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Edward Peters

The following observations represent my opinions. While I believe that the opinions expressed here are consistent with c. 212 § 3, I submit all to the ultimate judgment of the Catholic Church. The letter “c.” stands for “canon” of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. All translations are mine, even if they coincide at times with those of others. Dr. Edward N. Peters

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In the Light of the Law:

a canon lawyer's blog on current issues

Blog Archives 2003


Encouraging archiepiscopal trends


    Today's appointment of the accomplished bishop and canon lawyer, the Most Rev. Raymond Burke (currently of La Crosse WI), to the Archdiocese of St. Louis confirms, I suggest, a real commitment by the Holy See to find highly credentialed, creatively orthodox, young (by ecclesiastical standards) men and put them into key American archbishoprics. Just look at the education, current sees, and projected retirement dates of America's six youngest archbishops:

  • Abp. Timothy Dolan, STL, PhD, in Milwaukee WI, till Feb 2025.

  • Abp-desig. Raymond Burke, JCD, in St. Louis MO, till June 2023.

  • Abp. Charles Chaput, with three MA's, in Denver CO, till Sep 2019.

  • Abp. Sean O'Malley, MRE, PhD, in Boston MA, till June 2019.

  • Abp. John Myers, JCD, in Newark NJ, till July 2016.

  • Abp. Roger Schwietz, MA, STL, in Anchorage AK, till July 2015.

     That's quite a list: two fine canonists, two men with serious Vatican experience (Dolan and Burke), three religious (Chaput, O'Malley, and Schwietz), five possessing extensive experience as diocesan bishops before promotion, and all six prayerful men of God. Look eventually for at least three red hats in this group, even if no one moves again. Thank you, John Paul II, and a thank you, too, to the faithful of the "little dioceses" (including Rapid City SD, La Crosse WI, Duluth MN, Fall River MA, and Peoria IL) who gave up bishops they loved so we could have the archbishops we need. +++

2 December 2003


Most Rev. Raymond Burke, JCD



Click here for a CanonLaw.Info chart of American arch/bishops by age.


Same day update: Savvy Canon Law Blog readers remind me that naturalized US citizen (we share kudos with Canada for this one), Rev. Michael Miller, STD, formerly president of a resurgent University of St. Thomas in Houston, will be ordained titular archbishop by Pope John Paul II next month, prior to his taking over the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education where he can serve until at least July 2021. Make that one more religious, one more serious Vatican connection, one more prayerful man of God and, oh yes, one more eventual red hat for young American archbishops.


The right answer to the right question

5 November 2003


Circumstances usually make it too difficult to answer individual questions in a blog format, but Mark Brumley has raised a good one:


            Ed, I just read a Q & A concerning the point at which during the Mass one arrives too late lawfully to receive Communion.  The answer raised a number of issues with me, issues which I anticipate others may have concerns about as well.  First, what does the Church require in the matter?  Second, shouldn't the issues of conditions for receiving Communion under be distinguished from the conditions for fulfilling one's Sunday obligation?  I appreciate what the respondent was attempting, but it seems to me that his answer was problematic.  Perhaps it would be helpful if you were to address the matter on your blog.  I would have interest in linking to it on mine. Thanks. Mark.


In pertinent part, the Q & A Mark refers to reads as follows: 


Question: At what point in time during Mass is it considered too late for anyone coming into the Mass to receive Communion? These days I see a lot of people who enter the Mass even as Communion is being given and they head straight to receive. Is this right?

Answer: Like most priests, I am loath to give a straight answer to this question because, in a way, it is a catch-22 question for which there is no right answer. … Although I prefer not to hazard giving a precise cutoff moment, certainly someone who arrives after the consecration has not attended Mass, should not receive Communion, and if it is a Sunday, go to another Mass.


I think this answer is wrong in several respects and I will offer below what I think is the correct reply. But the answer also underscores the importance of two important obligations that fall on those of us privileged to be approached by the faithful with questions.


