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Edward Peters

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

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In the Light of the Law:

a canon lawyer's blog on current issues

Blog Archives 2009


Monday, December 21, 2009

On the HSPO statement of Dec 19


The original press reports I saw on the HSPO statement of Dec 19 regarding the use of "figures" of the pope did not include a dicasterial attribution (besides the Press Office, of course) for the declaration, but a posting on the Vatican website confirms that it was the Secretariat of State. That answers one of my two main questions about the binding character of the assertion, and rather than try to update my original post to reflect that point, I find it simpler to substitute this post for the original.

My second question, as to whether norms for behavior in the Church can be promulgated via weekend press releases, still stands (see, eg, 1983 CIC 8). But,
that question only arises if the assertion is, after all, meant to bind behavior in the Church. Some are reporting, however, that this press statement is really about international copyright law.

I leave to experts in that field whether this press statement, in form and substance, suffices for that purpose, and limit my observations to whether the declaration constitutes a binding norm for Catholics in the Church. On that point, several questions would remain, including (1) does this regulation apply to the regnal and/or baptismal name of all popes?; (2) do the permissions henceforth apparently to be sought go beyond those that already apply under copyright law?*; and, (3) how are such broad phrases as "the use of
anything referring directly to the person or office of the Supreme Pontiff" to be understood in practice?

I will watch for elucidations and, as always, appreciate leads from my readers.

+ + +

* It's possible that they do. For example, Canon 300 regulates the use of the name
Catholic in regard to certain kinds of associations and Canon 803.3 extends that regulation to schools, but neither of these canons is dependent upon civil copyright law for their binding force.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why is this Milingo case getting complicated?


It would be nice to have Rev. Ciro Benedettini's actual words. He is the Vatican spokesman who is reported as asserting that Milingo's expulsion from the clerical state itself renders invalid any future ordinations the disgraced former archbishop might attempt. But, hmmm. What precedent is there for such a stance (well, later than St. Cyprian, anyway)?

I asked day before yesterday whether anyone knew of a precedent for "withholding recognition" of certain ordinations, and a couple-three knowledgeable readers pointed me to
Documentation Catholique 73 (1976) at 858, Ench. Vat. 5: 1388-1391. Indeed, the language of "withholding recognition" of orders in the Thuc/Palmarian case was used there.* So, thank you, folks, you have advanced our discussion of this case.

Another colleague further suggested that the language about "non-recognition" was also tried for some centuries to describe the Roman stance on Anglican orders, but lingering confusion over what the phrase "to withhold recognition" actually meant lead Leo XIII eventually to declare the invalidity of Anglican orders (primarily on the basis of their faulty form and contrary intention) in his bullum Apostolicae curiae (1896). Again, thank you, this too is an advance in our understanding (or in mine, at least) of this situation.

Pretty obviously, use of the phrase "to withhold recognition" of holy orders allows Church officials to punt on the question of their validity. Nothing wrong with that; better caution than haste in such matters. But the danger, as I see it, is in misconstruing "withholding recognition" of orders into something much more fundamental. As might be happening here.

To say that the
capacity of one to confer valid holy orders is dependent upon that one being a member of the Catholic clerical state--if that is what Benedettini is really saying--is something quite different from saying that the Church does not plan "to recognize" these conferrals of orders or those. We would have gone from deciding not to decide, to deciding not. And I wonder, can we?

So, I ask again for help: does anyone know of any precedent for saying that one must be a cleric in good standing with the Catholic Church in order to confer valid orders? Mind, I am open to such arguments (I think it's maybe time to revisit Cyprian on this question, and I further suggest that we have already quietly started to do so in another context), but I would caution that such inquiries should take place with a full appreciation of just how weighty is the sacramental and canonical scholarship holding
for the capacity of schismatic bishops to confer valid holy orders, albeit in schism.

As far as Milingo himself is concerned, I could see questioning the validity of orders he has attempted or might attempt to confer on a number of traditional grounds, including form, intention, and the capacity of certain recipients.

But to challenge them on the basis that he has been dismissed from the clerical state?
That, I think, would be something quite new. + + +

* " . . . whatever might be said about the validity of such ordinations, the Church does not and will not recognize them . . . ." My trans.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

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


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

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

The HSPO press release leaves only a few questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Omnium in mentum: two important changes in the Code


Of the two changes to the 1983 Code announced today in ap. lit. Omnium in mentem, the second (that dealing with the obligation of canonical form for marriage) may be explained quickly.

Ever since the 1983 Code, chiefly in Canon 1117, exempted Catholics from the requirement of observing canonical form if they had "formally defected" from the Church, there have been high-level grumblings against the admittedly novel provision, along the lines of, why should Catholics get to pick and choose which canon laws they want to follow and which ones they don't (as if that were a fair way to describe the situation).

Overlooked in most such complaints, though, was the fact that, by exempting Catholics from having to observe form if they had left the Church before marrying outside of it, Canon 1117 made it
more difficult for those renegade Catholics to later walk away from marriages they had entered with people, Protestants and others, who often enough had married them in good faith.

After years of canonical debate, a strained (in my opinion) interpretation of what constituted "formal defection" came down in 2006 which
very narrowly defined what would count as the formal defection sufficient to exempt one from observing canonical form. But the ensuing debate* for and against that interpretation (itself a novel one) is now moot: all Catholics are bound by canonical form in marrying, period. The number of null marriages out there will go up.

Personally, I thought that Canon 1117 was a step (albeit an imperfect one) basically in the right direction, and I considered the narrow constraints on formal defection laid down in 2006 to be impractical, but today's decision revoking the exemption
in toto, while unquestionably within the authority of the Church to pronounce (c. 841), makes it imperative, I think, to ask a deeper question: does the requirement of canonical form still serve the best interest of the Church, or is it a solution that has outlived the problem that occasioned it (historically, clandestine marriages)?

I'll only say, strong arguments can be raised
for and against the continued requirement of form, and I caution anyone from concluding either way on the issue until one is familiar with the literature.

Now, about the first change announced today, that dealing with the description of deacons under canon law (cc. 1108-1109), it is
really interesting, obviously, and I need time to study it. The language here obviously does not seem to underscore the unity that permeates the three level of holy orders, but (per Abp. Francesco Coccopalmerio of the Text Council) it is more consistent with the language of CCC 1581, as it was revised in 1998. In any case, I'll certainly be consulting the auctores probati on this one.

+ + +

* For a fine overview of the debate by an author who defended the intepretation, see J. Huels, "Defection from the Catholic Church by a formal act and the Circular Letter of 13 March 2006",
Studia Canonica 41 (2007) 515-549.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bp. Tobin, Rep. Kennedy, and Holy Communion: First question


Updated Post: I read Bp. Tobin's statement released just a few minutes ago as saying that no new steps have been taken by Tobin in regard to reception of holy Communion by pro-abortion Democrat Patrick Kennedy, resident in Tobin's diocese. It appears, to the contrary, that Kennedy has -- God knoweth why -- parlayed Tobin's letter to him of February 2007, urging Kennedy to refrain from taking Communion, into a news story in November 2009 that he has been barred from receiving.

Mind, Tobin can, if he judges it pastorally useful, move to an actual prohibition against reception by Kennedy under Canon 915, but to date at least, Tobin's stance seems to be one of urging Kennedy to examine his conscience under Canon 916 before approaching the Eucharist. It's an open question as to how long such an approach might be tried before being found insufficient but as I read it, it's still being tried, Kennedy's claims notwithstanding.

I've not followed Kennedy's career closely, but ever since his tasteless remarks at his father's funeral, I've wondered about his public judgment. Guess I'll wonder a little more now.

PS: My favorite Tobin line? "I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry." Right-on,

Original Post: The first question is always, What happened?

The press is widely reporting that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D, RI) has been barred from receiving holy Communion by Bp. Thomas Tobin of Providence. There are some serious inconsistencies in these news reports, however, but so far, Kennedy is making most of the comments.

Now, the act of receiving holy Communion is a
public one, and the act of barring one from receiving holy Communion is a public one. Therefore, a statement from Bp. Tobin's office is quite in order.

These two points at a minimum need clarification:

(1) has Tobin barred Kennedy from reception of holy Communion in accord with Canon 915, or has he perhaps urged Kennedy to examine his conscience carefully in accord with Canon 916, maybe as a last step before Tobin acts under Canon 915, or has he done nothing; and,

(2) if Kennedy has been barred from reception, have the priests (and other ministers of holy Communion) been instructed to abide by the bishop's directive until the bishop's office notifies them otherwise?

Let's get the facts straight first, and
then talk about it. + + +

Comic relief: Did you see this screamer line about the Kennedy story from Rachel Stockton, an accountant (huh?) who serves as reporter for (for who?), and steward (um, whatever) of the "Self-Help" section of the Religion Channel (the what?):

"Practicing Roman Catholics believe in extreme unction; in other words, that the wine and unleavened bread are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ -- a belief that in itself, is somewhat controversial."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Time to go back to recipes, Rachel. Or checking receipts. Or
anything, besides theology.

Update, Nov. 25: Fr. Vincent Bertrand, JCL, comments well here, to which I add two quick points. First, we need always to be careful about contrasting a so-called "pastoral" approach with a "canonical" approach. Canonical calls for pastoral, pastoral embraces canonical. Second, I don't think Bp. Tobin has yet formally invoked Canon 915. He can, of course, but I don't think he has, yet.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Licentiate in Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary


As many of you know, I teach in the seminary and graduate programs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, MI. Our Licentiate degree in Theology (STL), is affiliated with the Angelicum in Rome and specializes in the New Evangelization. It's an exciting program with (if I may so say) an amazing faculty and fascinating students from around the world.

There is a new, short video (just under 9 minutes) about our Licentiate in the New Evangelization here:

Check it out, and please pass it along to someone you know who might be looking for just this sort of opportunity!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yes, Robbie, the bishop in that case was right


In the December 2009 issue of the always terrific First Things, Dr. Robert George, responding (graciously and, I think, decisively) to several critics of his article "What marriage is, and what it isn't" (August-September 2009), writes: "When I lived in England in the 1980s, the Catholic Church came in for rather rough criticism by the British newspapers when a diocese declined to solemnize the marriage of two Catholics who (as the result of the paraplegia of one of the spouses) intended to live in an unconsummated marriage. A canon lawyer would have to tell us whether the bishop responsible for the decision ruled correctly."

