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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blog on current issues
Friday, December 12, 2008
Is Fr. Bourgeois still a Maryknoll priest? Yes. For now.
appears that Fr. Roy Bourgeois has been excommunicated for his
role in the "ordination" of a woman, but
until Bourgeois or CDF releases the decree, we won't know for sure. Even if
Bourgeois is excommunicated, however, he is
thereby either dismissed from the clerical state or expelled from the Maryknoll
Society (1983 CIC
694-704, neither of which sets of norms lists excommunication as grounds for
automatic dismissal or expulsion). This is how it should be.
If excommunication achieves its
medicinal purpose and Bourgeois repents of his anti-ecclesial conduct, his
reconciliation with the Church would be prompt (1983
CIC 1358). In contrast, having also to formally readmit a reconciled priest
or religious offender to the clerical state and/or to an institute of
consecrated life, would only slow down that fundamental process of
reconciliation, impeding the effectiveness of the excommunication in the first
place. So in a situation like this, canon law does
call for dismissal or expulsion immediately, though the restrictions on
Bourgeois' priestly and official society activities are probably severe (e.g.,
1983 CIC 1331).
Make no mistake: if Bourgeois does not repent, additional consequences can flow
from his contumacy (1983 CIC
1393), including dismissal from the clerical state and expulsion from
consecrated life. But there is time for that. Not
I have a hunch on this one, but some at least.
Till then, prayers for Bougeois' reconciliation are in order.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Chapel veils, again
December 8 "Saint Louis Catholic" blog, a post went up on whether women are
required by canon law to wear veils in Church. Responding in part to
my post on this topic some two years ago, it's an interesting read, though I
frankly think the author makes several errors. Thus I still hold that head
coverings are not obligatory for women in church. Alas, the issue is not high
enough on my "to-do" list to warrant writing more about it than I have, but I
wanted to acknowledge reading the opinion with interest. I do wonder, though,
why it had to be offered anonymously? Professionals who publish significant
opinions in their field should sign their names. Or at least, that's my
How interesting. May I make a couple of observations,
about chapel veils, but about some people who seem to think that chapel veils
are among the most important issues the Church faces in these troubled times,
and that I am remiss not to join their discussion of same?
A number of posters, not all of them, of course, but a number of them, at
various blogs around the net see my declining further comment on chapel veils as
some sort of tacit admission on my part that I
know I am wrong on veils, but I don't want to admit it.
Baloney. Why can't my stated reason for not replying further, that
other things to do,
be the honest and sufficient reason for my not revisiting this topic?
Where does it say that, once having posted an opinion on a topic (a considered
opinion mind you, even if informally presented), I am somehow honor-bound to
reply to any, let alone every, subsequent post that might be put up by someone
else who disagrees with me? Many of my canon law posts generate
of responses; I could not possibly reply to all of them. And I need not reply to
any of them. I have a day job, and a part-time evening job, and I engage in all
sorts of professional work on the side (including responding to some challenges
of my canonical positions, both publicly and privately.) If people want to see
responding to a given challenge as an admission that the "other side" must be
right, well, such folks simply don't know how to think.
Moreover, it strikes me as odd that I am criticized for
on a given canonical topic than I already have when, in fact, I post more
canonical information for the free use of laity and ecclesiastics (and have done
so for many years) than does any other canon lawyer in the world. In fact, if
anyone can find
canon lawyers who, put together, post as much as I do, I'd love to meet them.
Finally, if nothing else, has no one noticed that the post of mine to which the
anonymous canonist is replying is
If he or she gets
to reply to me, shouldn't I get at least that long to reply to him or her before
people start dancing on the grave of my position? Or do people really think that
canonical debate is an adult-form of "Tag! You're it! 1-2-3 no tag-backs! I
So, no, I'm not going to invest more time in proving that chapel veils are not
required by canon law. In response to an ad that claimed chapel veils were
required by canon law (ridiculously citing a specific canon!) I posted my
thoughts two years ago on why I thought that ad was wrong, I read the recent
anonymous post opposing my position, I thought the post was interesting (and
said so), I thought it was wrong (and said so), and I don't feel a need to, or
perceive a significant purpose served by, my prolonging the matter further. What
so exorcises some people about that? I don't know.
Oh well. Back to projects that I think warrant my poor attention, like the
Bourgeois case, above.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Time period for fulfilling the "Sunday obligation"
12 October 2008, Fr. Edward McNamara published answers to several questions
regarding the "Sunday obligation". I would have largely disagreed with his
comments but, before they were called to my attention,
McNamara himself corrected (4 November 2008) those answers in several
respects, and so I pass over them.
One issue remains, however: not a point on which I think McNamara is necessarily
wrong, but rather, one for which the range of orthodox answers is, I suggest,
wider than McNamara seems to realize. It regards the time period within which
one may satisfy the Sunday obligation set out in
1983 CIC 1248.1: "A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a
Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding
day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass."
The leading British-Irish commentary on canon law reads as follows: "What is
'the evening of the previous day'? Despite the view of some commentators that
this should be interpreted as beginning only at 1400 hours (2 pm) on that day,
it is the firm view of this commentary that the evening of the previous day
begins at midday (12 noon) on that day itself. In some dioceses there is a local
regulation to the effect that the so-called vigil or anticipated Mass may not be
celebrated before, say, 5 pm or 6 pm: this is normally for pastoral reasons,
e.g. to facilitate weddings or funerals in the parish and other churches.
regulations do not in any way concern the
for fulfilling the obligation to assist at Mass:
thus, e.g., if . . . a person were to attend a nuptial Mass in the early
afternoon on a Saturday, that person would thereby have fulfilled the [Sunday]
obligation." (Fr.) Raymond Browne,
(1995) 702, emphasis added. For a contrary view, see J. Huels,
For reasons that go beyond what I can present in a blog post, I hold the
British-Irish position on this point, but, even if ours turned out to be
minority view, it is, I suggest, more than sufficient (per
1983 CIC 14, among others) to defend the conscience of one who attends
Mass in a Catholic rite, beginning
time after 12 noon on Saturday but before midnight between Sunday and Monday, in
fulfillment of one's Sunday obligation.
PS: Happy New Liturgical Year to my readers!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Canonical options for dealing with Catholic legislative support for FOCA
wording of the
Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has yet to be set, but there is every
indication that it will be the most radical piece of pro-abortion legislation
ever proposed at the federal level. The near certainty that FOCA will be
re-introduced (compounded by the increased likelihood that it will pass and be
signed into law) means that, ready or not, Catholic bishops will have to face
squarely the problem of well-known Catholic legislators supporting a
specifically and gravely evil bill. As I see it, bishops have four options for
dealing with Catholic legislators who support FOCA:
Canon 915. Make plain, by public announcement and/or private
contact, that a legislator's support for FOCA qualifies as (probably formal, but
certainly proximate material) cooperation with objective grave evil and that
such conduct, in this case, would render one ineligible for reception of holy
This option requires little or no technical groundwork to be laid, carries
immediate, visible, and salutary consequences (withholding of holy Communion
from the publically unworthy and protecting the faithful from classical
scandal), and, because it is a sacramental disciplinary norm and not a canonical
penalty, it requires no formal process for imposition; finally, it leaves open
the possibility of speedy reconciliation by a suitable expression of repentance.
More information: Raymond Burke, "The
discipline regarding the denial of holy Communion to those obstinately
persevering in manifest grave sin",
96 (2007) 3-58; Edward Peters, "Denial
of the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians",
& Pastoral Review
(October 1990) 28-32, 48-49; and generally Brian O'Neel, "Just
Canon 1369. Warn Catholic legislators that their support for
FOCA appears to be using "a public show or speech [or] published writing . . .
[to] gravely injure good morals", and that as such they would be liable to "a
just penalty" under
Canon 1369. The sanction need not be specified in advance, and contempt for
any earlier sanctions can result in escalating penalties under
1983 CIC 1393.
This option requires little or no technical groundwork to be laid (no prior
warning is necessary, but it might be pastorally prudent to offer same), and it
carries visible and salutary consequences (ones flexible in nature, but which
could eventually include excommunication). Because Canon 1369 is a penal norm,
it would require a formal process (1983 CIC
1342) for imposition of the penalty. Canon 1369 can also be enforced by
penal precept (1983 CIC
More information: O'Neel, above, and generally Edward Peters,
Procedural Law in the 1983 Code of Canon Law,
Canon Law Studies No. 537, (Catholic University of America 1991) 393 pp.
Canon 455. Enact at the episcopal conference level (though
individual bishops are free to act here as well, per
1983 CIC 1315
a "general decree" (1983 CIC
455) making legislative support for FOCA a canonical offense and specifying
a penalty or range of penalties.
This option requires that considerable groundwork be laid and, even if Roman
authorization were forthcoming for conference action (I suspect it would be),
there is probably not enough time to enact specific penal legislation before
FOCA becomes an issue.
content to reiterate the Church's opposition to abortion and to
allow individual Catholic legislators to decide for themselves whether support
for FOCA is in accord with Church teaching and whether they feel comfortable in
approaching holy Communion under
This option is essentially a decision to do nothing special in regard to FOCA.
Those who consider this response pastorally sufficient are free to make a case
Some additional points.
1. I do not think that a Catholic legislator's support for pro-abortion bills
can result in automatic excommunication for abortion under
Canon 1398 and,
as I have argued elsewhere, I know of no canonist who holds otherwise.
Francis Cdl. George's and
Deal Hudson's recent remarks about the possibility of excommunicating
Catholic legislators over support for FOCA, I'm afraid that George and Hudson,
in slightly different ways, have confused the criteria for assessing the
of an act (which criteria they correctly outlined) with the criteria for
of an act. Conscience and law are not in conflict here, but they follow, for
very sound reasons, rather different ways of evaluating actions. In canonical
matters, especially in penal ones (1983 CIC
221) it is
interpretation that must be followed, and canonical penalties for abortion under
Canon 1398 and
1329 do not reach beyond those directly and necessarily involved in the
2. Options 1, 2, and 3 are not mutually exclusive.
3. A Catholic legislator's support for FOCA might suffice for incurring
canonical consequences, be they sacramental or penal as above, regardless of
whether FOCA actually becomes law. Moreover, some prominent Catholics not in
legislative office might, by their public efforts on behalf of FOCA, leave
themselves liable to canonical consequences for such conduct.
4 December 2008:
Christian Brugger, "Denying Pro-Abortion Politicians Holy Communion: Some
Friday, November 21, 2008
Copernicus: Motor terrae, solisque Stator
Outside the first floor
seminar room at
Sacred Heart Major Seminary where I teach hangs a beautiful portrait of
Nicolas Copernicus, the
(JCD, University of Ferrara, 1504) who, among other interesting projects, helped
reorient the world's thinking about the solar system. The title over the SHMS
portrait reads "Motor
terrae, solisque Stator",
or "He stayed the sun, and freed the earth." Yes, canon lawyers do that sort of
A news story today reports that Copernicus' remains have been identified in
Frombork, Poland. I'm glad; I hope his grave becomes of place of private
pilgrimage. In lieu of making that trip, though, might I suggest looking up at
the moon some night and spotting, not the most prominent crater visible, but the
second greatest: it's named for Dcn. Copernicus*, and it might help us to
remember to offer a prayer for the great lawyer-astronomer's soul, and for all
the Church's scholars who have advanced the world's authentic understanding of
serves, Copernicus was ordained to the diaconate, not to the presbyterate, as
reported in the above story. But I might be wrong on that.
"Same-sex marriage" in medieval canon law
Increasingly, it seems, the Church has to explain the most rudimentary things to
people, things like, it is always wrong to deliberately kill an innocent human
Evangelium vitae 57), or lately, that marriage can exist only
between a man and a woman (1983
CCC 1601 ff.) Sometimes, the world's penchant for mangling the truth leaves
Church officials scrambling to find (among other things) an historical text on a
controverted topic, not to demonstrate the
of the truth in question, but rather to show that the Church has
that truth, even if in times past there was little need to point out what folks
already understood. As I watch bishops and others trying to respond to the
sudden emergence of "same sex marriage", I sympathize with their bewilderment
that they find themselves even having to explain the matter, and I've wondered,
might historians be able to find a "paper trail" of Church teachings against
"same sex marriage" that could be used for pedagogic purposes? Maybe so.
Recently I came across a passage in a medieval canonical treatise, the
Hostiensis (d. 1270), wherein the great lawyer paused, as it happens, to
point out (at the risk of preaching to an audience who took such a truth for
granted) that marriage can only exist between a man and woman, and one of each
at that. How ironic that words penned by a canonist 750 years ago are more
helpful to us today than they were to their original audience! Of course,
Hostiensis went on to discuss other canonical aspects of marriage, but his brief
observations that marriage is possible only between one man and one woman are, I
think, useful to us who, many centuries later, are defending marriage against an
Preserving the clipped prose typical of medieval canonistics and omitting
citations, I here offer my rough rendering of Hostiensis' thirteenth century
text on marriage.
marriage is. The conjoining of a man and a woman holding to an
individual manner of life; a mutual sharing with divine and human aspects.
Marriage is between a man and a woman; two of the same sex cannot be married.
For, in the beginning they were not created two men nor two women, but first a
man and then a woman. A wedding therefore that is not a commingling of the sexes
would not have within itself a sacrament of Christ and the Church. Marriage is
also spoken of as being between a man and a woman in the singular, and not of
men and women in the plural, for no one man can wed several women, nor can one
woman wed several men."
Henricus de Segusio (Cdl. Hostiensis, c. 1200-1270),
summariis et adnotationibus Nicolai Superantii
(Neudruck der Ausgabe Lyon, 1537 / Scientia Aalen, 1962) 194 bis (b).
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Fr. Bourgeois might be facing more than excommunication
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given
activist Maryknoll priest, Rev. Roy Bourgeois, about a month to recant
his support for women's ordination or suffer excommunication. Without seeing
CDF's warning letter to Bourgeois, it is impossible for me to comment on the
precise grounds upon which his excommunication looms, but a related thought
occurs to me: given
the attitude that Bourgeois showed in his reply to CDF, I suspect that a
penal decree here will not only impose an excommunication, it will also lay the
groundwork for a fairly expeditious dismissal from the clerical state. A couple
of canons (e.g.,
1983 CIC 1326.1.1 and
1393) make that additional penalty foreseeable, and the dicasterial decree
could easily address any objections to administrative dismissal possible under,
1983 CIC 1319.1. So, we'll see.
14 Nov 2008:
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi makes the perplexing statement that
would likely be automatic, requiring no further action from the Holy See". I
don't know what this means. "Automatic" excommunication occurs upon the
commission of a canonical crime (1983
CIC 1314), not upon the expiration of a deadline. What CDF appears to be
doing is fixing the date for the formal
CIC 1331.2) of an excommunication; there's nothing "automatic" about that. I
haven't seen CDF's letter, so I can't say for sure, but then, Fr. Lombardi says
he hasn't seen it either, so I wonder, should he guess at what it says?
Of course, none of this confusion would arise if Western canon law would simply
do away with "automatic" penalties completely, as Eastern canon law did (CCEO
latae sententiae delendae sunt.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
The ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century
tracing the ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century and outlining
some factors that seminary personnel should bear in mind when helping Deaf men
discern vocations to orders, is about to appear in the
Josephinum Journal of Theology.
I hope readers find it interesting and helpful.
Citation: Edward Peters, "Canonical and cultural developments
culminating in the ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century",
Josephinum Journal of Theology
15 (2008) 427-443.
Abstract: After nearly two millennia of
exclusion from holy orders, a handful of deaf men were ordained to priesthood,
amid severe ministerial restrictions, in the early to mid twentieth century.
Catholic academe took almost no notice of their presence, however, and most of
these priests passed from the pastoral landscape before the start of the Second
Vatican Council. Shortly after the Council, however, several canonical and
cultural developments coalesced to result in a significant number of deaf men
entering ordained ministry as permanent deacons and priests. This article
outlines the ecclesiastical and social developments that contributed to the
emergence of deaf clergy in the United States and abroad, and provides an
orientation to clinical deafness in general and Catholic deaf culture in
particular as an aid to seminary personnel who might assist in the discernment
and development of clerical vocations among deaf Catholics.
discussion of canonical issues related to deafness and Catholic ministry, see
American Sign Language as a Catholic pastoral language;
To best 'accommodate the deaf', let's begin by getting to know them;
American Sign Language in Catholic Liturgy I;
American Sign Language in Catholic Liturgy II.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Fr. Dresser's urgent invitation to be excommunicated and expelled from the
modernistic the liberal clerical cohort in Australia tries to become, the older
are the heresies that they promote. Lately, one Fr Peter Dresser is promoting
his own brand of Arianism, a heresy that basically denied the divinity of
Christ, and which was solemnly rejected by the Council of Nicaea (325). "No
human being can ever be God,"
writes Fr. Dresser in a booklet distributed to the faithful, "and Jesus was
a human being. It is as simple as that."
version of simple: "No Catholic priest may deny the divinity of Christ, and
Dresser is a Catholic priest. It's as simple as that." If Fr. Dresser really
denies the divinity of Christ (among
several other things!), declare his formal excommunication and expel him
from the clerical state. Do it quickly, do it cleanly, and do it without rancor.
Most everything one needs is in Canon 1364:
1. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 194.1, n. 2, an apostate from the
faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a
excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties
mentioned in can. 1336.1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.
2. If contumacy of long duration or the gravity of scandal demands it, other
penalties can be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.
The gravity of the scandal given by Fr. Dresser's direct feeding of his heresies
to innocent faithful, and the world-wide attention such heretics can command in
modern times, dramatically shortens the time table that hitherto was available
for Church authorities to think about how to react to these cases. Besides, it's
not as if Dresser has come up with some new, highly nuanced, abstruse theory
that takes years to tease out. His heresy is ancient, and worse, his public
promotion of it, is an urgent invitation to the Church to do something about it.
