Father Kevin McKenna, pastor of St. Cecilia Church in Irondequoit, said there have been a number of occasions when individuals — from this diocese and elsewhere — have approached him concerning their rights as Roman Catholics.
The former diocesan chancellor and a past president of the Canon Law Society of America said he thinks many Catholics are unaware of their rights. This is one of the reasons that he wrote A Concise Guide to Your Rights in the Catholic Church (2006.) This slim volume is his latest in “The Concise Guide Series” published by Ave Maria Press. Previously he has written on Catholic social teaching and the Code of Canon Law.
In the introduction to A Concise Guide to Your Rights in the Catholic Church he defines the 1983 Code of Canon Law as the document that “defined as law the insights and teachings of the (Second Vatican) Council on the dignity of the human person and the fundamental rights of all.” Many, if not most, Catholics are much more familiar with their obligations and duties than with these fundamental rights.
Some of the statements that emerged from the council, which ran from 1962 to 1965 under the guidance of Pope John XXIII, concern the Catholic layperson’s right to form a labor union and to receive a Christian education. The code also legislated privacy protections and fair wages.
Interestingly, the author hopes to instruct in these matters his fellow clergy along with the laity. There are separate chapters for the rights and obligations of the clergy.
“During the height of the recent sexual-abuse crisis, I received calls from priests throughout the United States about their rights when accused of misconduct,” Father McKenna recalled during a recent interview, noting that their concerns included how to obtain a canonical advocate and whether they would continue to receive food and housing during the investigation.
Accompanying the description of each right in the list is a series of obligations which result from baptism. These apply to all Christian faithful, clerics as well as laypeople. These obligations are not as simple as Sunday Mass attendance. Among them are the obligations to promote social justice and the message of salvation.
In the second section of his book, Father McKenna answers a series of questions that address certain “hot spots” in the church of today. Included in this section are questions about being denied the sacraments or funeral rites, about receiving benefits and pensions when working for the church, and challenging a diocesan bishop’s decision to close a parish.
Clearly, this book is very timely. It is not, however, meant as a “do-it-yourself” guide to resolving issues that Catholics feel need to be addressed. Even though its style is user friendly, Father McKenna makes it clear that both laity and clergy need to be aware of the required procedures one must follow in seeking to vindicate any of the rights listed.
“An open approach on both sides often helps towards achieving a good resolution,” he said, adding that he hopes that by reading this book all the Catholic faithful will accord each other the dignity of the human person.
Father McKenna gave a series of talks on his book in September and will sign copies at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 12 at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Next fall Paulist Press will publish his latest book, No Hospitality in the Household, which details colorful stories involving bishops and priests of the 19th century, including Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester.
The Concise Guide to Your Rights in the Catholic Church is available for $12.95 at St. Cecelia, Barnes and Noble bookstores and the shop at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Palma is an adjunct assistant professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester and an adjunct instructor at Nazareth College in Pittsford. She holds a master of science degree in education from Nazareth and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.