Okay, well,
I'm a canon lawyer, and I say, it's more than likely the bishop ruled correctly in that case.

To use venerable contract-language, marriage can be described as a complex of reciprocal rights and duties (yes, I
know marriage is much more than that, but marriage is at least that, or it isn't marriage), and among those rights and duties figures the performance of acts per se suitable for the generation of children. Thus, if one cannot render and/or receive such acts, one cannot enter a contract that calls for, among other things, just such ability. See generally 1983 CIC 1055, 1061, and 1084. The bishop in this case, guardian of the sacraments in his diocese (c. 392.2), apparently acted to prevent an attempted exchange of consent by a party incapable of fulfilling his (or her) concomitant duty. It's that simple.

Folks wishing to discuss the marriage of Mary and Joseph, or marriages of the sterile, or dissolution of consummated or non-consummated marriages, or the practice of periodic abstinence, should consult the approved authors.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rep. Patrick Kennedy should thank God he has such a bishop


Patrick Kennedy (D) of Rhode Island has been for some time now a typical platitude-pandering, pro-abortion Catholic representative in the US House of Representatives.

Well, I have just read Bp. Thomas Tobin's (Providence RI) open letter to Rep. Kennedy and all I can say is, Kennedy should thank the Good God that He sent him a bishop who cares enough about him to challenge him the way Tobin did. And if Kennedy (who must be stunned to have gotten such a serious reply to his shallow political cant) is not able to bring himself to thank God for Bp. Tobin quite yet, the rest of us certainly should.

Bp. Tobin's letter is clear, compassionate, and compelling. It well rewards the few minutes it takes to read it.

Thank the bishop through his communications webpage here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The celebration of sacraments in sign language


I got some good news today. My article, "The ordination of men bereft of speech and the celebration of sacraments in sign language", has been published in Studia Canonica 42 (2008) pp. 331-345. Here's hoping it proves useful.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Memo to press secretaries for prelates: Don't assume, Ask.


I'd like to see us someday reach the point where arch/diocesan staffers learn to avoid speculating (at least in public) on canonical matters. These well-intentioned people rarely know anything about canon law, yet they frequently say things that muddy the waters for the rest of us, or are simply wrong. The recent comments on the Donna Quinn case made by Colleen Dolan, press secretary to Chicago's Cdl. George, are a good example.

Per Dolan, "The Cardinal and the other bishops have no power to exert disciplinary action . . . over this sister or her order . . . Sisters and nuns are not priests so the authority of the Cardinal and the bishops does not apply to their discipline."

That is just
soooooo wrong.

Besides the already-quite-sufficient-to-act-in-this-case jurisdictional canons I already cited in regard to Quinn's possible delicts, Canon 1320 (in tandem with Canons 392 and 678) grants arch/bishops express authority to exert coercive power over offending religious in their territory, and a metropolitan (like George) is specifically expected "to inform the Roman Pontiff of abuses" occurring within his province under Canon 436.1.1. The canonists working for these prelates are doubtless aware of these norms, but why should they have to correct the misstatements of the nice people working down the hall? And why should the faithful be left, in the meantime, with impression that Catholic prelates are powerless to rein in abortion-abetting nuns?

My suggestion: if an arch/diocesan press secretary is going to issue a statement with words like "disciplinary matters" or "authority of the Cardinal", run the statement past Canonical Affairs or the Tribunal first.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Well, really, it's more of a "non-note" on celibacy for incoming Anglican ministers


A few days ago the Holy See Press Office issued a note on whether married Anglican ministers coming into full communion would be required to observe celibacy if they sought Catholic holy orders. The statement clarifies that the obligation of celibacy for Western clerics remains in place (c. 277), but that individual exceptions to celibacy can be petitioned and granted. In other words, former Anglican ministers seeking Catholic ordination will be required to observe celibacy. Unless they won't be required to observe it.

Because the note portends no change in the law of celibacy and no change in the process by which married candidates from Protestant denominations can petition for and, if selected for orders, be exempted from the law of celibacy, what the Vatican Information Service calls a "note" seems more of a "non-note".

Resources: Good information on the "Pastoral Provision" under which (primarily) Anglican married ministers have received Catholic orders; a Wiki overview of the Pastoral Provision with texts and links to important documents such as
Sacerdotalis coelibatus and "In June".

Some interesting related blog posts: Carl Olson (3 nov.); Jimmy Akin (2 nov.); Fr. Zuhlsdorf (31 oct.);

Monday, October 26, 2009

Canonical options in the Sr. Donna Quinn case


Frankly, chances are slim that the Sinsinawa Dominicans will do anything about their Sr. Donna Quinn who publicly and formally cooperates in the death of babies by abortion. Chances are slim that anything will be done about her because, well, such are the times we live in: a Catholic religious can act for years as an abortion clinic escort and cause barely a ripple in her religious community, the local church, or in Rome. History won't believe it.

But a slim chance is still some chance, and the moral poverty of the age is no bar to our doing what we can in response to such conduct. I can at least point out the possibility of canonical consequences for Sr. Donna.

1. Canon 695 calls for the mandatory dismissal of a religious guilty of the delict of abortion described in Canon 1398. A case can be made, I think, that Sr. Donna is an accomplice to abortion under Canon 1329, which, in turn, might bring her within the scope of the dismissal provision of Canon 695. The novelty of nuns serving as murder mistresses at abortion clinics means that there is not much jurisprudence for such cases, I grant, but it is still a theory worth exploring.

If, however, a more direct process is desired, Canon 696 seems a better place to start.

2. Under Canon 696, dismissal from religious life can be imposed against one who gives "grave scandal arising from culpable behavior". This unusually broad language allows superiors to move against a religious whose specific conduct could not have been predicted when the revised Code was being drafted (perhaps, like Sr. Donna's, it could scarcely have been imagined!), but which we now know can be both imagined and committed. So, to the extent that conducting babies to their death is scandalous behavior for a religious woman, Sr. Donna deserves dismissal.

3. Various provisions of penal law, for example Canon 1369 (authorizing a "just penalty" against those who use the means of social communication to gravely injure good morals or to excite contempt against religion or the Church) are applicable, I suggest, in response to the kind of verbiage that Sr. Donna directs from time to time against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. But again, all of this seems self-evident.

Or it would, in any other age. +++

Over at AmericanPapist, a good question was posted:
"The motherhouse (commonly called 'The Mound') is located in Sinsinawa - the Diocese of Madison. Donna Quinn lives in the Archdiocese of Chicago and the abortion clinic she is 'volunteering' at is located in the Diocese of Joliet. So that leaves a question, Which Bishop should take action?"

Of course, religious superiors should take action regarding a member's basic status, but if they fail to act satisfactorily, arch/diocesan authority can still move in regard to potential delicts. Penal jurisdiction is in the alternative, so all three arch/dioceses would have jurisdiction to proceed here, Madison (because Sr. Donna has domicile there per cc. 103 and 1408), Chicago (because she has at least quasi-domicile there by cc. 102, 103, and 1408), and Joliet (because it is the place of the delict to which she might be an accomplice per c. 1412).

The problem is never one of finding an authority
able to act - - canon law can always do that; the problem is finding an authority willing to act.

Post Script, October 29: In an exchange over at Jimmy Akin's website, I posted something that might be of interest to my blog readers. The context is the ridiculousness of Sr. Donna's claim that people need protection from pro-lifers. My comment was as follows:

The most hateful, foul, vitriolic harangue ever -- and I mean ever -- launched on me was delivered by an abortion clinic escort while I stood with literature in the parking lot outside of an abortion clinic, oh, must have been 30 years ago now. As the venom (I have no other word for it) spewed forth, I'd have sworn, I saw EVIL in the woman's eyes. It deeply frightened me. I thought I was in a scene from The Exorcist, facing Satan. Several people who saw it happen ran over to help me walk away. I slumped down on some steps for several minutes, and I couldn't even think. I don't think I have ever gone to an abortion clinic since without asking for the special protection of my Guardian Angel.

Post Post Script, November 2: This, from the Sinsinawa Domincans website: Public Statement of the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation 11/2/09. Several months ago, the leadership of the Sinsinawa Dominicans was informed that Sister Donna Quinn, OP, acted as a volunteer escort at a Chicago area clinic that among other procedures, performs abortions. After investigating the allegation, Congregation leaders have informed Sr. Donna that her actions are in violation of her profession as a Dominican religious. They regret that her actions have created controversy and resulted in public scandal. They are working with Sr. Donna to resolve the matter appropriately.

Congregation leaders offer the following statement on behalf of members of the Congregation. We as Sinsinawa Dominican women are called to proclaim the Gospel through the ministry of preaching and teaching to participate in the building of a holy and just society. As Dominican religious, we fully support the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that abortion is an act of violence that destroys the life of the unborn. We do not engage in activity that witnesses to support of abortion.

More news: LifeSiteNews (nov. 3); ChicagoCatholicNews (nov. 4 updates); Carl Olson (4 nov.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First thoughts on an Anglican ordinariate


An interesting announcement today from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith alerts us to an upcoming apostolic constitution establishing a "personal ordinariate for Anglicans entering the Catholic Church". Till the document itself is published, only a few observations can be offered.

An "apostolic constitution" is the form of document used by the Holy See to make the most significant canonical and disciplinary provisions for the Church. It is not, then, a simple "decree" (1983 CIC 29 etc), say, or an "instruction" (1983 CIC 34).

The establishment of a "personal ordinariate" will be something of an innovation in modern canon law, although this ordinariate is apparently going to be similar to "personal arch/dioceses" such as those used for the military (1983 CIC 368 and ap. con.
Spirituali militum), or to personal prelatures (1983 CIC 294-297), with Opus Dei being the only example thereof to date. One wonders, though, why both of these structures were apparently found to be inadequate for the reception of Anglicans, and why a third way was invented? We'll have to see.

