In the summer of 1977 a meeting was held in Dublin to discuss the draft of that section of the New Code of Canon Law dealing with procedures in Church Tribunals. The meeting comprised representatives from the United States of America, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. The Bishops of the countries represented later sent submissions to Rome based on the results of that meeting. The submissions were treated with respect by the Code Commission and may well have had their influence on what finally appeared in the Code.
In the following year comment was sought on the draft of the section of the Code dealing with persons in the Church. Because of the success of the Dublin meeting and because of the importance of the topic, a larger meeting was planned, involving the countries represented in Dublin plus representatives from France, Germany and Africa. This meeting took place in Ottawa in August 1978. Those present represented some eight hundred Bishops.
The draft that had been sent out was entitled “De Personis” and contained only modest changes from the 1917 Code. It still followed the structure of the older Code, starting with the Pope and working down to the laity.
The Ottawa meeting, developing a paper given by Professor Winfried Aymans of Munich and based on the concept of “The People of God”, rearranged the entire structure of the book into a form almost identical to that which eventually became Book Two of the 1983 Code. Perhaps these changes would have taken place anyway, but it is a historical fact that it was this meeting in Ottawa that was the catalyst. As all are aware, it was the conforming of this particular book of the new Code to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that, more than anything else, gave the New Code its spirit and much of its effecting the life of the Church.
The two meetings in Dublin and Ottawa had taken place because of the existence of Canon Law Societies in several of the countries represented and because these Societies were already in touch with one another and seeking to share their knowledge and experience, especially in the formation of the 1983 Code. Officially the meetings consisted of representatives appointed by the Bishops of the various countries, but in fact and in practice, the representatives were members of the Canon Law Societies of those countries, who already knew one another, had worked together and had suggested the meetings.
The American Society was big enough to work on its own, so it was the Societies of Great Britain and Ireland, Canada and Australia and New Zealand that were the driving force behind the meetings and, in particular, the personal friendship that had already developed between Gerry Sheehy and Ralph Brown (GBI), Frank Morrisey (Canada) and Frank Harman and Geoff Robinson (ANZ).
It was a pleasure and a privilege to be present at both meetings. I have rarely felt so strongly that I was part of a movement that was making a positive and constructive contribution to the welfare of the Church.
I believe that there were important lessons to be learned from these events and that there are still many ways in which the Societies can work with one another for the good of all.
9 October 2007
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Sydney