be.

This is not to say, however, that they do not have a common understanding of what a BEC is.

A COMMONLY ACCEPTABLE AND APPLICABLE DEFINITION:

In view of what we have just said, therefore, we will look for a definition that can be acceptable by and applicable to all forms and expressions of the BECs at least in the Philippines. This kind of definition and common understanding will be necessary for our reflections as this will be our point of departure, reference and guide in dealing with BECs along canonical terms and for advancing some possible canonical guidelines, or for at least offering some parameters of law within which they can live, act and do what they are meant to be and be protected by law like any grouping of faithful (cfr. cc.208-231), even without being strictly, at least as of now, a “canonical structure” or “juridical personality” (cfr. cc.113-123).

It is not the intention of this paper to add more to the biblico-theological discussions on the BECs in order to come up with our own description and definition because this paper will deal mainly with coming up with some possible guidelines on the BECs. There are already many books, papers, discussions, talks on the BECs from the biblico-theological standpoint (4). Hence, for our purposes, we will just get from these studies the most commonly accepted definition that is also applicable to all forms, models and expressions of BECs.

Basic Meaning of B.E.C.

We begin looking at BECs from the meaning of the words: Basic Ecclesial Communities. For our purposes I would like to just borrow the simple but clear explanation of Fr. Amado Picardal (5), which seems to be the acceptable explanation as can be seen in the works of Claver and Azevedo, and the talk of Fr. Lunas and of others. Picardal says:

“Community – the use of the word community emphasizes the communitarian nature of the BECs. These are not groups, societies or associations but communities – local communities whose members live in close proximity and interact with each other regularly. These are not specialized groups but stable environments. Thus, mandated organizations (like KofC, Legion of Mary), renewal movements and their local branches (Charismatics, Focolare, CFC, Catechumenate, El Shaddai, etc), cannot be considered as BECs.

“Basic – the word basic refers to both the size and the social location of the BECs. The BECs are small communities. A basic community is small enough for the members to know each other well and relate deeply as friends but not too small that it turns into a primary group or barkada instead of a community. A BEC may be composed of forty to two hundred families. A BEC may be subdivided into several selda or family groupings of five to ten families. The term basic may also refer to the social location of the BECs – they are at the grassroots, at the base of society, among the poor and the least.

Ecclesial – the word ecclesial emphasizes the ecclesiality of the BECs. They are a way of being Church – the Church that is realized, localized and experienced at the grassroots, in the neighborhood. The BECs are not just administrative units within the parish – they are indeed the microcosm of the Church. Whatever can be said about the Church in general may also be used and appropriated for the BECs.”

Thus, from the explanation, we can gather that the word “basic” can refer to two realities: their “size” and their “social location”. Thus, in terms of “size”, it means that they are “small enough for the members to know each other well and relate deeply as friends but not too small that it turns into a primary group or barkada instead of a community”. And notice that Picardal talks of BECs as composed of “seldas” or “family groupings”. A BEC is made up of between 40 to 200 families; while a “selda” is made up of just 5 to 10 families. For him, therefore, the “selda” is not the BEC strictly speaking, but a unit of a BEC. In terms of “social location”, “they are at the grassroots, at the base of society, among the poor and the least”. In other words, as an antidote to the anonymity of the big parish community, in BECs the members become personally known to each other, and are, therefore, enabled to express their aspirations, desires, problems, etc. freely. This is very helpful especially for the “poor”, the “base of the community” who will not have the courage to fully participate in an anonymous large grouping.

“Ecclesial” means that in them “the Church … is realized, localized and experienced at the grassroots, in the neighborhood”, and, hence: “Whatever can be said about the Church in general may also be used and appropriated for the BECs”. In other words, they belong to the Church and of the Church as they are the Church in “microcosm”. They are “a way of being Church”. But it will be noticed that Picardal, like all the other authors, is careful to say that the BEC is “a way” and not “the only way” of being Church. And he also points out that they “are not just administrative units within the parish”.

“Community” points to their “communitarian” nature. In other words, they are “communities” and “not groups, societies or associations”. They are “local communities whose members live in close proximity and interact with each other regularly”. And he continues to explain that they “are not specialized groups but stable environments”. In other words, it means that they are not as structured as the other church associations and movements or specialized church groups, and that they are not ruled by definite laws and regulations as they are “stable environments” or loose neighborhood groupings where the members can freely interact with each other.

There seems, however, to be a question that cries for clearer clarification: while PCP II includes in Article 119 “covenant communities” among those it lists as other names or forms of BECs, Picardal, in explaining the word “community”, says that “renewal movements” cannot be BECs. In other words, does PCP II say that the given explanation of BECs fits covenant communities? If so, then groups like the Couples for Christ, Focolare, the Neo-Catechumenates, and the like may be also considered BECs. Picardal, however, states they cannot be considered BECs.

A Definition of BEC: “A New Way of Being Church”:

The shortest and most concise definition of BECs which is accepted by all is: “a new way of being Church”. The way this is stated, it says a lot but at the same time to the uninitiated it says nothing. In other words, one has to have the proper theological, ecclesiological and historical context to understand its full import. For the definition is too concise and general as to give us a palpable idea of what BECs are; and it certainly cannot give us a proper direction in our discussion of BECs in the light of the laws of the Church. In fact, it can be subjected to various interpretations. Thus, some have misunderstood this as the “creation” of a totally “new Church”, as in a new reality or entity or construct essentially different from the “old” Church, the Church before Vatican II. Thus, by being understood as essentially different, some have rejected the BECs. For on examining the BECs some have strictly applied the theological characteristics of a true Church, and have concluded that a BEC cannot be a “Church” (6). But if properly understood, the description does give us the real meaning of what BECs are, as a way of living out the reality of the Church as she ought to be lived in our post-Vatican world, or according to the ecclesiological emphasis of Vatican II on what the same Church of Christ, most notably the Catholic Church, ought to be today. Hence, there is no break at all between the pre-Vatican and post-Vatican Church (7).

Explanation of the Latin American Author, Azevedo:

To give a more concrete explanation of this expression (“a new way of being Church”), let me use the explanation of Fr. Marcello deC. Azevedo, SJ (8), which, although written with Brazil as the concrete “locus” and situation, can very well be used for the BECs in the Philippines as well as for BECs anywhere.

He first explains what “new way” is NOT:

“The fact is that BECs are a new way of living as Church, of being Church and acting as Church, in Brazil. This way of being Church is not new insofar as BECs are reviving and reliving many elements of the most authentic tradition of the Church from its very beginnings. In varying intensity those elements have been present and widespread throughout history: sometimes highly valued, sometimes eclipsed or quite forgotten.”

Then, he explains in what the “newness” consists of by, first, showing the paradigm and basis of the pre-Vatican Church – the ecclesiological emphases of the Council of Trent:

“But this way of being Church is new when compared with the earlier model that has actually been operative… This earlier model contributed to the type of evangelization, institutionalization, and pastoral activity that the Church undertook… It was the paradigm that presided over the missionary spread that went hand in hand with the great discoveries of the modern period from 1492 on… Today we still find countless surviving traces of that mode of evangelization:… in the conscious awareness of countless lay people and not a few clerics, whose education in the faith derives from it. This model found its first inspiration and origin in the decisions taken by the Council of Trent. Trent’s main guidelines entailed the explicit organization of a doctrinal corpus, a homogeneous liturgical and disciplinary universe, and the careful training and specific authorizing of clerics to implement them and cultivate them…..”

Then, secondly, in his next paragraph he underlines contextually the challenge to live the Church today according to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. This, he argues, is what BECs offer and what makes them a “new way” of being Church today:

“In the wake of Vatican II and its contextualized reading at the Medellin and Puebla Conferences, in Latin America and in the complex frame of Brazil’s reality, the BECs in our country signify and entail new fundamental options for the Church both in the present and in the future. With many of their essential features rooted in tradition, the BECs offer something very creative for the Church… They should be viewed and examined in dynamic rather than ecstatic, perspective as well as retrospective terms.” (emphasis ours)

Description of BECs by PCP II:

PCP II, in no.137 of the Acts of the Synod, explains the expression “new way of being Church” as the way today of living and giving concrete expression to the Vatican II ecclesiology of “the Church as communion, participation, and mission, about the Church as a priestly, prophetic and kingly people and as a Church of the poor”. In short, in the post-Vatican II era it is today the way, “the ecclesial movement” of living “a Church that is renewed”. In other words, it is not a movement “creating” a new Church, but a way of living the one and the same Church founded by Christ, subsisting in the Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium, 8), according to the renewed ecclesiological vision of Vatican II.

In the next two numbers, PCP II gives a more concrete and fuller description of BECs:

“They are small communities of Christians, usually of families who gather together around the Word of God and the Eucharist. These communities are united to their pastors but are ministered to regularly by lay leaders. The members know each other by name, and share not only the Word of God and the Eucharist, but also their concerns both material and spiritual. They have a strong sense of belongingness and of responsibility for one another.” (no. 138) (9)

“Usually emerging at the grassroots among poor farmers and workers, Basic Ecclesial Communities consciously strive to integrate their faith and their daily life. They are guided and encouraged by regular catechesis. Poverty and their faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for justice, and towards a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy.” (no. 139)

And in no. 140, PCP II makes a sort of “prophecy” concerning the future of Philippine BECs saying: “Their potential for evangelization is a great hope for the Church in the Philippines”.

Elaboration of Picardal:

Picardal argues that the BECs put into concrete reality the ecclesiological vision of Vatican II and of PCP II because BECs are:

“The Community of Disciples
living in Communion
participating in the mission of Christ
as a priestly, prophetic, and kingly people
and as the Church of the Poor”

And from the conciliar vision of the Church and the synodal description of BECs, Picardal highlights these “important characteristics of BECs”:

“1. These are small communities whose members are in unity and solidarity with one another and with their pastors. The members have a strong sense of belongingness and responsibility for one another. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as communion).

2. The members share the Word of God and are guided by regular catechesis. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as a prophetic people).

3. The communities gather around the Eucharist and have a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as priestly people).

4. They share not only their spiritual concerns but also the material concerns. Their poverty and their faith lead them to involvement in action for justice and social transformation. (This corresponds to the understanding of the church a kingly/servant people).

5. They emerge among the poor and empower the poor. (This corresponds to the vision of the Church as church of the poor.)” (10) (highlighting ours)

Description of BECs in “Apostolorum Succesores”:

In January of 2004, Bl. John Paul II approved the “Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops” (“Aposotolorum Successores”) prepared by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, where in no. 215,e it gives this general description of BECs:

“groups of Christians who gather together to assist each other in the spiritual life and in Christian formation and to discuss shared human and ecclesial problems related to their common goal.”

Then, it says in what sociological setting it becomes an effective evangelizing tool:

“Such communities have given proof of efficacious evangelizing, above all in parishes in rustic or rural settings.”

The document even says that it is a way of sub-dividing parishes in certain regions.

A More Concrete Working Definition for our Purposes:

With that background, we can now move into a more concrete and acceptable definition of BECs, which will be our main reference in our canonical reflections and discussions.