In any case, the idea of a "personal ordinariate" is another sign of the (I think) inevitable trend away from purely
territorial jurisdictional units in the Roman Church and toward greater use of personal jurisdiction. This trend has been evident in western canon law at least since the late 1960s (see, e.g., 1967 Synod of Bishops, "Principles Guiding the Revision of Canon Law", no. 8) and is reflected in the 1983 Code (e.g., 1983 CIC 372, 518). Provided this shift is pursued in an orderly manner, I think it a step in the right direction for people who are coming to see themselves as less identified with various locales, and more with social groupings. Certainly several other groups in the Church will be watching the Anglican project with an eye to applying innovative structures in their own spheres.

Lastly, it strikes me as a bit odd that CDF is, at present, the lead dicastery in this matter. Provisions for "particular churches" usually come from the Congregation for Bishops (ap. con.
Pastor bonus 75-76), not CDF. While theological issues (and there are some here, of course) are better addressed by doctrinal experts in CDF, organizational issues (which are numerous here) seem better left to administrative experts in the Cong. for Bishops. But, I'm sure someone has already thought of that.

I'll keep my eyes open for more on this one. It is, as I say, interesting. +++

AmericanPapist helps contextualize the wider situation here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The NCRep's "simple fact" about marriage is simply wrong


Until the National Catholic Reporter repudiates Editor Joe "the-bishops-be-damned" Feuerherd's 2008 screed against the US bishops, nothing it says should be taken seriously. But some of what the NCRep says can be taken for chuckles.

The NCRep is attacking a draft of the proposed US bishops' Pastoral Letter on Marriage (how the editors obtained a copy is unclear). Anyway, one of the rhetorical questions posed by
NCRep editors -- one meant, I suppose to embarrass the bishops by alleging their obtuseness in the face of what the NCRep assumes everyone knows -- reads as follows: "Nowhere does the [bishops'] document state the simple fact that the sacrament of marriage is conferred in a nuptial Mass. Why is this so?"

Why is this so? Gee, I dunno, is it 'cuz the bishops realize that a "simple" assertion that "the sacrament of marriage is conferred in a nuptial Mass" would be sacramentally, canonically, and historically misleading, even wrong?

Sacramentally, marriage in the Roman Church is conferred within a rite celebrated
by the parties thereto, which ritualized exchange of consent, however, might or might not occur within a Mass celebrated by a priest. Furthermore, even if matrimonial consent is validly exchanged within a nuptial Mass, that exchange might or might not result in a sacrament being conferred, depending on the baptismal status of at least one party. Canonically, the requirement of "matrimonial form", which some moderns assume applies to the wedding Mass, actually impacts not the Mass, but the jurisdiction of the official witness to the exchange of consent, which witness, moreover, need not even be a priest! Finally, historically, it seems that the practice of celebrating most Catholic marriages specifically within a Mass is itself of rather recent origin. So much for NCRep claims about it being a "simple fact" that "sacramental marriage is conferred in a nuptial Mass".

Bottom line, advice from the
National Catholic Reporter on how to improve pastoral letters on marriage might be read for possible amusement value, but not for anything that requires theological, canonical, and/or historical accuracy.

Instead, I'd suggest reading someone like Carl Olson.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A response to Fr. Gerard Moloney's attack


At first, yes, I was angry: accused of taking a position on an important ecclesiastical matter that I never took, and in fact, one I had repeatedly argued against!

Next, I was sad, sad that a Catholic priest and religious, editor of what I assume is a respected Catholic publication, would so meanly rebuke another in obvious disregard for what that other had actually said on the matter.

But finally, as the cleric parlayed his gross mistakes about my alleged position on Ted Kennedy's funeral into an attempt to cast blame on folks like me for -- are you ready this? --
the Irish clergy and religious child sexual abuse scandal (!), I ran out of emotions, and now feel, I dunno, nothing.

Editorializing in the October issue of Reality magazine Fr. Gerard Moloney, cssr, rips those who opposed the decision to grant Ted Kennedy a Catholic funeral.* Says Moloney, "Not only did [funeral critics] not agree with Ted Kennedy's politics or like him as a man, they didn't want him to have a Catholic funeral. They didn't think he was entitled to it." Or again, "Those who criticised the decision to give Senator Edward Kennedy a Catholic funeral not only don't know a lot about being a Catholic, they know very little about being Christian." Or yet again, in referring to protest emails sent to the Redemptorist basilica that hosted Kennedy's funeral, Moloney describes them as "not only angry, they were hate-filled; they dripped with righteous indignation."

I was beginning to wonder just who's writing with contempt for others when, to my amazement, I saw
myself presented as Moloney's poster boy of his evil "holier-than-thous"! According to quotes from Moloney's editorial, I apparently figure prominently among those who claimed that Ted Kennedy was not entitled to a Catholic funeral and who criticized the decision to grant him one.

So, I ask Fr. Moloney: did you
read what I wrote about the Kennedy funeral question?

I defended --
repeatedly defended, Father -- Ted Kennedy's right to a Catholic funeral here, here, here, here, here, and here. I defended Teddy's right to Catholic funeral despite his chronic, scandalous abandonment of innocent babies to abortionism and despite several events in his life that cast grave doubts on his prudence and truthfulness. I defended Teddy's funeral rights against attractive arguments offered by several respected pro-life leaders that Teddy's repentance of his scandalous behavior should have been "more public". Against these reasonable adversaries, I argued that, under Church law and based on public news reports, Kennedy had offered signs considered sufficient under canon law for him to be accorded a Catholic funeral.

How can you possibly say or even imply otherwise about me, Fr. Moloney?

Even in my criticisms of
how Kennedy's funeral liturgy was actually conducted, criticisms I stand by, I reiterated my defense of Teddy's basic right to funeral under canon law! Characterize my opinions on the liturgy itself any way you want, Father (I'm content to let readers decide for themselves whether I was "so sanctimonious, so judgmental, so self-righteous. Not much charity or compassion there," etc.), but do not accuse me of objecting to the grant of a Catholic funeral to Ted Kennedy or of holding Kennedy responsible for how his funeral was conducted, because I didn't. For that matter, every word I wrote on Teddy's funeral was public. I sent no emails, nasty other otherwise, to the Redemptorists. Ever. So, how can you publicly tar me with the blame you feel is deserved by people who expressed their opinions -- perhaps rudely, I have no way of knowing -- in personal messages to your co-religionists?

Careful, Ed, you're working your way back up to angry here. Deep breath time.)

Okay, let's put everything up to this point off to one side. There's still one more matter to address.

Moloney's reckless characterization of me as an opponent of Kennedy's funeral disintegrates, finally, into what I can only term the
ludicrous when he goes on (I can't believe I reporting this) to blame me and mine for, of all things, the Irish clergy and religious sexual abuse crisis! Yes, you read that correctly: according to Moloney, the people who objected to Ted Kennedy's funeral and/or the blatant way it was politicized are the same kind of people whose "theology" lay behind the decades of sexual abuse committed against children by Irish Catholic priests and religious!

Don't believe me? Per another news article on Moloney's piece: "Referring to the Ryan Report [on the Irish clergy and religious child abuse scandal], Fr. Moloney says that in Ireland we are still trying to understand how those events could have happened and what warped theology lay behind them. In his view, the theology responsible was a 'theology of condescension, of arrogance, without compassion or heart, that saw the speck in other people's eyes while being blind to the plank in one's own.'"

What can one say in reply to a priest who thinks that way, let alone to one who would publish something like that? + + +

* I asked [October 9]
Reality magazine for a copy of Moloney's editorial, an electronic version being sufficient. I have not yet received one and so I react only to quotations from Moloney's piece. . . . As of December 3, I still have not been provided a copy, in any format, of Moloney's editorial. Maybe it's coming ordinary post, ya think?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I doubt Abp. Burke charged "the Church" with erring


While journalists usually have some say over how their writings are edited, even the best reporters tend to have little control over how their articles are headlined. Over the years I've cringed at some of the titles pasted atop my work, so I want to avoid assuming David Gibson's responsibility for the goofy charge that headlines his report of Abp. Raymond Burke's recent address to guests at's 14th Annual Partnership Dinner.

The title to Gibson's article reads "Vatican Official: Church Erred in Holding Kennedy Funeral." Not only did Burke never say "the Church erred" in this way or any other (seriously, can anyone imagine Burke making such a reckless claim about
the Church?), Gibson's own article makes no such allegation.

What Burke
did say about Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion (and a few other issues gravely at odds with Church teaching) was that "Neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to such politicians", adding that "To deny these is not a judgment of the soul, but a recognition of the scandal and its effects." In speaking thus, Burke falls squarely within the bounds of Catholic canon law and orthodoxy, however little companionship he might enjoy there these days.

It was only later, in a line Gibson adequately paraphrased but which he should have quoted, that Burke said "with greatly sinful acts about fundamental questions like abortion and marriage, [a politician's] repentance must also be public" adding, "Anyone who grasps the gravity of what he has done will understand the need to make it public." Again, a pastorally sound position, in my opinion.

But, from these two utterances, Gibson concludes that Burke "openly oppose(d) the judgment of Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley . . . regarding sacraments for Kennedy . . . and (held) that politicians like Kennedy should not be provided a (Catholic) funeral." Now, while Gibson's characterization of Burke's statements still doesn't support a headline claiming that
Burke charged the Church with erring, Gibson does claim that Burke disagreed with O'Malley's decision to accord Kennedy a Catholic funeral. Hmmm. I wonder about even that.

I don't know whether Burke disagreed with O'Malley's decision, but Burke's actual statements here (at least the ones I have access to), when taken at face value, express no such disagreement.

Consider: what Burke actually said was that Catholic politicians who work in open contradiction to Church teaching on certain grave issues are ineligible to participate in the sacraments (like the Eucharist under c. 915) and sacramentals (like funerals under c. 1184). All correct, in my opinion.

But, what Burke did
not say was that such politicians, if they give "signs of repentance", should nevertheless be denied a Catholic funeral. (Really, show me where Burke ever said that.) Instead, what Burke said was that, in his opinion, such signs of repentance must be "public". Ah, I see how people are confused.

In speaking as he did, Burke seems to be accepting of the current legislation (and, as far as I can tell, of the unbroken line of interpretation given thereto*) that Catholic funerals can be accorded to public sinners who give "signs of repentance", but that, in light of the obvious consternation caused in some cases by the current law, he wants to see canon law come to require "
public signs of repentance" (as opposed to what we witnessed in Kennedy's case, namely, traditional but "private" signs of repentance, like calling a priest to his deathbed, and so on).