First obligation: Answer correctly the question posed. Here, the question posed was “At what point in time during Mass is it considered too late for anyone coming into the Mass to receive Communion?” The correct answer is that one’s eligibility for Communion is not determined by the time of one’s arrival at Mass. A Catholic who is not conscious of being in grave sin (cc. 915-916), has fasted for an hour (c. 919), seeks the sacrament at a reasonable time (c. 843), and has not already received (c. 917), is eligible for Communion (c. 844). To state that anyone who arrives late to Mass, even “after the consecration," may not receive Communion is simply wrong. No provision of Church law supports such a position. Indeed, it runs afoul of several canons upholding the faithful’s fundamental right to the Eucharist (cc. 213, 912) and leads people to assess inaccurately (perhaps embarrassingly so) the eligibility of others to participate in the Eucharist. 


But, then to go on and answer additionally that such a person needs to go to another Sunday Mass thoroughly confuses the question posed with one not actually asked, and that in turn leads us to another obligation.


Second obligation: Help the questioner ask the question he might, or also, want answered. Here, the questioner might (I say might, as there is no evidence of this in the question itself) have wanted to know “How much of Mass can be missed before one cannot be said to have satisfied the Sunday obligation?” A very different question indeed. In response, one should help the questioner see first that the Sunday obligation is not a Communion reception obligation at all, and that receiving Communion no more fulfills the Sunday obligation than not receiving Communion means one has not fulfilled the Sunday obligation. Once that distinction is clear, helping the questioner avoid more legalistic descriptions of the Sunday obligation is easier, the unity of the entire Eucharistic celebration can be stressed, and the importance of being present at and participating in the whole liturgy is more obvious. To the insistent questioner still demanding to know just how late one can be and still have it count, one must simply reply “The Legislator (Pope) has not told us how much of Mass one may miss under what conditions and still have it count toward one’s Sunday obligation, but this much is clear: if you arrive during, let alone after, the Entrance Rites, you are late, and you may be sure that you’ll being taking up your reason for being late with God at Final Judgment." Finally, the blanket assertion that "certainly ... someone who arrives after the consecration ... should go to another [Sunday] Mass" also needed, but unfortunately did not receive, some important nuances and qualifications. But enough of this.


It is not easy to avoid morphing questions we are asked into those we thought we were asked, or even into those we think we should have been asked, but that’s our duty as experts in canon law, liturgy, theology, and so on, to say nothing of our responsibility to get the answers right. If I react thus when I see a fellow seemingly commit these errors, it’s only because I bear the regret of having committed similar ones myself and hope others can avoid my mistakes. +++



Terri Schiavo, a 38 year old brain damaged woman, is being starved to death in Florida under a court order issued at her husband’s request. Over the weekend, Terri’s parents, who want their daughter to live, accompanied a priest to her facility hoping to administer Holy Communion to her. Incredibly, they were barred by police citing a doctor’s order not to give her anything by mouth (see report below). It seems that some believe (or at least want to claim) that Communion could cause her to choke.


The Holy Eucharist, usually administered under the species of Bread (small in size, to be lightly chewed and swallowed), can also be administered under the species of Wine alone (1983 CIC 925), in the tiniest visible drop, delivered by pipette just past the lips. It is absurd to claim that this form of the Eucharist constitutes the slightest danger of choking, or even that it is a “feeding” in violation of the (abominable) court order in Terri’s case.


Terri Schiavo is a Catholic with a fundamental right to the Eucharist (1983 CIC 213, 834, and 912). One in danger of death, moreover, has the special right to the Eucharist as Viaticum (1983 CIC 921-922 deliverable exactly as above, without unnecessary delay). She should be allowed to receive Holy Communion (not mention anointing of the sick, 1983 CIC 1004-1007) immediately. +++


PINELLAS PARK, Florida, OCT. 19, 2003 ( Police guarding the entrance to a hospice barred a priest from giving Communion to a brain-damaged woman whose feeding tube was removed last week, the Associated Press reported.

Monsignor Thaddeus Malinowski wanted to give Terri Schiavo viaticum on Saturday but was refused entry to the hospice. He was accompanied by her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler. Police officers told the family the Communion would violate a doctor's order that nothing be placed in her mouth, to prevent choking and aspiration.