I see precious little evidence that the forbearance the Church has shown toward
egregious clerical offenders over the last 40 years has either won them back or
spared the faithful untold sufferings in the meantime. The "ignore it till it
goes away" approach just does not work anymore (my theories on why to be
explained elsewhere) and I think the time has come to implement a "no more
nonsense" approach when we are faced with
betrayals of fundamental Christian truths in the very ranks of the men ordained
to preach it.
Talk about simple.
PS: If you are looking for silver lining to Fr. Dresser's cloud, check out Fr.
Anthony Robbie's summation of Dresser's tract: "The Council of Nicaea settled
the question that Christ was God in 325, so [Dresser] is 1,700 years out of
date. The rest [of his tract] is a regurgitation of every discredited 19th
century liberal Protestant German
in the book." Well put, that!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Responses to Rex Pilger's comments on clerical continence
Hove, SJ, and Dcn. Rex Pilger are debating in the
and Pastoral Review
whether the obligation of clerical continence (1983
CIC 277) applies to married permanent deacons. Van Hove argues
affirmatively, Pilger negatively.
My 2005 article on this question has been cited approvingly by Van Hove, but
I have not intervened in the HPR discussion because, until recently, my work had
not been challenged by either side. Recently, however,
Pilger attempted to refute several points that I made or accept concerning
My responses to Pilger are posted on my
canon law website, here. I must caution, however, that the
issues raised in this discussion are quite complex. Those not familiar with the
broader discussion of clerical continence should avoid forming any conclusions
based only on what appears there. +++
exchange unfolded thus:
Rex Pilger, "Making sense of the ministry of the deacon", HPR November 2006 pp.
23-27; Brian Van Hove, Letter,
April 2007 p. 6; Richard Kosterman, Letter, and Fr. Vincent, Letter,
November 2007 pp. 3-4; Brian Van Hove, Letter,
March 2008 pp. 6-7; Mark Gross, Letter,
July 2008 pp. 5-6; and Rex Pilger, Letter,
October 2008 pp. 4-5. For all the letters posted sequentially, see R. Pilger's
Deacon's Bench Weblog of October 2, 2008.
Updated, 1 December 2008.
I see that Dcn. Pilger has responded to some of my assertions. Links to his
reponses, and my reactions to his responses, can be found in the
left parchment column of my original post, dated 30 November 2008.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Falling canonical dominoes: from matrimonial form to defection from the Church
the Polish bishops have just published a 22-point how-to pamphlet on committing
ecclesiastical defection. Until I see a reliable translation of the guide I
will refrain from commenting on it, but I will venture this much: this document
is quite likely (1) an overly detailed attempt to apply (2) a skewered official
notification concerning (3) a poorly drafted canon (4) that was designed to
blunt a nagging problem in the Code of Canon Law. I suggest the canonical
dominoes fall out thus:
The first domino in this line of anomalies is
Canon 1108 by which "canonical form" (i.e., a wedding in the presence of an
authorized cleric and two witnesses) is still required for valid Catholic
marriage, even though the
part of canonical form has long since ceased to serve its original purpose.
Today, the requirement of canonical form actually allows
of Catholics each year to walk away from marriages that we would consider
Protestants and non-Christians obliged to honor. (Long defense of that
contentious assertion omitted.)
The second domino,
Canon 1117 on "formal defection from the Church", was placed in the 1983
Code in an effort to hold at least some Catholics who pervasively
like non-Catholics to the marriages which they contract outside the Church (that
is, in disregard for canonical form), lest they walk away from obligations that,
according to sound natural law and sacramental principles, they were perfectly
capable of and seemed willing to enter and by all appearances
enter. The problem with Canon 1117 (besides its not dealing directly with the
real problem of obligatory canonical form) is that the canon suggests that
Catholic identity can be turned-on and turned-off like a light switch. (Long
explanation of that over-simplification omitted.)
The third domino tipped when the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, faced
with the flaws of Canon 1117 (and perhaps still wishing to defend indirectly
obligatory matrimonial form) issued in
March/April 2006 a "notification" on the future implementation of Canon 1117,
whereby some technical requirements for defection were imposed that
exceeded anything canon law had previously demanded in defection (and
canonically parallel) cases, making it extremely unlikely that anyone who wanted
to leave the Church would bother to comply with the steps. The notification thus
effectively stops Canon 1117 from holding at least some Catholics to marriages
that they certainly seemed to have entered while away from the Church. (Moderately
long analysis of that interpretation found here.)
And the fourth domino is, it seems, the Polish bishops' 22-point guide to formal
defection from the Church which, I am guessing, is an attempt to come to grips
with the 2006 notification.
In short: If canonical form were not still required for matrimonial validity,
Canon 1117 would not be needed; if a poorly-drafted Canon 1117 were not on the
books, it would not have been open to the extreme interpretation it underwent in
2006; and if the excessive requirements for proving ecclesiastical defection had
not become part of the law in 2006, episcopal conferences would not feel the
need to publish lengthy how-to-leave-the-Church guides today.
In any case, while all this gets (hopefully) sorted out, keep in mind the
following points: despite its Tridentine roots, canonical form was not
universally required until well into the 20th century (1917 CIC 1094); within 50
short years of canonical form being universally required, reputable canonists
were doubting the wisdom of retaining it (see below); if canonical form were not
the sole way that Catholics had to exercise their right to marry, the bar for
getting a 'church
wedding' could be significantly raised and pastors would not be forced to
witness so many weddings of persons who know little and care even less about the
of retaining canonical form have been made not only by scholars (see below), but
by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 (Letter
concerning reception of holy Commuion, para 9); most importantly, canonical
form is still the certain law of the Roman Church, and Catholic marriages
attempted in violation of matrimonial form are invalid. Period. . . . for now
(!) debates on canonical form include: J. Barry, "The Tridentine form of
marriage: is the law unreasonable?"
20 (1960) 159-178, response in W. Cahill, "Change the marriage law?"
and Pastoral Review
64 (1963-1964) 115-129; G. Gallen, "Proposal for a modification in the juridical
form of marriage"
Australasian Catholic Record
38 (1961) 314-328; J. Abbo, "A change in the form of marriage"
19 (1963) 670-674; L. Orsy, "De forma canonica in matrimoniis mixtae
52 (1963) 320-347; and J. O'Connor, "Should the present canonical form be
retained for the validity of marriage?"
25 (1965) 66-81. There are many more studies on both sides of this issue in
Polish memorandum original.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Bp. Kicanas on Catholic pro-abortion politicians
Bp. Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, now vice-president of the USCCB,
gave an interview to the
John Allen on, among other things, the situation of pro-abortion Catholic
politicians. While I hesitate to read too much into Kicanas' answers (they
seemed off-the-cuff, understandably so), and while I recognize that some of
Allen's questions were oddly phrased, what the future USCCB president says about
this issue is important, and I think a few remarks are in order.
Allen: At the fall meeting . . . the U.S. bishops plan to discuss abortion and
politics. What's that discussion about?
Kicanas: I think there are several issues. One is, what is the
level of cooperation involved in a legislator voting for legislation that
encourages, or allows, intrinsically evil acts? Is that formal cooperation, or
isn't it? That's a critical question, because if it is formal cooperation, then
serious consequences flow from it.
Allen: You mean automatic excommunication?
Kicanas: Right. That's one question that has not been answered.
I don't know of any canonist who thinks that a Catholic voting for pro-abortion
legislation has committed an act of formal cooperation with abortion and is
liable to excommunication for it. Indeed,
the authors who take a position on the question seem unanimously opposed to that
So, short of an authentic interpretation from Rome asserting an actionable
relationship between 1983 CIC
1398 on these facts, I think that question has been answered, and the answer
Allen: Do you think there's a consensus in the conference on whether a
pro-choice vote, in itself, amounts to formal cooperation?
Kicanas: No, I'm sure there isn't.
That's my point. Legislative support for abortion is gravely wrong for several
because it amounts to formal cooperation with abortion under Canon 1398, because
Kicanas: . . . Another question is, what should be the response
of a bishop who has dialogued with a politician who holds intrinsically evil
positions in terms of voting?
a different and more pressing question. It is possible to sin gravely by
supporting evil "enabling" legislation even if concrete evil acts are never
actually committed in virtue of the law. Some Catholic legislators are casting
votes that endorse the evil of abortion, and on
grounds make themselves liable to sacramental discipline under
Canon 915, that is, even if their votes were not necessary to specific acts
of abortion being committed.
Kicanas: . . . What should be the response? As you know, some
bishops are saying that communion should be withheld from those politicians.
The bishops I've read parse their position carefully, namely, that anyone who
obstinately persists in manifest grave sin should be denied access to Holy
Communion per Canon 915. Granted, the cases now in the limelight happen to
involve certain pro-abortion Catholic politicians, but that's not what's
required for invoking the canon, rather, obstinate perseverance in [any]
manifest grave sin is what's required.
Another c. 915 example would be, I suggest, the prohibition against Catholics
divorced and remarried outside the Church approaching Holy Communion.
Kicanas: . . . The bishops as whole left that question open, and
it's still a question that is left to the prudential judgment of the bishop in
the local area.
That is as it should be; an episcopal conference is not authorized to tell
bishops how to apply Canon 915 in the local churches entrusted to their care.
Bp. Kicanas himself makes this very same point later.
Kicanas: . . . I think what gets confusing for people is that
the bishops aren't of one mind on these questions. . .
Agreed, that is confusing.
Allen: On this second point, about the denial of communion, do you see a growing
Kicanas: What's still the normative document of the conference
is that it's a matter for the judgment of each local bishop. . .
Again, okay, but I would not put it that way; the USCCB document is not
"normative" at all, for it merely restates the obvious, namely, that bishops,
not episcopal conferences, are charged with protection of the Eucharist in their
Allen: So you're having this discussion to see where things stand now among the
Kicanas: Yes, and I think it's important that the discussion is
taking place after the elections. If we did it beforehand, it could only be
misused. That's one of the difficulties, which is trying to state our teaching
in a way that is not misused, or used in a partisan way, in a way that's not
intended by the teaching . . .
Well, okay, but that's true of virtually any statement the bishops might put
out. At a certain point, one makes a statement as accurately as possible, and
then lets the chips fall where they may. But again, Canon 915 is not about
Catholic pro-abortion legislators, it's about one who is obstinately persevering
in manifest grave sin being offered the Eucharist;
has nothing to do with politics, and it's an important question regardless of
where in the election cycle we find ourselves.
Allen: It does seem there is one relevant difference between '08 and '04 on this
question. . . . This time around, it seems the question is more: Does following
Catholic teaching automatically mean overturning Roe v. Wade . . . . ?
Kicanas: . . .We may find ourselves hamstrung in terms of our
capacity to change legislation, or the thinking of legislators. . .
Both the question and the answer show, I think, a misunderstanding of the fact
that abortion was imposed on states by federal
fiat, not by state or federal
action. Short of a constitutional amendment, there is no way for federal or
state legislators to "overturn"
Ironically, though, precisely when some Catholic thinkers like Doug Kmiec and
Nick Cafardi are throwing in the towel on getting
reversed, we actually see more justices on the Supreme Court with deep
misgivings about the legalization of abortion than ever before! Chances are
increasingly good that abortion
be returned to the states, whereupon state-based legislative activity would
erupt on this topic.
Allen: Some argue that you can be genuinely opposed to abortion, yet as a matter
of prudential judgment believe that it would be counter-productive to try to
make abortion illegal. Do you think it's possible to reconcile that with the
teaching of the church?
Kicanas: It depends on how the person is thinking through that
as a legislator. It's complicated . . .
Yes. Not every immoral action should be, or can be, rendered
illegal. Moreover, legislation being what it is, it's not always clear what a
given vote for or against a specific bill means. These are areas where
ecclesiastical consultation with lay legal experts is essential. But one would
think, though, that in deciding which evils to punish under civil law, we'd
consider beginning by punishing the most heinous acts against the most innocent
victims first. [A friend reminds me that John Paul II, in
no. 71, nails this exact point. Thx!]
Monday, October 13, 2008
American Sign Language as a Catholic pastoral language
theology and philosophy programs in Catholic colleges, universities, and
seminaries call for students to study a "pastoral language" (in contrast to a
"research language") for 2 or 4 semesters. This is a terrific idea, of course,
instilling as it does an appreciation among young people of the importance of
acquiring the language skills necessary for communicating the fruits of their
studies to the wider community. Probably the most common "pastoral language"
recommended to American students is, of course, Spanish, for obviously good
Here, I want to suggest, however, another language option, one with extensive
pastoral applications, namely, American Sign Language (ASL). Consider:
ASL is the first language of over 500,000 Deaf Americans; some two to three
million more persons use ASL regularly, making ASL the most common foreign
language in America after Spanish.
Fewer than 5% of Deaf Americans regularly attend a church (let
church) primarily because language barriers inhibit evangelization, catechesis,
and liturgical participation.
Recent advances in ASL linguistics and modern communications technologies make
learning ASL easier than ever; Deaf ministry programs are now available to train
hearing persons with competence in ASL for effective collaboration with the
College level ASL classes are offered throughout the United States and much of
Canada. ASL is recognized as a foreign language by well over 200 American
colleges and universities, and opportunities for face-to-face and on-line
tutorial assistance are plentiful.
I hope more hearing students will give ASL some consideration when it's time to
decide on their "pastoral language". The need is great; the rewards are amazing!
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Hesburgh on women's "ordination"
Fr. Theodore Hesburgh's recent interview with the
Wall Street Journal
is getting some attention in the Catholic
Steve Greydanus), and it should: the WSJ article presents a
of how priestly ministry disappeared under the allure of social activism for the
last 50 years or so. In any case, it is Hesburgh's assertion that "I have no
problem with females . . . as priests, but I realize that the majority of the
leadership in the Church would" that deserves a canonical comment.
People have this idea that "heresy" (boo! hiss! hate-speech alert!) must consist
of some sort of
of a Catholic truth, as in "Jesus
divine" or "Mary
assumed into Heaven" and so on. That's understandable. Most heretical assertions
do consist of denials of Catholic truth.
But the Code of Canon Law describes heresy more broadly: "Heresy is the
obstinate denial or obstinate doubt . . . about some truth which is to be
believed by divine and Catholic faith."
1983 CIC 751. Notice? Obstinate
about matters requiring assent is
Now, what would we make of a prominent priest who says "I have no problem with
Jesus being just a man, but I realize that the majority of the leadership in the
Church would" or "I have no problem with Mary's bones resting comfortably in the
dirt of Asia Minor, but I realize that the majority of the leadership in the
Church would"? Granted, neither assertion actually
a Catholic truth, but do not both plainly express a
about a Catholic truth? Would not both comments thus savor of heresy?
In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Although the teaching that priestly
ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and
universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its
more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless
considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to
be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great
importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself,
in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare
that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on
women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's
Ordinatio sacerdotalis 4.
This is the Church teaching that Hesburgh "has no problem" chucking.
I think that to dismiss, with evident contempt,
part of Catholic truth is wrong, but for a famous priest to do so in regard to
the very point that has metastasized into
more formal excommunications than any other modern misdeed is disgraceful.
And sad. +++
Enough people have asked a question that I see can be fairly raised about my
comments to make me think a short follow-up is in order. In the interest of
time, I only post below a brief reply I made to pseudonimic comboxer over at
Jimmy Akin's blog:
X wrote: "Peters erred in assuming everything to which we must give assent is
also of 'divine and Catholic faith.'"
Dear X, as a lawyer I certainly don't mind my words being closely parsed, :),
but please parse what I wrote in its immediate context, not what you think I
wrote, or what you think I should have written. What I said was: "But the Code
of Canon Law describes heresy more broadly: 'Heresy is the obstinate denial or
obstinate doubt . . . about some truth which is to be believed by divine and
Catholic faith.' 1983 CIC 751. Notice? Obstinate doubt about matters requiring
assent is also heresy."
My statements, in the paragraph in question, make the exact point you think I
should have made, albeit only once, and not (redundantly) twice. Maybe next time
I will say it twice. Pedagogically, that might have been sounder, I admit.
Anyway, though it was not the occasion or point of my post, fwiw, I do think JP2
avoided deciding (w/o deciding against) publishing OS to be
and settled for
which [insert numerous points here] makes one denying the teaching contained in
OS liable to "a just penalty", as opposed to excommunication for heresy. For
now. Okay? Kindest regards, edp.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Priestless Sundays and the Sunday obligation
A news story out of the Diocese of Fairbanks in Alaska describes an upcoming
"priestless Sunday" wherein priests will be away from their parishes to serve
remote missions, leaving their parishioners without Sunday Mass that weekend. I
can see arguments for and against this unusual action and I don't think that
outsiders are in a position to conclusively support or reject the basic idea.
One point in the news article, however, needs to be corrected: After noting that
Communion services will be celebrated in most parishes left without pastors, the
article asserts that such services are "not Mass but will satisfy the Catholic
obligation to attend Mass."
satisfies the Sunday obligation (1983
CIC 1247-1248) under Roman Catholic canon law.* If a member of the faithful
attend Mass on Sunday, that impossibility
the obligation. Boniface VIII,
no. 8, "Nemo potest ad impossibile obligari." Indeed, Canon 1248.2 of the 1983
Code, placed in the Code by John Paul II himself (Peters,
1082), expressly notes that "If participation in the Eucharistic celebration
becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister . . . it is
that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the Word if such a liturgy is
celebrated in a parish church . . . " (emphasis added). Note, participation in a
Word service is
not required, and there is
in the canon about Word celebrations counting as Eucharistic celebrations.
Those of us lucky enough to attend Mass in our own parishes next Sunday should
especially remember Catholics in Alaska who are not so fortunate. That said,
while severe shortages of priests should move us to redouble our efforts to
encourage vocations to the priesthood, they are
occasions for changing the understanding of Sunday Mass or its obligation.
