In heaven, God’s memory alone is enough.
On earth, it is necessary for His agents in the Church to “let paper remember so that you can forget.”
The spirit of that dictum is the essence of the work of the chancellor of every Roman Catholic diocese in the world.
By upholding rigorous protocols for retaining and preserving decrees and important documents, the chancellor safeguards the Church’s institutional memory for future generations.
“All of this is for the sake of the mission of the Church ... which is the salvation of souls.” stated Benjamin Roodhouse, JD, JCL, the recently appointed chancellor for the Diocese of Jefferson City.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight appointed Mr. Roodhouse to succeed Constance Schepers, who retired as chancellor in May.
Mr. Roodhouse also continues to serve as diocesan director of canonical services, a position he has held since moving to Jefferson City a year ago.
“While every diocese is different, it is not abnormal to have a canonist serve as chancellor,” he noted. “I would say one of the more common models (of diocesan administration) has the chancellor serving in a canon law advisory role.”
His new, additional responsibilities as chancellor include curating important documents, in keeping with universal Church law.
Specifically, according to the Code of Canon Law, his principal function as chancellor is “to take care that acts of the curia are gathered, arranged and safeguarded in the archive of the curia.”
The curia refers to the Chancery personnel who assist the bishop and implement his directives.
“All documents which regard the diocese or parishes must be protected with the greatest care,” canon law further states. “In every curia, there is to be erected in a safe place a diocesan archive, or record storage area, in which instruments and written documents which pertain to the spiritual and temporal affairs of the diocese are to be safeguarded after being properly filled and diligently secured.”
The chancellor, with the help of his staff, must see to it that files, records and parish histories are properly stored and readily accessible to the bishop and his advisors.
This makes the chancellor a steward of the institutional patrimony of the Church within these 38 counties, linking him spiritually and temporally to the people of the past, the present and the future.
He also serves as a notary for official documents and decrees from the bishop.
Collaboration and synergy
The roles of the chancellor and director of canonical services are distinct yet inseparable.
“The office of chancellor is usually shaped around the needs of the bishop and the proficiencies of the person who holds the office,” Mr. Roodhouse noted.
In his case, that includes being the bishop’s primary canonical advisor.
He said he can fulfill the duties of both offices well because of strong support from his staff.
“We have Bernadette Adams, our vice-chancellor, who is phenomenal at her job and a joy to work with, and Jordan Newham, (Senior Administrative Assistant to the Chancellor and to the Moderator of the Curia,) who is invaluable to our work,” he noted.
They collaborate with him in his work as chancellor, allowing him to focus on matters that make the best use of his technical training.
Law and order
Mr. Roodhouse holds both a licentiate in canon law and a juris doctorate in civil law.
The current law of the Church, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, prescribes in 1,752 rules — known as canons — much of how the Church governs itself while conducting its essential work of preaching, teaching and sanctifying throughout the world.
In it is codified the responsibilities of every office in the Church, along with specific directives for how those responsibilities are to be carried out.
Together with the liturgical books, it spells out how the sacraments are to be administered and how the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful is to be safeguarded.
It sets out the processes for settling disputes within the Church and meting out disciplinary justice whenever necessary.
Mr. Roodhouse pointed out the final words of the Code of Canon Law: “... the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”
Mrs. Adams sees how Mr. Roodhouse’s extensive background in canon law benefits his work as chancellor, and vice versa.
She likened canon law to the skeleton of the Church.
“It provides structure and helps maintain specific order within the Body of Christ,” she noted.
Someone properly educated in the purpose, specifics and nuances of canon law gives valuable insight, providing flesh to those bones in fulfilling the Church’s mission.
“But it all starts with having that structure in place that we can build from,” said Mrs. Adams.
Spirit of the law
In this diocese, the chancellor serves as a member of Bishop McKnight’s cabinet.
“The cabinet is a forum where the bishop can bring his vision for the diocese and get input from his trusted advisors on how to make it a reality,” Mr. Roodhouse stated. “It is also a way to have people of various backgrounds and skill-sets look at problems and offer collaborative solutions and guidance.”
He noted that canon law has an impact on or is impacted by every aspect of the diocese’s ministry.
“And it’s not enough simply to know that canon law explicitly states that ‘you can do this’ or ‘you cannot do this,’” Mr. Roodhouse observed. “The law exists not merely to restrain our behavior. Rather, the law is a teacher: It leads us toward what is good and away from what is bad. But to properly apply the law in concrete circumstances, a person must know why the law exists, what it means, and how one law informs another and vice versa.”
For instance, Mr. Roodhouse cited the canonical definition of a parish, stated in canon 515, paragraph 1:
“A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a (priest) as its (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop.”
Other canons and sections speak more specifically to parishes and aspects of their governance, “but understanding first and foremost that the parish is a group of people in a specific geographic area is very important and helpful,” he stated. Without understanding that at its heart, a parish is territorial, many other provisions in the code will not make sense.
Paths to understanding
Mr. Roodhouse grew up in California and Oregon.
His love and knowledge of the Catholic faith blossomed while he was attending Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon and while he was studying history at Hillsdale College in Michigan.
He later studied civil law at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and practiced real-estate law for several years.
He happened to meet his wife, Jennifer, while working in Washington, D.C.
He later went about pursuing a licentiate in canon law at The Catholic University of America.
They are now members of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City. They have a 7-month-old son, Mark Thomas.
“People talk about how much fatherhood instantly changes everything, and in a way, it does,” Mr. Roodhouse stated. “But the most remarkable part of this experience has been the gradual unfolding of what it means to be a father. As my son has been learning all about the world around him I’ve been experiencing new depths of what fatherhood is and what new life is all about.
“Before he was born my life felt full and complete,” he said. “But now that he is here, my wife and I can’t even imagine what a day would be like without him.”
No two days alike
Bishop McKnight hired Mr. Roodhouse last summer to work full-time in the Chancery in Jefferson City, advising the bishop, his cabinet and the heads of various diocesan offices on matters of canon law, and helping with cases in the diocesan Matrimonial Tribunal.
“It’s been a bit of everything, and it’s been really fun because of that,” Mr. Roodhouse stated.
He enjoys the nature of his work, which takes place mostly behind the scenes.
“This job is essentially office work,” he said. “There are exciting, dramatic days, and days where I’m working on various long-term projects to bring things into compliance with canon law, or helping to draft long-term policies.”
As chancellor and director of canonical services, he offers guidance on how canon law enhances and supports each of their ministries and vice versa.
In doing so, he helps implement the mission of the diocese as articulated by the bishop.
He said his experience of working with other department heads and curia members in the Chancery has been very good.
“The department heads understand that the diocesan curia has one mission and one mission only: to assist the bishop in doing his job,” said Mr. Roodhouse. “That’s our only purpose for being here.”
He lauded Bishop McKnight for empowering the people he works with to help him execute his duties and become a better bishop.
“The people here understand that we need to work together to implement the bishop’s vision for the governance of this diocese,” said Mr. Roodhouse.
He said he’s grateful to Bishop McKnight for entrusting him with these roles and is eager to continue learning about the people and processes of this diocese.
“The office of chancellor isn’t one I take lightly, and I am very thankful to the bishop for entrusting this important work to me. Even on the most mundane days I know that my work is supporting the Church of Christ and its saving mission.”
He asks for prayers “simply that I persevere in my vocation — both to holiness personally and a sincere devotion to my duties.”