A last-ditch effort to replace Schiavo's feeding tube failed Friday when a Leon County Circuit Court judge refused to issue a court order allowing Governor Jeb Bush to intervene under his constitutional authority to protect life, Tampa Bay Online reported. Supporters who oppose orders by Schiavo's husband to cut off her nourishment held a vigil outside the hospice. ZE03101922


Getting the details and  

the big picture right

8 October 2003


Judie Brown, a Catholic veteran of the pro-life movement, and Tod Tamberg, spokesman for Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, are trading shots about the proper response to several high-profile Catholic politicians who prominently support the unbridled abortionism of California. Now, I take no position on whether Brown should have run her provocational newspaper ads (basically calling for withholding the Eucharist from several major pro-abortion Catholics) in the first place, nor on whether Tamberg should resign his post given his derisive ad mulierem response to Brown. Both sides, however, invoked canon law in their defense, and both sides can't be right at the same time in the same way. Here, I’d like to suggest that Tamberg is technically right, but in substance wrong (or deficient, anyway), and that Brown, while technically wrong, is in substance right.  


Tamberg says, “The reception of Holy Communion by Catholics is a right guaranteed by the church, not a privilege determined by Judie Brown or anyone else at the American Life League. She's not Judge Judie, she's not Bishop Judie, and she's not Pope Judie. The bishops of the church, with the Holy Father, are the ones who interpret church law.”


Brown says, “The fact is no Catholic has a ‘right’ to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, truly present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. No human being is truly worthy of receiving the Sacrament, but a Catholic who persists in promoting a manifestly grave evil like abortion is clearly bringing sacrilege upon the Sacrament when he or she receives it. One need not be the Pope, a bishop or a judge to recognize that Canon Law No. 915 is clear.”



Well, according to the 1983 Code, reception of the Eucharist by Catholics is a fundamental right protected by, among other norms, Canons 18, 213, 843, and 912. In this regard, Brown is wrong in asserting that reception of the Eucharist is not a right, and Tamberg is correct (maybe more than he himself realized?) in claiming that it is.


But just mention “rights” these days and people tend to think that one has asserted an inviolable principle before which all authority bows down in silent acquiescence. Well, no healthy society understands rights, however legitimate they might be in themselves, that way. The reception of the Eucharist is a fundamental right, and it is one that can be regulated by ecclesiastical authority.


1983 CIC 223 § 2: Church authority is competent, in view of the common good, to oversee the exercise of rights that belong to the Christian faithful.

In fact, what Tamberg fails to mention, and what Brown should include in her argument, is Canon 223, wherein the Church, like the healthy society She is, expressly reserves the authority to oversee (moderari) the individual exercise of rights by the faithful. That authority, derived ultimately from Christ, applies to the exercise of any rights, even fundamental ones such as reception of the Eucharist.


Now we can see just how correct Brown is in citing Canon 915 (and she might consider adding Canons 843 and 897-898): promotion of abortion by Catholic political leaders is objectively gravely evil, and, I suggest, it triggers the obligation of Catholic ministers of the Eucharist to protect the Most Holy Sacrament against potentially sacrilegious reception.

1983 CIC 915: Those who by imposition or declaration of a penalty are excommunicated or interdicted, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, should not be admitted to holy communion. (Emphasis added.)

In brief, Brown can easily amend the technicalities of her argument to bring it fully into support of her substantively correct position. Now, here’s hoping that arch/diocesan officials, in their turn, will respect all of the canons on the reverence we owe the Eucharist—in which August Sacrament we are, in a very real sense, privileged to participate.+++


Click here for a fuller canonical analysis of the withholding of the Eucharist from pro-abortion Catholic politicians.


Libertas loquendi delenda est?

22 June 2003


The pastoral crisis that has racked the Diocese of Dallas under Bp. Charles Grahmann’s leadership continues unabated. Looking at a June 20th report in the Dallas Morning News, it appears that the latest sad chapter centers on the response that Bp. Grahmann’s spokesman, Bronson Havard, recently gave to a letter signed by several prominent Catholic laity seeking the papal nuncio’s intervention.

