Cover of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, from Wikipedia
Clergy and lay people in the US are increasingly turning to the church's internal legal system to challenge a bishop's or pastor's decision about Catholic life, according to canon lawyers in academia, dioceses and in private practice, said an AP report in the Long Island Press.
Sometimes, the challengers even win. In one example cited by veteran canon lawyers, parishioners wanted to bar musical performances in their church that weren't liturgical. Their priest had been renting space to a local band.
In another case, a nun filed a petition after a religious superior disclosed the nun's medical information to others – a potential violation of privacy.
The reasons for the trend are complex and reach back decades, involving changes in the church and broader society. Canon lawyers say the American concern for individual freedoms likely has played a role. So has the explosion of information on the Internet.
But the change is also an unexpected consequence of the clergy molestation crisis, with the scandal exerting an influence far beyond cases that directly involve abusers.
"The focus on canon law and penal procedures in the case of sexual misconduct has made people aware that the church has a law system, it can work and people can take advantage of it," said Michael Ritty, founder of Canon Law Professionals, a private practice in New York state.
More US Catholics take complaints to church court (Long Island Press/AP)
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