That's a very different claim, folks.

Many people feel that Kennedy's funeral exposed a weakness in the current canon law on funerals, and that the Code should be amended to require
public signs of repentance before funeral rites are accorded public sinners like Kennedy. That's fine; one can certainly argue that. Even if I think that some such calls have been prompted by the terrible way that Kennedy's funeral was actually conducted, and that the present law, while not perfect, is better than any proposal I've seen to amend it, I grant that questions about how the law ought to read are much better assessed by ecclesiastical leaders like Burke than by little lawyers like me.

But, in the meantime, I
do know how the law reads now, and I know how that law has been consistently interpreted over the centuries, and so I know that the decision to accord Ted Kennedy a Catholic funeral was made in accord with the current canon law on funerals.

And that's all I've ever argued. + + +

* The privation of ecclesiastical burial by this canon [1917 CIC 1240 then, 1983 CIC 1184 today] has the nature of a
penalty, and hence is to be strictly interpreted; moreover any sign of repentance before death excuses from the penalty; this means some positive sign, such as calling for a priest, kissing a crucifix, an expressed desire not to die without the sacraments. In doubt the Ordinary is to be consulted, but if the doubt in favor of the deceased remains, the decision should be in his favor. Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law: a Text and Commentary (2nd ed., 1951) at 683, original emphasis.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A reply to Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carambula in re Kennedy's funeral


Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carambula, Doctor of Dogmatic Theology and head of the Rome office of Human Life International, has written a criticism of the Catholic funeral recently accorded Sen. Edward Kennedy. I think several of the monsignor's criticisms are ill-founded. Monsignor's original article is here, my reactions (in CAPITAL LETTERS) are below.


PARA 4. If a Catholic is engaged in politics, the Church has a right and a duty to request coherence from this person. AMBIGUOUS WORD, "COHERENCE". WHAT DOES "COHERENCE" MEAN HERE? HOW IS IT TO BE ASSESSED IN THE EXTERNAL FORUM? THIS IDIOSYNCRACTIC USEAGE WILL CAUSE PROBLEMS LATER.

If, regrettably, this Catholic refuses to be coherent HOW DOES ONE DO THAT, "REFUSE TO BE COHERENT"? HOW IS "COHERENCE" TO BE ASSESSED?

the Church has the right and the duty to refuse him the reception of the Holy Eucharist as it is established in Canon 915: "Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion." NO, THE CHUCH CAN ENFORCE CANON 915



these persons can also be denied ecclesiastical funeral rites. WHAT PERSONS? "INCOHERENT" CATHOLICS? WHO ARE THEY?

The Code of Canon Law establishes, Can. "1184.1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals: 3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

PARA 7. The Code establishes two cumulative requirements to permit the ecclesiastical funeral of public sinners: some signs of repentance and the avoidance of public scandal of the faithful. QUITE WRONG. THE AUTHOR HAS LIFTED A QUALIFIER FROM ONE PASSAGE OF THE LAW AND ELEVATED IT INTO A CO-EQUAL REQUIREMENT WITH ANOTHER PASSAGE OF THE LAW.

PARA 8. We are informed by the press that the person THE PERSON?

who received the recent funeral in Boston gave some signs of repentance; RIGHT.

but those signs were not specific at all with regards to the many grave and public violations that he committed against the teachings of the Church. SO WHAT? NEITHER THE LAW NOR CANONICAL TRADITION REQUIRE SUCH SPECIFICTY.

Even if the signs of repentance would have been judged sufficient by competent local ecclesiastical authority, the problem of the scandal remains because the ordinary of the place where the funeral was officiated could not have been ignorant that the funeral was going to be turned into a celebration of the life of that particular person. THIS SENTENCE MIGHT BE BADLY TRANSLATED, BUT I CANNOT IMAGINE IT MEANS WHAT IT PURPORTS TO SAY.

PARA 9. Here we should also remember the norm of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that establishes: "382. At the Funeral Mass there should, as a rule, be a short homily, but never a eulogy of any kind." There is ample public evidence provided by the press that this norm was not respected in a recent Boston funeral and that fact is in itself a reasonable source of scandal. FINE, I HAPPEN TO AGREE (AND SAID SO HERE), BUT

PARA 10. We should also remember that Catholics that are scandalized by this recent funeral in Boston WHAT RECENT FUNERAL IN BOSTON? OH, KENNEDY'S.

have a right to express their complaints to competent Church authorities in accordance with the instruction
Redemptionis Sacramentum of the Congregation for Divine Worship of March 25, 2004, that establishes: "184. Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ's faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity." YES. THEY CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT LITURGICAL ABUSE IN THIS FUNERAL (THERE WERE SEVERAL INSTANCES I NOTED), BUT NOT ABOUT WHETHER CANON LAW WAS FOLLOWED IN GRANTING KENNEDY A FUNERAL.

PARA 11. To uphold the teachings of the Church with regards to the responsibility of Catholic political leaders is a two-fold exercise of mercy. I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT TO BE AN EXERCISE IN JUSTICE, PERHAPS IN CHARITY, BUT


A politician that is acting contrary to fundamental teachings of the Church in his public life is risking his eternal salvation. YES.

So to warn this person in due canonical fashion and then, if he persists, to apply to him canonical sanctions will help him to repent and change his life. SANCTIONS? WHAT SANCTIONS? DENIAL OF A CHURCH FUNERAL IS

The Church, sharing the infinite love of Jesus Christ, does not want that any of its members should perish and be deprived of eternal life. OKAY, BUT SO WHAT HERE? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE FUNERAL QUESTION BEING DEBATED?

PARA 12. Second, it is an act of mercy towards society, AGAIN,

because any thing that tends to confuse or blur the Christian message of salvation damages the ability of the Church to fulfill her saving mission. OK? BUT WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH

As a consequence in this particular case it would have been an act of mercy towards all Catholics and to many other persons of good will who suffered scandal by this recent funeral WHAT FUNERAL? KENNEDY'S, I GUESS.


PARA 13. In conclusion, the Church should examine with attention the recent funeral in Boston WHAT RECENT FUNERAL IN BOSTON? KENNEDY'S?

and determine in an official and authoritative way if corrective action is necessary to avoid the furtherance of this type of scandal in the future. EXACTLY WHAT SCANDAL? THE LITURGICAL ABUSE THAT OCCURRED IN THE FUNERAL? SURE, I AGREE. BUT



Monday, August 31, 2009

About Teddy's letter to the pope


For the many readers who have asked my opinion on Ted Kennedy's letter to the pope, I offer a few thoughts.

1. The great majority of Teddy's letter (aside from the platitudes) strikes me as an exercise in self-justification.

2. A small part of the letter, however,
could be construed as expressive of some level repentance and of a desire to be reconciled with the Church: "And though I have fallen short [in my efforts to be a faithful Catholic] through human failings I've never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God's blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."

Obviously, Teddy's language here does not
demand such a generous interpretation, but it would support a plausible case being made for same.

3. That said, looking at it alone, I doubt that this letter (which was not made public till after the funeral Mass), sufficed canonically as a "sign of repentance" sufficient to win Kennedy a Catholic funeral, for there seems to me little actual repentance expressed in it, and whatever was expressed (to the pope) seems inadequately conveyed to count precisely as a "sign" of repentance for the wider community. No, Teddy's request for Catholic funeral was licitly granted on other evidence, as I have argued elsewhere.

4. But if I made add one more observation: Recall that the letter was written at least six weeks before Kennedy's death. Now, if one were to describe Teddy
qua Catholic politician as the paradigmatic man who over many decades has dug himself into a dreadfully deep pit, then one might see in his letter some indications that Teddy has at least stopped digging, and that he might even be coming to sense that he needs help from his Church in climbing out again.

If that's true, then another six weeks of terminal brain cancer, spent apparently lucidly, might have spurred Teddy toward the means to escape from his past that all good Catholics want to see for him. The pope obviously did not want to crush what might have been the smoldering embers in Ted's letter and so, I think, despite his having precious little to build on, the pope nevertheless answered Teddy's letter and asked God grace upon him.

Whether Teddy in fact repented is known to him and God alone (and, I repeat, the
fact of repentance is not an issue in the decision to grant a manifest sinner an ecclesiastical funeral), but I wonder whether his letter might not, at the end of time, be seen rather like the arrogant but utterly lost driver who, after so many hours of driving the wrong way, finally pulls over and considers asking for directions. + + +

Some other interesting posts:

1. Mark Brumley on "Signs of Repenance or of the Status Quo"
2. Carl Olson on "The funeral and the letter"
3. A longish exchange on Kennedy's right to a Catholic funeral

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some non-canonical reflections on Kennedy's funeral


The best that can be said about Ted Kennedy's funeral is, It could have been worse.

The celebrant, who strove to avoid masculine references to God in the liturgy (his verbal substitutions plainly clashing with the voices of others sticking to the approved texts), managed to forget the
Mysterium Fidei during the Eucharistic Prayer, and later asked the congregation join him "in the words Our Father taught us."

The homily, which started well enough but steadily deteriorated, fell into various holes like (I'm quoting from memory): "the fruits of [Kennedy's] work in politics well-prepared him for God's kingdom" (Lord, I hope that's not what he really meant); and "Kennedy tied his faith to justice in the land" (good grief,
justice? for millions of unborn babies in the land? was that the fruit of Teddy's faith?); and "we are confident that Kennedy has entered into the new dwelling of God" (maybe you are, Father).

The kid's intercessions came out as unabashed advertisements for Democratic Party policy goals.

Mercifully, all the major networks used a single video feed, and pretty obviously
somebody got to somebody ahead of time and ordered "Don't, under any circumstances, show the Communion lines!", so we were spared wincing as this famous Catholic pro-abort or that approached the Eucharist.

And finally, whodathunkit?, President Obama's eulogy, though offered in violation of liturgical law, was actually the most palatable of what turned out to be
three eulogies offered in violation of liturgical law, the first, Teddy Jr.'s, being maudlin, but mostly coherent if at times inappropriately partisan, while the second, that of Rep. Pat Kennedy, was embarrassingly pathetic and even included a joke about "that damn Kennedy" from the sanctuary. Sigh.