The lay letter (see below) asks for the immediate removal of Bp. Grahmann. It is short, respectful, balanced, and accommodating. In every respect, I suggest, it complies with the requirements of Canon 212 § 3 by which the faithful may present their opinions on matters affecting the good of the Church.

          Writing in Bp. Grahmann’s Texas Catholic, however, spokesman Havard claimed that the bishop “always welcomes the advice of lay people, even their criticism,” but then warned that church law “prohibits anyone from holding a position in Catholic associations ‘who has abandoned ecclesiastical community’, which can include those who publicly oppose their bishop.”        Canon 212 § 3: In accord with their knowledge, competence, and preeminence, the faithful have the right, and at times even the duty, to manifest to their sacred Pastors their views on matters affecting the good of the Church. They also have the right to make their opinions known to others members of the Christian faithful, but in so doing, they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to Pastors, and take into account both the common good and dignity of individuals.

Of course, not one word of the lay letter suggests their “abandonment from ecclesiastical community” (Bronson’s odd rephrasing of Canon 316 § 1, which actually requires “ecclesiastical communion” of those belonging to Church associations), and in fact it bespeaks quite the happy opposite. Nor does the letter seem aimed at "inciting...hatred or animosity against...[a bishop]...or provoking [his] subjects to disobedience..." (1983 CIC 1373). One is left wondering, then, as to just what Havard could possibly be referring, but to the obvious goal of the letter itself, Bp. Grahmann’s removal. Certainly reasonable minds may differ on the best solution to the on-going Dallas debacle, but Bp. Grahmann’s resignation or removal is surely an option, and it is seriously wrong for one of his officers now to imply that these lay Catholics were in violation of any canon law in respectfully calling for it as they did.

For that matter, though, Havard’s own suggestion that Church law can be invoked against those who oppose Bp. Grahmann must be tempered by other provisions of Church law, for example by Canons 128 and 1389 § 1, provisions that take a dim view of Church officials themselves abusing ecclesiastical office. Chancery personnel would do well to recall such norms before officially weighing in against legitimate lay exercises in freedom of speech.

Unless these words, coming from Bp. Grahmann’s spokesman and published in Bp. Grahmann’s paper, are disavowed, they must be assumed to represent Bp. Grahmann’s position. In any event, such a retort to faithful Catholics remains first and foremost an injustice to them, as well as a discouragement to Catholics contemplating the prudent exercise of their rights, and as yet another encouragement to those already inclined to forsake the rule of law in the Church.

  Text of the letter the "Committee of Concerned Catholics" sent the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. About three dozen people signed the letter.

Your Excellency:

The current sexual abuse and leadership crisis in the Diocese of Dallas has become a scandal and an embarrassment to the Church. We strongly urge you to end this crisis by promptly replacing the Most Rev. Charles V. Grahmann as Bishop of our Diocese.

We, the undersigned, are faithful Catholics who believe with the church fathers that the bishop is the vicar of Christ in his diocese. As lay Catholics, we also understand the obligation the church fathers have placed on us to protect and defend the Catholic faith. In keeping with that trust and in order to restore the dignity of the sacred office of bishop in our city, we are compelled by conscience and by a pragmatic assessment of the damage to the church in Dallas to petition you to act. We believe that daily harm will continue to accrue to the church unless this crisis is addressed.

We have chosen to act only reluctantly, after despairing of being heard through conventional channels. The local diocesan leadership is isolated and in denial about the gravity of the situation, and our concern grows daily. We do not take lightly our plea for intervention, and make it only after much thought and reflection, and only for the purpose of seeking relief from an untenable situation.

We respectfully request that you meet with several of us so that we can present a first-hand report on the gravity of the situation. We request this meeting outside of the normal juridic procedures of the church because the situation has become so serious that it requires the immediate attention of the Holy See.

Realizing that the signatures of a few may count for little on such a serious matter, we plan to begin a media campaign and to establish a web site within ten days to solicit the signatures of our fellow laypeople and devoted clerics and religious in Dallas in support of our petition. We have secured funds in an effort to ensure that every Catholic in Dallas is made aware of this petition drive.