For our purposes and consistent with our method of depending on the thoughts and works of people who have studied and lived BECs, I would like to use what for me is so far the most acceptable “descriptive definition” which is applicable to all forms and models of BECs. I am referring to what I gather is the most recent definition given by the late Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ in his book “The Making of a Local Church”. He says that this definition has been “gleaned from actual experience – largely a hit-or-miss affair – that is now more than a quarter century old” (11). His definition, therefore, is the fruit of many years of “experience-experimentation” in his different assignments as Bishop (12) and a scientific attempt to put together the essential characteristics of BECs in the midst of the various ways of doing and naming BECs.

He says that this “hit-or-miss” experience-experimentation has brought out “some key elements and activities that are quite unique to them”. These “key elements” are what largely compose the definition he proposes. He gives both a long more detailed definition and a more concise one, but both contain what he considers as the basic “key elements and activities” that make BECs what they are.

The longer definition:

The longer definition is done by Claver already with numbers so that the 8 main key elements will already be clearly hughlighted while reading it. He says that the BEC is:

“1. a community of believers
2. at the grassroots level
3. which meets regularly
4. under the leadership of a lay minister
5. to express their faith in common worship
6. to discern on their common living of the faith
7. to plan and act on common decisions regarding their life of faith
8. in community as community” (13) (highlighting ours)

Claver then explains each of the elements. He says it is a “community of believers” because it is “first and foremost church: a people who adhere to the faith of the Gospel and are committed to it”. It is a community because it is “an organized body, not just a group of people coming together by happenstance” and “the members live in permanent and ordered relationship, one to another”.

“It is the smallest unit of church… and it is ‘grassroots’”; that is, small enough for its members to be in face-to-face relationship and interaction with one another, and it is at the lowest level of the hierarchical church”. The BEC is between the parish community and the domestic church.

The members come to meet regularly. This regular meeting keeps alive the sense of community of the members and fulfils “communication needs for social interaction”. The big parish community meets regularly on Sundays only to worship and there is no chance for communication and social interaction as each hurries home immediately after Mass.

The BEC highlights “the need and the exercise in the church of leadership roles among the laity distinct from the clerical”, a “lay leadership in the church that cannot be pre-empted by other forms of leadership… a discovery of no little moment in the process of building up a local church”. This “discovery” makes the new way of being Church different from the past which emphasized and centered leadership on the clergy.

Common worship is “the first function of the BEC’s coming together – the liturgical expression and asserting in the religious worship of the community’s faith”.

Communal discernment is the second function of the BEC whereby the members are enabled to apply “the message of the Word to the life situation of the community. This needs prayer and discernment, participated in by the whole community.”

The third function of the BEC’s coming together is community action on its discernment. This is “precisely the action in faith that follows the community’s discernment. The participatory deciding, planning, and acting bring out even more clearly, one aspect of the BEC that marks it as a community: its being an organized and structured body. It is an aspect too that is missing, or at least not too prominent, in the old form of communities we had before Vatican II where the claim to being a ‘practicing Catholic’ was based mainly on the individual’s reception of the sacraments and attendance at Mass, hardly on what he or she does with other church members in common action on common problems – problems that are not always specifically religious or spiritual in nature”. This participatory way is an aspect that also clearly shows what “new way of being church” implies. This coincides with how “Apsotolorum Successores”, as mentioned above, describes BECs as discussing “shared human and ecclesial problems”.

And, finally, concerning the last element of the definition (“in community, as community”) Claver explains that this highlights “the essential character of the BEC as a community, an ecclesia, a congregation of faith calling its members to be in communion with one another”. (14) And as he explained above: “the members live in permanent and ordered relationship, one to another”.

The shorter definition:

After explaining the meaning of each phrase of the longer definition, Claver suggests this shorter formula that, he says, is “a more essential definition”:

“Basic Ecclesial Communities
are worshipping communities of faith-discernment and –action
at the lowest levels of the Church
that try, in a participatory way
and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
to put life and faith together into an integrated whole.” (15)

What is made more explicit in this definition is “the guidance of the Holy Spirit” which, Claver says, is actually implicit in element no.6 of the longer definition which talks about discernment in living the faith. For this discernment cannot be done without the action of the Holy Spirit.

A Third Definition:

But Claver actually gives a third definition which is much more concise and contains the basic elements of the post-Vatican II Church. He labels this as a “valid definition”. This definition, however, can only be fully understood when read with the previous descriptive definitions explained above. This definition simply states that BECs are:

“…small communities that form themselves into dialogic, participative, and co-responsible church congregations” (16)

He then elaborates how the elements of this definition (“dialogic”, “participative”, “co-responsible”) contain the elements of the longer and shorter definitions:

“The dialogic aspect is in the fact that the communities regularly discern on their life situation. To do this, their members have to talk with one another, listen to one another, share the fruit of their individual discernment with one another. The participative aspect is not only in the sharing of ideas for decision, but more so in the common acting on whatever decisions are made that are the fruit of the community’s discernment. And the co-responsible aspect is in the people’s owning not only their decisions but their acts as well, in their continuing to work together for the common good of the community.” (17)

After explaining the meaning of “dialogic”, “participative”, and “co-responsible”, Claver asserts that if these three are operative in other church communities, then they too have the formula for forming BECs or at least becoming BEC-type churches:

“When one comes down to it, these three ideas when made operative in any church community at any level are in themselves a potent formula for forming BECs or BEC-type churches – genuine churches of communion in the Vatican II mold.” (18)

In other words, he says that the living of these three ideas are the concrete way of living the Church as “communion”. Hence, this is the very basic meaning of BEC as a “new way of being church”, the living out of a “renewed Church” according to PCP II. This assertion is very much connected with his answer to a rhetorical question he poses afetr presenting the second shorter definition of BECs.

Thus, after having presented the key elements that make BECs what they are, Claver asks rhetorically: what then makes the BECs different from other church groups or associations, such as the Knights of Columbus, the Couples for Christ, the Neo-Catechumenate, for the definition “seems like a definition that could be used by any church group to describe itself”? He answers his own question by saying:

“The distinguishing element, I believe, is in these two aspects: (1) that BECs are non-exclusive communities ‘at the lowest level of the Church’ (other church groups and organizations are by their nature exclusive and selective in their membership); and (2) that they are so ‘in a participatory way’.” (19)

This is a very important answer because when he says that BECs are “non-exclusive communities” unlike other church organizations which are “exclusive and selective” he is actually emphasizing that any believer or anyone with faith can be a member of the BECs. This is an inviting element, especially to those who live away from the Church – the “unchurched”.

Then he makes an important remark when he says: “If other groups claim that these two aspects define them too, I have no trouble saying they are now within the tradition of BEC-type communities or organizations” (20). He does not say, however, categorically that they (like the KofC, CFC, Neo, etc. if they live the mentioned aspects) are BECs, but just that they can be BEC-type communities. But since by nature they will always be selective as they have their strict criteria for membership, then they may never to be on the road of becoming BEC-types.

In other words, he seems not to be closing himself to the possibility that they too can be BECs because he also said previously that if these have the 3 operative ideas of BECs then they too have “in themselves a potent formula for forming BECs or BEC-type churches – genuine churches of communion in the Vatican II mold”.

Applicable to the Different Types or Stages of BEC

It is to be noted that those who have seriously studied BECs have noticed that the definition or description of BECs we have presented above which contains or points to their basic constitutive elements can be applied to the different types, forms, models and stages of BECs. In other words, it can be applied to all kinds of BECs whether they are “liturgical”, “developmental”, or “liberational” (21); or, whether they are of the “territorial” or “voluntary” types; or, of the “rural” or “urban” models (22).

The Challenge for BECs:

With its claim as a “new way of being Church”, the greatest challenge for BEC, Claver insists, is that it has to clearly show “it is church itself, the exemplar of a church of communion at the lowest levels of the church”. This face the BEC should show in order to lessen the opposition to them and in order to overcome the hardest obstacle to overcome which is that of non-understanding or misunderstanding of BECs. (23)

IMPORTANT REMINDERS TO THE BECs: SOME PRECAUTIONS:

Before leaving this part of the paper, it is beneficial to remember some important precautions so that the BECs will remain to be a true ecclesial reality within the Church, in fact a “new way”, at the service of the Church or of the People of God. I am referring to some excesses that in the end will not benefit the BECs nor the Church. I will quote here only the precautions mentioned in “Evangelii Nuntiandi” and in “Apostolorum Succesores”.

In his Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi”, Paul VI dedicated the whole of no. 58 talking on the “base communities” or “communautes de base” (as they are called in Brazil). He talked both about the good these communities bring to the Church and the excesses that are to be avoided. Then, he points out the difference between the two possible movements of these communities: one movement is merely sociological, and the other truly ecclesial; this latter, he said, are the real “communautes de base”.
“The difference is already notable: the communities which by their spirit of opposition cut themselves off from the Church, and whose unity they wound, can well be called communautes de base, but in this case it is a strictly sociological name. They could not, without a misuse of terms, be called ecclesial communautes de base, even if while being hostile to the hierarchy, they claim to remain within the unity of the Church. This name belongs to the other groups, those which come together within the Church in order to unite themselves to the Church and to cause the Church to grow.
“These latter communities will be a place of evangelization, for the benefit of the bigger communities, especially the individual Churches.”
Then he continued to say that the real “base communities” “will be a hope for the universal Church”, but only if they remember the following precautions:
“- that they seek their nourishment in the Word of God and do not allow themselves to be ensnared by political polarization or fashionable ideologies, which are ready to exploit their immense human potential;
- that they avoid the ever present temptation of systematic protest and a hypercritical attitude, under the pretext of authenticity and a spirit of collaboration;”
He then warned against “avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves”, and thinking that they are “the only authentic Church of Christ, and hence of condemning the other ecclesial communities”:
“- that they remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church, thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves, then of believing themselves to be the only authentic Church of Christ, and hence of condemning the other ecclesial communities;
- that they maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to His Church, and with the magisterium which the Spirit of Christ has entrusted to these pastors;
- that they never look on themselves as the sole beneficiaries or sole agents of evangelization- or even the only depositaries of the Gospel- but, being aware that the Church is much more vast and diversified, accept the fact that this Church becomes incarnate in other ways than through themselves;
- that they constantly grow in missionary consciousness, fervor, commitment and zeal;
- that they show themselves to be universal in all things and never sectarian.” (highlighting ours)
He concluded by saying that only “on these conditions, which are certainly demanding but also uplifting, the ecclesial communautes de base will correspond to their most fundamental vocation: as hearers of the Gospel which is proclaimed to them and privileged beneficiaries of evangelization, they will soon become proclaimers of the Gospel themselves.”
The document “Apostolorum Succesores” makes this very concise warning:

“It is important, however, to avoid every temptation to become isolated from ecclesial communion or ideologically exploited.”

SOME CONCLUSIONS:

From our theologico-ecclesiological discussion, we can gather some conclusions that we have to keep in mind in our canonical reflections.

1. More Common Denomination referring to BECs:

While in many countries these communities living out this “new way” of being Church are called BECs, Church documents more commonly refer to them as “small Christian communities”; thus, the name BECs as “small Christian communities” can be used to refer to any Christian community that appropriates the ecclesiological characteristics of Vatican II vision of Church, especially the dialogic, participative and co-responsible and non-exclusive aspects; hence, these too can be considered as capable of becoming BEC-type communities. This is how PCP II describes BECs in Article 110 of its Decrees.