But what, in the end, most struck me, through whole ceremony, was how oblivious all the participants seemed to be (again, with the sole exception of Obama, who at least made one veiled reference to Kennedy's "public faults", and who was the only speaker to offer a prayer for Teddy's soul), how oblivious, I say, all the participants were to Ted Kennedy's disgraceful and chronic failings to defend the natural right to life (e.g., abortion, embryonic stem cell research), his refusal to protect the natural institution of marriage lately under such attack, and his bad example on a host of other issues of importance to Catholics and to the country. While a funeral is no place to rehearse, say, a man's role in the death of a beautiful young woman, such events and conduct should have, I think, instilled
some restraint in the rush to proclaim the man's accomplishments. (As for those "accomplishments", well, if one is wedded to the idea of a gigantic state, then Teddy's accomplishments were admittedly many. But if you're not enamored of statism, one might say that the damage Teddy helped inflict on the nation was great.) Instead, one speaker after another gushed on and on about Ted.

The whole experience left me less hopeful about "dialogue" on life issues (not that I was very hopeful to begin with): we are, it seems clear, talking to people who have
no sense of the enormity of the crimes being committed daily against the innocent. None. None.

So, as I said, the best one can say about Ted Kennedy's Catholic funeral (to which, yes, he had a right, in accord with law) is, it could have been worse.

I suppose.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Some thoughts on Abp. Sheehan's recent comments regarding Eucharistic discipline


While I offer no opinion on the recent comments made by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe to the National Catholic Reporter regarding his take on inter-episcopal relations (that's between arch/bishops), his assertions on the canon law of Eucharistic reception are something else. In my opinion, several of Abp. Sheehan's assertions thereon are flawed. Even so, I might have let them pass, except that Sheehan, besides being an archbishop, also has a doctorate in canon law (Lateran, 1971) and thus some might incline to his views based on those credentials. So, here goes.

Sheehan sums up his views on withholding Communion from major pro-abortion Catholic legislators thus: "You have to be very careful. The Vatican doesn't do these big sanctions, you're out of the church if you vote this way. They've tried it, it doesn't work, and I try to learn from what the Vatican has to teach and to use that myself . . . The primary responsibility for someone receiving communion is the person himself or herself and their conscience, to come forward to receive. The priest shouldn't be like a watchdog, looking around and finding out who's unworthy."

Okay, in that order:

1. Yes, withholding Communion from the publicly unworthy should be done only with great care. But,

2. Withholding Communion under Canon 915 is
not a penal "sanction" (though Sheehan implied several times it was), rather it is a sacramental disciplinary norm. The differences (procedurally, pastorally, etc.) between these two kinds of actions are many. And,

3. Withholding Communion under Canon 915 has nothing to do with retaining one's membership in the Church, so why even bring it up? Furthermore,

4. While the
primary responsibility for a worthy reception of Communion rests with the individual (under Canon 916, if we need a norm to prove the point), "primary" responsibility is not the same thing as "sole" responsibility. Ministers of holy Communion, like it or not, have the responsibility under Canon 915 to withhold the Eucharist from certain members of the faithful under certain circumstances. This is so obvious: why even have a Canon 915 if the would-be recipient of Communion were the sole person authorized to decide on reception? Moreover,

5. Canon 915 does
not require ministers to determine "who's worthy" to receive Communion (to phrase the question that way is to misconstrue the Code and sacramental theology on this point), but rather, it requires ministers to be alert to the possibility that under certain circumstances some Catholics are not canonically eligible to receive Communion.

Elsewhere, say in his example about Communion for a couple in a potentially irregular marriage, Sheehan seems again to confuse Canons 915 and 916, and his remarks are in any case difficult to reconcile with the tenor of CDF's 1994 letter "Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced-and-Remarried Members of the Faithful" (esp. as it invokes Familiaris consortio n. 84)*, but these discussions can be left for another day.

I will say, I am disappointed that Abp. Sheehan described those faithful (including, one must conclude, some major American prelates) who call for the just enforcement of Canon 915 as being engaged in "hysterical activity". To me, it seems labeling others that way is itself a hysterical act. + + +

*See also: Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration (II), 24 June 2000.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Catholic Funeral for Ted Kennedy?


Most of Teddy Kennedy's politics, and most of whatever parts of his personal life I knew through the media, angered and sometimes even disgusted me. But my opinions about Teddy's legacy are not at issue in assessing his right to a Catholic funeral under canon law. I trust that my writings on the proper understanding and correct application of 1983 CIC 1184 (the canon regulating the funeral rites to be accorded - - or not, as the case may be - - to Catholics) are reasonably well-known to readers of this blog.* So let's move directly to the canonical question of Kennedy's funeral.

Now, any man with a 100% rating from NARAL (to highlight just the tip of the iceberg of Teddy's decades-long campaign against natural rights) has, to put it mildly, the burden of proof in seeking a Catholic funeral (okay, technically, his
executors have the burden of proof, but you see the point) in that notorious pro-aborts seem to be "manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful."

Unless, that is, "they gave some sign of repentance before death." And there is at least some evidence that Ted Kennedy did just that.

Mark Leibovich of the New York Times notes that, among things, "The Rev. Mark Hession, the priest at the Kennedys' parish on the Cape, made regular visits to the Kennedy home this summer and held a private family Mass in the living room every Sunday. Even in his final days, Mr. Kennedy led the family in prayer after the death of his sister Eunice . . . [and when] the senator's condition took a turn Tuesday night a priest, the Rev. Patrick Tarrant of Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, was called to his bedside."

Folks, my reading of the canonical tradition behind Canon 1184** says that those actions suffice as "some signs of repentance", making Ted Kennedy eligible for a Catholic funeral. Of course I wish that Teddy's repentance, if that is what it was, had been more explicit, for the scandal the man left was enormous and demanded great atonement in this life (or more dreadfully in the next). But on the narrow question as to whether Edward Kennedy is eligible for a Catholic funeral, the information before me suggests that he is, and that a bishop who permits such rites can find support in the Code of Canon Law for his decision.

Now, about President Obama giving a
eulogy thereat, don't even get me started.


* See, e.g., Edward Peters, "Lest amateurs argue canon law: a reply to Patrick Gordon's brief against Bp. Thomas Daily",
Angelicum 86 (2006) 121-142 (defending Bp. Daily's decision to withhold Catholic funeral rites from a notorious mobster), Edward Peters, "State-sanctioned suicide and ecclesiastical funerals", New Oxford Review (June 2009) 30-40 (questioning whether Catholic funerals should be granted in such cases), and Edward Peters, "Steven Sueppel should not be granted an ecclesiastical funeral", Canon Law Blog 26 March 2008 (arguing that "family annihilators" should be deprived of Church funerals).

** See, e.g., J. Manzanares, [commentary on Canon 1184], in L. Echeverria, ed.,
Codigo de Derecho Canonico: Edicion Bilingue Comentada, 5th ed., (1985) at 574, wherein: "Those [manifest sinners] are no longer considered unworthy who, before death, give some sign of repentance. Moreover, this clause should receive a benign interpretation. A sign of repentance could be not only calling for a confessor, asking publicly for the forgiveness of God, or kissing a crucifix, etc., and could also be gleaned, despite one's otherwise irregular situation, by giving clear signs of adhesion to the Church, for example, by collaborating in its works, sending children to catechism, or participating themselves in ecclesiastical initiatives whenever possible." My translation and emphasis.

28 Aug 2009: This post now available in French at Americatho.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

A canonical look at the Rick Pitino case


I don't follow college hoops, but those who do will immediately recognize the name of Rick Pitino, coach of a perennially successful men's basketball team at the University of Louisville. Reports indicate that Pitino is an active Roman Catholic and attended at least some Catholic schools.

Pitino admits to having had sex with a woman not his wife some six years ago, learning later that she was pregnant, giving her $ 3,000, and the woman promptly procuring an abortion. Most everything else about the story is disputed, however, including whether the sex was consensual or criminal and whether Pitino gave the money for an abortion or to buy insurance to provide prenatal care.

No mention is made in the reports I've seen that, one way or another, a baby was killed here. Please offer a prayer for this baby's soul, and for all those responsible for this killing . . .

Now, let me go on to ask whether there are canonical consequences arising from the abortion in this case. As I see it:

1. If Pitino gave the woman money with the intention of providing insurance coverage for prenatal care, he faces no canonical problems in that regard.

2. If Pitino gave her the money with the intention of providing insurance coverage for an abortion or with the intention of paying for the abortion, he would have, in my opinion, formally cooperated with the abortion which makes him objectively guilty of grave sin (with consequences under 1983 CIC 916); moreover, he would have provided the means with which this abortion was procured, making him, again in my opinion, an accomplice to abortion per 1983 CIC 1329.

But we may be spared having to think through the 20-plus ways of dodging excommunication
latae sententiae (automatic) -- which institute, as I have said before, is disappearing from canon law and should be dropped entirely -- nor need we discuss the admittedly fewer loopholes available to defendants in excommunication ferendae sententiae (formal) cases for the simple reason that the canonical statute of limitations has already run: the abortion canon, c. 1398, has a five-year "prescription" period per 1983 CIC 1362, meaning that a canonical investigation cannot be opened now regarding an abortion that all sides agree occurred on August 29, 2003.

If Pitino has any concerns related to his eligibility to receive holy Communion per Canon 916, those can be, and should be, dealt with in sacramental confession.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fr. Edward Panlilio and Philippines political office


All Kresta and I recently discussed the case of Philippine priest Edward Panlilio holding a governorship in, and now running for the presidency of, the Philippines. Those wishing more information on the matter can begin by consulting Canon 285 of the 1983 Code, and then reading my general comments on this sort of case in the 2007 CLSA Advisory Opinions at p. 60.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

CLSA Advisory Opinions, 1984-2008


One of my most cherished 'canonical collectibles' is a personal letter that Franciscan canonist Stanislaus Woywod wrote in 1939 to a priest with questions about Mass stipends. Woywod's letter has hung on my office wall for 20 years, a gentle reminder to say yes to as many requests for informal advice as I reasonably can. And then some.