* I say under Roman canon law, because there is some provision under Eastern
canon law for something besides Mass to count toward the Sunday obligation. See
Friday, September 26, 2008
Well, since you asked, here's what's wrong with assisting at the invalid
marriages of AWOL priests
Robert Reardon, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, is apparently
slated to be the next bishop of Menevia in Wales.
But there's a hitch; word is getting out that, in 1979, Reardon officially
participated in the civil wedding of an AWOL priest (my term for a priest
who abandons ministry without obtaining dispensation from the obligations of the
clerical state, including celibacy).
Reardon apparently admits the deed, but adds "If someone can show me the church
law I am supposed to have broken, I would be interested, but I'm not aware of
it." Does the archdiocesan vicar general
not know what church laws would have been broken by such conduct?
Well, okay, here's two for starters.
Catholic clergy are impeded from marriage (1983 CIC 1087,
1917 CIC 1072) meaning that an AWOL priest who attempts marriage does so
invalidly and illicitly. Reardon directly facilitated a brother priest's
violation of this
A cleric who attempts marriage, even a civil marriage, incurs an automatic
penalty. 1983 CIC 1394.1 (suspension),
1917 CIC 2388.1 (excommunication). Reardon directly facilitated a brother
priest's violation of this
Other church laws (e.g., those leveling penalties against accomplices in
ecclesiastical crimes or those regarding the good conduct of clerics in general)
could be cited, but these two should be enough to answer Reardon's request for
Now, here's what
don't understand: How can the vicar general of an archdiocese, even after thirty
years of ministerial and administrative experience,
not be able to figure out what is so wrong about a priest's assisting at the
civil wedding of an AWOL brother priest?
16 October 2008:
being named bishop of Menevia, instead an auxiliary is being named to take over
Friday, September 19, 2008
Sacramento vs. the Dominicans: why St. Paul would approve
The Diocese of Sacramento is suing the Western Province of the Dominicans
for payment of what the diocese asserts is the religious order's fair share of a
civil judgment entered against the diocese in regard to a sexual misconduct case
involving a Dominican priest then working in the diocese.
What's unusual here is that the diocese is not suing the province in a
court, but rather, in an
tribunal. One need not know anything about the merits of the case to say, this
is a good move.
St. Paul was infuriated by the spectacle of Christians hauling one another
before civil courts for judgment (1 Corinthians 6). Rightly so. Assuming
forgiveness, forbearance, or compromise do not resolve concrete disputes among
be an alternative to our suing each other civilly and thereby inviting the state
to intervene in conflicts among believers.
And there is.
Canon law, the oldest continually functioning legal system in the western world,
has long been a forum for the adjudication of complex disputes between
Christians, and it remains so now. That canon law is turned to for such service
so seldom is truly regrettable.
Here is not the place for a mini-course in canonical procedural law, but I would
call attention to
1983 CIC 1400.1, 1: "The object of a trial is: the pursuit or vindication of
the rights of physical or juridic persons. . . " and
not "causes of actions", the key to invoking tribunal authority over given
controversies. These two canons support the diocese's decision to turn to Church
law for hearing this dispute.
As for precedents for such cases, while pre-codified law is rife with examples,
even codified law has seen many such petitions being adjudicated up to the
highest levels of the Church judiciary. To verify this, one could simply leaf
through the indices of the
Roman Rota's annual sentences, or consult directories such as:
de Jurisprudentia Sacrae Romanae Rotae juxta decisiones quae hoc sacrum tribunal
edidit ab anno 1909 usque ad annum 1946 et publicavit in voluminibus i-xxxviii
(Styria, 1957) 400 pp., or Augustine Mendonca,
Anthology, An Annotated Index of Rotal Decisions from 1971 to 1988
(Canon Law Society of America, 1992) 771 pp.
Naturally, to file a case is not to win it; and to be sued is not to be liable.
But both parties to this unfortunate dispute can be confident of receiving a
fair hearing, and even complimented for setting a good example for the rest of
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Tweaking Dr. Ray
Dr. Ray. If I'm on the road when he's on the air, I usually tune in. Today,
I heard Dr. Ray handle tactfully a hard question about telling young children
about the suicide death of a close relative. I felt myself in general agreement
with his approach, but toward the end of his extended comments, two points
caught my attention.
First, Dr. Ray seemed to think that decisions on ecclesiastical burial (1983
CIC 1184) reflect a pastor's assessment of the state of the deceased
Not. But, Dr. Ray did not dwell on the point, so I won't
either. His second comment was more worrisome.
Dr. Ray indicated that folks used to have "to wonder" about what happened to
someone's soul after a suicide, and he seemed to imply that such "wondering" was
an unfortunate thing. Hmmm.
Actually, I think we
wonder about what happens to the souls of suicides.
need to wonder, it can only be because we are sure (or think we are sure) that
we know what happened to their souls. Now, only two things can ultimately happen
soul under Catholic theology: either a soul goes to Heaven or it goes to Hell.
Granted, no one can say with certainty that "All suicides go to Hell" (because
they died committing an objective mortal sin), anymore than one can say with
certainty that "All suicides go to Heaven", (because they were terribly
psycho-emotionally stressed at the time). And maybe that was Dr. Ray's point,
albeit phrased oddly. In any case, the simple fact is, we
know what happens to most souls at death, and when we
know what happens in a case, we're free to wonder about it. In fact, wondering
(and praying) is all we
Recall: laws (whether God's and man's) against suicide imply that, to some
degree at least, the
of suicide is a
and human choices have moral implications. God did not make death "illegal", but
forbid killing one's self. So, if psychology is telling us that such-and-such
factors always effectively eliminate a suicide's free will (and I don't think
Dr. Ray holds that view), then psychology has some explaining to do to God.
Dr. Ray said that ultimately God is the only judge here, and he's right. I just
want to be clear that folks
free "to wonder" about what happens to the souls of suicides precisely because
there's substantial evidence for
outcomes in these sad cases.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Honk if You've Had It with Milingo
Abp. Emmanuel Milingo was excommunicated for illicitly ordaining married men
to the episcopate. Now, Abp. Milingo is traipsing through his native Zambia
trying to get Catholic priests to agitate for an end to priestly celibacy in the
Roman Church (Catholic
Aug-Sep 2008, p. 15). The excommunicated archbishop assures clergy not to worry
about ecclesiastical repercussions because "excommunication does not exist."
Folks, I've had it with Abp. Milingo's incessant eye-pokes against priestly
celibacy. If you have, too, read on.
Fernando Lugo's recent departure from the ranks of the clergy with
ecclesiastical permission (per
1983 CIC 290) answers an open question, namely, whether Rome would actually
dismiss a bishop from the clerical state if he were bent on violating certain
ecclesiastical laws.* With the Lugo case having demonstrated Roman willingness
to protect the clerical state against episcopal exploitation, it's time to move
against Abp. Milingo. Here's how.
Abp. Milingo's excommunication for illegal ordinations
got the headlines, but before that,
he faced "suspension" for attempting civil marriage; for the last two years,
it appears that the unrepentant archbishop has lived in daily violation of
Canon 1394.1. The prelate's protracted contempt for the prohibition against
priests (let alone bishops!) attempting marriage leaves him liable not only to
the penalty of suspension,
dismissal from the clerical state.
Support for imposing this stiffer penalty on Milingo builds when one recalls
Canon 1326.1.1 allows judges to punish more gravely those who, after a
lesser penalty was imposed, demonstrate their "obstinate ill will" (see also
1983 CIC 1393). If Abp. Milingo is not a man of obstinate ill will, who is?
I could cite several other penal norms against the archbishop, but we don't
really need them. What we
is for Rome to step in and protect the faithful from the neuralgic scandal of
this obviously recalcitrant, civilly married and suspended, and later
excommunicated, bishop by dismissing him, once and for all, from the ranks of
I'd be happy to help with the paperwork. + + +
* A few historical examples of episcopal expulsions from the ranks of clergy
have been suggested: Cesare Cdl. Borgia in 1498 (nope,
Borgia was only a deacon); Charles Maurice de Talleyrand in the early 1800s
(possibly, but the case would pre-date codified canon law by a century); and
auxiliary bishop James Shannon in 1968 (maybe, but the available documentation
on his status is inconclusive). Doesn't matter: Lugo's case, arising cleanly
under the 1983 Code, makes the search for older precedents irrelevant.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Sarah Palin's RC baptism, and some notes on Bristol's situation
Sarah Palin's probable Roman Catholic baptism
and her life
spent outside the Church is of little import in assessing her character. Unlike
the case of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who seems to have left the Church as an
adult, Palin's parents apparently took her out of the practice of the Faith
while she was yet a child, so Palin cannot be said to have decided against her
Catholic identity, nor can anything be concluded about her remaining outside of
full communion. Her "re-baptism" at age 12 or so, if that's what it was, would
not however be recognized by the Church (1983
Ironically, the only thing that Palin's Catholic baptism and her life-time spent
in good faith outside the Church does, I must say, is underscore again how
the interpretation of "formal act of defection" that was handed down in April
2006. How so? Well, if "formal defection" per
1983 CIC 1117 can only be accomplished in writing (a
completely new requirement, and one unattested, as far as I can tell, in
canonical history!), then Palin never formally defected, which means that
she is still bound by canonical form per
1983 CIC 1108, and that therefore her marriage cannot recognized by the
Don't get me wrong: I think that Palin's marriage (based on what is publically
known about it at this time, of course)
valid (and sacramental if Todd is baptized), and that it is this novel
interpretation of "formal defection" that needs urgently to be corrected,
Palin's matrimonial status. It's just that I don't like it when law and life
seem to be out of step with each other and, for a change, it looks like the
But even beyond the question of "formal defection", the continued requirement of
canonical form for the validity of marriage needs reexamination. There's nothing
new in my saying that: many canonists of the first order have been suggesting
for 50 years now.
Bristol Palin's situation. I suppose this is already about
as public as private things can get, and I offer my few remarks on accordingly.
1. Of course I am glad that Bristol decided in favor of the life of her preborn
child. Bristol could have had an abortion, and Sarah would have been the last to
know. 2. A wedding is supposed to be the way two adults start a life together,
not the way two kids try to rectify their mistakes. If couples who become
parents before they become spouses want to marry, fine, there's plenty of time
for that; but they should wait until well after the baby arrives, and make the
marriage decision independently of pregnancy pressures. Which in turn might
raise point 3. Deciding to keep the child is a good decision, but it might not
be the best decision: babies need a mom and a dad, not a mom and two terrific
grandparents. Adoption gives babies their best shot in life.
Bottom line, I hope the Palins don't rush into any decisions.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Dr. Barr's startlingly simple question
Dr. Stephen Barr,
a theoretical physicist at the University of Delaware who also knows his way
posted a very interesting idea occasioned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's "mind-blowingly
incompetent" (AmericanPapist) remarks on abortion and innocent human life.
Barr, drawing on John Paul II's encyclical
(1995) and m.p.
Ad Tuendam Fidem
(1998), suggests that Pelosi has, completely on
her own, forced the bishops, for the good of the Church and the welfare of souls
(my phrase, but I think Barr would agree with it), to clarify whether she
believes the "direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being" to be
This being the final weekend before my own Fall teaching starts, I will resist
(for now) the temptation to assess Barr's post and some interesting issues it
raises, but it seems to be much too intriguing an idea to let pass without at
least a brief mention of it here. I'll only say, leave it to a renowned
astrophysicist to suggest a startlingly simple question.
Related note: Be sure to catch also
Fr. Thomas Williams', lc, fine post on the bishops and pro-life over at
Together these two posts make a nice wrap-up for the work week!
In case it comes up: Tim Pawlenty's religious status
nothing like real life to demonstrate, once again, that canon law is meant to
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was raised Roman Catholic, but defected to
Lutheranism and then to Evangelical Christianity some years ago. That would
make him an apostate, but it would make him a schismatic (1983
CIC 751). Schismatics are liable to automatic sanction under
1983 CIC 1364, but a wide variety of factors (see e.g.
1983 CIC 1324-1324) can, and usually do, prevent the application of
automatic sanctions except in very rare cases.
2. According to the extremely narrow interpretation of "act of formal defection"
1983 CIC 1117 that was
handed down in April 2006, Pawlenty's marriage (which I assume was not
conducted in accord with canonical form) would not be recognized by the Church.
I will not repeat here
my serious misgivings about that interpretation, except to say that if my
understanding of formal defection (one shared by most American canonists) were
correct, Pawlenty's marriage would be recognized like that of any other
Protestant free to marry.
In light of Pawlenty's public and formal adherence to a non-Catholic Christian
denomination and/or the probability that his marriage is not recognized by the
Church, should Pawlenty present himself for holy Communion (which is not likely,
of course), he would not be eligible to receive per
1983 CIC 915.
A personal observation: Tim Pawlenty seems a very decent and thoughtful man. How
someone like him could have been lost to the Catholic Church for all these years
is grounds for serious reflection by those of us graced to remain. Nor is
Pawlenty alone; hundreds of thousands of people in his generation left the
practice of the Faith. I only hope they know what a serious matter that is for
them, and how willing the Church is to help them come back.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Randall Terry's dumb stunt
someone explain to me
how blocking traffic saves human lives?
We're not talking about a protest sit-in at a lunch counter where blacks are
being refused service; we're not even talking about a rescue sit-in at the doors
of an abortion clinic, which sort of non-violent direct action, for as long as
it continues, keeps actual babies away from the suction machines. Those kinds of
sit-ins I can make a case for; indeed, I
made a case for them.*
Randall Terry is doing here, however, is quite different: he's blocking
legal access to a public thoroughfare. But folks, there simply is no connection
between some guy's decision to drive along a given street and another guy's
decision to vacuum the brains out of babies. No connection whatsoever.
Consequently, Terry's blocking legal access to public thoroughfares does not
save lives or even "raise public conscientiousness"; it just makes pro-lifers
look like dopes who, being unable to distinguish between social goods (like
freedom of travel and respect for public order) on the one hand, and social
evils (like abortion) on the other, attack the former as if it were the latter.
Here's hoping Terry goes back quickly to
projects that made sense, and might have even made a difference.
* Edward Peters, "The 'Doctrine of Necessity' as a Defense for Pro-Life Abortion
Clinic Sit-Ins", Senior Synthesis (Political Science), St. Louis University, May
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The Economist is Jolly well right
asserts that the dispensation of Bp. Fernando Lugo of Paraguay from the clerical
state was the first time a bishop had been dispensed from the clerical state.
16 August 2008. John Jolly asserts in a letter to the editor that
is mistaken, for the 1498 resignation of Cesare Borgia from his bishopric(s) and
cardinalate preceded Lugo's dispensation.
The disgrace that the Borgias brought on the papacy, coupled with incomplete
records and marked variations in terminological usage, make drawing conclusions
about that time tenuous but, that said, it seems clear that Cesare Borgia was
only to diaconate, and that his other offices were, under the law and, worse,
the practices, of the times, graspingly administrative in nature,
(See, e.g., Salvador Miranda's "Cardinals
of the Holy Roman Church").
Well into the 19th century, some prominent cardinals were only deacons (e.g.,
Giacomo Antonelli, Pius IX's Secretary of State) and even today, a few
cardinals are but priests (e.g.,
Avery Dulles). For that matter, the current classifications of cardinals as
"cardinal-bishops", "cardinal-priests", and "cardinal-deacons" (1983
CIC 350-351) are not indicative of the kind of
these men have received.
Nothing, it seems, was beneath the Borgia curialistas, and one always hesitates
to try to prove a negative, but at this point I agree with
and can point to no
dispensation of a bishop from the clerical state prior to Fernando Lugo's in
Saturday, August 23, 2008
About Biden, let's ask the right questions well
not be a Catholic in good standing to be President or Vice President of the
United States, but one must be a Catholic in good standing to receive holy
Communion from the Catholic Church.
Sen. Joseph Biden, a left-of-center politician who generally earns high marks
from liberal watchdog groups, is not the extremist that Sen. Barack Obama is
proving to be, and he has incomparably more experience in government than does
Obama. But, while Biden's positions on public policy issues can and will be
attacked and defended by Catholics (particularly, I hope, by informed
Catholics whose expertise is the temporal order as recognized by
1983 CIC 225.2 and 227), Biden-qua-politician
should not be the object of special attention by ecclesiastical leadership.
should be. And he will be.
Canon 916 directs Catholics who are conscious of being in grave sin,
regardless of whether that grave sin is known publicly, to refrain from taking
holy Communion. Biden, like any other Catholic, is expected to examine his
conscience in light of Church teaching prior to approaching the Eucharist and,
if he finds himself wanting, to reform his behavior accordingly. He can be sure
that the grace of Christ would be offered abundantly to him in that effort.
Canon 915 looks at a different issue. Unlike Canon 916 which impacts
individual Catholics, Canon 915 directs ministers of holy Communion to withhold
the Eucharist from Catholics "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin".
Any Catholic whose public behavior, in one or more respects, is so at odds with
Catholic moral teaching(s) as to constitute his or her "obstinately persevering
in manifest grave sin", is subject to consequences under Canon 915. There's no
fine-print exception for Catholic politicians. Biden-qua-Catholic
is subject to the same rules as is every other Catholic.
To be sure, the public profile of Catholics in political office is considerably
higher than that of ordinary Catholics; consequently their actions will receive
closer attention than that accorded to pew Catholics. But so what? Citizens
aspiring to major public office are subject to markedly higher scrutiny under
civil law, and few have a problem with that. Should Catholics seeking a major
role in the service of the common good suddenly be allowed to claim immunity
from their responsibility as Catholics "to imbue and perfect the temporal order
of things with the spirit of the Gospel"? I think not.
In regard to the Catholic Joseph Biden's eligibility to receive holy Communion,
then, the right questions will seek to answer whether certain of his public
actions (chiefly legislative actions and public advocacy efforts) constitute
obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin. Answering those questions well
will require (1) accurate assemblage of the facts (an area for which expert lay
Catholic observers of American politics should be consulted), and (2) accurate
inquiry into the requirements of Church law and moral teaching (an area for
which bishops are chiefly responsible).