2. Centrality of faith and of the Word of God:

The being and acting of BECs are anchored on “the centrality of faith…faith that constantly returns to its source in Scripture for renewal and inspiration. …faith that brings their members together and sustains them in their praying and acting as a community”. (24)

3. Led by Lay Leaders:

One of the characteristic of BECs is that they are ministered to or led by lay people.

4. BECs Are in Different Stages or Levels and Have Various Models:

The BECs can be on different stages or levels of growth: liturgical, developmental, liberational; and can be of different types or models depending upon the places where they are existing (rural or urban), or upon the physical proximity of the residences of the members to each other and of their facility to be together (territorial or voluntary) (25).

5. Not Exclusive nor Selective in Membership:

They are non-exclusive nor selective. Hence, they are to accept everyone who professes the Catholic belief who is willing to live out the ecclesiological vision of the Church today. Since they are churches in microcosm, they must be open to all, inviting and welcoming everyone, especially those who are considered “grassroots”, or at the lowest level of the hierarchical Church, not only sociologically but also spiritually. Thus, they are to be open to the “unchurced”. For they are to be according to the nature of the Church that Christ founded: truly “catholic” (“universal” or for all) founded on the principle of special invitation to sinners: “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:32). The BECs, therefore, cannot, and should not, discriminate against anyone, much less should they be condemning of anyone.

6. BECs Overcome Anonimity:

Because they are small or “basic community”, especially the “seldas” or units which are made up of just a number of families or persons, members are enabled to participate because they are personally known to one another, at ease with one another and can, therefore, share their personal aspirations and problems which is not possible in a “big parish” where most are unknown or anonymous to each other.

7. Membership should Not be Compulsory:

In as much as they are inviting communities, no serious author on BECs says that membership in BECs should be compulsory for all Catholics. The human right and freedom of each individual, especially the freedom of conscience, therefore, is to be respected. For the BECs are just “a way”, and not the only way as Paul VI has emohasized in “Evangelii Nuntiandi”. Hence, membership cannot be made a conditio sine qua non for the reception or non-reception of, participation or non-participation in any church celebration, especially with regards the sacraments and sacramentals.

It is to be remembered that while BECs are praised, there is no Church document that makes BECs a “must program” for the whole Church. Thus, they are found mainly in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Africa, and not in other regions. And in the Philippines where they are strongly encouraged by PCP II they are not functioning in all dioceses.

8. Ecclesial but Not Church Associations, Organizations or Movements:

All authors agree that, although “ecclesial” and with some structure and organization so that there will be order in the relationship of membbers, they are not like other church associations, organizations or movements. They are not governed, therefore, according to fast and rigid rules as required by Canon Law concerning associations, whether public or private.

In this sense that they are considered “non-canonical” entities as there are no particular laws in the Code that talk about them specifically and directly.

9. But Not in Opposition to Other Traditional Church Organizations, Associations, Movements:

While BECs are “a new way” of being Church and are different from other traditional Church organizations, associations (called before 1983 as “mandated organizations”) or movements and made the main thrust of many dioceses in regions where they are existing, they are not meant, however, to obliterate all other traditional organizations, associations and movements, nor even to downgrade or make their existence useless in the Church.

PCP II, in par.608 of its Acts, says that BECs do not make these associations “superfluous”:

“Basic Ecclesial Communities do not necessarily make such associations superfluous, for these latter usually have a wider scope of service and draw their membership from the whole parish.”

These Church associations should, however, be “encouraged to be involved in BECs” (PCP II Acts, par.609). And the BECs instead of obliterating them are to show them the way to be “participatory” communities according to Vatican II. Article 116, #2 of PCP II Decrees says that the ways of BECs are to be integrated into the religious organizations, movements, and parochial councils:

“The participatory process of BECs shall be integrated into parish associations and movements, as well as into both diocesan and parochial councils.”

Paul VI, as quoted above, has strongly emphasized this point.

The recent Bishops’ Synod on the New Evangelization in fact mentions in Proposition 42 these associations and movements alongside the “small Christian communities” as “Agents/Participants of the New Evangelization” though an integrated pastoral activity:

“Such an endeavor must arise from the dialogue and cooperation of all diocesan components, including: parishes, small Christian communities, educational communities, communities of consecrated life, associations, movements and individual faithful.” (emphasis ours)

And in terms of the theology of the “Mystical Body” that St. Paul talks about in 1Cor12, these different communities are necessary in order to have one complete “body” with many different parts – a unity from a variety of parts – provided they are all genuine manifestations of the many gifts of the same Spirit. In this sense, BECs as a “new way of being Church” will animate and make them strong and healthy body parts.

Hence, if these organizations follow the BEC way, and always maintaining the centrality of faith and ever returning to its source which is the Scripture or the Word of God, there is no problem why they cannot be considered BECs in the sense of Article 110 of the Decrees of PCP II.

This integration may more easily be done if those in BECs can truly show that BECs are indeed not just another church organization or association nor are they in opposition to or in contest with them. They can then convince the “threatened” members of these organizations that they can even be better members of the their organizations by being involved in BECs, much like everyone can be better members of BEC by first being good members of the smallest church unit, the “domestic church” or family.

10. Neither Do They Supplant the Parish Nor are They Parallel to the Parish:

The parish retains its importance in the work of evangelization as the Bishops who participated in the Synod on the New Evangelization asserted in their Message to the People of God. The small Christian communities, together with the other groups, make up a parish where all have the “access to all the means for encountering Jesus: the Word, the sacraments, fraternal communion, charitable service, mission” as from “the village fountain”.

“No one person or group in the Church has exclusive right to the work of evangelization. It is the work of ecclesial communities as such, where one has access to all the means for encountering Jesus: the Word, the sacraments, fraternal communion, charitable service, mission.

“In this perspective, the role of the parish emerges above all as the presence of the Church where men and women live, “the village fountain”, as John XXIII loved to call it, from which all can drink, finding in it the freshness of the Gospel. It cannot be abandoned, even though changes can require of it either to be made up of small Christian communities or to forge bonds of collaboration within larger pastoral contexts.”

“Aposotlorum Successores” says that in certain regions the BECs may be a way of subdividing parishes.

Following our considerations above, the parish becomes better understood as the “community of communities” or the “communion of communions”, a “network of BECs”: “The parish becomes a communion of communions – a network of BECs, and every BEC is a part of the network of communion within the parish and the local Church”. (26) Hence, BECs are not “parallel” to the parish nor are they in opposition to the traditional, canonical parish: “While BECs are ministered by their own leaders, they are subject to the authority and jurisdiction of the parish priest and bishop. They are ecclesial communities integrated into the structure of the parish and the diocese…” (27)

11. Difficulty of Uniform Guidelines:

Because of the many different types and forms and stages of BECs as reflected in the diversity of names that are also due to the diversity of the particular reasons of the provenance or the why’s of the different BEC communities, the different locations where they were born, the different personalities that make them up, and the different methods and approaches employed, it can easily be seen that what may be an acceptable way of living and doing things in one place or situation may not be necessarily true in another. Therefore, the difficulty of making guidelines that will be uniform for all or that will require that all communities act in the same way.

Due to all that we have just said, this search for “uniform policies” for all BECs and their cells, units or “seldas” even for just a diocese has been and is the elusive search or dream of many BEC workers and members, and even of priests and Bishops as well.

PART II: CANONICAL REFLECTIONS ON BECs:
TOWARDS POSSIBLE GENERAL GUIDELINES

With our understanding and implications of BECs stated above, we will now try (1) to examine or reflect on them in the light of the Code of Canon Law, or at least see whether they are within the ambit of canonical laws: Is the Code able to converse with the BECs on the same level and with the same spirit of Vatican II so that what the Code says will be relevant to the BECs? Are there laws that are relevant to the BECs? Does the Code say anything about them or at least on their ways of doing things or their policies?

This part is important as it is here that some BECs or their units, “seldas”, are accused of being even “stricter than Canon Law” and are, therefore, effectively giving rise to misunderstanding and misconceptions of BECs, even to the point of alienating people and church organizations, associations and movements, or at least of making people just go through the motions of becoming BEC members just to be able to receive the sacraments and other church benefits for themselves or the members of their families.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW:

Since the BECs are “a new way of being Church” or a living of the Church according to the ecclesiology of Vatican II, let us begin our canonical reflections by first examining if the laws of the Church contained in the 1983 Code are on the same wave length, having the same spirit as the BECs. In other words, let us first examine whether the present laws stem from and reflect the same Vatican ecclesiology as that of the BECs.

To briefly respond to this, I will just quote here some relevant portions of the Apostolic Constitution of Blessed John Paul II, the “Sacrae Disciplinae Leges”. Concerning the spirit of the new Code, the late pope clearly stated early in the document that it is based on the Second Vatican Council; that is why the planned revision had to wait for the conclusion of the Council:
“Therefore, the new Code, which is promulgated today, necessarily required the previous work of the Council; and although it was announced together with the Ecumenical Council, nevertheless it follows it chronologically, because the work undertaken in its preparation, since it had to be based upon the Council, could not begin until after completion of the latter.”
He continued then to say that the intention of the revision is the intention of the Council: the renewal of the Church:

“Turning our mind today to the beginning of this long journey, that is, to that January 25, 1959, and to John XXIII himself who initiated the revision of the Code, I must recognize that this Code derives from one and the same intention, which is that of the renewal of the Christian life. From such an intention, in fact, the entire work of the Council drew its norms and its direction.”
And he said that it is the product of the spirit of collegiality which has been emphasized by the Council:
“If we now pass on to consider the nature of the work which preceded the promulgation of the Code, and also the manner in which it was carried out, especially during the Pontificates of Paul VI and of John Paul I, and from then until the present day, it must be clearly pointed out that this work was brought to completion in an outstandingly collegial spirit; and this not only in regard to the material drafting of the work, but also as regards the very substance of the laws enacted.
This collegial spirit overarching the revision, he said, “manifests the spirit of (the) Council” in the Code:
“This note of collegiality, which eminently characterizes and distinguishes the process of origin of the present Code, corresponds perfectly with the teaching and the character of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore the Code, not only because of its content but also because of its very origin, manifests the spirit of this Council, in the documents of which the Church, the universal “sacrament of salvation” (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium, nos. 1, 9, 48), is presented as the People of God and its hierarchical constitution appears based on the College of Bishops united with its Head.”
And towards the end, he stated that it corresponds to the nature of the Church as proposed by Vatican II:
“The instrument, which the Code is, fully corresponds to the nature of the Church, especially as it is proposed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in general, and in a particular way by its ecclesiological teaching.”
In fact, he asserted, that the Code is “a great effort to translate…the conciliar ecclesiology into canonical language”, or has Vatican II as “its essential point of reference”:
“Indeed, in a certain sense, this new Code could be understood as a great effort to translate this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical language. If, however, it is impossible to translate perfectly into canonical language the conciliar image of the Church, nevertheless, in this image there should always be found as far as possible its essential point of reference.”
Then, he stated that there is such a complementarity between the Council and the Code that the “novelty” of the Council is also the novelty of the Code:
“From this there are derived certain fundamental criteria which should govern the entire new Code, both in the sphere of its specific matter and also in the language connected with it. It could indeed be said that from this there is derived that character of complementarity which the Code presents in relation to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with particular reference to the two constitutions, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium and the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes.
“Hence it follows that what constitutes the substantial “novelty” of the Second Vatican Council, in line with the legislative tradition of the Church, especially in regard to ecclesiology, constitutes likewise the “novelty” of the new Code.”
Hence, the vision of Church in the Code is the same vision of Vatican II:
“Among the elements which characterize the true and genuine image of the Church, we should emphasize especially the following: the doctrine in which the Church is presented as the People of God (cf. Lumen gentium, no. 2), and authority as a service (cf. ibid., no. 3); the doctrine in which the Church is seen as a “communion,” and which, therefore, determines the relations which should exist between the particular Churches and the universal Church, and between collegiality and the primacy; the doctrine, moreover, according to which all the members of the People of God, in the way suited to each of them, participate in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetic and kingly. With this teaching there is also linked that which concerns the duties and rights of the faithful, and particularly of the laity; and finally, the Church’s commitment to ecumenism.
“If, therefore, the Second Vatican Council has drawn from the treasury of Tradition elements both old and new, and the new consists precisely in the elements which we have enumerated, then it is clear that the Code also should reflect the same note of fidelity in newness and of newness in fidelity, and conform itself to that in its own field and in its particular way of expressing itself.”
It is, therefore, obvious that the Code has the spirit and ecclesiology of Vatican II much like the BECs. Both, therefore, are derived from the same ecclesiological vision and both are directed towards the same intention: the renewal of the Church.