Unless you request us not to do so before a meeting with you, we will proceed to gather this petition citywide in order to present to you and to the Congregation of Bishops a full picture of how deeply the Catholic community feels about the urgent need for the replacement of Bishop Grahmann.

If you are able to accommodate us, we would hope to meet with you at your earliest convenience. Representatives of the undersigned will be available to travel to Washington for any meeting you suggest. ...

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We realize that other matters urgently seek your attention, but due to major missteps by the bishop that have received widespread media attention and due to the recent announcement that Bishop Galante is leaving, the situation in Dallas requires immediate action.

Yours in Christ,

A brief critique

1. Papal nuncios have no authority to remove diocesan bishops (1983 CIC 364-365 and 377).

2. Rome will not recognize the letter signatories as formally representing a group, but it will accept their statement as coming from them as individuals (1983 CIC 310).

3. There are, fortunately, no “conventional channels” by which the faithful may force the removal of a bishop, but prudently expressing one’s desire for such removal is itself  the "conventional channel", if the phrase means something specific here, and is available when circumstances warrant (1983 CIC 212).   

4. The signatories might have asked that the Dallas situation be considered in light of Canon 401 § 2, which earnestly requests bishops who, for grave reason, have become less than able to perform their duties rightly, to resign. Cf. 1983 CIC 1740, striking a similar note for pastors.

5. To my knowledge, Coadjutor Bp. Galante has not announced that he is leaving (such would not be in his power to do anyway), but rather that he would welcome reassignment. +++

Bishop Boteans' Lenten Message 

18 March 2003


In an astounding statement, Bp. John Michael Botean, Eparch of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of Saint George in Canton, OH, purports to declare authoritatively that the pending US-led attack on Iraq is absolutely immoral and has forbidden his subjects (basically 5,000 Romanian Catholics in the US) to take part in it. While the statement has, I believe, many substantive flaws and errors in it (see below), it is not my purpose to critique the statement itself, but rather to highlight some important canonical issues it raises. Citations here are to the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) that governs Eastern Catholics.


The bishop’s statement clearly invokes, and provokes, fundamental questions of Christian rights and duties because of the following points: 


  • Eastern Catholics are bound to follow what their bishops declare as teachers of the faith (CCEO 15 § 1), though this obligation is qualified by the phrase “conscious of their [the faithful’s] own responsibility.”

  • Individual Eastern bishops are to be regarded as authentic teachers of the faith for those entrusted to their care and the faithful must adhere to that teaching with a “religious obsequium” of soul (CCEO 600). The canon expressly states, however, that individual bishops are not infallible.

  • One who disobeys an Eastern bishop can be subject to sanctions for that disobedience (CCEO 1446). Bp. Botean does not threaten canonical sanctions, but warns of "incalculable temporal and eternal consequences" should his letter be ignored.

On the other hand, and in addition to the qualifications already contained in some of the above provisions, we should note that:


  • Eastern Catholics have the right to, among other things, make known their opinions on matters pertaining to the good of the Church and to make their opinions known to others (CCEO 15 § 3). There is no doubt that public statements by Catholic hierarchs on issues related to just war theory, the duties of citizens toward their nations, and the obligations of Catholics to their bishops, would be legitimate topics of discussion.

  • An Eastern bishop who misuses his high office can be subjected to sanctions for that misuse (CCEO 1464 § 1).  

The eparch's statement is unprecedented for its clarity and starkness; it simply must be read to appreciate this point, though fair-minded readers can admit that it is not a peacenik, blame-America-first harangue, but is instead a reasoned (though, I think, wrongly) exercise of conscience. It cannot be issued, however, and then forgotten. If Bishop Botean is correct, his argumentation would seem to apply to all Catholics, and only an inexcusable lack of pastoral solicitude on the part of other Eastern and Latin bishops could account for them not following suit immediately. If, on the other hand, Bishop Botean is wrong, then he has placed his faithful in a profound and direct conflict of conscience between their ecclesiastical and civil leaders, which, I suggest only an inexcusable lack of pastoral solicitude would suffer them to remain in.


Bishop Botean having no superior short of the Holy See, I believe his extraordinary statement must be ratified or rejected by the Holy See without delay (CCEO 1060-1061).