Here's hoping that the right questions in this important matter are asked well.
Friday, June 27, 2008
First thoughts on Abp. Burke's promotion to the Signatura
Rota is the Church's highest
court, but because so much law in the Church is
the Apostolic Signatura, which sits atop that administrative system, is
effectively the Church's highest adjudicatory body. Throw in that the Signatura
resolves disputes that arise over Rota cases, and the preeminence of the
Signatura is clear.
1983 CIC 1445.
Abp. Burke, as the new head of the Signatura, will undoubtedly be made a
cardinal (my guess, at the very next consistory) and so will be eligible to vote
for the next pope. He already serves on
Clergy and Legislative Texts, and is sure to be named to other key Roman
dicasteries (likely Bishops, probably CDF and Education, among others), and
making him, with
William Cdl. Levada at CDF, the most influential American in Rome.
James Cdl. Stafford (formerly of Denver) also serves on several dicasteries,
but his main work on the Apostolic Penitentiary is by its nature not
I am frankly a little sad at this one. Abp. Burke is a vital presence in the
Church in America; but if the pope says that his abilities are needed at the
universal level, then who can complain? Let's just pray that a worthy successor
in St. Louis is named.
Whispers in the Loggia,
John Allen (though Allen still thinks that Burke's
"second place" finish in the election of the USCCB's head of Canonical Affairs
was a rebuke to Burke!)
Burke's announcement text:
Today, at noon in Rome (5 a.m. CDT), it was announced that His Holiness, Pope
Benedict XVI, has named me prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic
Signatura, effective immediately. With the announcement, I ceased to be the
Archbishop of St. Louis.
I am deeply humbled by the trust which His Holiness has placed in me, and, in
priestly obedience, I have pledged to serve our Holy Father to the best of my
abilities. Although you will no longer pray for me as your archbishop,
especially during the celebration of the Holy Mass, I ask your prayers for me,
that I may faithfully and generously cooperate with God's grace in fulfilling my
Leaving the service of the Church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis is most sad
for me. It has been an honor and gift for me to serve the archdiocese over the
past four years and five months. It had been my hope to serve here for a long
time, but, as the bishop who called me to priestly ordination often remarked,
"Man proposes, but God disposes." I trust that doing what our Holy Father has
asked me to do will bring blessings to the Archdiocese of St. Louis and to me.
St. Louis is a great archdiocese which will always have a treasured place in my
In a particular way, I am saddened to leave my fellow priests, whom I have so
much grown to esteem and love. Often, I have spoken about the remarkable unity
and loyalty of our presbyterate. For me, it has been a special grace to work
with them in the service of God's flock in the archdiocese. I thank them for the
priestly fraternity which they have always shown me, and for the generous
obedience with which they have responded to my pastoral care and governance of
our beloved archdiocese.
With regard to the governance of the archdiocese, the College of Consultors will
meet to elect an archdiocesan administrator who, with the help of the
consultors, will govern the archdiocese, until the new archbishop is appointed
and installed. Please pray for the College of Consultors and for the
archdiocesan administrator whom they will elect.
Again, I ask your prayers. You can count upon my daily prayers for the
Archdiocese of St. Louis, always.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Proposal: Extend the Communion fast
just published a short article proposing that the Communion fast (1983 CIC 919)
be calculated from the start of Mass (instead of from the reception of
Communion) and that the fast be extended to three hours (instead of the current
one hour). See
Edward Peters, "The Communion Fast: a Reconsideration",
Antiphon 11 (2007) 234-244. Briefly, my reasons are:
1. A one hour "fast" is physically insufficient to bring the human body into a
fasting state, meaning that the spiritual benefits long associated with
preparation for Communion are lost.
2. Making reception of Communion relevant to calculating the fast leads to
distracting cogitations about the liturgy itself (e.g., worrying about whether
the length of the homily or sung responses or angling to the end of the
Communion line might allow one to complete the fast in time).
3. Calculating the fast from reception of Communion reinforces the assumption of
many that "going to Communion" is the only important thing about Mass (rather
than helping them see, e.g., the Sunday obligation as a
one fundamentally oriented to worship).
4. A fast oriented only to reception of Communion diminishes the faithful's
appreciation for the Liturgy of the Word as an encounter with Christ worthy of
preparation in its own right (see Mk VI: 34-42 on Jesus' example of
hungry people before He fed them).
5. The brevity of the current fast means that Catholics with guilty or doubtful
consciences have no discrete way to refrain from going up to Communion without
attracting attention, resulting in pressure on them to approach the Eucharist
under conditions that risk profanation.
6. Imposing as a requirement
what is scarcely impossible to avoid doing anyway (how many people really eat
and drink on their way to Mass?) makes legal norms seem like empty exercises, in
turn fostering a diminished respect for the role of law in ecclesiastical
My article outlines these problems in light of the history of the Communion fast
and demonstrates, I think, that reforming the Communion fast as proposed above
would resolve each of these issues quickly and completely.
We'll see who might agree.
PS: If you don't already know the
Society for Catholic Liturgy, publisher of
check it out today!
I'll be talking about various issues related to Holy Communion with
Drew Mariani today (June 26) about 6:20 pm Eastern.
I'll be talking about various issues related to the Communion fast with
Kresta in the Afternoon today (June 30) about 4:20 pm Eastern .
Monday, June 02, 2008
Autism and the Sunday Mass obligation
nothing about the
dispute between a Minnesota parish and the mother of an autistic boy beyond what
I've seen on the net, I offer no opinion on the merits of the case. Some
quotes attributed to the boy's mother, however, show some misunderstandings of
Church law that, if clarified, might make resolution of this case easier.
1. Mother rejected an offer to let her son watch a video feed in the church
basement, saying that watching televised Mass "does not have the same status as
attending Mass." She's right. Watching Mass on TV is fine, but it is a purely
devotional exercise which does not qualify as liturgically "assisting" at Mass;
thus, watching TV does not satisfy the Sunday and holy day obligation set out in
1983 CIC 1247-1248.*
2. Mother continued: "Otherwise we could all just sit home and watch it on TV
and not bother to come in." Well, okay, if the premise were true, the conclusion
would be true, too. But the premise here is admittedly false, so the conclusion
is obviously false as well. Mother can't show, however, the parish stance to be
wrong by showing that a
of the rules would
3. Mother concluded: "It's considered a sin in the Catholic church not to attend
Mass on Sundays and every holy day of obligation." Not quite.
The general obligation to attend Mass is a grave one, but like most grave
obligations, it can be mitigated in particular circumstances. If one's child
became ill on Sunday morning, no one would accuse the child or his mother of
committing grave sin by not showing up for Mass that day. There are, obviously,
all sorts of conditions that, whether for a short time or a long one, prevent
one from attending Mass without incurring guilt. Canon 1248.2, placed in the
1983 Code by John Paul II himself (Peters,
1082) expressly addresses this. I imagine that a plausible, if not at times a
strong, case could be made that this boy is excused from the Mass obligation, as
would be those directly responsible for his care.
As I said above, one needs more access to the facts of this case to make a
prudential judgment about how to resolve this conflict, but caricatures of
another's position never make for quick resolution of disputes. Allegations that
the Church is imposing an obligation on this boy and his mother and then
preventing from them from fulfilling that obligation are logically and
pastorally absurd. +++
* I'm responding to what the mother
in her next sentence. I have no doubt but that folks in a Church basement
watching a closed video feed of the Mass being celebrated upstairs, which they
can't enter because of overcrowding, are liturgically assisting at that Mass.
Still, the mother's comments are about
Masses, which are far more common and about which people need clarification.
June 4. Autism campaigners contact pope
Friday, May 30, 2008
Excommunication for female 'ordination'
pointed out some time ago (scroll
to 6 July 2005), the 1983 Code does not levy excommunication on those who
simulate the conferral and reception of holy orders on women.
Canon 1378 excommunicates non-priests who simulate Eucharist and confession,
Canon 1379 imposes "a just penalty" on those who simulate the other
sacraments (such as holy Orders), but neither canon directly
The excommunications that have been applied in some cases of female 'ordination'
have been imposed in virtue of a combination of other canons (e.g.,
Abp. Burke's model action in March 2008), which works fine of course, but it
seems somewhat cumbersome to those who do not know canon law well.
As of today, though,
all of that has changed: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has
just decreed that those who attempt to confer holy Orders on women are
excommunicated, as are the women who attempt to receive holy Orders.
Latin-Italian text here,
Latin-English text here. The decree goes into effect immediately.
Let's look more closely.
1. CDF looked at Canon 1378, which already contained an automatic
excommunication penalty, and decided to add a crime, simulating of holy Orders,
to it. CDF
have just as easily decided to specify an excommunication penalty for simulating
of holy Orders within Canon 1379, which already punishes such actions with "a
just penalty". Either way works, however, and CDF choose the former. Note that
simulation of holy Orders on a male is not penalized according to CDF's decree,
so such actions, while gravely sinful, remain punishable basically only under
2. CDF's action increases by two the number of actions punishable by "latae
or automatic, penalties. The trend over the last 150 years in ecclesiastical
penal law has been away from automatic penalties (1983
CIC 1314). For legal theory reasons, I would have preferred to see that
trend reinforced: make simulation of holy orders on women an excommunicable
offense, yes, but make the
for incurring the penalty
That said, the factors that so often complicate the operation of
penalties in the Roman Church (see, e.g.,
cc. 1323-1325) are, as it happens, virtually non-existent in female
'ordination' scenarios, so it's not a big deal here.
3. Interestingly, when CDF turned to the consequences of female 'ordination'
among Eastern Catholics (I have heard of no such cases yet), the dicastery
respected the Eastern Code's elimination of
1402.1) and stated that excommunication
be imposed (puniatur)
for such offenses, and then reserved absolution from the censure to the Holy
4. It does not appear that the excommunication for the female 'ordination' is a
reserved offense under the 1983 Code, but it is reserved by the CDF decree among
5. Nothing in the decree suggests that it is retroactive, so given 1983 CIC
9, 18, and
1313, those who participated in past simulated 'ordinations' of women, but
were not excommunciated under another operation of law (and they would know if
they have), are
excommunicated by this CDF action.
My guess is that we will see personal precepts (cc.
1319, but perhaps also
1326) being issued over time to those involved in past female 'ordinations'
to repent of their actions or fall under the same sanction as those already
excommunicated under under other canons or as those subject to punishment for
any future simulated ordinations.
The automatic excommunication already in Canon 1378.2.1 against those who
simulate the Eucharist, which some of these women have done since their
'ordinations', remains in place. Yes, you
be excommunicated twice, just as you can be sent to prison for two felonies, or
be sent to Hell for two mortal sins.
Summation: Presbyteral 'ordination' of women is invalid (Ordinatio
sacerdotalis, n. 4); it has always been a canonical crime
punishable under Canon 1379 and/or certain combinations of other canons; as of
today it is directly punished with automatic excommunication under Canon 1378.
Sounds like three strikes to me.
Later notes: The attempted ordination of a man by a female 'bishop' is not
sanctioned in the CDF decree (until
last week, it had apparently not been tried) so that act remains punishable
basically under Canon 1379, as before.
Some good posts by others on this:
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf,
Friday, May 16, 2008
Was Prof Douglas Kmiec really denied Communion?
He certainly says he was, by a chaplain irate over
Kmiec's endorsement of Obama for president. Now I am as nonplused as the
next guy about Kmiec's backing of the unborn's worst enemy (ok, technically he's
tied with Hilary for a 100% NARAL approval rating), and I was quietly hoping
that Kmiec would remain an anomalous singularity. That hope was dashed, however,
Nicholas Cafardi, a prominent lay canonist and retired dean of Duquesne Law
School, lent his name to Obama's Catholic advisor list. Good grief. Oh well,
they don't move me: I'd rather watch televised soccer than cast a vote for
Obama or Clinton.
But to deny Kmiec holy Communion for his actions to date? No way. In the face of
Canon 915 indeed authorizes withholding Communion from those who (a)
obstinately, (b) persevere in (c) manifest (d') grave (d'') sin. But about the
only thing Kmiec is (so far) is manifest.
I have been urging for years that greater respect for Our Lord in the Eucharist
be shown by, among other ways,
withholding holy Communion from certain figures who fail to meet the
requirements set out in canon law. I suppose it's inevitable that, with
steps finally being taken toward the enforcement of Canon 915, some hotheads are
going to misapply the law. But that's not the law's fault; that's bad
catechesis, something over which even priests can stumble.
In short, by my read, Prof. Kmiec is owed an apology.
I'm always struck by how many more people can write than can read. I've been
getting several notes and links criticizing me, saying that I have denied the
right of ministers to make Communion-distribution decisions. Where, oh where,
have I ever said that? Indeed, against some who argue plausibly that a
Communion-withholding decision can
be made by the bishop, I have always upheld, alebit on the narrowest grounds,
the authority of the minister to make an immediate decision (even though in the
majority of cases I think they are wise to wait for directions from higher up)
in order to deal with flagrant, urgent cases (e.g., drunken skin-head Neo-Nazis
marching up to take Communion). What I said in the Kmiec case was that, imho,
the minister of Communion was quite
to withhold the Eucharist from Kmiec,
that he as ordinary minister was
to make such determinations.
Which let's me comment on second point: some have said that I feel the Church
owes Kmiec an apology. Nope. The
owes Kmiec an apology. I don't think "the Church" has to run around apologizing
for every misapplication of her laws by an intemperate official.
Being the minister of Communion is a heavy responsibility; misuse that
authority, and expect to bear some consequences for it.
NR Online, 16 June 2008;
Mirror of Justice, 16 June 2008;
Fumare, 17 June 2008; The substance of this post was accurately conveyed by
15 June 2008, p. 17.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Staunching the wound of Bleeding Kansas
and a half ago, "Bleeding Kansas" referred to the violence through which Kansans
suffered as a presage to the full-scale war that engulfed the United States just
a few years later. Today, "Bleeding Kansas" more aptly describes that beautiful
state's reputation as a haven for late-term abortions.
The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, firmly aligned with the abortion
lobby, just vetoed the Kansas Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, meaning that
Jayhawk abortion profiteers need not so much as mention to women, specifically
that alternatives exist to the violence they are about to undergo. May the
governor pay the price for that incomprehensible veto (however small that price
compares to what a single baby pays for it) at the polls.
In the meantime, though, Gov. Sebelius is
a personally-opposed-to-abortion-but-yaddah-yaddah-yaddah Catholic. Unlike many
other personally-opposed-to-abortion-but-yaddah-yaddah-yaddah Catholics,
however, Gov. Sebelius falls under the jurisdiction of a bishop who
(as would any bishop) about the abortion havoc being wrought on his people and
about the state of the souls of those who foment that carnage, but also of a
bishop who will
(as do too few bishops), publicly, prudently, but firmly in response to the
Kansas City (KS) Abp. Joseph Naumann has met with Gov. Sebelius many times
to dissuade her from machinating against the preborn; failing to move her, and
after consulting his suffragans, he wrote to her in August 2007 "requesting that
she refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had
acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental
confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life which would
include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of
laws and policies sanctioning abortion."
Abp. Naumann's statement is model of pastoral sollicitude and political
I think it required reading for any one who wishes to discuss this topic
seriously, along with, say, Abp. Raymond Burke's "Canon
915: The discipline regarding denial of holy Communion to those obstinately
perservering in manifest grave sin",
96 (2007) 3-58, and my own "Denial
of the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicans: a canonical case study",
& Pastoral Review
(Oct. 1990) 28-32, 48-49.
Now, however, confronted with evidence that Gov. Sebelius has ignored his
request, Abp. Naumann has privately
called upon the governor to desist from receiving Holy Communion, reiterating
his desire that the governor accept his "previous request and not require from
[him] any additional pastoral actions."
Additional pastoral actions.
Abp. Naumann has applied
Canon 915 as a tourniquet to staunch the wound that Gov. Sebelius has
inflicted on the Mystical Body of Christ. But Canon 915 is only designed to keep
a bad situation from getting worse; what is ultimately necessary here is
repentance by a prominent Catholic of her grave pro-abortion activities. In the
meantime, if Canon 915
stop the bleeding, the archbishop's only alternative would be surgery under
Book Six of the Code of Canon Law, "Sanctions in the Church."
And no one should want that. +++
Additional blog commentary:
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf,
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
I like this: Abps. Myers and Burke to pontifical councils
Vatican Information Service (VISnews
080506) announced today that Benedict XVI just appointed several new members
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Roman dicastery that, under
1983 CIC 16 and
154-158, provides binding interpretations of ecclesiastical law. The PCLT is a
very important office for canonistics; in some repects, it is more important
Roman Rota (long explanation omitted). Papal appointments to the PCLT are
Granted that some prelates are named to the PCLT because, well, they couldn't
be appointed given their importance in other Roman curial offices, among the
'personal' appointments announced today, two American archbishops standout: John
Myers of Newark and Raymond Burke of Saint Louis. Abp. Myers, an expert in
property law, has been serving as a consultor to the PCLT for over 10 years;
Abp. Burke, an expert in procedures and penal law, and who was
appointed to the influential Congregation for the Clergy, has considerable
experience in the
Signatura. Both appointments are very good news for clear thinkers.
Last November, I dismissed theories that the USCCB election for the head of
its Canonical Affairs committee was in any way a referendum on the firm approach
adopted by Abp. Burke in regard to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Folks who
tried to parlay the bishops' choice of the excellent Chicago auxiliary Bp.