DOES THE CODE TALK OF BECs OR OF SMALL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES?

Now, we will see if the Code talks of or at least has anything to say about the BECs or the Small Christian Communities. In order to do this, we will first look at them generally as a “way”, an ecclesiology of Spirit of Vatican II; then, secondly, we will examine as this “way”, this ecclesiological spirit, is lived in the BECs in the spirit of the canons of the Code.

1. As the Ecclesiology of Vatican II:

In general, in as much as BECs is a “way” of living the Vatican II Church as communitarian, participatory, dialogic and on mission, we can certainly say that the Code talks of them. Thus, the very first canon on “Christ’s Faithful” of Book II on the “People of God”, c.204, par.1, talks of the Church in terms of “communio” which emphasizes the basic equality of all the baptized partaking of the threefold office of Christ (priestly, prophetic and kingly). Hence, all, whether cleric or lay, participate in their own way in the life and mission of the Church:

“Christ’s faithful are those who, since they are incorporated into Christ through baptism, are constituted the people of God. For this reason they participate in their own way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They are called, each according to his or her particular condition, to exercise the mission which God entrusted to the Church to fulfil in the world.” (2)

A commentator on the canons on this part of the Code, “Christ’s Faithful” (cc.204-207) and then “The Obligations and Rights of All Christ’s Faithful” (cc.208-223), Robert J. Kaslyn, SJ, points out that the interpretation of this part of the Code entitled “People of God” should be based on the ecclesiology of “communio” as taught by “Lumen gentium”.

“One approach to the ecclesiology expressed in cc.204-207 arises from the title of Book II, “The People of God”. This title reflects the ecclesiological perspective of Lumen gentium,… According to Lumen gentium 9, “It has pleased God, however, to sanctify and save men and women not individually and without regard for what binds them together, but to set them up as a people who would acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness.”

“This description, with its trinitarian emphasis, expands the succinct statement in Lumen gentium, 4: “the universal church appears as a people made one by the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Both the concept “people of God” and its underlying Trinitarian foundation find systematic clarification in the ecclesiology of communio (koinonia).” (3).

This is the same “communio”, as stressed in Part I of our paper, that permeates the BECs.

Then Kaslyn quotes from the 1992 document issued by the Congr. for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion” where the renewal effect of communion is stressed:

“The concept of communion (koinonia), which appears with a certain prominence in the texts of the Second Vatican Council is very suitable for expressing the core of the mystery of the church and can certainly be a key for the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology”.

In c.225, par.1, the Code then focuses in particular on the obligations and rights of the lay faithful, and states that because of this “communion”, the lay people also share in the Church’s mission, especially in places where only they can be preachers:

“Since lay people, like all Christ’s faithful, are deputed to the apostolate by baptism and confirmation, they are bound by the general obligation and they have the right, whether as individuals or in associations, to strive so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all people throughout the world. This obligation is all the more insistent in circumstances in which only through them are people able to hear the Gospel and to know Christ.”

Then, in par.2 of the same canon, the Code goes on to specify the field of mission of the lay:

“They have also, according to the condition of each, the special obligation to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, particularly in conducting secular business and exercising secular functions, they are to give witness to Christ.”

These canons (cc.204, par.1 and 225), as can be easily deduced, are the bases for the obligations and rights of all the faithful to participate in the life of the Church, and to dialogue with all, especially with their pastors.

Thus, all the faithful have the obligation and right to participate in the mission of the preaching the divine message of salvation (c.211), the right to make known to their pastors their needs and wishes (c.212, par.2), the right to manifest to their pastors their views on matters concerning the good of the Church and to share their views with others (c.212, par.3), the right to establish and direct associations (c.215), the right to research in their field of sacred study and to express their views prudently (c.218).

In fact, based on the ideas of participation and co-responsibility, the lay faithful may even be admitted to ecclesiastical offices and functions which do not necessarily demand the clerical character, such as experts and advisers in councils (c.228). Thus, they can become members of pastoral councils, both diocesan (cc.551-552) and parochial (c.536), and of finance councils, again diocesan (cc.492-494) and parochial (c.537); they may even be part of a tribunal of first instance (c.1424). They may be made Chancellors (cc.481-4820, Financial Administrators or Oeconomes (CC.492-494), and Notaries (CC.483-485). These offices do not require that the persons appointed should be clerics, except the notary for cases where a priest is involved (c.483, par.2).

An interdicasterial document “On Certain Questions regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest”, issued on August 15, 1997 regulating the deputation of lay people to participate with the ordained in some offices and/or ministries, is based on the priesthood of the faithful and the unity and diversity of ministerial functions. (4)

Thus, in a general way, we can say that the Code supports and upholds, first, the basis of the BECs (“communio”) and, secondly, their ways: dialogic, participatory, co-responsible. Therefore, in this sense, we can already say that the BECs are indeed within the ambit of the Code, and, therefore, are canonical.

2. As Lived Concretely in the BECs:

The Code, however, has no specific provisions on BECs or of small Christian communities trying to live this “new way of being Church”. In other words, there are no canons that define what a BEC or small Christian community is, who composes it, how it is to be governed, who are to govern it and what their authority may be. And neither, as pointed out above, is there any Vatican document that gives any particular instructions or rules as to how it is to be lived. It is in this sense that BECs are considered “non-canonical” realities (5).

Definitely we cannot apply the particular canons on private and public associations in the Church (cc.298-329) on BECs simply because applying them will go against the basic concept of BECs: that they are not associations or organizations in contradistinction to other such canonically recognized associations in the Church.

Not having strict limiting canons on them, I think, is only but right because being a “way of being Church” the BECs should have the necessary free latitude to grow and develop according to the particular circumstances and particular needs and challenges where they are. In other words, they are to grow and develop according to the stage or level of understanding of church each community finds itself in.

Thus, because of these different circumstances or challenges and levels of understanding, BECs are, therefore, not uniform, and no rule of uniformity can be or should be imposed on them. In other words, no uniform laws or policies should be imposed on them which all are “forced” to follow uniformly. Doing so, I think, will either stunt the possible growth or development of each, or even artificially or “by force” put them on a level or understanding they are not yet ready for, or perhaps they have already surpassed. What is important here is that in all the diversity of living BECs there is a unity of bottom line understanding of what they are. We should be happy for this diversity. This is what makes the Church a “body”, a “community” with many different parts, on diverse stages of growth and development. As they would say in French: “Vive la difference”!

I believe that allowing them to grow freely maybe also be the reason why the Church has up to now not come out with official particular, specific laws on BECs: to allow the different ways of living out or expressing this new way of being Church today among the different small communities throughout the universal Church to grow to full maturity (6).

Not giving specific definition and laws or regulations on BECs is only right because doing so would limit the scope of BECs, and the laws and regulations will just make them like any other associations or organizations in the in the Church.

The BECs and the CODE:

But, does this mean that they are beyond Canon Law, that there is no law that they are to follow? And even going further and more concretely, we can ask: Can the BECs, therefore, make their own policies without regard of Church laws?

First, as I said above, BECs are indeed within the scope of the general canons on the “Obligations and Rights of Christ’s Faithful” and of the “Lay Faithful”.

Second, it must be remembered, as John Paul has said, that as a society made up of women and men, the Church too must have laws that are to be followed by all her members so that there will be order as she grows and develops, and the obligations and rights of each individual, whether physical or juridical, will be respected and duly protected. It is. Therefore, it is unthinkable that there be an entity belonging to the Church that will not follow her laws or will just make its own laws without respecting her general and particular laws.

Thus, Bl. John Paul II, in promulgating the 1983 Code, has this to say about the importance of a Code of laws for the Church:
“In actual fact the Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Church. Since, indeed, it is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in order that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to her, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives, undertaken for a Christian life ever more perfect may be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical norms.”
And a couple of paragraphs later, he says that the acceptance of the laws will help the whole Church to “perfect itself in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council”:
“After all these considerations it is to be hoped that the new canonical legislation will prove to be an efficacious means in order that the Church may progress in conformity with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and may every day be ever more suited to carry out its office of salvation in this world.”
It is, therefore, clear that everyone and every grouping in the Church are to follow the laws or to live at least within the legal parameters or according to the spirit of the laws even if they are not specifically mentioned or named in the Code. Hence, c. 11 generally states:
“Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who were baptized in the catholic Church or received into it, and who have a sufficient use of reason and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, who have completed their seventh year of age.”
Then, in cc.12 and 13 (7), the Code talks about who are bound by the universal and particular laws.
Hence, specifically mentioned or not, BECs are subject to canon law. This is so because the laws of the Church, as stated by Bl. John Paul II in “Sacrae Disciplinae Leges”, are by their very nature to be observed because these are issued so that the:
“exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to her, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives, undertaken for a Christian life ever more perfect may be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical norms.”

BECs, therefore, are to follow the canons of the Code of Canon Law because they exist within the Church and so necessarily within the ambit of her laws. Hence, the Code also has something to say to and about them.
When all entities within the Church follow her laws, it will be expected that while the unity of the Church is preserved, the different individuals and groupings in the Church are given freedom to live the faith – to express their being Church – in different ways according to their different circumstances and levels of understanding. In other words, the Church today is clearly not imposing universal uniformity but unity. This is the spirit of the new Code. Thus, different from the 1917 Code, the new Code provides in many canons only general principles and allowing the different Conferences and dioceses and religious institutes and associations to craft their own particular laws, with the sole provision that these laws should not contradict the universal laws or higher laws, such as the approved Conference decrees with regards to making diocesan laws, and diocesan laws with regards to parochial policies or practices (8). Thus, we notice, for instance, that now the particular laws of a diocese may not be the same as those of an immediately neighboring diocese.

PARAMETER LAWS FOR BECs TO CONSIDER:

In this part, I will discuss the Church laws that the BECs, like all the other members and groups belonging to the Church, have to consider and within which they are to live and function.

