Democratic Process in Decision Making

From the beginning Jesus envisaged that important decisions should be taken by the whole group of his disciples, by the ‘community‘. In the case of a dispute between believers which cannot be resolved amicably, Jesus recommends: “Report it to the community” (Mt 18,15-17). Such common decisions, Jesus added, will be sanctioned in heaven, i.e. by God (Mt 18,18; see also Mt 18,19-20). The word used for ‘community’ in Matthew’s Greek Gospel is εκκλήσία – ecclesia in Latin – which soon became the common expression for a Christian community [= church]. εκκλήσία stood for ‘the whole community’, and more specifically: ‘the community in full assembly’. In the hellenistic [= Greek] world of the Early Church, decisions made by an εκκλήσία were made democratically – another Greek word. It means that all members of the εκκλήσία had a vote in the assembly.

It is very significant that the apostles addressed their inspired letters to the whole community – εκκλήσία – in a particular town. See note 1 below. “Church” denoted not the hierarchy, nor an institution but the People of God. The Second Vatican Council stressed this notion again. See note 2 below. And the Council reiterated that all members of the People of God share in responsibility, and therefore in a measure of authority, for the whole community. Every baptised person carries authority as priest, prophet and queen/king with Christ and takes part in Christ’s universal mission. See note 3 below. Each member of the People of God shares responsibility for the good of the whole community of faith. See note 4 below. God distributes the gifts of the Spirit to the faithful of every rank. See note 5 below. That is why all rightly share in the decision making processes of and for the community.

When the Church grew and became more organised, it assimilated government structures first from the Roman Empire, then from the secular kingdoms of the Middle Ages. The exercise of authority became top-down, hierarchical and feudalistic. While retaining some of the useful organizational tools acquired in the past, the Church of our own time should re-instal the pattern of true universal co-responsibility envisaged by Christ and the apostles. It can do so by adopting many of the excellent democratic principles of the secular societies in which we live.


“We can learn tried and tested democratic principles such as the following:
* creating councils through which people’s voice can be heard;
* the fair election of leaders;
* accountability for all entrusted with tasks;
* a limited term for office holders;
* transparency;
* ensuring that all groups in the Church are duly represented;
* due process of law;
* and the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers.”
Len Swidler. Hear him speak here.

Dr Marie-Thérèse van Lunen Chenu — Read her words!
The history of the birth of the 1983 code of church law speaks volumes as regards the collusion between magisterium, theology and law. There was not one woman among the 127 members of the Commission for revision of Canon Law (1982 directory) and if some lay people were consulted, how many of those were women? Who chose them? The Roman hierarchy, it is well known, as regards the issue of women, has never agreed to create a structure which would truly give them a voice. Anyone who knows the already lengthy history of the attempts of feminism and women’s associations to dialogue with the religious authorities, would consider they had the right to doubt the true legitimacy of a jurisdiction and a theological function which remains the monopoly of an exclusively masculine authority. The first Convention on the rights of women, adopted at Seneca Falls in the USA in 1848, declared: ‘Man has usurped the prerogatives of Jehovah himself, in assigning the sphere of action to woman, when this belongs to the conscience of the woman herself and to God.’

Prof Daniel C. Maguire — Read his words!
Democracy is not an alien secular concept. In fact it has better biblical roots than the claims of pope and diocesan bishops to privileged rights to teach and rule . . . Most Catholic theologians today are scandalously timid in reimagining the new forms the church should be taking today. For at least a century after Jesus the idea of a monarchical bishop in charge of a diocese was not the norm. There is theological room for courageous creativity in discussing church governance and leadership. Now is the tempus opportunum. Our bishops have been demonstrating convincingly that they do not possess any special charism of leadership. Our hierarchy are theologically starved by their own choosing.

NOTE 1. “For instance: ‘I, Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle, sends greetings to the church (εκκλήσία) of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ . . .’ ” 1 Corinthians 1,1-2.

NOTE 2. Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 9-17.

NOTE 3. “The faithful who, by baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the people of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 31.

NOTE 4. “By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another”(Rom 12,14-6). Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”(Eph 4,5); sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on,the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3,28; cf. Col 3,11).
If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God(cf. 2 Pet 1,1). And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. “Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 32.

NOTE 5.”It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, “allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills (1 Cor 12,11), He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit”(cf. 1 Thess 5:12, 19-21).” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium § 12.