Paprocki into an endorsement of a 'kinder, gentler' approach to ecclesiastical
law should be glad I did: Else, how will they account, without blushing, for
Rome's naming of Abp. Burke to
posts wherein his approach to canon law is going to get a serious hearing at the
If one will permit me a bit of button busting, I'm thrilled that three prelates
who graciously wrote forwards to my various books (Myers for
and the Catholic Church
Code of Canon Law in English Translation,
Burke for the
in Progressu 1983 Codicis Iuris Canonici,
and Paprocki for
Excommunication and the Catholic Church)
are serving the Church's legal system in such prominent ways. Makes me wanna
work harder, too.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Autumn Kelly: making the wrong choice for the wrong reason
Catholics from the throne of England, for no other reason than that they are
Catholics, sounds more ominous than it is. I mean, who would
to be the king or queen of England anymore? Still religious bigotry is religious
bigotry, and the ban prohibiting Catholics, or those married to Catholics, from
ascending British throne, should be dropped.
In the meantime, making even
sense than desiring to be the monarch of England, is giving up one's Catholic
faith so that one's future husband can stay ---what is it? --- 11th in line to
succeed to that throne! But
that's exactly what Catholic Autumn Kelly has done, she's joined the Church
of England so that, when she marries Peter Phillips later this month, he can
cling to odds of ascending even slimmer than those held by "Louis Mazzini" in
the Alec Guinness comedy classic
Kind Hearts and Coronets
(1949)! Really, it's too, too bizzare.
But amid the surrealism, there is an important canonical issue: On 13 March
2006, a "notification" (a
very problematic notification, in my opinion) as to what constitutes a "formal
act of defection from the Catholic Church" was handed down by the
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. I've always thought there were
problems with that interpretation, but I sure don't see how it's up to handling
as Kelly's abandonment of the Catholic Church seems to be, it is
clear that it satisfies the (extremely rarified) definition of "formal act of
defection" that is supposed to guide canonical thinking these days, leaving us
on the horns of a dilemma: if Kelly's abandonment of the Catholic faith is
a "formal act of defection", what besides a rank exercise in legalism keeps it
from being so? Alternatively, if Kelly's act of abandonment
an act of defection, how does she meet the requirements set forth in the
interpretation when presumably most others will not?
As one who thinks that law should be able meet situations encountered in real
life, I'll be curious to see this problem resolved. In the meantime, besides
praying that Kelly returns to the Church (we'll take back her even if she isn't
the queen of England), I am left wondering how the validity of her
soon-to-be-attempted marriage will fare in light of what appears to be a sure
defect of form (1983
CIC 1108 vs 1117). Unless 10 people up and die, she's not going to be queen,
and besides that, she's either not going to be Catholic, or not going to be
validly married. What a mess.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Four cheers for New York's Cardinal Egan
cheers, not three.
Three for telling Rudy Giuliani, a notorious supporter of legalized
Canon 915 means what it says, that those who
obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are subject to the withholding of
Holy Communion. Chronic promotion of abortion, in which Rudy engages, is a grave
Cdl. Ratzinger's letter of June 2004.
And an extra cheer for holding in reserve the slam-dunk norm prohibiting Rudy
from committing objective sacrilege against the Eucharist, namely, the
1994 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH CONCERNING THE RECEPTION OF HOLY COMMUNION BY THE DIVORCED AND
REMARRIED MEMBERS OF THE FAITHFUL, esp. para. 4: "If the divorced are remarried
civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's
law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation
Rudy is divorced and remarried outside the Church.
Under either heading, then, whether for pro-abortion activism or for divorce and
remarriage, to say nothing of both, Rudy is barred from receiving Communion.
very public act of defiance in taking Communion at the papal Mass
deserves swift and firm condemnation.
15 March 2007. Since when is Rudy Giuliani excommunicated?
Denial of the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicians (1990)
Phil Lawler's excellent analysis.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Rome's four options in regard to Bp. Fernando Lugo
Who is not
happy to see Paraguay's
finally voted out of office? That the election was peaceful and, so far, seems
to be accepted by the old guard is even better. But that is
the issue in regard to
Paraguay's new president, Bp. Fernando Lugo.
issue here is canonical (and by implication, theological and pastoral): Lugo
was ordained to the fullness of holy orders for the spiritual service of God's
people. By all accounts, he was doing good work in that task when, at some point
it does not appear to have been very long ago), he saw an opportunity to
substitute another good (and yes, serving the people in civil office
a good) for the one he originally accepted. The new good that Lugo is pursuing,
however, civil governance, is not only incompatible with his many duties as
bishop, it is flatly prohibited to clerics (c.
285.3). But Lugo took it notwithstanding.
To his credit, Lugo attempted to give up his clerical status by petitioning a
return to the lay state. But, to
Rome said no, observing that clerical status at the episcopal level is not
something that can be surrendered. Lugo refused to stand down for election, but
even then Rome did not respond with its heaviest censure, excommunication;
Lugo from ministry, leaving his status as a member of the clergy intact. For
The recent apology from Lugo (again he seems to be desirous of minimizing
the ecclesiastical harm his actions have caused) is not yet sufficient for this
problem, though a superficial reading of
Canon 1347.2 might suggest otherwise: Lugo's apology amounts to "I am truly
sorry that I have caused scandal by gravely violating ecclesiastical law; I will
continue to violate it." That, folks, is simply not an apology. However
"sincerely" it is said.
So Rome has, as I see it, four options here.
1. Excommunicate Lugo (there are a couple-three ways that could come about on
these facts), and leave him in the same state as a
Milingo. Except that Lugo is clearly not a Milingo.
2. Lift the penalty of suspension (in recognition of Lugo's sincere desire to
avoid harming others), impose a salutary penance under
Canons 1339-1340 for his actions inconsistent with Canon 285.3 (invoking if
c. 1399), and dismiss Lugo from the clerical state
(and not as a favor that one can request).
3. Dispense Lugo from c. 285.3 (it is subject to dispensation and a case for
cc. 85, 88, 90 can be argued here). Then live with the consequences that
such a precedent (in life, not in law, per
c. 16.3) will unavoidably establish for a long, long time.
4. Do nothing, and hope that Lugo will resign the presidency (yeah, right), or
do nothing till his term expires and then "reconcile" him (which will send a
strong message that Canon 285 is pointless), or just do nothing, period.
No one wants option # 1 (though it is on the table). I think # 2 is the prudent
my guess is that Rome is looking hard at # 3, despite a chronic
predilection to follow # 4. As I've had occasion to say before, I'm glad it's
not my call to make.
In the meantime, though, I can't help noticing that Lugo's political career is
being launched by doing what politicians do best: disregarding one promise in
order to make another. Too bad. He seems a better man than that. +++
Note: See also this
Rite of Dismissal for a Bishop from the 1895 Roman Pontifical, and my
comments in "Permission given to priest to run for political office", 2007
05 May 2008:
A thoughtful look at the issues from NCReps' John Allen.
30 July 2008:
Rome granted Lugo's request to return to the lay state.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
After decades of disinterest, suddenly two Canon 1405 cases?
Pope Benedict XVI is
believed to be mulling over the possibility of expelling a bishop,
Fernando Lugo, from the clerical state. That would certainly be a first
under the 1983 Code (the
Jacques Gaillot case in 1995 was
a precedent; Gaillot was removed from office, but not from the clerical state),
and I'm pretty sure it never happened under the 1917 Code.
Lugo, though suspended and removed from ecclesiastical office, remains a cleric,
but his election under a reformist banner to Paraguay's presidency upped the
Clergy are forbidden to assume civil governing offices (see
1983 CIC 285.3 and my negative conclusions about "Permission given to priest
to run for political office", 2007 CLSA Advisory Opinions 60-62) and
in political office are at odds with, oh, about a dozen other norms.
Canon 290,3 says that removal from the clerical state can be granted (or
imposed, if it comes to that) on deacons for "grave cause" or presbyters for
"most grave cause". But the canon doesn't even mention dismissal of a bishop
from the clerical state. It's as if no one could imagine it ever happening.
Lugo has reportedly offered to "resign" but it is unclear exactly what he meant
by that, or he could face a penal process with the pope as judge per
1983 CIC 1405, 1. Ironically the pope could hear this matter as a case of
judging "those who hold the highest civil office of a state" or he could hear it
as a case of judging "bishops in penal matters." But regardless of which kind of
case he considers, removal of a bishop from the
and not just from
is an extremely serious action, something that hasn't happened for centuries.
Okay, so, maybe it's time it did.
A number of readers have asked about the import of the
letter of Giovanni Battista Re asserting, among other things, that the
removal of a bishop from the clerical state is impossible. This letter, standing
alone, is insufficient to prove that point, however, if only because it was
written in response to Bp. Lugo's
for voluntary removal from the clerical state; Re's letter would not preclude
the pope from
As for folks confusing the clerical state, which can be lost, with the indelible
character of holy orders, which can't be lost,
wants to see a concise video report on this case that gets almost every
technical term correct? Check out
How utterly ironic.
I had intended the above title, about the "two Canon 1405 cases" to refer to two
possible applications of Canon
1405 in the one case of Bp. Fernando Lugo. But now I see
another news item that would involve, of all things, Canon 1405
for a second, completely separate, time.
I refer to
Richard Sipe's denunciation of, among others, Theodore Cdl. McCarrick (ret.
Washington) on the grounds of sexual misconduct. I know next to nothing about
Sipe, but his statement leaves little room for nuance: "I know the names of at
least four priests who have had sexual encounters with Cardinal McCarrick. I
have documents and letters that record the first hand testimony and eye witness
accounts of McCarrick, then archbishop of Newark, New Jersey actually having sex
with a priest, and at other times subjecting a priest to unwanted sexual
The same Canon 1405 I referenced above reserves solely to the Roman Pontiff the
right to judge all cases involving cardinals and, in penal matters, bishops.
Under either heading, let alone both, the only person authorized to investigate,
and if warranted judge, Sipe's allegations, is the pope. No ecclesiastical
authority may move on this matter without the consent of the Roman Pontiff.
I do think, however, that in conscience, (though not by canon law given the
abrogation of 1917 CIC 1935.2), Sipe is bound to send to the Holy See all the
information he has about these matters, and not wait to be asked for it.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
My parents' gift to my children
my children received a very unusual gift: their grandparents (on my wife's side)
celebrated 50 years of marriage. Two years ago, my own parents marked their 50th
wedding anniversary, meaning that my kids can now boast something very few in
their generation will ever know: the good fortune having both sets of
grandparents married for over 50 years.
Grandparental death or divorce deprive most children today of seeing Golden
Anniversaries celebrated in their families, that is, of knowing two people who
made it through five decades together. My kids now know two
who did so.
Neither my parents nor Ang's would claim that every day was wine and roses, or
that they never faced difficulties, or that they never wondered at times how
they'd get through even one more day. But that's precisely the key to
understanding the example, the legacy, they have left us: They've showed us that
things don't have to be
For the goodness that Nade & Nancy and Anthony & Joan have shown my children, I
am grateful. And I can't help noticing that, in celebrating their lives
together, they couldn't help giving us all something to celebrate as well. Why?
Because that's the way real Love is. It just can't help sharing.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Screamingly bad Latin, not to mention bad reporting, from The VOA
of America boasts of being "A trusted source of news and information since
1942". Oh, really?
VOA's Jeff Swicord drew an admittedly crummy assignment:
reporting on the latest shenanigans put on by the "woman priest" crowd. But
what should have been a routine serving of empty drivel went l.o.l. funny when
Swicord attributed to an Opus Dei priest the following comment on the maleness
and the priesthood: "'The church teaches that he [the priest] does this in what
that he does this in the name and the person of Jesus,' says [Fr. Arne] Panula.
Jesus was male."
A priest acts "insomnia
That is screamingly funny. It doesn't mean a thing, folks. The closest I can get
is "lack of sleep to/for the name Christina".
But apparently it's not just Opus Dei priests who don't know Latin, it's lady
priestettes too: Writes Swicord: "Meehan disagrees. 'A priest is suppose to be
she says. 'That does not mean taking on male identity.'"
Okay, maybe Father Bridget Mary
to say "in gobbledy-gook Christina" but I'll bet she didn't; she knows the Latin
phrase here is "in
which correctly translates as "in the person of Christ."
Maybe Swicord never heard the phrase before (making one wonder how he was
assigned to this story in the first place). But since when are reporters, after
hearing a technical expression from two interviewees, allowed to simply guess at
its spelling? And then to guess it into oblivion?
Now do you see why we never tire of telling Catholics, and the world, that the
secular press is laughably incompetent at religious news reporting?
According to the standards above, don't be surprised if the VOA reports the
Marine motto "Semper fidelis" to be "Simper fiddles", or if the US Seal "E
pluribus unum" comes out "Deploribus moon'em", or if the Olympic motto "Citius,
Altius, Fortius" comes out "Citrus, insomnia, forceps."
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Proposal: Impose excommunication for euthanasia
months I have been researching and writing an article on euthanasia in canon
law. I hoped against hope that it might remain an academic exercise, but (to
judge from, say,
this report on the practice of euthanasia in Belgium) the speed with which
the Western, specifically Christian, protection of innocent life is collapsing
suggests that one of my projected canonical recommendations deserves an earlier
hearing than appearance in a peer-reviewed journal can afford.
that euthanasia be made an excommunicable offense under the 1983 Code of Canon
Briefly, my article will demonstrate, among other things, the following points:
1. Euthanasia, correctly understood, is unquestionably repudiated by the
Catholic moral tradition (CCC
2377) and is regarded by the canonical scholarly tradition as a species of
Canon 1397, which subjects those committing "homicide" to "a just penalty",
be invoked against euthanasia, but both the definition of the delict and the
scope of the penalty require specific elaboration for each particular case.
3. The contrast between the canonical treatment of abortion (which is explicitly
condemned and made punishable by excommunication under
1983 CIC 1398) and that accorded euthanasia (only implicitly condemned and
punishable but indeterminately), can no longer be supported: the same factors
that lead to the canonical criminalization of abortion (namely, widespread
abandonment by states of their duty to protect innocent human life before birth
which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when the new penal canons were being
formulated) are presently underway in regard to innocent human life at other
stages. The Church therefore must proclaim and, within the limits of her
authority, must protect what the State has forgotten and repudiated, namely, the
inherent value of innocent human life regardless of age.
4. Eastern canon law already expressly makes homicide an
1450.1). Besides showing that the excommunication of murderers is plausible,
this canon suggests that Western Christians (among whom euthanasia is
widespread) should not be treated more leniently than their Eastern brethren for
the same offense.
Note that Eastern canon law has done away with
(automatic) sanctions (CCEO
1402). I completely agree with this trend, and recommend that the
excommunication proposed for euthanasia under western law be imposable only
that is, by a formal process only (1983 CIC
Excommunication is the gravest sanction in Church's legal system. It is reserved
for the most grievous offenses, but especially, I suggest, for those wherein the
aid of the state in upholding important values cannot, for whatever reason, be
secured. Euthanasia in every way fits the description of an offense that
warrants excommunication, and Eastern Catholics already face excommunication for
it. It's time Western Catholics were treated with the same kind of tough-love,
and time once again that Church law, as it has done so often in the past, show
state law what's really important. +++
Read more about it:
Excommunciation and the Catholic Church (2006) esp. pp. 33-35;
Interview with Dr. Peters on excommunication by Carl Olson (November 2006);
E. Peters, "Church law and euthansia: time to oil a rusty canon?"
(Jan-Feb 1997) 13, 27; and
E. Peters, "Excommunication: wave of the future?"
(July 1996) 6.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Steven Sueppel should not be granted an ecclesiastical funeral
One of the
reasons we have rules is to help us guide our decision-making when circumstances
make it difficult to think clearly. The horrific murder of the Sueppel family by
their husband-father Steven, who then finally succeeded in killing himself, is
nothing if not a difficult circumstance. My read, in any case, of
1983 CIC 1184.1.3, in light of
the gruesome facts of this case, leads me to conclude that Steven Sueppel
should be denied ecclesiastical funeral rites.
Assuming the accuracy of the press reports, there is no doubt that Steven
Sueppel offered no "sign of repentance" (as opposed perhaps to expressing some
regrets in a note) for having just murdered,
his wife and four young children. There is no doubt whatsoever that Steven
Sueppel offered no "sign of repentance" before killing
(on the third try). Because Canon 1184 does not require us 'to read the soul' of
someone, but instead focuses our attention on observable actions, there is, in
my opinion, no doubt but that Steven Sueppel's actions qualify him as "a
manifest sinner" who in turn "cannot be granted [an] ecclesiastical funeral
without scandal for the faithful."
It is common place to observe that the 1983 Code no longer automatically denies
ecclesiastical funerals to those who commit suicide (See, e.g., Cox & Griffin,
Replies & CLSA Advisory Opinions
at 85-86, and 1917 CIC 1240.1.3); this approach makes good sense, for suicide
typically seems to involve some form of grave mental or emotional deficit which
can be seen as mitigating the culpability one might otherwise incur for
indeed as here,
seems different to me. On the last day of this life, the embezzler Steven
Sueppel became a
If such behavior is not "manifest sin", what behavior would be?
We can, and should, pray for Steven Sueppel; indeed, Mass can be offered for him
CIC 901). But he should not be accorded the Church's final liturgical and
sacramental commendations; not, I think, if the canons on ecclesiastical
funerals mean anything close to what they seem to say. +++
an extended study of Canon 1184 by Dr. Peters. 2. Who is the final authority
over the funeral question? The ordinary of the diocese concerned (1983 CIC
1184.2). Could one reach a conclusion different from mine? Sure, but on the
facts as known by me, I would have to disagree.
Erin Jordan, "Faithful question church funeral for killer",
Des Moines Register (5 May 2008).