Since, as stated above, there are no particular and specific laws that BECs as such have to follow, we will just have to talk of canonical legislations that are to be considered and followed by the BECs and all other small communities as these will give them the ground within which they can move and act rightly within the Church, and have their rights protected, and at the same time respect for the rights of others are respected. For lack of a better term, I call them “parameter laws” as they are the legal boundaries for their actions.

General Parameter Laws:

Laws on the Obligations and Rights of the Faithful in General and of the Laity in Particular:

We begin by looking at the general parameters that talk of the obligations and rights of the all the faithful or baptized, and of the laity in particular.

“Communio” and “Co-Responsibility” in the Mission of Christ:

c.204, the introductory canon on Christ’s Faithful in general, is, as observed above, clearly based on Vatican II’s communio ecclesiology. It talks of the sharing by all the baptized in the triple function of Christ which enables them “to exercise the mission which God entrusted to the Church to fulfil in the world.”

And c.208, the first canon on the “Obligations and Rights of All Christ’s faithful”, is based on the theology of the “genuine equality of dignity and action of all Christ’s faithful”. It states that all the faithful are to “contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ”.

The Right of the Lay Faithful to Participate in the Mission:

Then on the lay members of Christ’s faithful in particular, c.225, par.1, clearly based on the ecclesiological spirit as cc.204 and 208, says that the lay “are bound by general obligation and they have the right, whether as individuals or in associations, to strive so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all people throughout the world”.

The Right to the Spiritual Riches of the Church: the Word of God and the Sacraments:

It is, therefore, from their being part of the Church fully participating in and equally co-responsible for the spread of the divine message that the faithful have “the right to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments” (c.213). This is the basis of their right to the sacraments as stated in c.843 – a right which the Code says can be restricted only on very definite circumstances and well-defined conditions (cfr., for example, cc.868, par.1, no.2; 915-916; and cc.1331-1333).

The Right to acquire Knowledge of Church Teachings:

This is also the basis of the duty and right of the lay “to acquire the knowledge of Christian teaching which is appropriate to each one’s capacity and condition, so that they may be able to live according to this teaching, to proclaim it and if necessary to defend it, and may be capable of playing their role in the exercise of the apostolate” (c.229, par.1).

The Right to Form and Direct Associations and/or to Hold Meetings:

In order that they will be able “to live according to this teaching” and then “to proclaim it”, besides the assistance which they are to get from their pastors, who are not always available, the lay can also come together in associations to learn and to fulfil their mission.

Thus, the Code, based generally on Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem, 18-22 which speak of the group apostolate, recognizes the right of the faithful to “freely establish and direct associations which serve charitable or pious purposes or which foster Christian vocation in the world, and (to) hold meetings to pursue these purposes by common effort” (c.215). This canon, it is to be noted, mainly refers to canonical public and private “associations”, regulated by cc.298-329. For the Latin word used in these canons is the same: “consociationes”, which is defined by c.115, par.2 as “aggregates of persons” (9).

And together with the right to form associations, the canon also mentions the right to “hold meetings”. While they normally go together, they are two distinct rights in the sense that people can hold meetings without being necessarily members of an association, like encounters or assemblies, and local or parochial gatherings (10). In other words, in terms of the right to hold meetings without necessarily forming a canonical association, this canon can be broadly interpreted to refer also to the right of all the faithful, such as the members of BECs and other prayer groups, even without being strictly canonical associations, to meet even regularly although more informally or in a more familiar and flexible way in order to share mainly the Word of God.

Obligation to Preserve Communion by Obeying the Laws:

Together with the foregoing rights, there is the basic obligation of all the faithful to always maintain communion with the Church, both universal and particular. C.209 enunciates this obligation thus:

“par.1 Christ’s faithful are bound to preserve their communion with
the Church at all times, even in their external actions.
“par.2 They are to carry out with great diligence their responsibilities
towards the universal Church and the particular Church to which by law they belong.”

A General Reminder and Precaution on the Use of Rights:

Let us end this brief discussion on the general obligations and rights of the faithful, and of the laity in particular, with c.227 which, in talking about the freedom of lay people in secular affairs, makes this caution:

“… In using this freedom, however, they are to ensure that their actions are permeated with the spirit of the Gospel, and they are to heed the teachings of the Church proposed by the magisterium, but they must be on guard, in question of opinion, against proposing their own view as the teaching of the Church.”

The Code, therefore, clearly says that, first, the faithful, more specifically the lay, have general rights that have to be respected and even nurtured and which they can exercise freely; secondly, that all have the general obligation to follow the teachings of the Church and obey the canons of the Code, and the decrees of the Bishops’ Conference and the laws enacted by the diocesan Bishop. Hence, the BECs, made up of Christ’s faithful, have to take note of the rights of each one, and to obey the laws of the Church and of their diocesan bishop.

More Particular Parameters:

On Membership in the BECs:

It is accepted, as noted in Part I of this paper, that the BECs is the thrust of the Philippine Church as enunciated by PCP II, and that consequently they have also become the thrust of many ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the Philippines. It is also an accepted fact that even the popes who have spoken on the BECs have recognized their evangelizing and renewing potential.

But, then a very important question can be asked: does this mean that all Filipino Catholics must therefore be members of a BEC? Is membership “compulsory” at the risk of being “penalized”, like being excluded from the reception of or participation in sacramental celebrations if you are non-member? In other words, is not being a member a “punishable” ecclesiastical offense? Does this mean then that all existing religious associations and organizations and movements are irrelevant and must be changed into BEC communities? Is this what PCP II says? (11)

I will, first, deal with what being a “thrust” implies, and the relationship between BECs and other Church associations; and, then, with the basic concept of making laws and imposing the penal laws in the Church.

Implication of being a “Thrust” of the Church:

The meaning of “Thrust”:

It is true that one of the meanings of the word “thrust” in Webster’s Dictionary is to force someone or something upon others against their wishes; or to force one’s way into. Is this how this is to be understood in talking about the BECs as “thrust” of the Philippine Church, especially that we live in a Church atmosphere which is one of freedom – freedom of the children of God?

Or, should it be rather understood as, according to the same dictionary, a “push”, a “drive”, just like the driving force produced by a propeller that drives a vehicle or aircraft forward? And, therefore, that BECs are given a “strong emphasis”, a “strong push” in the Church, introducing it as a moving spirit which hopefully will help to eventually change the whole course of action or way of living and of doing things in the Church?

The Spirit of PCP II, the Code, and Vatican II:

PCP II itself certainly does not carry that idea of “compulsion”, “force”, “imposition” concerning BECs, although it does carry a sense of “strong push”, “strong emphasis”. That is why it strongly says in Article 109 that it “must be vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation”. It says “vigorously promoted”, but it does not say that they are to be “imposed”.

Human and Religious Freedom:

The Code of Canon Law, in c.214 echoes the doctrine in Vatican II’s document on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae (DH), nos. 2 and 3, when it states that the faithful:

“… also have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching.”

DH in no.2 states:

“Freedom of this kind (that is, religious freedom) means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others.”

And no.3 of the same document adds:

“Therefore he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters. The reason is because the practice of religion of its very nature consists primarily of those voluntary and free internal acts by which a man directs himself to God.”

Hence, to compel someone to join the BECs even on the ground that this will make him/her a good Catholic and assure his/her salvation because he/she will become a “quality catholic” may be going against his/her this basic freedom and dignity. This can even be a form of going back to the discredited principle of St. Augustine: “compelle intrare”, which he used to force the heretical Donatists back to the Catholic fold for the sake of their salvation – even telling kings and rulers to use their military power to force them back. He based his argumentation on a rather off-key interpretation of St Luke (12).

BECs in relation to other Church Associations:

The foregoing reasoning or argumentation may also indirectly triumphantly declare that the BECs are the only concrete way of living the ecclesiology of Vatican II, of being Church today. And that, therefore, all the other religious organizations and associations and movements are of no value or at least of less value compared to them.

PCP II does not state this at all; in fact, it recognizes the value of these associations, only saying that they too should be imbued with the participatory ways of BECs (Article 116, #2) – ways not necessarily exclusive to the BECs.

And in Article 115, PCP II calls these associations and movements “as potent means in the Church”, and so “should be guided according to the demands of the new evangelization”.

This is also based on the Code which, although it has abandoned the distinction between mandated and non-mandated associations, has continued, however, to give them canonical recognition this time simply dividing them into private and public associations (cc.298-329). This in turn is based on AA, 21 which praises such church associations.

Azevedo, in his thesis in 1987, discussing the meaning of the phrase “of the base” (“de base”) and arguing from church documents, has said that the BECs are “not the only way to flesh out the reality of the Church”.

“…one cannot help but notice the strain of exclusivity that authors and advocates of BECs give to the ‘base’ in ecclesiological terms. One gets the definite impression that only this Church of the base will be the Church, that only through this base will the Church be transformed, transforming, and liberating. Modes of being Church that are not of the base are considered elitist, aligned with the presuppositions and interests of the oppressive system. This view is all the more disconcerting when one notes the restrictive interpretation of the term ‘base’, of the kind of person who is, or can be, a BEC member.” (13)

This is a good commentary on no.58 of Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi which, among other things, expressly warned that the BECs should:

“never consider themselves as the one and only audience or agent of evangelization, or as the one and only depository of the gospel message, remaining conscious of the fact that the Church is incarnated in other ways, not just through them”;

“show themselves to be universalist in all things and never sectarian”.

As can be seen, therefore, there has to be a balancing act to do: between “vigorously promoting” BECs and inviting the faithful to join and respecting their human rights, especially the freedom of conscience and of choice of spirituality.

On Crafting Laws or Policies:

Another parameter to remember is the laws of the Church on law-making, especially on who can make laws.

According to Canon Law only the following may issue or craft laws for the Church and the members of the Church:

1. For the Universal Church:

For the universal Church, the only lawgiver is the Supreme Pontiff (cfr. cc.331 and 333).

Hence, even the Code says that the decrees of an Ecumenical Council do not oblige unless “confirmed by the Roman Pontiff and promulgated by his direction” (c.341, par.1). And neither do the decrees issued by the College of Bishops in a manner other than through an Ecumenical Council have a binding force unless confirmed and promulgated by the Roman Pontiff or freely accepted by him (c.341, par2).

2. For a Particular Church:

For a particular Church the diocesan Bishop or his equivalent has the legislative, executive and judicial power (cfr. cc.368 and 381). His power is over all the parishes which are distinct canonical divisions of a diocese or particular church (c.374, par.1). But while he may delegate the two other powers, he “exercises legislative power himself” (c.391, par.2); in other words, he may not delegate his legislative power to any person or body, unless explicitly provided for by the law (c.135, par.2).

Hence, even in the case of a diocesan synod, the “diocesan Bishop alone signs the synodal declarations and decrees, and only by his authority may these be published” and become binding (c.466) (14).

Thus, not even a parish priest may enact laws for his parish and make them binding without the acceptance and approval of the diocesan Bishop. A fortiori, the BECs cannot issue binding laws or policies without the final approval of the diocesan bishop.

And the diocesan bishop himself cannot validly make laws which are contrary to the Code of Canon Law or to the laws issued by the Supreme Pontiff. For in making of laws, the caution of c.135, par.2, which is for validity, is to be borne in mind: “A lower legislator cannot validly make a law which is contrary to that of a higher legislator”.