Indeed, giving good answers to questions posed by the faithful has long been a staple of canonical service, and the literary genre we call today "advisory opinion" goes back several centuries in the Church (just one example being Schmalzgrueber's
Consilia seu Responsa Juris from the 1720s). The service took on new importance in the twentieth century, however, as the Church transitioned from Decretal law to codified canon law. Thus, Bernardini et al., Consultationes Iuris Canonici from the 1930s or Conway's Problems in Canon Law from 1956 were invaluable in their day, and canon law reviews such as Apollinaris and The Jurist sometimes carried 'Cases & Studies' sections.

But the Woywod letter illustrates another point: while considerable canonical scholarship goes into a typical advisory opinion, such writings usually receive scant circulation. That's a pity, for too few people benefit that way from the erudition and experience contained in such opinions.

Happily, the Canon Law Society of America has been doing something about that for, oh, about 35 years.

Since 1984, the CLSA has published on an annual basis advisory opinions on a wide variety of canonical questions. After the 1983 Code itself, and a major commentary or two, CLSA Advisory Opinions are usually the first place I turn to for insights into canonical questions. Finding a CLSA advisory opinion on point is usually good news for a researcher.

Since the CLSA began publishing these materials, some 140 canonists have contributed nearly 800 opinions on hundreds of canons. James Provost (
rip) prepared the most opinions (an astounding 121, though 40 canonists--including yours truly--have published at least five), and, turns out, Canon 1673 dealing with jurisdiction in marriage nullity cases is the most commented upon norm. Interesting.

Anyway, this summer I finished a project I started sometime ago, namely, an evaluative bibliography of CLSA advisory opinions from 1984 through 2008. I just posted an index of the opinions (according to canon number of the Code) on my website, to help inform canonists and other researchers as to whether a CLSA advisory opinion on such-and-such a canon exists in the first place and, if so, who wrote it and when, and where the opinion appeared. For my index, I used the
annual editions of the advisory opinions, but three volumes of collected opinions have been produced in recent the years.

The worth of an advisory opinion is not measured by its length (indeed, brevity is a virtue and I think at least few opinions probably should have been published as short articles somewhere else!) nor by the number of opinions that a canonist publishes (while Provost is indisputably a
peritus peritorum, he is not 121 times more reliable than, say, Roch Page or Ladislaus Orsy, each of whom have contributed only one advisory opinion). For that matter, no private opinion is the last word on any given topic, and several CLSA opinions openly disagree with one another. But, with few exceptions, I think every opinion is worth consulting, if not for bolstering the approach that one might have been inclined to in the first place, then at least for alerting an ecclesiastical administrator or canonical advocate to a position he or she might have to consider in a given case.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Canadian Communion blunder


Video tape shows Abp. Andre Richard (Moncton, New Brunswick) giving holy Communion to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a state funeral. It is, of course, inconceivable that Richard did not know that Harper is an evangelical Protestant. Obviously unsure what to do, Harper apparently slipped the Host into his pocket (!), and his office has not said what he eventually did with It.

Canon 844 specifies the conditions under which a Catholic minister may licitly administer Communion to baptized non-Catholics and none of its five sections, including the most relevant section 4, seem satisfied in this case. I see, for example, no "grave necessity" for Harper to have taken holy Communion in the first place, it is doubtful that he approached on his own accord, and there is no evidence whatsoever that Harper "manifest[ed] Catholic faith in respect to [this] sacrament". Any one of these points, not to mention others, stand in the way of Harper licitly receiving the Eucharist.

For this grave blunder, however, I do not tend to hold Harper responsible, though he might have been poorly advised by his protocol staff. Rather, I look to the archbishop who, as the chief presider over the Eucharist in his local Church (1983 CIC 389) and as the one charged with upholding ecclesiastical laws and sacramental discipline (1983 CIC 392), should have known better.

In any case, I hope his Excellency's office is
vigorously pursuing the question as to what happened to the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord last seen headed toward a politician's pocket.

Update: Sources say Harper consumed the Host, some claiming right away, others, just after Mass when he asked a Catholic what to do with it. Either way, the PM's decorum is commendable. Now, about Catholics putting Protestants in such positions to begin with . . .

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book Note: Siegel, The Human Right to Language


Lawrence Siegel has been a legal consultant in Deaf and special education issues for over 30 years. He is an adjunct professor at U Cal Hastings College of Law and runs the National Deaf Education Workshop. His latest book is "The Human Right to Language: Communication Access for Deaf Children" (Gallaudet, 2008) 164 pp. I picked up a copy from the parents' book shelf at the De Sales Center / Holley Ear Institute, Family Village in Michigan where my family often attends Deaf activities, and perused it this week. It's a fascinating read.

Siegel makes the case that legal arguments for greater communications access for Deaf children need to start incorporating constitutional claims from the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and that continued heavy reliance on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975/1997/2004) with its "least restrictive environment" (LRE) test, can actually hurt the educational prospects of Deaf children more than help them. He argues that constitutional language, especially Bill of Rights jurisprudence, contains much that can correct the still controlling law set out in Rowley (1982).

While it helps to be a lawyer when reading this work, it is by no means a requirement. Siegel provides good fact outlines and concise summaries of various arguments. The notes and index seem pretty good, but a single bibliography would have been nice. The book should be highly recommended for legislative aides and law clerks dealing with proposals or litigation in deaf education matters, but school administrators and even parents (folks already with many things on their to-do list!) would benefit as well.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Recife excommunications: Summum ius, summa iniuria


Roughly translated, Summum ius, summa iniuria means "the greater the right, the greater the wrong". When a great right (e.g., the right to life) is violated, it results in a great wrong. Similarly, when those with great responsibility (say, Curial officials) commit blunders in office, they do much more harm than would others. The continuing crisis over recent statements by certain Roman dicastery officials in regard to the Recife excommunications case features, I suggest, wrongs of both these sorts.

What is required of those who want to assess the comments by Abp. Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, published last March in
L'Osservatore Romano, concerning the excommunications of those performing a double abortion on a nine-year old girl in Brazil? Well, for starters, they must bear in mind that it is never easy to analyze comments (1) made in one language but translated into another, especially when (2) the person making those comments seems unaware of how poor his grasp of the facts is, and particularly when (3) his comments involve applying highly technical but imperfect laws (4) to emotion-laden fact patterns.

Until I see the brief prepared on behalf of the (now-emeritus) Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, against Fisichella's comments, I refer interested readers to Sandro Magister's insightful reporting on the matter here, in light of which report I offer a few observations.

Some preliminary points: (1) L'Osservatore Romano is acting with unprofessional bias in stone-walling Cardoso's request to defend himself against the accusations made in the pages of
L'OR; (2) Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi has once again made statements on a high-profile case that seem to blunt the meaning of the pope's own words about the case, showing himself ill-suited to being the spokesman for the pontiff; (3) deliberate abortion is gravely evil (CCC 2271) and should result in one's excommunication (1983 CIC 1398), but the canonical debate over whether that (or any other) penalty should operate latae sententiae must be separated from the discussion of Fisichella's statements.

Now, even with all those caveats in mind, I find Fisichella's statements on this case nigh on unbelievable.

There is nothing,
absolutely nothing, 'ambiguous' or 'hard' or 'difficult' to grasp about the Church's unexceptioned condemnation of the deliberate killing of an innocent human life. For the prelate in charge of the pope's primary office concerned with life issues to have expressed himself in such a way as to even suggest (not just once, but several times!) that such a heinous deed might ever be justifiable is grounds for him to resign.

Perhaps some will think my interpretation of Fisichella's comments unfair? I invite them to consider the devastating analysis of Fisichella's comments offered by Msgr Michel Schooyans, a Belgian bioethicist and member of three pontifical academies,
including the Academy of Life. He finds Fisichella's comments "astonishing" and is urging nothing less than a personal papal intervention in correction thereof. Or, via negativa, the notorious Frances Kissling took comfort in Fisicella's comments, showing thereby how poorly the prelate served his office and the wider cause of defending preborn babies from the abortionists' savagery.

Summum ius, summa iniuria, indeed, et consequenter summa obligatio scandalum reparandi.

PS: Once again it may be said, too many of those who are supposed to be making Benedict XVI's pontificate more effective are in fact making things more difficult.

+ + +

Update 11 July 2009: Sandro Magister writes "The congregation for the doctrine of the faith has released a 'clarification' that in fact repudiates the article published in L'Osservatore Romano by the president of the pontifical academy for life, on the abortion performed on a Brazilian mother-child."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

L'OR and the Loss of Reason


For most of my life L'Osservatore Romano has been a sleepy Roman rag that arrived weeks after its publication date, printed in cheap ink that soiled the fingers of those who felt the need to read page after page of boilerplate remarks on the latest ambassador from anywhere shown in his tuxedo presenting diplomatic credentials. Aside, I suppose, from an occasionally interesting book review, L'OR has for decades carried nothing of serious interest that could not be found much more quickly in a half-dozen other venues, ones, moreover, that didn't compel readers to wash their hands before handling anything beige or white.

But lately,
L'OR has decided to become relevant. God help us.

Having just emerged, battered, but, I thought, moderately chastened after its embarrassingly naive and harmful editorial in praise of Pres. Obama, L'OR treats the world to a high-schoolish tribute to the highly talented and utterly pathetic entertainer Michael Jackson.

Jackson might not be fully responsible for the swirling chaos that was his life and death, but for
L'OR even to mention his death - - without simultaneously urging Catholics to pray for his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed - - astounds me.

Worse, the
L'OR report leaves Catholics little sense that much of Jackson's work was sexually exploitative, at times quasi-obscene; it dismisses as insignificant the terrible example that Jackson's chronic pursuit of superficial "beauty" gave to millions of young people; and, worst of all, it trivializes the serious, and in some cases unresolved, allegations of child sexual abuse made against him. L'OR need not assume the worst about Jackson's conduct in these cases, but it should never have implied that such allegations, even if they are true, cannot tarnish the world-wide esteem in which he is held! Good grief. Has L'OR completely lost its reason?

If the Vatican wants a newspaper to provide a Catholic perspective on the world, fine. Item Number One on the to-do list, though, should be to find Catholics who can write and edit such a paper coherently. Anyone can lurch from gaff to gaff.

In the meantime, if you really want to get in on the Jackson Praise Train, check out M-TV, dude. Their graphics are like
way better than L'OR.

