Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Milingo's case is closed canonically, but it rasies some interesting questions

Update: See also developments as of 19 December 2009, posted above.

The bizarre antics of Abp. Emmanuel Milingo, suspended in 2001 for attempting marriage, and excommunicated in 2006 for ordaining to men to the episcopate without pontifical mandate, have finally resulted in his dismissal from the clerical state. This is unquestionably the right thing to do.

HSPO press release leaves only a few questions:

1. Is Milingo's "persistent contumacy" (what
Decretal Law would have called "insordescence", a concept worth recovering, I suggest) is it, I ask, being assessed under Canon 1326.1.1, with dismissal therefore being added in punishment of the original offenses, or is this dismissal being applied directly under Canon 1392 (whereby one who violates the obligations imposed by an earlier penalty can be punished additionally), or is this a matter wherein the Holy See is proceeding ex officio, in poena against a bishop whose conduct can, I think, find parallels only in the dustiest tomes of Church history? Any one of these theories would account for today's news, I'm just wondering which one it is.

2. Has Milingo been released from the obligation of celibacy? That favor would have required a separate act by the Roman Pontiff (c. 291), and there's no report that such dispensation was included in the decree of dismissal.

3. Most interestingly, what does the Holy See mean when it says about the ordinations attempted by Milingo, that the Church "does not recognise these ordinations, nor does she intend to recognise them, or any subsequent ordinations based on them, in the future. Hence the canonical status of the supposed bishops remains as it was prior to the ordination conferred by Archbishop Milingo."

That's really interesting language, folks. I said so in 2006, but now it's being reiterated.

If the line refers to the "ordinations" of people incapable of receiving episcopal orders (basically, unbaptized men or even-baptized women, per c. 1024), then the line makes perfect sense. Of course the Church does not recognize such "ordinations". Likewise, if Milingo has so modified the "form" (the words) used in his rites that the form no longer conveys the sense of the sacrament (as happened with Anglican orders centuries ago, leading to their perpetual invalidity) the Church would never reconize them. But, if Milingo is using proper form (as he easily could), and if he is attempting to confer orders on baptized, consenting males (as we know he did at least few times), then the Holy See's stance would be truly remarkable. In one of two ways, if not in both ways, that I have in mind.

But let's not get ahead of things here. More facts are required before more words.

In any event, the disturbing Milingo case is closed canonically, but it's not closed pastorally. He still might repent, and the joy in Heaven would be great.

Update, same day: John Allen has more information here, including the following unattributed assertion: "A Vatican spokesperson said this morning that since Milingo has been removed from the clerical state, any future ordinations he performs will be not only illicit, but invalid." Can anyone suggest a single precedent for such a stance?

Update 2, same day: A correspondent is suggesting that similar language (about non-recognition of orders) was used in the mid-1970s re the "Palmarian Catholic Church", citing to Documentation Catholique 73 (1976) at 858. Can't wait to check it out. Thanks!