The Question of Making Policies:

A policy strictly speaking is not a law but, according to the Webster’s Dictionary is “any governing principle, plan, or course of action”. As such it is related to law in as much as it must be based on law like an implementing rule or regulation; and so it can even be the best interpreter of law, much like a custom secundum legem (c.27) and as such must, therefore, not go against the law it interprets or implements.

Hence, the BECs cannot formulate policies without considering the canons of the Code.

On Imposing Sanctions, especially with Prohibitions regards Reception of Sacraments or Participation in Sacramental Celebrations:

We will now discuss the issue of issuing or imposing sanctions or penalties, first, because this is part of law-making (cfr. C.1315, par.1), and, secondly, because there are some BECs that are imposing sanctions which, as some have commented, are even seen to be “stricter” than Canon Law.

1. Sanctions to be Imposed Only according to Law:

On the imposition of sanctions and penalties, the general principle contained in c.221, par.3, which emphasizes that no sanction is to be given except according to law, has to be borne in mind:

“Christ’s faithful have the right that no canonical penalties be inflicted upon them except in accordance with the law.”

The imposition of sanctions and penalties in the Church is considered an odious (“odiosa” or hateful) action, and, therefore, as much as possible to be avoided and if imposed, their effects are as much as possible to be restricted. In other words, the Church just does not punish anyone or restrict the freedom of anyone just like that. Hence, penal sanctions are strictly regulated by the canons contained in BOOK VI of the Code of Canon Law (cc.1311-1399).

Title II (“Penal Law and Penal Precept”) of Part I (“Offences and Punishments in General”) of Book VI (“Sanctions in the Church”) gives the general principles on who can issue and impose sanctions, which kinds of sanctions are to be imposed and under what circumstances (cc.1313-1320).

2. On Who can Enact and Impose Sanctions:

Par.1 of c.1315 clearly states who can enact and impose penal laws: only the person who has legislative power; and, as stated, above only the Supreme Pontiff for the universal Church and the diocesan bishop for the diocese (cfr. c.331; c.391, par.2; c.135, par.2).

“Whoever has legislative power, can also make penal laws. A legislator can, however, by laws of his own, reinforce with a fitting penalty a divine law or an ecclesiastical law of a higher authority, observing the limits of his competence in respect of territory or persons.”

Hence, in a diocese or particular church only the diocesan Bishop or his equivalent can do so since only he has the legislative power. And he is not to do so just according to his whims and fancies. For in imposing penalties he is bound to see to it that, on account of fairness and justice, the “penalties which are to be imposed by law are uniform within the same city or region (c.1316). And c.1317 cautions him that penalties are “to be established only in the so far as they are really necessary for the better maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline”. It is in view of this and out of respect for the faithful that c.1319, par.2 clearly states that a “precept to which a penalty is attached is not to be issued unless the matter has been very carefully (“mature”) considered…..” Then, c.1318 cautions the legislator to avoid as much as possible the imposition of the gravest penalties, such as “latae sententiae” penalties; in fact, he should not even “constitute censures, especially excommunication, except with the greatest moderation, and only for the more grave offenses” (15).

3. On Those who are Liable to Penal Sanctions:

The canons are unequivocal that only those can be punished who have “externally” committed a “violation of a law or precept (which) is gravely imputable by reason of malice or of culpability”; and that only those are penalized who have “deliberately violated a law or precept”; and these are only “bound by the penalty prescribed in that law or precept” (c.1321, par. 1 and 2).

“No one can be punished for the commission of an external violation of a law or precept unless it is gravely imputable by reason of malice or of culpability.” (c.1321, par.1)

“A person who deliberately violated a law or precept is bound by the penalty prescribed in that law or precept. If, however, the violation was due to the omission of due diligence, the person is not punished unless the law or precept provides otherwise.” (c.1321, par.2)

As stated above, church laws do not want to impose punishments at all for this is an “odious” action. This is the reason why even when an external violation has been done there are canons that try to completely excuse a person from punishment, or at least mitigate his/her the punishment. Thus, c.1322 completely exonerates those who “habitually lack the use of reason, even though they appeared sane when they violated the law or precept”; and, c.1323 also gives other circumstances where a person is not liable to penalty; while c.1324 gives circumstances where “the penalty prescribed in the law or precept must be diminished, or penance substituted in its place” (16). And c.1327 gives the Bishop the power through particular law to “determine excusing, attenuating… circumstances, over and above the cases mentioned in cann. 1323-1326…..”; while c.1328 states that if the offense is not completed, even if “involuntarily” not completed, the penalty prescribed for the completed offense is not to be imposed.

Thus, it is clear that no one in the Church, can just impose a penalty on anyone or restrict the free exercise of one’s freedom.

4. On Prohibiting a Person from Celebrating/Receiving a Sacrament:

The general principle of the Code concerning the celebration and particularly on the reception of sacraments is that a sacred minister “may not deny (17) the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and not prohibited by law from receiving them” (c.843). In other words, it is clear that the faithful have a right to the sacraments, unless he/she is prohibited by law itself.

The penal canons of the Church are very clear as to who are forbidden to receive the sacraments: the excommunicated and those under interdict (cc.1331, par., no.2 and 1332). And c.1331, par.1, no.1 clearly delineates who may not have “ministerial part” in “ceremonies of public worship”.

There is only one sacrament that talks about the “moral disposition” (“state of grace”) of a person in connection with the reception of the sacrament: the Holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist talks about this in cc.915 and 916. C.915 says that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted (“ne admittantur”) to holy communion”; and c.916 says: “anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord…..” But then even this canon demonstrates compassion as it then continues to say: “… unless there is grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess…..” In this case, he/she can receive communion provided he/she makes “an act of perfect contrition”.

And concerning those under censure, the law only prohibits those “upon whom penalty of excommunication or interdict” is imposed; but even this penalty has to be “imposed or declared” (c.915); in other words, those labouring under automatic censure only cannot be prevented from receiving or refused communion – it is they themselves who have to decide not to.

The canons on the other sacraments add clear specifications as to who may not receive them, either validly or licitly.

In the case of baptism, the general conditions, especially on intention, are in c.865. Then, c.868, par.1, no. 2 contains provision as to when an “infant” (18) may not be lawfully baptized: when there is no “well-founded” hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion”. But then again this is not an absolute refusal but only a “deferral”, and this is only a condition for lawfulness and not for validity. And concerning the sponsors, c.874, par.1 defines the definite criteria, and states in no.4 of the same paragraph that a sponsor must “not labour under a canonical penalty, whether imposed or declared”; but then in par.2 it allows even a non-Catholic to be a witness.

In the case of confirmation, the only prohibition is that if the person has already been confirmed (cfr. c.889, par.1) (19). Then, in c.893, par.1 it simply says that the same qualities of a sponsor at baptism are also required for sponsors in a confirmation.

In reconciliation, there is this prohibition on the confessor himself: that he cannot validly absolve “a partner in a sin against the sixth commandment” (c.977). And concerning withholding absolution to the penitent, we can think of two cases: on the penitent who falsely denounces a confessor of solicitation (c.982); and when a penitent is under excommunication (c.1331, par.1, no.2). But concerning the second case, c.1357 grants the confessor the power, when he judges that “it is difficult for the penitent to remain in grave sin”, to remit a latae sententiae excommunication in the internal forum and forgive the sin, albeit under certain conditions.

In marriage, only those under diriment impediments are barred from valid marriage (cfr. cc.1083-1094), and those who labour under impediments that are reserved only to the Holy See (cc.1078; 1079, par.1). And those to be prohibited are only those under cases exhaustively listed in cc.1071 and 1072.

And c.1065 of the sacrament of marriage only “earnestly recommends” (“enixe sponsis commandatur”) – it does not “oblige” – receiving the blessed Eucharist for the fruitfulness of marriage. But while the canon earnestly recommends being in state of grace for the fruitful reception of marriage, it does not say at all that the marriage may not go on or that the marriage will be invalid without this moral disposition.

And concerning the denial of funeral rites, c.1184, par.1 gives a list which is exhaustive: notorious apostates, heretics and schismatic; those who have their bodies cremated for “anti-christian motives”; and those “other manifest sinners” who could not be given funeral rites “without public scandal to the faithful”. There are also particular laws prohibiting funeral rites for masons, like in the Philippines. But in all these cases, even concerning masons in the Philippines, even these rites are not to be prohibited if “they gave some signs of repentance before death”. And since this condition grants a favour, this has to be broadly interpreted (“favorabilia amplianda”); any sign of repentance is to be accepted.

As can be gathered, therefore, first, the cases for depriving the faithful from his/her right to the sacraments and other Church spiritual benefits are very few and limited with strict conditions. And, secondly, as much as possible no faithful should be easily deprived of them as they have a right to the sacraments.

An Important Note on Penalties in the Church:

In as much as the cases mentioned above are prohibitions, punishments, restrictions, they are to be interpreted “strictly” because c.18 states this principle: “Laws which prescribe a penalty, or restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception to the law, are to be interpreted strictly” (“odiosa restringenda”). And it should always be remembered that only those with legislative power in the Church may impose or issue sanctions.

CONCLUSION:

Although BECs may not be strictly speaking “canonical” as there are no specific laws in the Code that talk about them in a particular way, we can say, however, that they are indeed “canonical”, first, because they are groupings/communities of faithful within the Church and as such they are in a general way clearly supported, albeit indirectly, by many canons, especially those on the obligations and rights of the faithful; secondly, as communities within the Church they, much like all the faithful, whether individual or juridical persons, have to follow the canons of the Code and all other laws of the Church in all their actuations. Care has to be taken between “vigorously promoting” them and respecting the “freedom of conscience” of the faithful and the correct implementation of the laws of the Church. Thirdly, BECs should not easily impose or issue penalties.

It is to be noted that “Apostolorum Succesores” has kind of opened a “canonical future” for them by saying that they may be a way of sub-dividing parishes in certain regions.

PART III: POSSIBLE GUIDELINES FOR THE BECs:

In view, therefore, of our discussion of what BECs are – a way of being church today – and their many possible expressions and what they are for the Church today and for the future of evangelization; and in view of our discussion that although there are no specific canons or laws concerning them, they are indeed church or ecclesial entities living and functioning within the Church, and logically obliged to follow the laws of the Church both those contained in the Code of Canon Law, which every catholic is to obey (c.11), and the particular laws of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions where they exist (cc.12 and 13), we can now venture to propose some possible guidelines.

Knowing also that they cannot be given laws similar to the laws for public and private associations in the Church as they are avowedly NOT associations or organizations, they can only be given “Guidelines” that emanate from the laws of the Code of the Church within which they are to live and move so that “the mutual relationships of Christ’s faithful are reconciled in justice based on charity, with the rights of each safeguarded and defined” and so that “christian life may be ever more perfectly carried out” (“Sacrae disciplinae leges”).

We now, therefore, propose these POSSIBLE GUIDELINES for the BECs. We propose two sets: first, some principles – theological, canonical, liturgical – that are to be considered, and, secondly, some actions to be careful about or even avoided in order not to “unwittingly violate” basic human rights of freedom of conscience and religious freedom, and even the basic human rights of the faithful to follow their own spirituality and to be helped in living that (c.213); and, so that the actions of some BECs in issuing policies and imposing some restrictive sanctions may be properly directed.