Monday, March 24, 2008
Canon 277: "celibacy" and "continence" are different things
sad case of Zimbabwe Archbishop Pius Ncube, who was the only credible
opponent of Thug-in-Chief Robert Mugabe, is the occasion to try to remind people
Canon 277 of the Johanno-Pauline Code establishes
related but distinct obligations for clerics in the Western
As an archbishop, Ncube was bound
to refrain marriage (celibacy)
to refrain from sexual relations with anyone (continence). Ncube has admitted to
having sex with a woman (a married woman, as it happens); therefore he has
admitted to violating the law of
attempted marriage with this woman, and therefore he has
violated his promise of
Nevertheless, every single press report I have seen on this case alleges that
Ncube violated his promise of
Not one of them claims he violated the law of
This is the opposite of what they should be saying.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Consider Latin as an avocation, if not a career. Really.
History of Latin
(Oxford, 2004) at 122: "Thanks to the work of many generations of paleographers
and textual critics we now have all the ancient texts in printed editions which
are both easy to read and more correct than any of the surviving manuscripts.
This is not, however, the case with texts from the Middle Ages, since there are
many more of them [i.e., 100,000s] and they have attracted much less interest
from Latin specialists. Many of them, even ones that are well worth reading,
have been published using only one manuscript that happened to be to hand, even
though much better manuscripts may exist. Many more texts have not been
published at all, but are waiting in libraries for someone to read them and
prepare an edition.
There is a
limitless amount of valuable work waiting to be done by those who would like to
devote themselves to Latin and the Middle Ages."
Think about it. +++
Read more about it:
Dr. Peters' Ecclesiastical Latin pages
Friday, March 14, 2008
Abp. Burke's excommunication of the "women priests"
to say that
Abp. Raymond Burke's excommunication of three women who recently
participated in a pseudo-ordination in Saint Louis is a "text-book illustration"
of how (non-judicial) excommunication is supposed to be applied in the Church
today, but I can't say that: Why not? Because Abp. Burke's attention to juridic
details and his provisions for the pastoral care of the people entrusted to his
what the textbooks teach, that it is the
that must copy from
not him from the textbooks.
four-page decree of excommunication deserves to be read in its entirety, but
I'll summarize the sanctions themselves, for they are quite interesting.
1. All three women (Fresen, Hudson, & McGrath) are declared to have incurred
(automatic) excommunication under
Canon 1364.1 for schism. The consequences of excommunication are set out in
2. All three women are also declared to have incurred
(formally imposed) interdict under
Canon 1371.1 for pertinaciously rejecting a definitive truth of the Faith
women cannot be ordained priests) subsequent to a specific warning to avoid
such conduct. The consequences of interdict are set out in
3. One of the women (Fresen) is declared to have incurred
Canon 1379 for simulating a sacrament other than the Eucharist or confession
(here, holy orders). The consequences of excommunication are set out in
A) Burke avoided a one-penalty-fits-all-crimes approach; different offenses
(schism, pertinacious rejection, and simulation) were punished differently
(excommunication, interdict, and excommunication respectively). His hands were
basically tied in regard to the penalty for
he chose a sanction less severe than excommunication, namely interdict; he went
back to excommunication, however, on Fresen for
I'm thinking because she pretended to be a bishop conferring holy orders instead
of, say, pretending to be a priest conferring anointing of the sick.
B) Each of the women is free to repent without the cooperation of the others;
indeed it even seems possible, however unlikely, for them to repent of just one
or two of the crimes and be reconciled in regard to that/them only. How so?
Well, for example, Fresen could say "I still believe that woman can be ordained,
but I sincerely regret taking the issue into my own hands and conferring what I
think are holy orders, and I promise not to do it ever again." She would have a
good chance of being reconciled at least on that charge, I would think.
C) If the women take recourse against the penalties (my guess is they will, as
others have done before them) the enforcement of the sanctions will be suspended
Canon 1353. I personally think this is an overly generous provision of canon
law (indeed, an innovation over 1917 CIC 2243.1) in regard to those who
already been found guilty
of grave crimes, but Abp. Burke would certainly honor it.
D) While Abp. Burke's specific notification not to distribute Holy Communion to
the three women was only published in Saint Louis (the limits of his
throughout the world
to anyone who comes into knowledge of the excommunications and interdict.
Burke's action also indicates, by the way, where he stands on an interesting
canonical dispute, namely, whether canons that authorize "a just penalty" (e.g.,
cc. 1371 and 1379) can be enforced by censure (e.g., excommunication). I've
always held that they could. Nice to know I'm in good company.
I need hardly add that the faithful may, and in charity should, join Abp. Burke
in praying for the reconciliation of all three women. Might I suggest, in that
vein, seeking the intercession of
St. Hippolytus, the some-time antipope who later reconciled with the Church
and died a martyr's death for her about 235. Miracles happen. +++
Read more about it:
Excommunication and the Catholic Church (Ascension 2006)
Dr. Peters' Excommunication Blotter
A few other points.
1. Abp. Burke's line about "any of the Sacraments attempted to be celebrated by
[these women] are utterly null and void" should be understood as applying to
sacraments whose celebration is reserved to the priesthood which these women
wrongly claim to possess; as these women are still
persons, of course, they could still, strictly speaking, validly perform
baptism, and for that matter enter marriage, albeit gravely illicitly.
2. The use Abp. Burke made of
Canon 747.2 I thought was
insightful. That provision is usually understood to be oriented
as a defense of the Church's right to speak out on social affairs. Abp. Burke's
invocation of it in this case reminds us that Church leadership must also look
to their own houses and not neglect their charges to comment on others'. Part of
Abp. Burke's credibility when he speaks on social issues arises, I think,
precisely from his willingness to make hard decisions within his own community.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Letter to the Ottawa Citizen re Abp. Prendergast
can't run every letter to the editor they get, but thanks to the internet,
rejected missives have a second chance to see the light of day.
Saturday, March 8, 2008, the
Ottawa Citizen ran a story about Abp. Terrence Prendergast's
statement concering pro-abortion politicians and reception of the Eucharist. As
is typical of the secular press, however, the newspaper gave nearly as much time
to the negative opinions of one Rosemary Ganley, coordinator of Canada's
Catholics for a Free Choice, as if this lady knew enough about Church law and
moral theology even to
an opinions worth pitting against those of the archbishop.
1983 CIC 212.3.
Anyway, I sent a letter to the editor of the
and, three days having passed without its appearing it seems, I imagine it was
not chosen for publication. Whatever. For those who might like to see it, I post
Rosemary Ganley's ignorance of canon law seems no obstacle to her lecturing
Ottawa's Archbishop Terrence Prendergast on it. No sooner does Abp. Prendergast
announce, in some of the most measured language imaginable, that Catholic
politicians who support abortion must be aware of the canonical consequences for
their contrarian behavior, than does Ganley pronounce the prelate "to be on very
shaky ground," allegedly because "There's nothing in [canon law] saying he could
deny communion to people who are pro-choice."
Ms. Ganley is wrong.
Canon 915 states that Catholics who "obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin
are not to be admitted to holy communion." Abp. Prendergast's statement shows
that he is quite familiar not only with this canon, but with Church teaching on
the inviolability of innocent human life and the responsibility of governments
to protect the weak. Abp. Prendergast is simply moving to apply Church law in
defense of principles that the Church proclaims.
Ms. Ganley's shallow claim that canonical consequences should only arise for
things expressly reprobated in the Code of Canon Law cannot be taken seriously.
Consider: selling drugs, running prostitution rings, or distributing pornography
are not expressly scored in the Code, but I doubt that Ms. Ganley would come
rushing to the defense of any Catholics excluded from holy Communion for
publicly engaging in or advocating such activities.
That's because Ms. Ganley does not really care what canon law says about most
things, she cares about promoting abortion. Unfortunately, she also knows that
her views on abortion will garner at least as much attention as will those of a
man whose education and office make him immeasurably more knowledgeable about
Church teaching than Ganley will ever be, so she has little incentive to educate
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD
Detroit, MI, USA
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Canonical conundrum no. 1
I might, from time to time, post some interesting (well, to me anyway)
hypothetical questions against which folks could test their canonical acumen.
FACTS: A Roman Catholic man wants to present himself for ordination to the
permanent diaconate. He tells you that many years ago, he civilly married a
divorced woman. They remained together for some years until she died of natural
causes. He has not remarried, in the Church or out, since. He asks whether, in
respect of his marital status, he is eligible for the permanent diaconate.
Q. 1. Do you need additional information to answer his immediate question?
Q. 2. If you do not need additional information, is he eligible for orders?
Q. 3. If he is not eligible, what option(s), if any, might he have to address
No hints, so don't ask. Answer in about a week. Good luck!
Lawyers are generally happy to have more information on cases, but here,
everything one needs to know in order to respond accurately to the question has
As things stand now, this man is ineligible for holy orders, including the
permanent diaconate. Although not every invalid attempt at marriage renders a
man "irregular" for orders under
1983 CIC 1041.4, an attempt at marriage (even a civil marriage, which is why
one does not need to know whether the wedding was in the Church) with a woman
already married validly
renders the man "irregular" for orders. It does not matter that the wife is now
dead; it is this kind of
at marriage that triggers an impediment, not the state.
something the man could try. Notice that the irregularity for orders arises
the woman is in a
marriage. So, how does one try the validity of a marriage after the death of
either spouse? One has resort to
1983 CIC 1675.1 which provides for the impugnment of marriage after the
death of either (or both, for that matter) spouse if the question of its
validity is important for the resolution of another controversy. Such is
obviously the case here with regard to the man's eligibility for holy orders,
and either the man or the promoter of justice could present the
CIC 1674). Naturally, all the requirements of law would still have to be met
in adjudicating the case, but it could be filed.
As I have
said many times before, the answer to a canonical question is seldom found
within a single canon. Thus, it pays to know the whole Code.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Repairing Fr. Bozek's sacramental blunders
Burke, once again,
is showing us all how it's supposed to be done.
In a remarkable gesture of pastoral concern for his people, St. Louis Abp.
Raymond Burke, who
for some three years has been trying to effect the reconciliation of a
renegade Polish priest named Fr. Marek Bozek, has alerted the faithful who might
be approaching Fr. Bozek for sacramental services, that any attempts by Fr.
Bozek to celebrate the sacraments of Confession (1983
CIC 966) or Confirmation (1983
CIC 882-883), or to witness the weddings of Catholics bound by form (1983
are invalid, and that
such Catholics may contact his office directly for assistance in securing these
sacraments validly and licitly.
I'll be discussing Fr. Bozek's situation, who as of today is officially
careening toward dismissal from the clerical state, with Al Kresta today,
starting about 4:20 pm Eastern, on WDEO AM 990 in Detroit / Ann Arbor, or
listen live here. Related posts:
20 December 2005;
Blog Archives 2006, scroll to December 26;
Te Deum Laudamus, 19 March 2008.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Seton Hospital must vigorously resist mutilation surgery
Seton Hospital in Daly City CA, administered by the Daughters of Charity, is
being intimidated into performing immoral surgery. This Catholic hospital, in
the face of civil litigation,
appears to have backed down from its originally
refusal to allow "breast-implant" surgery to be performed on a male. It must
now, upon deeper reflection, reverse its faulty decision and refuse the surgery.
Catholic moral teaching generally
mutilation where it is intentionally performed against otherwise healthy body
CCC 2297, J. Lynch, "Mutilation",
10: 145-146 (1967), and P. Palazzini, "Mutilatio",
Dictionarium Morale et Canonicum
III: 334-335 (1966).
Canon law makes it a
for Catholics to commit mutilation.
1983 CIC 1397. See also
1983 CIC 1041, n. 5. Accomplices to canonical crime are liable to punishment
1983 CIC 1329.
In my opinion, "breast-implant" surgery performed on one born a male constitutes
mutilation. If my opinion is correct (and it is, but others will want to verity
that for themselves) Seton Hospital should vigorously defend against its being
forced to perform or facilitate this immoral surgery. Free exercise and freedom
of conscience arguments seem applicable here.
Ashley's treatment was a travesty (5 Jan 2007).
Monday, March 03, 2008
Asserting a canonical defense is one thing; proving it another
Riccitelli, a priest* from Arizona, is facing state prosecution for alleged
theft and/or fraud against his former parish, Holy Cross (Mesa). But
Riccitelli is trying to raise canon law (specifically, norms on the
administration of ecclesiastical property) as a defense to his state
prosecution. His canonical argument got the trial judge's attention, as it
It also has prosecutors worried; but it shouldn't.
Riccitelli's case might not be an ideal one through which to encourage, even on
a small scale, civil law to recognize, where appropriate, the relevance of canon
law in American law and society, but it's preferable, I think, to its serving as
an occasion to repudiate entirely civil consideration of canonical arguments.
With all the usual caveats about commenting on stories reported in the secular
press, let's see why.
Defendants in state criminal cases sometimes raise what are called "affirmative
defenses", that is, arguments that their conduct, though apparently in violation
of criminal law, was justified by something not mentioned in the law. A common
example would be that a speeding ticket should be dismissed because a father was
rushing his pregnant wife to the hospital. There is no "pregnant wife" exception
in the motor vehicle code, but a defendant would probably be allowed to offer
those facts as an affirmative defense (here, "necessity") to avoid a speeding
conviction. A judge/jury might or might not accept the argument (the burden
usually lies on the defendant to prove affirmative defenses), but generally a
defendant is allowed to raise it.
Similarly, an officer of XYZ Corp who makes expenditures that appear to be in
violation of, say, state laws about fiduciary duties to the corporation, could
argue that, under the by-laws of XYZ corporation, such odd expenditures were in
fact permitted. Again, he might fail to prove his claim, but it's a plausible
defense and generally should be heard. So in this case, Riccitelli is claiming
that canon law authorized him as then-pastor to spend parish money in ways that
appear to prosecutors (and to the Diocese of Phoenix, for that matter) to be
It seems to me that Riccitelli should be allowed to raise canon law as a
possible defense, for indeed, he was
to be administering parish property in accord with canon law (1983
CIC 532). For a judge to allow a canonical affirmative defense is clearly
tantamount to opening the door to prosecuting people for violating canon law or
sharia or anything else; Riccitelli is being charged with violating Arizona law,
not canon law. The judge, Hon. Silvia Arellano, seems to understand this, as do
appellate courts of Arizona.
At the same time, though, if the facts alleged in the media are borne out,
prosecutor Barnett Lotstein probably has little to fear from this defense: no
matter what Riccitelli might claim, canon law does
allow pastors to treat parish assets as their own property (1983
1281-1289) nor to enrich themselves at parochial expense. Canons
285-286 instruct clerics to shun ostentatious lifestyles and to avoid
engaging in personal business transactions without the permission of the
Canon 1344, n. 2, takes for granted that some canonical crimes are also
civil crimes for which offenders might be prosecuted and punished by the state.
In short, my guess is that a canonical expert would have an easy time refuting
Riccitelli's apparent claim that canon law let him spend
money any way he wanted, leaving a state prosecution of Riccitelli to stand or
fall on the merits of the case. Plus, the possibility of examining canonical
issues in other state cases where it might be relevant, nay possibly vital,
would be neatly served.
The respect that canon law accords civil law (e.g.,
1983 CIC 22) should be reciprocated. I am aware of the pitfalls awaiting
those who venture the path between Church and State, but history has shown the
passage to be possible. When properly followed, it can be of great benefit to
the subjects of both legal systems.
media sources describe Riccitelli as a "former pastor" others as a "former
priest". Riccitelli's canonical status is not relevant to this topic of this
Friday, February 29, 2008
The rules on baptism are meant to be followed
on 2 December 2004, I blogged about "Brisbane's
Bad Baptisms", I got an unusual number of nasty notes from folks who
(assuming they agreed with my point that baptism in the name of the Creator, and
of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier was invalid, and many did
agree), nevertheless took umbrage at my conclusion that those undergoing such
rituals were not, in fact,
kind of Christian (pace
the archbishop there), and that such persons, to be Christian, let alone
Catholic, needed to be
1983 CIC 869.1) baptized anew. "It wasn't their fault they were baptized
invalidly," wrote one unhappy reader, "how can you deny them the grace of God
because of something they didn't do?" Like, you know, I decide who gets God's
grace and who doesn't.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced its ruling that any
'baptism' attempted "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the
Sanctifier" (or, to take another silly variation, "in the name of the Creator,
and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer") is invalid, and that persons who
received such 'baptisms' . . . "have, in reality, not been baptised [and must] .
. . be treated for all canonical and pastoral purposes with the same juridical
criteria as people whom the Code of Canon Law places in the general category of
I won't say that it feels good being shown right by an "authentic doctrinal
declaration" from CDF, but it sure beats being shown wrong.
Anyway, sacraments are pretty tough things, designed by Christ to be
administered even by fallen people. But sacraments have rules, instilled by the
Lord, that must be followed. When his rules aren't followed, real people miss
out. So let's get these folks baptized as Christ directed, and get back about
the task of spreading his Good News as Jesus would have it spread.
07 March 2008.
Neil Hickey's on-line article about this topic for couriermail.com.au is
full of errors, some of which appear attributable to Brisbane Chancellor Fr. Jim
Spence. First, these baptisms were not just "illicit" or "illegitimate", they
second, that means these baptisms did
happen; third invalid baptism renders
any subsequent attempt to receive a sacrament. How these repeated errors can
still be in circulation utterly escapes me.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
What's with all this "defrocking" lingo?
it seems, "defrock" is the in-word.
Karoun Demirjian writes that the Rev. Donald Maguire, sj, has been
"defrocked" by the Vatican.
Jeannette Cooper writes that Fr. Marek Bozek faces "defrocking" for
disobedience to Abp. Raymond Burke.
Erin Jordan writes that the bishop of Davenport wants to "defrock" Fr.
Gerald Stouvenel. What with all this "defrocking" going on, one might even start
to think that the word means something. Well, it doesn't; at least, it
doesn't mean what these journalists think it means.