Update March 20:  Some have suggested that either the Metropolitan of the Romanians in Romania (CCEO 133 et alia), or even the Patriarch of the Byzantines (CCEO 56 et alia), might also be called upon to assess Bp. Botean's extreme statement. I think either of these ideas, and perhaps others, is worth considering, cumbersome though they might prove in actual practice. Nevertheless, the Roman Pontiff (CCEO 43) remains the only superior above an eparch unquestionably able on his own authority to address conclusively what, in this case, Bp. Botean (CCEO 178) has imposed as a fundamental question of conscience on thousands of Romanian Catholics in the US.


Just One Example


   I realize it is easy to say “There are many things wrong with this document, but I don’t have time to show you.” Well, there are many things wrong with it, and I don’t have the time to discuss them. But I will give one example. Bishop Botean writes: “Unjust killing is by definition murder.” This is wrong. There are many kinds of unjust killing: some of them are unintentional accidents and we call them manslaughter, not murder. It is still an unjust killing, but both law and sound Catholic moral theology recognize a diminished culpability and do not treat such acts as murder. This important distinction, left unvoiced by Bp. Botean, is enough to show a serious flaw in a major point of his paper. +++  


Compounding the Disasters

2 April 2003


The Diocese of San Bernardino, facing potentially extensive liability for the sexual abuse its faithful assert occurred at the hands of Boston-based priest Fr. Shanley, is suing in civil court the Archdiocese of Boston, upon whose advice the California diocese says it relied when assigning Shanley to ministerial duties there. Although some are suggesting that this move represents a sudden change in ecclesiastical customs, actually, the canonical foundations for such lawsuits were laid more than two decades ago with the promulgation of the 1983 Code, and this, through changes to codified law, not in unwritten manners.

The 1917 Code, consistent with many centuries of canonical praxis, militated against civil lawsuits between ecclesiastical persons and institutions as an implication of the “privilege of the forum” (1917 CIC 120). The canonical privilege against being subjected to civil litigation was, in some cases, enforced with sanctions up to excommunication (1917 CIC 2341). Of course, disputes between bishops and dioceses, etc., were sure to arise, and the former law guaranteed access to Vatican tribunals for such cases (1917 CIC 1557).

But of these earlier provisions, the two prohibitory norms were dropped from the revised law when it was issued in 1983, and while access to Vatican courts is still available for these kinds of situations (1983 CIC 1405), their use is no longer obligatory. News reports do not mention whether the dioceses and bishops involved in this dramatic development were in discussion between themselves or with Rome before taking this licit but very saddening step. I hope they were.

St. Paul (especially as the inspired author of I Corinthians 6), pray for us. +++  



The Blame Game Needs Some Rules 

5 March 2003


An informative article by Maya Kremen indicates that Paterson NJ Bishop Frank Rodimer, through spokeswoman Marianna Thompson, is prepared to blame on a consulting psychologist, the Rev. Benedict Groeschel, cfr, the bishop’s decision to authorize ministry for a priest, Fr. James T. Hanley, a priest who had undergone counseling with Groeschel, and who later apparently abused children.  I know nothing of the particulars of this case, but some canonical principles might help in assessing what threatens to spin out of control into an emotive blame game that serves no one.

1. All assignments for diocesan priests to minister in that diocese are made under the almost unfettered authority of the diocesan bishop. See, for starters, 1983 CIC 157, 274 § 2, 524, & 547.

2. If Fr. Hanley had been declared “impeded for the exercise of orders” under 1983 CIC 1044 § 2, 2°, (and, as I say, I don’t know whether even that happened in this case), then a bishop is not to permit the priest to resume the exercise of orders until after the bishop consults with an expert, presumably, but not necessarily, an expert in psychology, psychiatry, etc. In no way, though, is the bishop bound to accept the advice of the expert, whether for or against ministry, and in no way does the expert make the ministerial appointment.