SOME POSSIBLE POINTS TO CONSIDER…..

a. The Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) as ways of being Church today according to the ecclesiology of Vatican II are admittedly, according to church documents, very potent means for evangelization especially for the New Evangelization: “Such communities have given proof of efficacious evangelizing, above all in parishes in rustic or rural settings” (“Apostolorum successores”, 215.e). Therefore, as urged by PCP II, in the Philippines they are to be “vigorously promoted for the full living of the Christian vocation in both urban and rural areas”, that is, in all types of social and economic circumstances of living today.

b. Because of the diverse situations where they can thrive, the many different stages, types, models or forms of BECs – provided they conform to the basic elements of what BECs are (a communio which is dialogic, participative and co-responsible) – are to be recognized, acknowledged, and nourished. And although preferably territorial, they may also be voluntary. Hence, not one single model of BEC is to be officially recognized and imposed to be followed.

c. Therefore, although originally and basically rural intended especially to help the poor and marginalized to fully participate in the life of the Church, especially in their local Church, they should also be promoted in urban areas. For it is precisely in urban centers that the Word of God has to be preached as it is there that this Word is mostly dimmed and the Church and her mission misunderstood or even rejected, and people speedily drifting away from God and from the Church.

d. Because of their diverse situations and levels, it is not necessary that there should be “uniform” laws for all BECs to implement and follow. Each BEC has its own social and ecclesiological environment. “Guidelines” may be sufficient to guarantee their free growth.

e. The lay leadership in BECs should be fostered and nurtured.

f. The BEC cells or selda should not be too big so that the members will get to know each other better, and the anonymity of the large parish groupings avoided.

g. The ways of BECs which are very appropriate in living out the Church today, as stated by PCP II, “shall be integrated into parish associations and movements” so that they too will become BEC-type communities.

h. The idea that the BECs are not canonical associations or organizations must be very well understood, emphasized and implemented. Hence, so that they will retain this unique particular identity, all efforts must be exerted so that in organizing BECs, they will not fall into the temptation of becoming too structured, too cluttered with minute rules and regulations.

i. Therefore, BECs should have the minimum of organizational structure and governance laws. Hence, it is good that there should not be too specific rules and regulations on how the BECs should be governed and run.

j. The idea that BECs are not exclusive and selective should be always and firmly upheld and there should be no other qualification to be a member except being baptized with a basic desire to know more about the faith and to live it. They should always be open and welcoming, especially to those who need help the most: the unchurched, the indifferent, the hardened, the sinners. For it is for them that the Lord suffered and died, and founded the Church: “I came to call sinners”.

k. According to the suggestions of “Apostolorum successores”, BECs, described by it as “groups of Christians who gather together to assist each other in the spiritual life and in Christian formation and to discuss shared human and ecclesial problems related to their common goal”, may be practical ways of sub-dividing parishes. They are, therefore, integral parts of a parish or quasi-parish, and so are under the authority and supervision of the pastor.

l. Thus, these groups of BECs can be very ideal preparations for creating quasi-parishes that can become future parishes (c.516).

m. Groups of neighbouring BECs may form their own localized ministries and apostolates, such as the Family Life Apostolate, social concerns groups, youth apostolate, catechists, and the like. Thus, they can organize their own pre-Cana seminars; follow-up those recently married; help those who are having troubles in their marriage, and the like. They have, however, to be under the guidance and supervision of their parish priest and to be followed-up and updated by the parish leaders of the respective apostolates and ministries.

n. BECs can and should help and reach out not only to their own active members but to everyone in their neighbourhood in preparation for the celebration of the sacraments. Thus, they can help prepare people for baptism, for confirmation, for confessions, for marriage, etc. especially by visiting them at home so that they may celebrate the sacraments worthily and fruitfully (cfr., for instance, c.851 on baptism). This way, they can encourage people to celebrate and receive the sacraments, and not turn them away. Eventually, they will gradually attract all to join BECs and follow their way of being Church.

o. Members of BECs should remember that participation in Church life positively means that all are to fulfil only those functions that are according to their state, their canonical and liturgical capabilities (c.208).

p. Participation also means that, according to the obligations and rights of all the faithful, they can present their opinions, suggestions and complaints to the proper authorities (c.212, par. 2 and 3). Hence, they have the right to present to their parish priest and/or to the diocesan Bishop their opinions and suggestions concerning certain policies, or even on how to deal with certain individuals or groups or plans or events.

q. Concerning the collaboration of the lay in the sacred ministry of priests, they should follow the regulations contained in the inter-dicasterial Instruction “Ecclesiae de Mysterio”.

r. In the field of liturgy, they are to remember that the chief liturgist is the diocesan Bishop. Hence, they are to follow the liturgical instructions coming from the diocesan bishop or from the diocesan commission on liturgy, especially on the “celebrations without a priest”.

s. In the area of issuing laws or policies, they are to remember that the sole lawmaker in the diocese is the diocesan Bishop (cc.135, par.2; 391, par.2), and for the universal Church, the Roman Pontiff, and they are the only one who can impose or issue penalties.

t. Hence, BECs and Parish Priests should avoid making “penal policies” that will sound more like threats, and thus turn people off. It is enough that they follow and implement the laws of the Code, and the laws of the diocese to which they belong. Too many minute laws will make them sound like the Pharisees of old.

u. Hence, the role of BECs, just like that of any individual faithful, associations, organizations and movements in the diocese, is not to make laws but to make their members faithfully follow the rules and regulations issued by the diocesan Bishop or those that are issued by his approval and order. And over and above the diocesan laws, they should follow the decrees of the Bishop’s Conference, and the decrees coming from the different Congregations of the Roman Curia, and canons of the Code. For it is in fulfilling these laws and decrees that the desired unity of the BECs and of the Church can be achieved, and equity, fairness and justice of all in a diocese can be observed.

SOME POSSIBLE ACTIONS TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT…OR AVOIDED…..

a. The precautions of Paul VI in “Evangelii Nuntiandi”, 58 on the BECs should be always kept in mind:
“- that they avoid the ever present temptation of systematic protest and a hypercritical attitude, under the pretext of authenticity and a spirit of collaboration;
- that they remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church, thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves, then of believing themselves to be the only authentic Church of Christ, and hence of condemning the other ecclesial communities;
- that they maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to His Church, and with the magisterium which the Spirit of Christ has entrusted to these pastors; – that they never look on themselves as the sole beneficiaries or sole agents of evangelization- or even the only depositories of the Gospel – but, being aware that the Church is much more vast and diversified, accept the fact that this Church becomes incarnate in other ways than through themselves;
- that they constantly grow in missionary consciousness, fervor, commitment and zeal;
- that they show themselves to be universal in all things and never sectarian.”
This is echoed by “Apostolorum successores”, 215.e, which says: “It is important, however, to avoid every temptation to become isolated from ecclesial communion or ideologically exploited”.
b. Care, therefore, must be taken that the BECs should never be presented as the only possible way to live out the Church today. Hence, the value of other Church associations, organizations and movements should be respected, appreciated and upheld.

c. Hence, the BECs, while being strongly made a parochial or diocesan thrust, should never be imposed on the faithful. Attraction should be the strategy.

d. Therefore, while the faithful should be educated on the BECS and kindly invited and encouraged to be active members, and no one should be “forced” nor inactive membership threatened with penalty, like deprivation of a sacrament for oneself or for any member of the family. Their freedom to pursue their own spirituality (c.214), like joining instead other church associations or movements, and of following their conscience in living their life in the Church should always be respected and upheld.

e. The right of the faithful to the sacraments and to the spiritual assistance from their pastors must always be respected (c.843 and c.213). Hence, active membership in the BECs can never be made an absolute condition, or “conditio sine qua non”, for participating in the celebration and/or reception of the sacraments and sacramentals.

f. BECs, therefore, should never be sources of division and discrimination among the faithful. Hence, there should not be such a thing as bona fide “card-carrying” catholic who has the full rights to the sacraments because he/she is an active member of a BEC, while others are deprived.

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS:

With its origin, nature and purposes properly understood and lived by the people and the priests, the BECs are clearly and admittedly very potent means for the New Evangelization: helping the faithful to live the way of being Church today, helping the faithful to participate actively in church life, helping the faithful overcome their “anonymous status”, and encouraging them to dialogue with their pastors and leaders and to interact with each other. They are, therefore, to call people to the Church and must be “vigorously promoted”.

Definitely, BECs have a something great to offer to living out what it means to be Church. In fact, in terms of setting up a parish, “Apostolorum Succesores”, by saying that it can be a way of sub-dividing a parish in certain cases, has said something the canonical import of which for the future of BECs and of parishes still has to be seen.

Care must just be taken, however, that the BECs do not tend to be “elitist”, thinking that they are the only ones living or expressing the reality of the Church today; and that they would not tend to believe that because they are “a new way of being Church” they can make rules and policies on their own initiative, without following the laws of the Church, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. This process will in the end be detrimental to the Church, to community life and to the BECs themselves.

And care must also be taken that they do not become or appear to be just another association in the Church with so many minute laws and regulations, which would go counter to their nature – “new way of being Church”.

EPILOGUE:

As was stated in the “Introduction”, this paper is not yet the “final answer” on the discussion of BECs along canonical line, but a kind of “working paper” that hopes to stimulate more discussions. Hence, more and even better “Guidelines” can continue to be proposed and discussed up to the level of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which, we eagerly hope, will someday be able to offer the final “Guidelines” for the BECs in the Philippines. And it is hoped that this paper will generate more canonical reflections and studies on the BECs.

ENDNOTES

INTRODUCTION
1 This Working Paper is based on the discussion of the some members of CLSP-Mindanao who were
assigned to continue the discussion on the BECs begun during the National Convention of CLSP in Surigao April 26-29, 2011 in view of the discussions during the Annual CLSP Convention in Bacolod City, April 8 – 11, 2013.

2 The plural form of BECs is normally used; and we will use it here in this form for consistency.

3 “One of the significant developments in the Church after Vatican II is the emergence of Basic Ecclesial
Communities (BECs) all over the world especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia.” Picardal, A., CSsR, “Basic Ecclesial Communities: An Ecclesiological Vision”.

4 It is also mentioned in the same way in the Synod’s Message to the People of God.

5 “For the last thirty years, BECs have proliferated in the Philippines. Since 1991, the second Plenary
Council of the Philippines (PCP II) has promoted the building up of BECs all over the country.” Picardal, ibid.

6 Because of the timid approach of the convention, it is said that one bishop from Mindanao who
attended the convention was said to have commented during a CBCP assembly that the CLSP convention came up with “Nada, nada” (“nothing”). This has not discouraged the canon lawyers, on the contrary, it has been challenge. The bishop perhaps did not know how we have been postponing discussing this topic in a convention for a long time as we felt we did not have any solid canonical ground for a reflection, and we know he was not aware that the Mindanao canon lawyers have quietly begun sharing ideas on the BEC during their regional assembly after the Surigao convention. This was the expected action after the convention.

7 During the Assembly of the Canon Lawyers of the Visayas Region of the CBCP prior to the Surigao
convention, many members were already strongly expressing the desire to give a canonical definition of BECs.

