The Roman Catholic Church's revised code of canon law, the first revision of the church's rules of operation since the first code in 1917, is expected to be issued Tuesday by Pope John Paul II.
The revision will outline rights for clergy and laity, increased participation in leadership roles by lay persons, and more equality for women in the church, although women will continue to be excluded from the priesthood and positions such as altar boy and permanent lector.
The final document is the product of a series of drafts and redrafts over two decades by 93 cardinals, 62 bishops, 109 priests and 14 lay people who have participated in 2,160 meetings at different stages at the Vatican. The effort also has included recommendations from the laity, clergy and religious orders from around the world. The pope has been overseeing final refinements of the last draft since last fall.
The new code will be shorter than the old. It is expected to have 1,700 canons, or church laws, compared with the 2,414 in the 1917 code.
While it will differ starkly from the old, many of its changes already are in practice --these are the revisions in the church made by Vatican Council II, the international gathering of bishops that modernized the church in the 1960s.
The code has been anticipated generally as an improvement over the old one, but there also have been reservations that it will not go far enough in incorporating changes in thought and practice.
In a critical article last year in the national Catholic magazine America, the Rev. James Provost, executive coordinator of the Canon Law Society of America, said, "it will be out of date even before it is promulgated."
The changes reflected in the new code from Vatican II range from alterations in the mass to greater participation of lay persons in administration of parishes and dioceses.
The new code attempts to curtail discrimination against women, with the major exception of ordination. The new code will reiterate "that only baptized men can become priests," Bishop Jose Rosalio Castillo Lara, the head of the Vatican commission revising the code, said in Rome this week. By being excluded from the priesthood, women will continue to be excluded from key authoritative positions in the church, he said.
Women also still will not be allowed to be formally installed in lay ministries as permanent lectors (readers of scripture during mass) or acolytes (who prepare vestments, wine and communion hosts for mass) and will not be able to serve the priest at the altar for mass, the bishop said. He said, however, that women will be able to serve in administrative positions at seminaries or on parish councils.
The new code will authorize preaching by lay persons with approval by local bishops, and in certain circumstances that will probably apply solely to mission areas. A bishop with permission from the Vatican also may appoint lay persons to administer baptism or serve as official church witnesses for marriages on a regular basis when no priest is available.
The code's protection of rights specifies the fundamental equality of all who are baptized and the right of all to participate in the life and mission of the church. Specifics will spell out such things as the rights of lay employes of the church to adequate wages and old age security and health benefits.
For the first time, it will enumerate rights of free assembly, inquiry and speech in the church community, rights of due process and choice of spiritual life style. It will outline a type of church court where members can settle disputes with church authorities, even their bishops.
A requirement in the last draft that lay teachers of Catholic theology in Catholic colleges have the approval of local bishops has been sharply attacked. Theologians charge it would be crippling to academic freedom.