Law as an enabling principle in the Catholic Church

  • Marc De Mûelenaere
Keywords: Catholic Church, Canon Law, Civil Society


The Catholic Church is an ancient institution, which at the present moment has a membership of well over 1,2 billion people or three quarters of all Christians on the globe. It is well known that the Church is presided over by the bishop of Rome, who is elected by the college of cardinals, and who is currently Pope Benedict XVI. He is not only the head of the Church, he is also the legislator for the Church. Although in some ways he is an absolute monarch, in many ways he cannot and does not rule alone. He is the head of the college of bishops, some 4 500 of them, who head dioceses throughout the world. Collectively they are the successors of the twelve apostles and together they also have legislative power. Thus, over its 2000 year history the Church has held many regional councils and twenty ecumenical councils, which acted as policy making bodies and enacted laws valid either for the region under the council’s jurisdiction or for the universal Church, in the case of the ecumenical councils.It is clear that a body of people, constitutive of the universal Church and comprised of every nation on earth, is extremely diverse and needs a strong centralised authority to ensure that good order is maintained within the Body of Christ. At the same time, it is necessary to devolve authority to the local level, so that universal norms may be particularised and made relevant to the ordinary Christian at the parish level.