Rev.  Benedict 

Groeschel, cfr

3. There is all the difference in the world between a bishop, in response to lawsuits against him claiming that he was negligent, saying, on the one hand, that he utilized the best expert information available to him at the time of making his ministerial assignments, and for that reason he was not negligent, and his saying, on the other hand, that his experts should be held morally or legally to blame for the bishop’s assignments. What could be, and should be where appropriate, used as an affirmative defense against claims of episcopal negligence, can be perverted into a way of dragging third-party counselors in as co-defendants.  

4. This leaves entirely open the possibility that some bishops were negligent for using certain counselors or institutions, but then episcopal negligence would be based, not on the fact that predictions about priestly conduct from qualified counselors turned out to be wrong, but rather on the questionable character and/or standards of the counselor or institution known to the bishop at the time he sought the advice.

5. Let’s never forgot that the primary perpetrators here are the priests who betrayed their vocations and abused children. The blame of bishops, and there doubtless is some, is derived from the atrocious behavior of some of their priests.

6. A small, additional point: if a spokesman for a bishop is going to make a statement for a bishop on an extremely sensitive topic, it is disconcerting to see the statement being attributed to “a private conversation.” Either it’s the bishop’s statement, or it’s not. This is no time for ambiguity in assertions. +++  


The Right Move 

5 February 2003


The Diocese of Baker OR, reporting some $ 20,000,000 in assets, and facing nearly $ 70,000,000 in claims from plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by a priest of that diocese, tried to transfer some of those “diocesan” assets to individual parishes, a move that immediately met with cries of "foul" from plaintiffs’ attorneys. A civil judge has issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the transfers because it smacks of “asset hiding” in the face of pending litigation. Given the low threshold required of plaintiffs to get a TRO, of course, the judge should not be criticized. But we should be clear, the bishop’s move was the correct one, and for reasons having nothing to do with the pending law suits.

Oregon, as is true of several states, allows churches to hold property under what is known as the “Corporation Sole” model. In brief, (and omitting some important nuances) Oregon thinks of Catholic Church property as belonging to the diocesan bishop. Canon law, though, definitely disagrees.

Canon law regards ecclesiastical property not as belonging to the Church at large, and certainly not to individual bishops, but rather, as belonging to various subdivisions of the Church, sometimes dioceses, but also parishes, seminaries, religious orders, and so on (1983 CIC 1255-1257). Moreover, the Holy See has repeatedly urged (see Canon Law Digest 2: 444-445) American bishops in "corporation sole states" to take the steps necessary to civilly re-register “diocesan” assets in the names of the specific parishes, seminaries, etc., that canonically own them, so as to avoid the terrible confusion, both internally and externally, that arises when canon law and civil law are at odds on such an important matter. One may surely suggest yet again that if, here and in other areas, canon law had been been followed more closely in decades past, the crisis we face today would have at least been mitigated, if not wholly prevented.


Bp. Robert Vasa

Separate civil incorporation of parishes (which the Baker Diocese had already done), and the assignment of legitimate assets to those parishes (which it was trying to do), is: 1) in accord with canon law; 2) responsive to the specific requests of the Holy See; 3) deeply respectful of the principle of subsidiarity in the Church; and 4) helps limit the damage that malfeasance in one aspect of the Church’s overall operations can inflict on other divisions. In that last regard, it’s like installing, and using, water-tight doors on a large ship--while a serious problem is being dealt with in one section, at least the whole vessel wont go down.


Bishop Robert Vasa, a canon lawyer and bishop of Baker only since 2000, has, unlike some others, moved with alacrity to bring his diocese into line with the 1983 Code on this point. Unfortunately, the timing of his move came across to some (perhaps unavoidably in these suspicion-laden times) as manipulative or self-serving. It was neither. It was, and remains, the right thing to do. +++


The Canonization of St. Thomas

28 January 2003 


Ask a Dominican when St. Thomas Aquinas was canonized, and he or she will answer 1323. Ask a canon lawyer, though, and you might get a different response. You see, when the 1983 Code was promulgated, it contained several norms, on, among other things, the educational regimen for priests. One of them, Canon 252 § 3, expressly names St. Thomas as the master for clerical studies in dogmatic theology. Indeed, St. Thomas is actually hailed twice in current canon law, for Canon 251, outlining philosophy studies in the seminary, says such instruction must be based on the “perennially valid philosophical heritage”, with “philosophia perennis” being code (no pun intended) for Thomism. While other saints are mentioned in the 1983 Code, none of them, or their systems, were “canonized” as were St. Thomas Aquinas and his greatest works with the advent of the 1983 Code. Happy Feast of St. Thomas! +++


The Code of Canon Law Turns 20


25 January 2003 



Pope John Paul II signs the 1983 Code. 

