Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Second thoughts on Communist episcopal ordinations

The excommunications consequent to the illicit episcopal ordinations (1983 CIC 1382) staged by Chinese Communists are so obvious that few commentators have mentioned them. Here I raise a different question: In the face of some sacraments being so obviously celebrated with no discernible pastoral sense and, in fact, driven by little besides a "let's stick it to the Catholic Church" animus, has the time come to step back and ask some hard questions about the canonical validity of such sacraments?

I have suggested that the most theologically significant decision reached by CDF under Cdl. Ratzinger was its 2001 declaration that Mormon baptism is invalid, despite eligible ministers and recipients, and despite proper matter and form. Reopening a debate that seemed settled since the time of Sts. Augustine and Cyprian, Mormon baptisms are invalid apparently solely on the basis of intention, that fifth, and in many ways most elusive, of the factors impacting sacramental validity.

Is it too much to wonder, then, whether Communist episcopal ordinations have crossed a similar line? Just what is a Communist's understanding of and intention in confering, of all things, holy orders? Remember, until a few decades ago, similar questions on Mormon baptism seemed unthinkable, and until a few years ago, everyone assumed they knew the answer.

Updates: May 4. Navarrao-Valls' statement. The comment about bishops and priests being "greatly pressured and threatened" ( I can imagine) to take part in the ordinations raises fresh concerns, I suggest, about their validity. See 1983 CIC 125, etc.

Note: The bases upon which one can raise validity questions about Communist episcopal ordinations without raising similar questions on, say, SSPX episcopal ordinations, are contained in the above post, but I don't like to spend time underscoring the already-obvious.

Analogy: Two Catholics free to marry, but under ecclesiastical precept not to marry each other (1983 CIC 1077), and neither of them wanting to marry the other, are forced by government officials to go through a wedding ceremony together. Any guesses as to how many ways such a sacramental "marriage" could be declared null? Can a similar analysis be applied to ordination, pace contract issues?

Related issue. The problematic nature of latae sententiae (or, automatic) excommunications is highlighted in this case. Navarro-Valls recites both the canon imposing the excommunication and numerous factors that would prevent the penalty from being imposed in this case (see 1983 CIC 1323-1324). That is different topic, however, except to mention that, in this case, the factors which mitigate one's culpability for crime seem similar to some that impact one's intentionality for sacramental celebration. Secular media reports about the Vatican having excommunicated those involved cite to N-V's statement which statement, however, standing alone, would be insufficient to declare the incurrence of a penalty in a particular case (1983 CIC 1341).

Jimmy Akin's thoughts on all of this here and Jimmy Akin's additional thoughts here.

Updates. May 10: 1) Tom Szyszkiewicz thoughts here. 2. ZENIT report of a decree from CDF (11 Feb. 2000) expressing concerns about validity of certain presbyteral and episcopal ordinations carried out under Communist persecution in the Czech Republic. The decree does not state what the concerns were, only that they should be resovled by ordination sub-conditione (see 1983 CIC 845).