Other posts: AmericanPapist

Friday, June 26, 2009

The insordescence of Abp. Milingo demands response


Insordescence. It's not a likable word. It's not a likable thing. But Abp. Milingo is insordescent. And he needs to be dealt with.

Suspended in 2006 when he resumed cohabiting with his wife from a Moonie wedding, and excommunicated about the same time when he ordained some married men in America to the episcopate, Milingo's latest affront to the Church is to ordain to the episcopate sine mandato yet another married man, this time in Kenya, one of the Church's brightest spots in Africa.

In the old days (that is, before codified law), they had a term for an excommunicate who passed one (nb:
one) year without seeking reconciliation: Insordescence, a status that made one (especially clerics) liable to heightened penalties. See Taunton, Law of the Church (1906) at 371. For clergy, these penalties were more or less along the lines of what we would today call "dismissal from the clerical state".

Though mentioned just once the Pio-Benedictine Code (see 1917 CIC 2340 and Pistocchi's
Lexicon at 83), and not used at all in the Johanno-Pauline Code, the basic concept of insordescence nevertheless survives, I suggest, in such norms as 1983 CIC 1326.1.1: "A judge can punish the following more gravely than the law or precept has established: a person who after a condemnation or after the declaration of a penalty continues so to offend that from the circumstances the obstinate ill will of the person can prudently be inferred". Other norms reinforce this canon, but this one should suffice to get the ball rolling.

three years (not just for one that triggered insordescence), Milingo has shown nothing but obstinate ill will. Thus, an additional penalty, one designed to address the scandal that he has given the faith community around the world and the chronic abuse he extends toward his holy state, is called for: namely, the expiatory penalty of dismissal from the clerical state.

And yes, I recognize the possibility that Milingo is mentally disordered; I think that, in accord with 1983 CIC 1323 and 1324, he should be allowed to raise that defense at his trial. But,
at his trial. Speaking of trials, only the pope can put a bishop on trial (1983 CIC 1405.1.3), a rule that helps popes protect bishops from facing canonical prosecution from those below them; but it also means that if Rome does not act in this case, nothing will get done.

The Lugo case showed (those who needed convincing) that wolves in shepherd's clothing can petition for and be returned to the lay state. Milingo, whose acting out is as bad and in some ways worse than Lugo's, shows no interest in surrendering his clerical status; Rome should remove him from that distinguished state for our sake, if not theirs.

Some related posts: Catholic Culture News Briefs, and my

07 Sep 2008, Honk if you've had it with Milingo
24 Apr 2008, Rome's four options in regard to Bp. Fernando Lugo
25 Sep 2006, This time Milingo made it easy (two same-day installments)
19 Sep 2006, More on the Milingo mess

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Three points on the recent SSPX ordinations


There really isn't any "news" associated with the recent SSPX ordinations in Minnesota--and there is certainly nothing surprising about them--though three comments seem in order.

First, contrary to some reports, the Catholic Church does recognize these ordinations, by which we must understand, though, that 13 more men have taken the priesthood of Christ illegally from bishops acting in a schismatic manner. While there is no excommunication associated with such priestly ordinations
per se (as there is for episcopal ordinations contrary to 1983 CIC 1382), objectively speaking, participation in these ceremonies was still gravely sinful.

Second, any comments that I might have offered concerning excommunication for (what seem clearly to be) new acts of schism under 1983 CIC 1364 seem pre-empted by Rome's gratuitous lifting of the excommunications against SSPX leadership last January. Indeed, I am hard-pressed to think of
any canons that Rome appears willing to enforce against the SSPX.

But these two points suggest an ironic Third: the fewer sacramental acts that Rome defends against SSPX appropriation, the more the SSPX seems to resemble the Orthodox Churches and a few other groups--Rome recognizes the validity of their orders, too, but (per 1983 CIC 1) it does not attempt to impose canonical penalties on them for conferring those orders outside of its communion.

I thought lifting the SSPX excommunications was meant to bring them closer to Catholic unity; instead, it seems to confirm their drifting more distant.



Friday, June 19, 2009

If Safranek, et al., were professor-ministers at Ave Maria, would that make Monaghan their chancellor-pope?


Having spent over $ 8,500 on children's orthodontics this morning, I was ready for a good laugh this afternoon. Thomas S. Monaghan, the college drop-out who is Chancellor at Ave Maria "University", provided a real belly-buster.

As part of his efforts to avoid answering legally claims made against the treatment that Ave Maria has accorded several law school faculty members, Monaghan is,
if I understand him correctly, arguing that his law school is fundamentally a religious organization, that its professors are essentially ministers therein, and that consequently no civil court can examine Ave's treatment of its ministers without running afoul of various constitutional barriers.

I say, "if I understand him correctly", because it's hard to believe that such a laugh-out-loud ridiculous argument would be tendered seriously. But apparently I'm not the only one thunder-struck here: Attorneys for the former faculty members begin their reply to Monaghan's brief by observing that Ave Maria is taking "a position so untenable it is difficult to absorb in one reading."

The colors on my civil law pennant are somewhat faded now, so I offer no observations on how civil lawyers for the faculty responded to Monaghan's latest legal ploy. But canon law is something I do keep up on, and canon law, I suggest, takes a dim view of casually labeling every Catholic who regards his faith seriously as
presto! a "minister".

Though representing just the tip of an argument-iceberg here, the famous interdicasterial instruction "On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of the priest"
Ecclesiae de Mysterio (15 August 1997) went to great lengths to distinguish, in theory and in practice, the Catholic concept of "ministry" as something undertaken almost exclusively by the ordained in virtue of holy orders, from "apostolates", that is, as works performed especially by lay persons in virtue of baptism. Now, as much as the Catholic Church cherishes civil law and legal education, there is virtually no way that she views law school professors as being engaged in "ministry", and certainly not in a ministry on her behalf such that the Church would assert jurisdiction over their situation as she would have to assert for any number of genuinely ministerial works. Whatever monarchial religious models might shape Monaghan's perception of himself at Ave Maria as he leads all those souls to heaven, Ave law profs like Safranek saw themselves as degreed professionals engaged in an important educational apostolate, one befitting them as Catholic laity, and not as wanna-be clerics.

Still not clear yet? Okay, ask the local Catholic bishop whether he considers Ave Maria law school professors to be ecclesiastical ministers authorized by him to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church? Betcha he'll deny it faster than Tom Monaghan can say a Hail Mary, which is pretty darn fast. It is even more preposterous to assert that canon law considers ecclesiastical recognition of the Catholic character of a given school (assuming Ave Maria has that) as rendering the school immune from civil scrutiny in regard to the basic treatment it accords faculty (and students and staff, for that matter). That is goofiness.

But, however goofy it is, we should be clear: In the world beyond the moat behind which sits Tom's Town, the implications of his claim are
very serious. Should Ave Maria's argument get so much as the time of day from the trial court, I predict we'll see amicus briefs from the grown-ups at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, to name just two of the dozens of groups with a major stake in these matters, urging appellate courts to reject any theories by which denominational university faculty can be suddenly characterized as "ministerial employees" and consequently stripped of a variety of civil rights. Pity is, that many groups with real work to do - - and not blessed with millions of dollars to do it with - - would have to take valuable time to dispose of the dreck in Ave Maria's motion without marring a few points that might be (as is a stopped clock twice a day) accidentally correct therein, like, I dunno, that the Church does have some legitimate interests in Catholic higher education.

The history of relations between Church and State in regard to higher education in the United States is far more complex than Monaghan (who wonders whether Catholic schools can be franchised like pizzerias!) could possibly imagine. Among many titles here, see James Conn,
Catholic Universities in the US and Ecclesiastical Authority (Gregorian JCD diss. 1991); Sharon Euart, Church-State Implications in the United States of Canon 812 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon Law Studies No. 526, (Catholic University of America: Washington, DC, 1988); and R. McClory, "The implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae in the United States" (Angelicum JCL Thesis 2000). I think that Church-State jurisprudence, both canonical and civil, has nobler purposes than to generate just enough smoke to obfuscate Monaghan's chronically questionable governance. And I think he should think so, too.

I keep waiting for Ave Maria to find a bottom in how far it is willing to descend in its efforts to avoid treating certain Catholics (the sort Monaghan dismisses as "academic terrorists") with due dignity. But this month, Monaghan and Ave Maria tried to label its law school faculty as some sort of religious ministers, conveniently according their academic administrators a discretionary power over Ave Maria law faculty akin to that
legitimately enjoyed by bishops over priests!

Looks like I'll just have to go on waiting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Abp Weakland will not stop his attacks on Church teaching, so Rome must finally act


If, as George Neumayr writes in the July 2009 Catholic World Report, Abp. Rembert Weakland's autobiography really is, among other things, a "memoir in praise of homosexual behavior" in which the prominent prelate admits "several affairs with men" and "argues that the Church should endorse the 'physical, genital expression' of homosexuality", then Rome has, as I see it, no defensible choice but, in accord with canons 1405.1.3 and 1717, to launch an investigation into the allegation that Weakland has, in violation of Canon 1369, used "published writings or other . . . instruments of social communication . . . to gravely injure good morals" and visit upon him a fitting penalty. That Weakland is an archbishop should not shield him from canonical investigation and punishment, but rather serves to underscore the need for his correction under c. 1326.1.2. Moreover, the Order of St. Benedict should, I think, signal its willingness to participate in the process in accord with law (esp. cc. 696.1 and 705).

It's obvious that Weakland has no intention of stopping his attacks on various Church teachings or of refraining from giving protracted scandal to the faithful. The damage he has done, especially to the Church of Milwaukee, but to the Church Universal as well, is incalculable. What Rome
should have done during the decades of defiance shown it by Weakland is a matter for historians to debate. The only question today, as I see it, is what, if anything, will Rome finally do to vindicate the faithful against the appalling and on-going scandal of Abp. Rembert Weakland?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fire David Letterman


If you're sick of the King of Smug, and think that 14-year-old girls should be off-limits when it comes to CBS insult-mongers, then check out: I did.