8 The CBCP has been mandated by PCP II in decree Art.110, no.1 to come up with an “official statement
on BECs, on their nature and function”.

9 It is hoped that maybe someday other Bishops’ Conferences in other countries may come up also with
their own “canonical guidelines”; and that Vatican will come up with official definition and guidelines on the BECs.

PART I
1 Concerning the BECs, for instance in Brazil, there is the dissertation of Marcello deC. AZEVEDO, SJ,
“Basic Ecclesial Communities in Brazil: The Challenge of a New Way of Being Church”, Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C., 1987

2 The late Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ, DD said that back in 1995, in a nation-wide survey, the National
Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) of the CBCP had identified 93 different kinds or at least names of BECs, cfr. Claver, Francisco F., SJ, “The Making of a Local Church”, Claretian Publications, 2009, p.112. The following, for example, are some names given: GKK (Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban), GSK (Gagmayng Simbahanong Katilingban), BCC (Basic Christian Community), KRISKA (Kristohanong Kasilinganan, or Kristohanong Katilingban), BPK (Batayang Pamayanang Kristiyano), MSK (Munting Sambayanang Kristiyano). They are usually to as “small Christian communities” by most Vatican documents, like in the most recent Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in its list of Propositions no.42 and in its Message to the People of God. Claver, as well as other authors, also talk of different “levels” or “stages of BECS: liturgical, developmental, liberational (pp.112-113).

3 In the Philippines an office has been put up in the CBCP by the bishops to coordinate the BECs all over
the country, the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities. This is a sort of implementation of the PCP II mandate. At present the Committee is chaired by Bishop George Rimando, DD, Auxiliary Bishop of Davao, with the assistance of Fr. Amado Picardal, CSsR (Executive Secretary).

4 We have, for instance, the work of Marcello deC. Azevedo, SJ on the BECs in Brazil in 1987, already
mentioned in note 9; the dissertation of Amado Picardal, CSsR, on the BECs in the Philippines: “Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Philippines: An Ecclesiological Perspective”, Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, 1995 (not to mention his many talks on the BECs, one of which is referred to often in this paper); the book of Francisco Claver, SJ, in 2009 already mentioned above (not to mention his many talks and even pastoral letters); the report prepared by the B.E.C. Service Office Apostolic Office of the Jesuit Community in the Philippines: “Inter-BEC Consultations: How Far Have We Gone?”, published on November 1, 1988; the “Formation Guide on Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC)” produced by the BEC Diocesan Commission of the Diocese of Malaybalay in 1996; the recent “Proceedings of the Mindanao-wide Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) Gathering” held in Tagum City, Davao del Norte last November 19-22, 2012, where Fr. Ronald Lunas gave the main theological reflection: “BEC: A Recognition of the Church’s Vision (Towards an Ecclesiological Foundation of the BECs)” (this is as of this writing the latest theological reflection on BECs); there are also many papers on BECs coming from the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences; the many talks of many Bishops, notably those of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato and the first Chair of the CBCP Committee on BECs. The CBCP Office of this Committee also has a collection of the proceedings of many consultative gatherings of BECs all over the Philippines.

5 Picardal, “Basic Ecclesial Communities…”, op.cit. For elaborated explanation, one can see Azevedo’s
and Claver’s books.

6 See the short discussion of Lunas in his talk ““BEC: A Recognition of the Church’s Vision…”, op.cit.,
where he mentions this possible misunderstanding in his explanation of BECs as being “ecclesial”: “There are two categories of the Church: universal and particular. BECs will not qualify as one of these. The universal Church refers to the world-wide Church,… The particular Church… In the current thinking, this is the diocese… Therefore, BECs cannot be churches.”

7 Benedict XVI, in talking about the proper interpretation of Vatican II, had always emphasized on the
“heremeneutic of continuity” and not of “discontinuity”.

8 Azevedo, “Basic Ecclesial Communities in Brazil…”, op.cit., pp.5-6

9 Picardal terms non.138 of PCP II as the “phenomenological description” of BECs, op.cit.

10 ibid.; highlighting ours

11 Claver, The Making of… op.cit., p.108

12 Bishop Francisco Claver had been into BECs when it started in the diocese of Malaybalay, Bukidnon
(where he was the bishop) in the 1960’s later endorsed by Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) in Mindanao since the 70’s; and also later in his diocese in Bontoc-Lagawe in Northern Luzon.

13 ibid.

14 ibid., pp.108-110

15 ibid.

16 ibid.

17 ibid.

18 ibid.; see also the explanation of Lunas of these same elements in his talk; he also adds, however,
another Vatican element: “mission” or the BECs as sharing in the evangelizing mission of the Church. Claver also mentions this in his book without mentioning it among the three basic elements he puts in his definition because, I think, for him it is not determinant of BECs in as much as everyone and every church entity is supposed to share in that missionary task.

19 ibid., p.111; emphasis ours

20 ibid.

21 ibid., pp.113-115; Claver describes the Liturgical BEC as one “in which the community participation is
concentrated on its liturgical life” where the priority is “on nurturing a strong spirituality centered on worship”); the Developmental BEC as “one…which, going beyond the liturgical, strives to do something about the community’s economic problems… when the community in its discerning process begins to see that its faith requires that it acts on not only narrowly defined spiritual problems but on other life problems as well”; and the Liberational BEC as “one…which faces up to questions of social injustice, human rights violations, crime and violence, peace-building – what are often looked at as the more political aspects of life”.

22 ibid., p.122; rural BECs if they are situated in the towns places; or urban if in the cities; or,
“territorial BECs” if they are made up of neighbors in a given territory; or, “voluntary BECs” if made up of persons who are often together most of the day for reason of work and are coming from diverse backgrounds (like office workers or even market vendors), or for reason of similarity of likes or of backgrounds but living in different places. The “territorial BECs” are mostly the “rural BECs” as they are “centered on a barrio or sitio chapel, or on the neighbourhood”, while the “voluntary BECs” are mostly the “urban BECs”.
Now, whether they are “rural” or “voluntary” BECs, they may be either “liturgical”, “developmental”, or “liberational”. Hence, we can apply also to them the comment of Claver on the relationship between the different types or stages of development of BECs that do not exclude each other, but on the contrary presuppose each other: “In the progression, each successive step includes the previous one. Thus a developmental BEC is also liturgical. And the liberational BEC is at the same time both liturgical and developmental. A BEC that is only developmental without being liturgical would be a social agency, not a church. A similar thing can be said about a liberational BEC that is not at the same time liturgical and developmental – I would call it a political party.”

23 ibid., p.125

24 Claver, op.cit., p.126

25 Azevedo talks of different types of BECs depending upon the “Models of Church” they live out:
whether Church as “institution”, as “communion”, as “herald”, as “sacrament”, or as “servant” – see: “Basic Ecclesial Communities…”, op.cit., pp.213-232.

26 Lunas, op.cit.

27 ibid.

PART II
1 I say “try” because, as said above, we do not have any official Vatican document so far that has looked
into BECs canonically; and I am not aware of any CBCP document along this line – it even seems like the bishops are also waiting for a treatment on this by the CBCP-ECCL (Episcopal Commission on Canon Law) with the help of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines (CLSP). I understand that there are now at least 2 Filipino priests – one in the University of Sto. Tomas (UST), Manila, Philippines, and another in the Catholic University of Louvain (KUL), Belgium – who are making their dissertations on BECs in the Faculty of Canon Law.

2 The British translation of the Code of Canon Law is used in this paper as this is the one more
commonly used in the Philippines.

3 Introduction to commentary on the first canons of “People of God” by Robert J. Kaslyn, SJ, in “New
Commentary on the Code of Canon Law”, by CLSA, ed. By Beal, Coriden and Green, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 2003. Kaslyn has a very good bibliography at the end of his commentary.

4 It is called interdicasterial because it was signed by Prefects, Pro-Prefects and Presidents of 8 different
discateries (congregations and councils) of the Roman Curia.

5 This is an area that can and should be further studied. And the indication of “Apostolorum
Successores” that BECs may be a way of subdividing parishes may be a good starting point.
Being “non-canonical” only means that someone or some entity or action or event is not specifically mentioned in the Code or there is no particular canon that rules its existence, actions, etc. But it does not mean that who or what is not specifically mentioned is exempted from following the laws. The Code which contains universal laws cannot possibly mention everyone and everything in the Church. That is why there is even need for particular lawgivers, like the diocesan Bishops, to issue laws to apply universal laws to his particular church – these are called “particular laws” – so that some details not mentioned in a universal law may now be taken up in a particular law, like for instance the law on marriage investigations, marriage banns, etc. in c.1067.

6 I am not aware why CBCP, beyond stating that BEC is to be the thrust of the Philippine Church, has not
yet come out up to now with particular rules and regulations on BECs in spite of a decree of PCP II.

7 c.12, par.1: Universal laws are binding everywhere on all those for whom they were enacted.
par.2: All those actually present in a particular territory in which certain universal laws are not in
force, are exempt from those laws.
par.3: Without prejudice to the provisions of can.13, laws enacted for a particular territory bind
those for whom they were enacted and who have a domicile or quasi-domicile in that territory and are actually residing in it.

c.13, par.1: Particular laws are not presumed to be personal, but rather territorial, unless the
contrary is clear.
par.2: Perigrini are not bound:
no.1: by the particular laws of their own territory while they are absent from it, unless the transgression of those laws causes harm in their own territory, or unless the laws are personal.
no.2: by the laws of the territory in which they are present, except for those laws which take care of public order, or determine the formalities of legal acts, or concern immovable property located in the territory.
par.3: Vagi are bound by both the universal and the particular laws which are in force in the
place in which they are present.

8 cfr. c.135, par.2: Legislative power is to be exercised in the manner prescribed by law; that which in the
Church a legislator lower than the supreme authority has, cannot be delegated, unless the law explicitly provides otherwise. A lower legislator cannot validly make a law which is contrary to that of a higher legislator.

9 cfr. cc.114 and 115, par.2 on the meaning of “aggregates of persons”.

10 See comments of Daniel Cenalmor on c.215, no.2, b), in “Exegetical Commentary on the Code of
Canon Law”, vol.II/1, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago 2004; see also: James A. Coriden, “The Rights of Catholics in the Church”, Paulist Press, NY, 2007, pp.74-79).

11 These questions are asked because some BECs, by their actuations, seem to be giving these signals. I
understand that not all BECs are acting in the same manner.

12 See also comments of James Coriden on religious freedom in “The Rights of Catholics in the Church”,
Paulist Press, N.Y., 2007, pp.62-66.

13 Azevedo, op.cit., p.88.

14 In Canon Law, the publication of a law is also its promulgation which gives birth to a law, according to
cc.7, 8 and 9.

15 cfr. c.1314 on concepts of latae and ferendae sententiae penalties; and c.1331 on excommunications.

16 cfr. c.1340 on the concept of “penance” as canonical punishment.

17 Note: the original Latin says “denegare non possunt” which literally should be: “cannot deny” and not
the mild “may not deny”; the former is how it is translated in the American translation of the Code in English.

18 cfr. c.97, par.2 as to who is considered canonically an “infant”.

19 The is not really because of the person concerned but because of the doctrine that this sacrament
can be received only once – cfr. c.845, par.1)