Cdls. Ratzinger and Castillo-Lara look on.

Twenty years ago today, Pope John Paul II signed the 1983 Code of Canon Law into effect. The date was chosen deliberately, for on January 25th 1959, Pope John XXIII had stunned the world by convoking the Second Vatican Council and, in that same announcement, told the Church to look for the thorough revision of canon law after the Council.

God’s providence has blessed by us by giving us a pope who not only actively participated in that Council, but who has had twenty years to shape the implementation of the ecclesiastical discipline he promulgated. These years have not been easy for him or the Church, and neither canon law nor canon lawyers have all the answers to the problems facing the People of God on earth. But Church law has many of those answers, more, I suspect, than some people believed to be the case not too many years ago.

If you want a sign that perhaps Pope John Paul II thinks so too, just look at the academic credentials of the American episcopal appointments he has made over the last several years. One sees, I suggest, a real up-tick in the number of young bishops with earned degrees in canon law, certainly as compared to appointments being made in the late 1960s through the mid 1980s. Happily, appointments of men with licentiates and doctorates in theology are also on the rise. Even bishops with degrees in, say, sociology, history, or literature (appropriate disciplines to be represented in an episcopal conference) today seem more likely to have parallel degrees in canon law or theology. While, in my opinion, we need a few bishops degreed in fields such as mathematics, biology, or chemistry -- along with canon law or theology -- the Vatican’s demonstrable appreciation for advanced training in canon law among the men it selects for bishops is a happy note upon which to wish the 1983 Code and all those committing to administering it, Happy Twentieth Birthday! +++

Update, January 28: Read Abp. Herranz's comments on the twentieth anniversary of the Code.


January 23, 2003, Coast to Coast Catholicism


In New Jersey, Abp. John Myers is prohibiting the maudlin practice, never countenanced by Church law or liturgical discipline, of instantly canonizing the faithful departed via eulogies offered by priests or laity at funeral Masses. Besides constituting, in most cases, a form of liturgical abuse (by implication of 2000 GIRM 382 and Canons 837-839 & 846), the penchant for praising the dead that has found a foothold in so many funerals today has a very deleterious effect on the likelihood that the living will thereafter remember the deceased in their prayers and penances, thus depriving the dearly departed of a very real and very important spiritual benefit. The souls in Purgatory are grateful to Abp. Myers, as are all those who have seen such embarrassingly ecstatic eulogies.

Meanwhile, in California, Bp. William Weigand of Sacramento has shown that he loves Gov. Gray Davis far more than Davis loves pre-born babies, by calling upon the Catholic Davis to repent of his strident advocacy of abortion and, until that happy day, to refrain from partaking in the Eucharist. Bp. Weigand understands himself to be joyfully burdened by Christ with the care of all the souls in his diocese (see Canons 375 & 383), whether they be tiny children doomed to die, manipulated mothers coaxed into committing murderous acts, or powerful politicians building power bases on the bodies of dead babies. It is truly to be hoped that Bp. Wiegand’s clear stand now will obviate the need for him to move to the next stage of disciplinary responses that the Church has to deal with grave public offenses like Davis’.

In brief, at exactly the time when many pundits thought the Church (in America at least) had been cowed into silence by the disclosures of the truly grievous sins of so many of its leaders, Catholic bishops from coast to coast are taking measured and balanced stands in favor of good order both in our own community and in the political society in which we live. +++




Kneeling for Communion, Again

7 January 2003

St. Raymond Penyafort

Patron of Canonists

Update, January 8: The matters of posture for and gestures of reverence before reception of Holy Communion are well addressed by Mr. Colin Donovan, STL, here, and I offer his remarks in place of my earlier ones (Jan. 7).