Leadership Symposium

Cutting Edge Sociology

Canon Law

Volunteers are necessary for any organization in the modern world.  In recent documents, the popes of Rome have skillfully promoted volunteerism as an adjunct to the professional corps of Catholic priests and nuns.  This Abstract of a 2008 Doctoral Dissertation defended at Oxford, England, helps to discern the papal program for volunteers.  These volunteers have given a new vitality to a 2000 year old organization.


Theology and Practice, with Special Reference to the 1997 Papal Instruction Ecclesiae de Mysterio

GOAL: The thesis examined the notion of Catholic volunteers in literature. Although a historical survey included 199 ecclesiastical documents, special treatment was given to Ecclesiae de Mysterio, because it gives principles and practice, is recent, was approved line-by-line by the pope, was published by papal order, and allows no exceptions.

LIMITS: The study directly concerns Catholic dogmatic theology

UNTREATED: Prior to this dissertation, the treatment of Catholic volunteers is missing from dogmatic theology. In 1954, Yves Congar treated lay Catholics, but not volunteers. Gregorian University professors Bonnet and Ghirlanda treated laity in the 1983 book De Christifidelibus, but not as volunteers and only in canon law. The 1984 symposium at the Gregorian University in Rome on laity did not treat volunteers.

DISCOVERY: Literature from the Bible, early Ecumenical Councils, early canon law, and the First Vatican Council, showed volunteerism as a personal charism. Up to the Second Vatican Council there was no Catholic Church public mandate for volunteers.

MODERN ORIGINS: Cardinal Cordes, in charge of volunteers at the Vatican, noted volunteerism is modern. Eleven different movements in the modern world which empowered ordinary people were explored in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and papal teaching. Laity already empowered by the world were subsequently empowered by a Catholic Church mandate by the Second Vatican Council, the Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Chistifideles Laici, and Eccleisae de Mysterio. The word "volunteer" was first used by the pope only on 5 December 2001.

METHOD: Generally, in Catholic dogmatic theology manuals, a standard system of thesis evaluation is followed: the definition of terms, the listing of adversaries, and then the poof of the thesis. Because of the nature of this project, namely that the theology of the Catholic volunteer is relatively new, a different presentation, more accommodated to the subject, was used. First, a survey of literature illustrated that, instead of adversaries, there was a development, from a clerically dominated hierarchical Church that actually fit a former social structure, to a new understanding of Church as a cooperative People of God. Secondly, the causes of this development had to be considered, so movements in the modern world were examined by actual citations from conciliar and papal documents. Thirdly, there was an examination of terms and definitions. Fourth, another fruit of the survey of literature was a list of dogmatic theses. Finally, each thesis was "proved" by the use of conciliar and papal documents.

DOGMATIC PRESENTATION: A dogmatic synthesis was presented in the form of seven theses, which could form an academic course. These theses considered whether the obligation of volunteer ministry was assumed at Baptism, whether shaped by the common priesthood, whether exercised in communion with the Church, whether exercised for the mission of the Church, whether more than parochial, whether essential in the Church, and whether essentially distinct from the ordained ministry. Each thesis was proved from documentation. Modern opposing opinions were also considered.

PROOF OF NOVELTY: The allegation that the seven theses were new had to be proved. An "external proof" of this novelty was the inability to find a volunteer mandate in Church documents much before the twentieth century. "Internal proof" arises from the practice of Church documents in footnoting from the Bible or prior documents. In an exact reference, the quote and its location are given. In merely supporting text, the citation says "confer." In something new, no citation or a very recent citation is given. Both external and internal proofs verify the newness of the lay volunteer mandate.

DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE: Catholic dogma presentations are rooted in tradition. Can development of doctrine take place? The First Vatican Council cites the teaching of Vincent of Lerin: just as a human person can grow, so can the Church grow in age, and with the passing of time, grow in understanding, science and wisdom, but only according to its own kind, namely the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same meaning. Development from private charismatic volunteers to the present public mandate for Church volunteers is one of a very few examples of the development of doctrine. Vatican I maintained papal infallibility was another example.

LEVEL OF CERTITUDE: Not every dogma is equally certain. Each of the dogmatic theses presented is graded according to its increasing theological level of importance: probability, common and certain, firm papal doctrine, near-to-faith issues, defined doctrine, or defined Bible doctrine. Most theses were clearly firm papal doctrine.

FUTURE STUDIES: In dogmatic theology, the presentation is comprehensive. In fundamental theology, the study of Catholic literature is complete. In biblical theology, indirectly included in this dissertation, Pope John Paul II already treated Catholic volunteers in Christifideles Laici on 30 December 1988. In systematic theology, the idea of "communion" was elaborated as central, as noted in the document Ecclesiae de Mysterio. In communication theology, noted by the Vatican II Decree on the Laity, #32, the dogmatic theses form an outline to be adapted to the level of the audience.

BIOGRAPHY OF DAVID JAMES MULVIHILL, J.C.D., Ph.D.:   David James Mulvihill earned a doctorate in canon law (J.C.D.) at the Gregorian University, Rome, in 1990, and his doctorate in philosophy (Ph.D.) was defended at Oxford, England, in 2008, under the auspices of the Graduate Theological Foundation.  He is a Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. Rotary International honored him as a "Paul Harris Fellow" with a citation and a gold medal. He is an ecclesiastical judge in the Court of Appeals for Illinois, and also for Wisconsin. Since ordination to the priesthood on 10 May 1972, he has served the Archdiocese of Chicago in four local churches. He is currently pastor of Our Lady of Humility Church, 10655 Wadsworth Road, Beach Park, IL 60099, U.S.A. His email address is:


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