Notwithstanding that it can be found in some
dictionaries to describe removing an ordained man from the clerical state, the
word "defrock" is
correct usage in Catholic circles; Catholic writers, if no else, should know
Pio-Benedictine Code there was a penalty called "deprivation of
ecclesiastical habit" that could be imposed on a cleric and which, besides
prohibiting him from dressing as a cleric, could also cost him certain other
clerical rights (1917 CIC 2298). But this penalty, sometimes
and obviously less serious than, dismissal from the clerical state (technically
known in those days as "degradation"). And
I assume, is what these journalists think they are discussing, no?
In their English-language dictionaries of canon law, Taunton (1905), Trudel
(1919), and Lydon (1934) did not use the word "defrock" even to describe
deprivation of clerical garb, let alone to mean dismissal from the clerical
state, nor is "defrock" used in
sense by the
(1912-1917) or the
(1967). Indeed the only Catholic encyclopedia I know of that has an entry for
"Defrocking" is the excellent one published by
Our Sunday Visitor (1991, 1998) wherein the word is scored as "a common but
incorrect term that often refers to the reduction of a cleric to the lay state."
Since the advent of the Johanno-Pauline Code in 1983, the correct phrase to
denote the most severe expiatory penalty the Church can impose on a deacon,
priest, or bishop is "dismissal from the clerical state" (1983
CIC 1336.1, n. 5). Even the term "laicization", used for a while after
Vatican II to soften the harsh rendering of Latin's
as "degradation", is generally avoided today as it seems to imply that the lay
state itself is some sort of punishment.
In short, enough with this "defrocking" lingo. These men are facing, or have
already undergone, dismissal from the clerical state. Catholics know what
more about it: There is a good dissertation on this topic,
Deprivation of the Clerical Garb,
Canon Law Studies No. 334, (Catholic University of America, 1958) that will help
one sort out, say, temporary
permanent deprivation of clerical garb, and how both sanctions were assumed, or
not, in various related clergy penalties such as "deposition" and "degradation".
And this I
to see: "Le defroque"
(Joannon, 1954). (Thanks to a long-time Canon Law Blog reader!)
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Feuerherd's curse cannot be ignored
damnation on an individual or a group is to wish on them the absolutely worst
fate conceivable: separation from God forever.
CCC 1035. Catholics possessed of even a rudimentary catechesis know that one
invoke upon a human being any greater calamity than damnation, and that it is
licit, for any reason, to wish that another person be damned.
On February 24,
National Catholic Reporter
Joe Feuerherd, writing in the
expressed his desire to see the bishops (of the United States) literally
before he would fail to vote Democratic this Fall.
Feuerherd's words of contempt were not shouted in a heated argument wherein,
say, a lack of time for reflection or "anger hormones" might mitigate one's
culpability for uttering invectives. No, Feuerherd's curse, "the bishops be
damned", was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in
a prominent national publication.
Canon 1369 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that "a person who . . . in
published writing . . . expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against
religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty."
Canon 1373 states that "a person who publicly incites among subjects
animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some
act of power or ecclesiastical ministry . . . is to be punished by an interdict
or other just penalties."
I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons.
The penalties for violating either canon are preceptive (puniatur);
Feuerherd's public expression of contempt for the souls of the bishops occurred
in the Archdiocese of Washington, although other venues afford jurisdiction for
the case (CIC
1408, 1412); and every potential penal case begins with preliminary
1717). However much American bishops as individuals might willing to forgive
Feuerherd on a personal level, they must also assess this terrible incident as
Successors of the Apostles, that is, as men entrusted with a precious and holy
office not of their making, but in their care.
I hope these matters will be considered with alacrity; in the meantime, we can
pray that Feuerherd retracts the surpassing invective which he has directed
toward the bishops of America.
Catholic News Agency, 27 Feb 2008;
USCCB's Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, 27 Feb 2008;
Friday, February 01, 2008
Caveat lector: Fr. Maciel was not "suspended"
Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado occasions revisiting the numerous accusations
of sexual misconduct made against founder of the
Legionaries of Christ over the years. These accusations culminated in a
2006 investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which
dicastery declined, however, to subject the elderly Maciel to a canonical trial
and instead decided "to invite [Maciel] to a reserved life of prayer and
penance, renouncing every public ministry."
The analysis I offered at the time of that unusual directive from CDF still
Precisely in light of that analysis, I would caution against describing Maciel
having been "suspended" or "penalized" by the Holy See. Under canon law, and in
contrast with civil usage,
imposed on those
of certain crimes (1983 CIC
1400-1401). Make of CDF's directive what one will, but Maciel was not tried
and was not found guilty of any crimes; it is, therefore, not accurate to
describe him as "suspended" or "penalized".
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Brazilian excommunication warning
LifeSite News reports that: "Brazilian
Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho has condemned a plan by Recife city
officials to distribute the morning-after pill during the upcoming Carnival
festival and has warned that those who use the pill are subject to
excommunication. 'This policy is wicked and immoral, and in this case, both
those who use it and those who incite its use are committing a crime punishable
by excommunication,' Archbishop Cardoso said."
The city policy is, in my opinion, unquestionably wicked and immoral (CCC
1910, 2273, 2377). But whether those who use, or incite the use of, this pill
are committing an excommunicable offense depends on, among other things (e.g.,
1329), whether an abortion is actually procured thereby (1983 CIC
If the 'morning after pill' works by preventing ovulation, it is contraceptive;
if it works by preventing implantation, it is abortifacient. Only the latter,
but certainly the latter, provides a basis in canon law for excommunication. See
my blog post "Excommunication
for deliberate embryo destruction" (29 June 2006). +++
See also my
Excommunication Blotter, updated regularly.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Sports writers: a parallel magisterium?
like me, the term "sports writer" conjures up the image of a high school
athletics star who, after playing so-so in college and never making it to the
pros, parleyed a certain facility with words into getting paid to watch other
people (most of whom would never make it to the pros either) play games. What we
never realized, it seems, was just how many
writers apparently spend all their free time studying moral theology, canon law,
and the history of religion in public life. Yet, just look at how many
writers feel qualified to publish opinions applauding the abortionism that St.
Louis University basketball Coach Rick Majerus is publicly and defiantly
maintaining against his Archbishop Raymond Burke.
But folks, after reading a raft of pep rallies published for Coach Majerus over
the weekend, I've reached a conclusion: if
writers are really qualified to parse Catholic moral theology and ecclesiastical
discipline against a world class theologian and canonist like Abp. Burke, then
than qualified to coach college ball. Hey, I've watched some NBA All-Star
videos, I saw "Hoosiers" (which, okay, wasn't about
basketball, but so what?),and people still talk about that right hand hook shot
I made in the eighth grade basketball camp.
Laugh if you want, but that's about the level of ecclesiastical sophistication
that sports writers are bringing to bear against Abp. Burke for his reaction to
Majerus' support for abortion and experimentation on embryonic human beings. But
let's be very clear about something here: Coach Majerus, not Abp. Burke,
violated the wall of separation between Church and Sport, and now it's up to
Majerus to repair the damage he did. In the meantime, the more his allies in the
sports media try to defend the coach's blunder, the more they show themselves to
be way, way out of their league.
One pernicious line being pushed by the sports media machine runs thus: It's
unfair to rag on poor Majerus cuz, after all, he's just a hoops coach who was
caught off guard with a trick question by the media. That's total baloney. Rick
Majerus touts his Catholic education whenever it suits him, and he has dealt
with, and even worked for, the media for many years. Though "just a coach",
Majerus is probably the highest paid official at St. Louis University (good
and he soon will be, if he is not already, the most nationally recognized name
the university has.
If, therefore, anyone at a Jesuit educational institution needs to be called for
reiterating public dissent from Church moral teaching, for supporting the
canonically criminal acts of abortion and experimentation on embryonic humans,
and for stiff-arming an archbishop who has called for a retraction, it's SLU
basketball coach Rick Majerus.
Unless, that is, you also think that Abp. Burke is qualified to coach NCAA Men's
Division I basketball. You know, just like I am.
good sense from CWR's George Neumayr.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Does Coach Majerus really think he can out play Abp. Burke?
making this up.
St. Louis University's basketball coach Rick Majerus (yes, a basketball
coach) is telling
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke (yes, the
canonist archbishop), to mind his own business regarding Majerus' outspoken
support for (get ready for it)
experimentation on embryonic humans! If it weren't that
expressing support for such deeply offensive conduct is so deadly serious,
I'd be laughing.
Majerus boasts a long career in lefty politics going back to the 1960s, so maybe
that's why he apparently never noticed that the Second Vatican Council, in its
only display of anger, denounced abortion as an "unspeakable crime" (GS
folks, for which Catholics are liable to excommunication (1983
CIC 1398), which
St. Louis University official Rick Majerus
Majerus' claim that the "First Amendment right to free speech supersedes
anything that the archbishop would order me to do" rated (sorry, I couldn't help
it) an 8.5 on the laugh-out-loud scale. SLU's basketball coach should walk
across the quad to SLU's law school and ask any second year student to explain
the notion of "state action" before he asserts any more grandiloquently wrong
theories about the law of Church and state.
And if Majerus thinks that the
is on his side, he should think again.
News reporter Bernie Miklasz opined "If Burke is expecting an apology or
silence from Majerus, it won't happen" and "If Burke hopes Majerus will fall in
line with the Roman Catholic church's official positions on these two issues, it
won't happen." That's
reporting news, that's fanning the flames of conflict. The secular press loves
to play "Let's you and him fight", especially when the 'him' is a faithful
Catholic bishop. Majerus is walking right into it.
I'm going to assume that Majerus knows even less about canon law than he
apparently does about Church teaching, constitutional law, and media management,
and offer the following thoughts.
Culling a variety of sources, it appears that
Abp. Burke has said that he is prepared to withhold Communion from Majerus.
Denial of Communion is not a sign that the archbishop doesn't like Majerus or
that he disagrees with his political views. Rather, it would be a determination
by a highly-educated, deeply-dedicated successor to the apostles of Jesus Christ
that the coach's conduct is tantamount to obstinate perseverance in manifest
grave sin per
1983 CIC 915. Such a serious situation would require immediate attention.
Moreover, Majerus had better not provoke Abp. Burke into ordering him by penal
CIC 1319) to retract his public support for experimenting on and killing
pre-born human beings. Should Majerus receive and refuse such a precept,
sanctions up to and including formal excommunication are possible against the
St. Louis University official. A
of First Amendment citations won't protect Majerus against that kind of
For that matter, Abp. Burke doesn't even need to resort to a penal precept if he
doesn't want to, because Majerus' public advocacy of gravely immoral behavior
and his use of the press to reiterate his horrible views have already placed him
at risk for sanctions under
1983 CIC 1369.
Majerus still has time to get out of this mess, but probably not
time. Abp. Burke has considerably more experience defending Church teaching and
enforcing ecclesiastical discipline than Majerus has experience dealing with
principled stands by conscientious bishops. The last thing a SLU basketball
coach should want is a certified letter from a determined archbishop whose
office is just six blocks west of SLU's campus.
So I wonder, how far will things have to go before Majerus admits that maybe,
just maybe, a 2,000-year-old Church founded by Jesus Christ knows more about the
dignity of innocent human life than does Hillary Clinton?
How far? Only Majerus knows.
SLU Class of 1979
Friday, January 25, 2008
The Code of Canon Law turns 25
psalmist sings "Happy is the man . . . whose delight is the law of the Lord; on
his law he meditates day and night." (I: 1,3). The Psalmist is right.
Twenty-five years ago today, Pope John Paul II signed the apostolic constitution
Sacrae disciplinae leges
promulgating the revised
for the Roman Catholic Church. It is a marvelous achievement, all the more so, I
suggest, because it was developed during one of the most intense periods of
antinomianism the Church ever suffered.
Canonical experts gathered in Rome this week to explore the impact of the
revised Code. I look forward to reading their presentations. For my part, in
honor of the 1983 Code's birthday, I'm posting a dozen canonical questions that
I would like to see addressed over the coming years. Not that there aren't
cogent answers to these questions now. But, as any first-year canon or civil law
student knows, all laws undergo a gradual but constant process of
re-examination. Sometimes that process results in the reformulation of laws,
sometimes it results in their reiteration. But either way, one usually comes
away with a better sense of the values behind the law, and a better appreciation
of how laws help us attain to those values.
1. Is canon law essentially a juridic or theological discipline?
2. How might tribunal sentences be accorded precedential value? cc.
3. Can laity hold office in the Church? c.
an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium? c.
5. How is defection from the Church distinct from schism? cc.
6. Can penitents release confessors from the seal? cc.
7. Can deacons perform anointing of the sick? c.
8. Is every marriage of two baptized persons necessarily a sacrament? c.
9. Should canonical form be required for the validity of Catholic marriage? c.
penalties be eliminated from canon law? c.
11. Is retroactive obrogation of a statute of limitations a violation of
12. Should canonists have to pass an independent exam prior to practicing? c.
These are some of the things I'll be thinking about in the future. Here's hoping
I come to understand them better.
PS: The next time you pray the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, where Mary &
Joseph find the boy Jesus teaching the scholars what Law
means (Luke II: 46-47), please remember us canon lawyers in your prayers.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Argumentum pro: Laity can preside at certain liturgies
answering some questions about "presiders" at liturgies, Fr. Edward
McNamara, LC, made an interesting, but I think controvertible, statement: "Only
an ordained minister can, strictly speaking, preside at any liturgical act."
That sounds inconsistent with the language used in several authoritative
For example, the General Introduction to the
states "Blessings are part of the liturgy of the Church." (n.16). Now the
is replete with rites that may be conducted by lay ministers without the
assistance of the ordained. Are these various rites of blessing "liturgical
acts" when they are performed by the ordained, but not "liturgical acts" when
they are performed by laity? The
of the Catholic Church
states "lay people may
at certain blessings." CCC 1669, emphasis added.
also states "The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the
Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments." (CCC 1113). But if, say, a baptism
licitly performed by an ordained man is a liturgical action over which he
presides, would not a baptism licitly performed by a lay person also be a
liturgical act (if perhaps one of lesser solemnity) over which he or she
1983 CIC 230.3 states ". . . lay persons can also . . . exercise the
ministry of the word . . .
over liturgical prayers
. . . confer baptism . . . ". Emphasis added.
Or again, recalling that the sacrament of marriage is celebrated by the spouses,
is not the Rite of Marriage itself (not to be confused with a wedding Mass) a
very common liturgical action presided over by laity? And even if we were to
focus on the official witness of a wedding (who is typically an ordained man per
1983 CIC 1108), are weddings officially witnessed by ordained men liturgies,
while those officially witnessed by lay persons per
1983 CIC 1112 are not liturgies?
Obviously, certain liturgies can
be presided over by the ordained. Even in those liturgies that can be led by
laity, however, ordained presiders, being more closely configured to Christ the
High Priest, bring to their role a greater disposition for liturgical ministry,
they offer a more perfect sign of our communion with one another under a
hierarchic governance, and they are usually permitted a greater degree of
solemnity in the celebration of the liturgy than are lay celebrants.
But I don't see how any of those considerations require one to hold that only
the ordained can preside at any liturgy, unless, that is, the term "presider" is
being understood tautologically as "an ordained leader of a liturgy", in which
case, though, it adds nothing to our understanding of liturgical leadership, and
risks blurring recent recognitions of legitimate lay leadership roles in certain
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Uta Ranke-Heinemann's alleged excommunication
Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the German theologian who in 1985 became the first
woman to receive, and in 1987 the first to forfeit, a major chair in Catholic
theology, is in the news again, this time using
Cdl. Lehmann's announcement that he will step down as chairman of the German
episcopal conference as the occasion to remind folks that she was a classmate of
famous figures like Lehmann and Ratzinger. There's nothing new in
her remarks; they are
But I paused over Ranke-Heinemann's claim (at times, it sounds more like a
boast) to have been excommunicated. I wonder, when exactly was that?
Granted that some of Ranke-Heinemann's views seem heretical per
1983 CIC 750-751, making her susceptible to automatic censure under
1983 CIC 1364, I find no record (cf.
Apostolicae Sedis, La Documentation Catholique, Canon Law Digest,
etc.) that the Church's gravest penalty was formally declared or imposed against
Ranke-Heinemann during her academic troubles. Given that the effects of
excommunication are lighter than are those for formal (ferendae
CIC 1331.2), one should not assume that Ranke-Heinemann labors under the
latter when it's not even clear that she incurred the former.
have been formally excommunicated (excommunication is, after all, a
1983 CIC 1312); and it's possible,
but not very likely, that her bishop did so in an act to which the world was
not privy. But, anyone who sees Ranke-Heinemann's loss of a theology chair as
tantamount to an excommunication needs correction in that regard.
Excommunication is a far more serious penalty.
But all of this underscores, I think, a deeper point still.
There are several legal and pastoral anomalies associated with "automatic"
penalties in the Church, and prominent among them is that the operation of
automatic sanctions in the Church inevitably focuses attention on the
intricacies of canon law, instead of on the fundamental Christian values that
canon law is meant to serve. That is rarely helpful. Formal penal procedures
(preferably judicial, but even administrative, per
1983 CIC 1342) not only serve justice better in the Church,
the appearance of serving justice better
than do automatic sanctions. And that's an important good.
Happily, the modern trend (modern, though it started with Bl. Pius IX's
Apostolicae Sedis moderationi in 1869) against automatic
canonical sanctions is gaining ground (see
1983 CIC 1314, and note that Eastern Catholic canon law has dropped
automatic sanctions entirely
CCEO 1402). I suggest that we see in Ranke-Heinemann's touting of an
excommunication that she might not have even incurred one more reason why
penal processes, with
results, should be standard practice throughout the Church.
more about these issues: Edward Peters,
EXCOMMUNICATION AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: STRAIGHT ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS,
Foreword by Bp. Thomas Paprocki (Ascension Press, 2006), ISBN: 1932645454.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Caveat lector: there really is no "functional laicization"
Diocese of Phoenix is
dealing with an unfortunate situation brought on by one Msgr. Dale Fushek. I
know nothing about the case beyond
what I've seen on-line, but the steps taken by the bishop seem reasonable to
me. Still, a comment by diocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer concerning an associate of
Flushek, one Fr. Mark Dippre, who abandoned ministry and married civilly a few
years ago, caught my eye: "Dippre has never been formally laicized, Dwyer said,
but the diocese considers him 'functionally laicized' because he has not been in
ministry and has had no ties to the diocese for several years."
