Fr. Oswald Gracias
Given our frail human situation, conflict situations do often arise. The Church desirous that communion should be disrupted due to this has advocated the establishment of conciliation committees. Both the Latin Code and the Code of Canon for the Eastern Churches make mention of this:
C 1733 (CIC) – §1 When a person believes that he or she has been injured by a decree, it is greatly to be desired that contention between that person and the author of the decree be avoided, and that care be taken to reach an equitable solution by mutual consultation, possibly using the assistance of serious-minded persons to meditate and study the matter. In this way, the controversy may be some suitable method be avoided or brought to an end.
§2 The Episcopal Conference can prescribe that in each diocese there be established a permanent office or council which would have the duty, in accordance with the norms laid down by the Conference, of seeking and suggesting equitable solutions even if the Conference has not demanded this, the Bishop may establish such an office or council.
§3 The office or council mentioned in §2 is to be diligent in its work principally when the revocation of a decree is sought in accordance with can. 1734 and the time-limit for recourse has not elapsed. If recourse is proposed against a decree, the Superior who would have to decide the recourse is to encourage both the person having recourse and the author of the decree to seek this type of solution, whenever the prospect of a satisfactory outcome is discerned.
C 998 (CCEO) – §1 It is very desirable that whenever someone feels injured by a decree, there not be a dispute between this person and the author of the decree but that they seek to find an equitable solution between them, perhaps through the use of wise persons in mediation or study so that through a voluntary emendation of the decree or through just compensation or by some other suitable means the controversy may be avoided.
§ The Superior authority should encourage the parties to do this before he receives the appeal.
When C 1733 was being studied by the CBCI several years ago, it was felt that there was no need for conciliation committees. Times have changed. Events have shown that there is need for a structure at the diocesan or regional level to resolve disputes. Hence, this study, Three separate points have to be examined initially:
1. What is the scope of these Conciliation Committees? They cannot take up all disputes! The competence should be clearly marked out: which disputes are allowable and which are not allowable.
2. What specific structures would be set up in the diocese or the regions? What personnel have to be appointed to these bodies and by whom?
3. What is the procedure to be followed by this office? Aren’t time limits necessary for it to achieve credibility?
Each point is to be taken up separately. What is proposed below is the scheme for these conciliation committees.
1. Each Diocese is to have an Office of Conciliation.
2. The Head of this Office is the Conciliation Officer, appointed by the Bishop for a three-year term.
3. The Conciliation Panel consists of three members, appointed by the Bishop (in consultation, if necessary, with the Priests’ Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council): it may be advisable to have a Religious on the Panel. The Panel is appointed for a three-year term.
II-INITIATION OF THE PROCEDURE
A. Initial Petition
1. All petitions asking for assistance in resolving a conflict are to be sent to the Conciliation Officer.
2. Every petition must be accompanied by a written declaration that an effort has been made to reach agreement prior to filing this petition.
3. a) The Conciliation Officer first studies the petition to see if it is properly made:
i) Does it contain a concrete and specific description of the dispute?
ii) Does it specify which law/principle has been violated?
b) The Conciliation Officer then examines the matter under dispute to see if it is allowable or not.
4. Once the Conciliation Officer determines that the petition is properly made and that the matter is allowable, the matter proceeds for Conciliation according to the procedure given below.
a) If the Conciliation Officer declares that the matter is not allowable, the Petitioner can have recourse to the Conciliation Panel, which examines the petition and gives its decision in the matter.
b) If the Conciliation Panel also rules that the petition is not allowable, recourse is still possible to the Bishop.
C. Special Cases
a) If the dispute concerns the Bishop, efforts should first be made to resolve the dispute within the Diocese itself. This dispute is referred directly to the Conciliation Panel, which can decide whether to handle the matter or not.
b) If the matter cannot be settled within the Diocese. The petition is sent to the Metropolitan. If the Metropolitan is involved, the petition is sent to the senior-most Bishop by appointment or the next in seniority if the Metropolitan is the senior-most
c) If the case is considered not-allowable the matter can be referred to a Panel of three Bishops stably chosen for this purpose.
III-ALLOWABILITY OF DISPUTES
I. The kinds of disputes that are allowable are:
a) Disputes between a person and a parochial or diocesan Official (including the Bishop) or administrative body, when it is contended that an act or decision has violated a right recognized as such in the law of the Church or in the documents of the Magisterium.
b) Disputes involving the above, when it is contended that failure to act or to make a decision has violated a right recognized as such in the law of the Church in the documents of the Magisterium.
c) Other disputes which seriously affect the life and activity of the Church.
2. The following type of disputes are not allowable.
a) Cases involving the question of validity of marriage or orders.
b) Ecclesiastical matters specifically reserved by Canon Law to other processes within the Church.
c) Disputes involving religious in their strictly internal affairs.
IV-PROCEDURE TO BE FOLLOWED
1. The authority deciding that the case is allowable (the Conciliation Officer or a member of the Conciliation Panel) meets both the parties to select the Conciliator/Conciliators who, in the opinion of the Petitioner and the Respondent, is/are competent and would be capable of bringing both parties together in dialogue.
2. Once the Conciliator(s) is appointed, he has a two-fold role: the investigation of the case and the attempts at conciliation.
a) The investigation consists in the Conciliator(s) meeting both the parties and ascertaining the facts of the case. He/they may collect other evidence that may be necessary for a resolution of the case.
b) The Conciliator(s) then attempt to motivate and assist the parties in settling the dispute themselves while discreetly suggesting possible areas of compromise or other suitable solutions.
3. At the end of this process the Conciliator(s) makes a report which he gives to the Conciliation Officer saying Conciliation has been effected; or explaining that conciliation efforts have failed and giving the reasons for the same.
4. The Conciliator(s) then makes his recommendations, if any, for the future.
To ensure a speedy trial and resolution of the conflict, the following time frame is to be observed:
1. The Conciliation Officer should give his decision regarding the allowability of the case within seven days of reception of the petition.
2. The Conciliation Panel has ten days to give its decision confirming or over-ruling the decision of the Conciliation Officer.
3. Within seven days of its decision, the authority deciding that the case is allowable contacts the Petitioner and the Respondent to initiate the process of identifying the Conciliator/Conciliators.
4. The Conciliator(s) is/are given one month to effect conciliation; this period may be extended by the Conciliation Officer after consulting both parties.
Operational costs for the Office of Conciliation should be part of the diocesan budget. All other costs of the conciliation procedures should be borne equally by the parties involved or as the Conciliation Officer decides.
*The scheme above has incorporated the suggestions made at the Varanasi Canon Law Conference 1993. This scheme has now been circulated to all the Bishops by the CBCI.