I think that kind of description is going to confuse people. Describing AWOL
priests as "functionally laicized" or as "permanently inactive" or as "resigned
from ministry", and so on, might seem more palatable to the public, but it masks
a serious problem: none of those categories exist canonically, and easy resort
to such labels, in my opinion, just puts off dealing with the problems.
There's only one way to enter the clerical state, namely, by reception of
diaconal orders per
1983 CIC 266.1 which rite results in the "incardination" of cleric to a
specific diocese or institute of consecrated life. If one has not received
diaconal orders (need I say, validly?), then one is not a cleric. But once a man
has entered the clerical state, there are only two ways out: by dismissal per
1983 CIC 290, 2, or by (voluntary or imposed) laicization under
1983 CIC 290, 3, either of which process results in the complete removal of
the cleric from the diocesan or institute rolls.
Meanwhile, the alleged grey zone of "functionally laicized", etc., is not a zone
at all; if a cleric has not been dismissed or formally returned to the lay
state, he's still a cleric, with all the rights and duties of a cleric. Granted,
those rights can be, and in problem cases increasingly are these days,
restricted (per 1983 CIC
1722, to name some) but, as Rome has made clear, such restrictions do not
alter the status of a cleric as a cleric. Even the emerging notion of clergy
"administrative leave" needs to comply with, if not in name, at least the
relevant substantive requirements of canon law lest a new category of clergy
appear outside the normal parameters of Church law and discipline.
Besides plenty of good canonical reasons to treat clerics in accord with
ecclesiastical law, civil law affords some others: when, for example, questions
of negligent supervision of clergy arise, civil law can look to the canonical
institute of incardination to connect a specific cleric to a specific diocese or
institute. If, therefore, due to the recalcitrant behavior of a cleric, such
supervision is not really being exercised, ecclesiastical superiors should
consider whether it is wise to leave the impression that it is.
It's a case by case call, of course, but in the meantime, I don't see how
labeling a problematic clergy situation as something it is not (indeed, as
something by canon law that it cannot be) helps much. Instead, using more
accurate terminology today will generally help us avoid confusion tomorrow.
more about these issues: Griffin, "Canon 1722", in 1988
103 (favoring the more ambiguous status), versus Ingels, "Canon 1722", 2002
at 161, and Daly, "Canon 1722", 2003
at 104, (against ambiguous status).
Friday, January 11, 2008
Book notes: James Coriden, The Rights of Catholics
professor of canon law at Washington Theological Union, is a prominent
American canonist. His publications address many topics in Church law and
I have invoked his authority often in support of points I wished to carry.
Having just read, however, his 2007 monograph
The Rights of Catholics in the Church
(a work intended for a
popular audience), I think some comments are in order. While Coriden's treatment
of several topics raises questions in my mind, I'll limit these remarks to two
with special interest to me, annulments and pro-life.
Coriden discusses a woman's plausible but faltering annulment case and wonders
how the failure to secure a nullity declaration would impact her plans to marry
another man (90-92). After noting that petitions can still be proven against
uncooperative respondents, Coriden puts forward only one option in case the
woman's petition fails: "She
may be able to find a priest who will concur with her judgment that her marriage
. . . was not valid, and who will witness her marriage even though she does not
obtain an annulment from a tribunal."
I think this is a terrible suggestion.
Canon 1066 states that "Before a marriage is celebrated, it must be evident
that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration." Now, if an
existing, presumptively valid marriage does not stand in the way of a subsequent
valid or licit celebration of marriage, what does? Furthermore,
Canon 1085.2 expressly forbids weddings "even if the prior marriage is
invalid . . . before the nullity or dissolution of the prior marriage is
established legitimately and certainly." If the kind of wedding being suggested
by Coriden on these facts would not violate Canon 1085, what kind would?
That there are priests willing to collude in these certainly illicit and
probably invalid weddings is scandal enough. But how a prominent canonist, in a
popular treatise, could float that idea before the faithful without rejecting it
or without at least warning them about its canonical and pastoral dangers, I
In his introduction, Coriden termed the right to life "the most fundamental
right of all" (xii), but his actual treatment of several pro-life issues seems
1. Coriden describes a certain woman as "a lifelong and staunch Catholic but at
the same time . . . strongly pro-choice" (96). At a minimum, using the terms
"staunch Catholic" and "strongly pro-choice" to describe the same person
requires, I think, some qualifications, perhaps along the lines of the failure
of catechesis or the mystery of sin. Coriden suggests neither. But his
ambivalent treatment of pro-abortion Catholics is not limited to parenthetical
2. Coriden relates
Agnes Mansour's rationalization for administering public funding of
abortions in Michigan from 1983 to 1987, namely, that "even greater harm [would
follow] if the funding was not available to the poor" (104). Of course,
elemental moral theology on the obligation to form one's conscience correctly
CCC 1750-1756) could have refuted Mansour's attempt to defend her direct
positive cooperation in objective grave evil, but Coriden did not offer it.
Instead, writing as if Mansour were some sort of role model for women religious
following their conscience, he concludes that, in eventually resigning from the
Sisters of Mercy, Mansour "stood by her conscience, but at great cost" (104).
What an odd lesson to draw from the Mansour episode. Coriden might have asked
what cost the aborted babies of Medicaid mothers in Michigan bore for Mansour's
conscience, but he didn't.
3. Coriden begins his discussion of Catholic lawmakers and embryonic stem cell
research by noting that a wide range of opinions may be held by conscientious
Catholics on many political issues, and by urging that differences be discussed
in charity and with concern for the common good (84). He then turns to the issue
of embryonic stem cell experimentation: "The
Church opposes the destruction of innocent human life and the process of in
. . ." he writes. So far, so good.
But then we read: ". . .
are genuine differences of opinion when it comes to the legitimacy and the
wisdom of using federal funds for experiments on human embryos donated by
couples who no longer need them for their fertility treatments."
There are numerous problems here.
Who, I ask, within the pale of orthodoxy holds that it is
permitted to "experiment" on embryonic humans? Assuming parents "need" embryonic
children in the first place, how does their later not "needing" them render
those children liable to experimentation? And since when are parents
authorized to "donate" their children of any age for any purpose?
Coriden continues, "The
embryos in question were obtained in efforts to conceive . . ."
(what possible conclusion can flow from this premise? however they came to be,
they are human beings now) ". . .
not used will be destroyed in any event."
This sounds like
Katie Couric moral theology: because someone can, and probably will, destroy
embryonic humans "for nothing", others may, and probably should, destroy them
embryos are human.
. ." writes Coriden (though it would be better to say the embryos are humans),
". . .
Again, so what? How does one's place of residence or degree of dependence affect
one's right to be treated as a human being?
Coriden asks "Is
it permissible or prudent to use them in a search for cures for several serious
but does not answer his own question. So I will answer it: No,
it is not permissible (and therefore it cannot be prudent) to experiment on
embryonic humans unto death in a search for a cure to anything. In fact, the
deliberate destruction of an embryonic human being places one at risk for
excommunication for abortion under
1983 CIC 1398 and the
authentic interpretation thereof dated 23 May 1988; see
Canon Law Blog and scroll to 29 June 2006. Surely this major
aspect of embryo destruction should have been mentioned in a
discussion of the topic.
Some might call these criticisms of Coriden unfair; after all, they think, he is
only asking questions. But even if I were to grant that Coriden is only asking
questions (which I don't), I submit that it is irresponsible to ask certain
kinds of questions today and
give them an immediate and correct answer.
Suppose, for example, that someone were to say, "Condemned prisoners are going
to be executed anyway, so why not run experiments on them if it might help find
cures for several deadly diseases?" but then not give an answer to that
question. Surely, even to suggest that such a superficially intriguing, but
ultimately gruesome, position is worthy of consideration, is to challenge the
right of a class of human beings to not be treated as means to someone else's
At some point, hypothetical formulations and rhetorical questions cease serving
as attractive ways to introduce topics for consideration, and become instead
vehicles for promoting the opinions of those placing them in conversation. It is
the responsibility of those who such literary devices to make very sure that
they are not misleading their audiences thereby.
Back in 1994,
Russell Shaw, not a canonist of course, published a very good introduction
to personal rights in the Church entitled
Understanding Your Rights: Your Rights and Responsibilities in the Catholic
It is not listed in Coriden's short guide to further studies on rights
I think Shaw's book is still well worth reading today. Meanwhile, despite
his mastery of canonical sources, and notwithstanding his solid presentation of
some topics (e.g.,
admitting homeschooled children to the sacraments at 105-107), the kinds of
weaknesses in Coriden's latest work outlined above should be carefully weighed
by those wishing to consult it.
Note: This review also appeared in
26/1 (15 March 2008) 3, 8.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
To best "accommodate the deaf", let's begin by getting to know them
see it so often, I am still surprised when hearing people who know next to
nothing about deafness presume to tell others what deaf people can and cannot
do; I marvel at how easily a hearing expert in a given area assumes that his
expertise in that area provides an adequate understanding of the
issues related to that area, when in reality his opinions are as superficial as
anyone's who does not live with deafness daily; and my heart sinks at how these
hearing experts might try to express themselves in ways they think are
respectful toward the deaf, but which often amount to a repackaging of old
prejudices and unfairly applied double standards, the refutation of which,
though deserved, will strike some as hypersensitive nit-picking.
I am not deaf and do not presume to speak for them. But, as
one with some exposure to certain issues facing deaf Catholics, I think a
Rev. Edward McNamara's January 1
Zenit post entitled "Accommodating the Deaf" is needed. One
"M.D.", a Canadian, had asked Fr. McNamara whether Catholic churches should have
American Sign Language and closed-captioning available at Mass and whether deaf
people were allowed to enter religious life. I recognize
Fr. McNamara's expertise in liturgical matters and applaud his desire to see
deaf Catholics accorded their basic rights, but I found his discussion of these
matters markedly wanting.
M.D.'s questions afforded the perfect opportunity to educate (hearing) readers
about what is perhaps the most common misperception impeding the hearing world's
understanding of the deaf, namely, that: "Deafness is not about hearing but
The Silent Garden (1996) at 3. An author's failure to appreciate
and convey that point is, I think, tantamount to admitting that one has no
special expertise on anything related to deafness.
language at Mass
The response to M.D.'s first question should have begun by clarifying that
American Sign Language is just one of dozens of documented sign languages
around the world. From there one could have gently steered M.D. away from
thinking that the goal should be one of establishing ASL
in all churches, and toward the goal of trying to provide real time
communication in whatever language is used by the deaf in that area. In Canada,
for example, that might well be ASL, but it might also be, say,
Langue des signes quebecoise
I would have warned against seeing captioning as the solution to the
communication problem for the simple reason that captioning is one-directional;
captioning, but they don't
in it. Captioning cannot, therefore, offer "that fully conscious and active
participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of
the liturgy" (Sacrosanctum
14). Sign languages do.
I would not have referenced the USCCB's document
Built of Living Stones (2000) for, by its plain terms, it has
little to do with the
barriers confronting the deaf in liturgy. On the other hand, M.D. would have
benefitted by knowing, for example, that various canons protect the right of all
the faithful to participation in the liturgical and spiritual life of the Church
CIC 213-214) and that papal recognition of the appropriateness of sign
languages in the liturgy has already been given (see private reply of 10
VI: 552-553; Bishops' Commission on the Liturgical Apostolate,
2:4 (April 1966) 30-31). Those norms are much better standards by which to
measure our commitment to including deaf people in public worship than are wordy
quotes from an episcopal conference statements on church buildings.
Speaking of episcopal conferences, I question the claim that some bishops
conferences have published official texts for signing the Mass. Granted, I do
not know everything that goes on in the Deaf Catholic world, but I have never
heard of such texts, and I doubt they exist if only because an accepted system
writing sign language does not yet exist. There are, I grant, some
dictionaries of religious sign in circulation. More ambitiously,
Joan Blake published a three-volume "gloss series" for interpreters,
Signing the Scriptures (2003-2005). But the subtitle of her work
"A Starting Point for Interpreting the Sunday Readings" and a glance at the
technical data at the front of each book, show that they make no pretense to
being official publications of an episcopal conference (in accord with 1983 CIC
838). There is also a project being spearheaded by the (American)
National Catholic Office for the Deaf whereby a translation of parts of the
Mass from Latin directly into ASL (and not simply into signed English) is being
developed for possible approval by ecclesiastical authority, but
of these undertakings would come close to showing that an episcopal conference
has yet published official texts for signing the Mass.
priestly and religious vocations
Fr. McNamara correctly saw in M.D.'s question about admission of the deaf into
religious life a wider question on the eligibility of the deaf for holy orders,
and the first thing I would have pointed out to M.D. is that former
Pio-Benedictine restrictions against ordaining the deaf have been eliminated
from the revised law (cf. 1917 CIC 984 and
1983 CIC 1029 and approved authors). But the problems here go beyond those
For example, although reminding readers that some jobs have physical ability
requirements (a point no reasonable person would argue), the examples Fr.
McNamara offered thereof (a blind pilot or surgeon, a police officer with - I'm
assuming - Type I diabetes) fail to carry his point, for all of these examples
describe cases wherein the physical requirements for the job are based on
immediate safety concerns. What are we to conclude from these examples, that
deaf priests are physically unsafe for ministry?
Fr. McNamara's observation that most priests spend much of their time
"listening" to people, and his implied question about how a deaf priest could
perform a role that required "listening" to folks, left me wondering, in all
sincerity, whether it ever occurred to Fr. McNamara that doctors, lawyers,
teachers, counselors, and a host of other professionals spend much of their
time, too, "listening" to clients, and yet each of these major professions
boasts many deaf practitioners! For that matter, parents need to spend much of
their time "listening" to their children! So, unless Fr. McNamara holds that
attorneys are unable to serve their clients or that deaf parents are unable
to raise their children for lack of "listening" ability, on just what grounds
does he think that deaf priests are unable to serve the people of God in active
But more seriously, why does Fr. McNamara speculate at length on whether the
deaf ought to be ordained, yet fail to disclose that, in the United States
alone, at least a dozen deaf men have already been ordained to priesthood
(religious and diocesan) or permanent diaconate since 1977 and that several
others are in seminary formation now? Should not such a crucial fact have been
conveyed to M.D. who was, after all, asking
about the possibilities of deaf Catholics entering priestly and religious
vocations? Why scratch one's head for fuzzy recollections of blind nuns
somewhere in the past when examples of deaf clergy actively ministering among us
now are readily at hand?
Fr. McNamara goes on to ask, not unreasonably, whether deaf priests might be
"limited" in their ministry. Perhaps they would be; it's worth thinking through.
But in asking the question, are we implying a standard for deaf clergy that is
not imposed on hearing candidates for orders? Would not, for example, every
priest who speaks only English be "limited" in his ministry to Hispanics? Is
that grounds not to ordain him? For that matter, would a hearing priest ignorant
of sign language be "limited" in his ability to serve deaf Catholics? Just what
kind of criterion is this, "limited in ministry"?
Finally, having raised his concerns about deaf men being "limited" in ministry,
it seems only fair that Fr. McNamara also consider its correlative, namely,
whether deaf Catholics have been "limited" by a dearth of clergy who intimately
know their life and language of sign? Anyone who knows anything about deaf
religious demographics in America knows that deaf people are among the least
catechized segments of the population, with a 5% "churched-rate" being the most
generous estimate offered. Who, I ask, spends time "listening" to
With over half a million North Americans using ASL as their first language, and
but a handful of deaf Catholic clergy to minister to them in the language they
immediately understand, it baffles me how someone can really wonder how deaf
priests who can't "listen" to people will ever be kept busy. Baffles me almost
as much as the proclivity of hearing people to think they know more about
deafness than do the deaf.
My suggestion for a good way to accommodate the deaf? Let's begin by getting to
+ + +
to read more about these issues? With no claim of completeness
for this list, and in no particular order, you might check out: Carol Padden &
America: Voices from a Culture
Anne Bamberg, "Culture sourde, droit canonique, et deontologie
professionelle: reflexion a partir des interpretes pour Sourds",
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
81 (2005) 200-213, and
"Sourds et silences liturgiques", Gregorianum 85 (2004) 689-698; Edward Peters,
"Our decision on a cochlear implant",
Annals of the Deaf
145/3 (October, 2000) 263-267,
American Sign Language in Catholic Liturgy I, and
American Sign Language in Catholic Liturgy II; Paul Higgins,
in a Hearing World: A Sociology of Deafness
(Sage Publications, 1980); Peter Feuerherd, "Educating Deaf Ministers"
22 (Fall 2006), "Ministries" 2-6;
Marcel Broesterhuizen, "The Gospel Preached by the Deaf: Conversation as
Complete Form of Language in Pastoral Ministry with the Deaf",
27 (2002) 359-375, and
"Faith in Deaf Culture",
66 (2005) 304-329; Charles Dittmeier, "Deaf People and Catholic Liturgy",
(June-July 2006) 19-21; Michael Ndurumo & Esther Njeri Kiaritha, "The Deaf and
Hard of Hearing: an Implication for Church Leaders",
48 (2006) 187-202; Marleen Bateman Sullivan, "Hearing Loss: an invisible
91 (May-June 2003) 21-23; Mandy Erickson, "A Parish Where the Deaf Come First",
(March 1999) 12-15;
Marilyn Daniels, "The Benedictine Roots in the Development of Sign
44 (1993) 383-402; and
Jerome Schein & David Stewart,
Language in Motion: Exploring the Nature of Sign (Gallaudet
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