Update, June 16: If Sarah's satified, so am I. (Frankly, I think she let him off easy. Maybe she's just being a good example to the rest of us.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

State-sanctioned suicide and ecclesiastical funerals


My guest column, "State-sanctioned suicide and ecclesiastical funerals" is coming available in the New Oxford Review (June 2009) at 39-40. In the column, I ask whether the conditions for withholding ecclesiastical funerals from Catholics who kill themselves in accord with recent civil suicide legislation might be met. As American law continues its headlong pursuit of calling evil good (Isaiah V:20), Canon 1184 frames a question that, I fear, we Catholics are going to have to ask ourselves ever more frequently.

Update, 17 June. My original article has been made available at the NOR website.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fr. Alberto Cutie's schismatic act


I don't see why this should take very long.

Fr. Alberto Cutie's entry into the Anglican communion is an act of schism per 1983 CIC 1364.1, for which he is liable to (automatic) excommunication. A cleric, moreover, is also liable to dismissal from the clerical state "if contumacy of long duration or the gravity of scandal demands it". The publicity with which Fr. Cutie has garnished his act of schism, etc., sure seems to me call for his prompt dismissal from the clerical state.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lay ministers of holy Communion should stop offering "blessings-in-lieu-of-Communion" at Mass


Concerns about swine flu have prompted many parishes to discontinue the routine administration of the Precious Blood. Okay, fine.* But there's another Communion rite practice that should also cease if only out of concerns for public health. This time, however, it's a practice that (unlike distribution from the Cup) is an abuse per se, namely, that of lay ministers of holy Communion purporting to confer "blessings-in-lieu-of-Communion" on every Tom, Pat, and Harriet who comes up in line.

Lay ministers of holy Communion (by definition, extraordinary ministers thereof), in response to people approaching them
without the intention to receive Communion (maybe such folks are non-Catholics** or are Catholic kids prior to First Communion), currently do one of three things: they (1) speak and gesture a sign of the cross over such folks, or (2) lay hands on such persons' heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing, or (3) waive the Eucharist over them while purporting to confer a blessing. I think all three actions are liturgical abuses.

Let's consider them in order of gravity:

1. Blessing the faithful with the Most August Sacrament is expressly reserved to the ordained. Lay persons may not confer
any blessings with the Host (Eucharistic worship outside of Mass nn. 91, 97-99, and 1983 CIC 1168). This practice should therefore be immediately halted wherever it has cropped up.

2. Touching many persons' hair, faces, and/or garments while serving food (albeit divine Food) to the public
has to be a violation of some health and safety regulation somewhere, not to mention its being poor manners. If the swine flu makes distribution from a common Cup an issue, surely touching hair and heads while serving others food from a common Plate is a problem. This particular practice should therefore be halted promptly, regardless of what one might think about lay blessings during Mass.

3. Ministers of holy Communion have, I suggest, no authority by their office*** to confer
any sort of blessing on anyone. Neither the General Instruction on the Roman Missal nor the Book of Blessings (which later source makes provisions for laity to administer certain blessings) authorizes ministers of Communion to confer blessings during Mass. Given that lay persons serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have no liturgical duties besides the administration of Communion, the introduction of a mini-blessing rite to be performed by them seems to me a plain violation of Canon 846. This practice should, I think, be halted pending a study of its liceity by qualified persons and, if appropriate, its authorization by the competent authority (1983 CIC 838, 1167).

In brief, I suggest that lay ministers of holy Communion have no authority to bless anyone in Communion lines, they should refrain from touching people while distributing holy Communion, and they should immediately cease using the Blessed Sacrament for mini-Benediction rites.

If it takes swine flu to provide the occasion of halting these liturgically illicit, and hygienically unsound, lay blessing practices during Mass, so be it.

+ + +

* Personally, while I appreciate the enhanced sign value (
Sacrosanctum Concilium 55) of receiving from the Cup on special occasions, say, at First Communions or weddings, or maybe at Easter, I find the every-Sunday, even every-day, administration of the Precious Blood to be a time-consuming process that regularly exposes the Sacred Species to profanation. I have directly witnessed at least a half-dozen spills over the last several years, and I'm not counting dribbles on shirts or dresses, or reports from others. Whatever reason is being offered for discontinuing this excessive use of the Cup, I'm for it.

** Non-Catholics are eligible for certain blessings (1983 CIC 1170), but what's at issue here are blessings by lay persons in the context of Mass.

*** Clergy enjoy a spiritual authority over their people, as do parents over their children. Such figures may and should extend blessings to their charges at appropriate times (1983 CIC 1167-1169). But what authority do extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have over the faithful? None. Who put extraordinary ministers of holy Communion in charge of anything besides distributing holy Communion? No one. Liturgical experts should explore whether the Communion procession ought to be allowed to morph into a "blessing procession" in the first place but, even if "blessings-in-lieu-of-Communion" during Mass are found licit, surely they should be conferred only by priests or deacons.

Update: I see Fr. Edward McNamara recently dealt with the same question and came down largely against the practice of lay conferral of blessing during the Mass. He quotes from a November 2008 (in ecclesiastical times, that's yesterday!) private letter signed by an undersecretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship. Okay, such a letter is not law, I grant, but it's pointing pretty clearly against the practice criticized above. Here's hoping Rome can issue its answer quickly.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A response to Abp. Wuerl's claims that canon law supports his inaction in regard to Nancy Pelosi


Abp. Donald Wuerl of Washington DC continues to defend his refusal to withhold holy Communion from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in a number of ways, but his recent claims that canon law supports his inaction attract my attention. I think the prelate's canonical claims are wrong.

First, Wuerl claims that "there's a question about whether [Canon 915] was ever intended to be used to bring politicians to heel . . . I stand with the great majority of American bishops and bishops around the world in saying this canon was never intended to be used this way.''

Okay, for starters, "the great majority of American bishops and bishops around the world" (that's more than 3,000 men!), have not made
any comments about the impact of Canon 915 on politicians, let alone have they made statements holding Canon 915 inapplicable to politicians. There's no need to belabor this exaggeration further.

More importantly, I wonder: exactly where is "the question" about whether Canon 915 was "intended to bring politicians to heel" (that's a derogatory description of Church leaders and Catholic politicians alike) being raised? Who poses the problem in this manner? I'd be happy to examine such sources for the claim as one might care to offer, but I rather doubt any serious ones can be found. Why? Because
no canon in the Code was written with the intention of bringing politicians to heel. That's a disingenuous way to frame this issue.

Canons are designed to advance the salvific mission of the Church (c. 1752). They help to establish an ecclesial order rooted in Scripture and Tradition (JP2, ap. con. Sacrae disciplinae leges, esp. para. 16). To hold, therefore, that any canon is intended to bring a particular secular grouping of people "to heel" is to misunderstand what canon law is for. But the mistake is compounded when one goes on to use that mischaracterization of canon law to avoid the correct application of canon law.

Let's consider this matter from another angle: Catholic politicians are members of the Catholic Church and thus subject to its discipline (c. 11). Right? Of course right. But one may still wonder whether Catholic politicians might enjoy some express or implied
exemptions from canon law.

Actually, they do!

"Heads of state", for example, can be tried only by the pope (c. 1405), certain civil officials are exempt from testifying about official secrets (c. 1548), and others enjoy the privilege of choosing the place wherein their testimony must be offered (c. 1558). Rare cases, I grant, but clearly, if the 1983 Code wants to make exceptions for politicians, it knows how to. So, does Wuerl think there
are other exemptions?

Are Catholic politicians
not bound by, say, the canons on the Sunday obligation (cc. 1246-1248) or the laws of fast and abstinence (c. 1252)? Are they exempt from the canons on marriage (c. 1108) or from the duty to educate their children in the Catholic faith (cc. 1136, 1366)? Do Catholic politicians (of all people!) not have the responsibility "to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the Gospel and thus give witness to Christ" (c. 225)?

If, as I feel sure, Wuerl would not regard Catholic politicians as exempt from any of
these canonical requirements, where does he find an exemption for them (or for anyone else) from Canon 915? The answer is, he cannot: there simply is no "politician" exemption from Canon 915.

If Wuerl wants to argue that Pelosi has not acted in a way as to make herself liable to consequences under Canon 915, he's free to make his case. (I think he'd lose that argument, but he's free to make it.) But he cannot gratuitously assert that Canon 915 was never "intended" to apply to the Pelosis of this world and leave the matter thus. Canon 915 unquestionably applies to all Roman Catholics regardless of their civil status or secular profession.


Second, Wuerl asserts, "Pelosi, as a San Franciscan, isn't part of my flock!"

Wuerl is the chief shepherd over the territory assigned to him (cc. 369, 372, 381) and chief presider over the Eucharist celebrated therein (c. 835 and Catechism of the Catholic Church 1142, 1369, 1561). Canons on sacramental discipline are universally applicable to Roman Catholics (cc. 12, 915). None of these norms is thwarted by the fact that a specific member of the faithful might have a "foreign" domicile, quasi-domicile, or residence if that individual is acting within the territory of the arch/bishop.

Consider moreover, by way of analogy, that if Pelosi's actions in Washington were canonically criminal (that is not my claim here), Canon 1412 would authorize Wuerl to take penal action against her regardless of her "foreign" status. Now, if Wuerl is authorized to take the harsher route of
penal action against someone based only on the fact that his or her actions occurred within his territory, it is difficult to see how he is suddenly forbidden from taking merely disciplinary action against anyone who is acting contrary to sacramental law in his territory.

There is, I conclude, simply no question but that an arch/bishop is authorized by canon law to take the steps necessary to protect the sacraments (
especially the Eucharist, cc. 897-898) from unworthy administration in his territory and his people from the danger of scandal that might be given by such reception.

The only question I see here is whether, and if so when, Wuerl will take that action. +++

A final note: The ultimate solution to this problem is, of course, for Nancy Pelosi to give up her unrelenting campaign against unborn babies, or, in default of that, at least to refrain from approaching holy Communion (c. 916). Unless she takes either step, however, I see no choice for Abp. Wuerl but to order enforcement of Canon 915 against her. In the meantime, however, I must say, nothing gives the forces of darkness greater pleasure than to see those committed following Christ at serious odds with one another. Such disputes must, in a fallen world, arise, but we should strive to resolve them correctly as quickly as possible and, once settled, to go on more united than ever toward the next struggle. There is no place for brooding over one another's failures, or for gloating over one another's corrections.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"Faculties" for baptism?


An unsigned article in Sydney Morning Herald states that Brisbane Fr. Peter Kennedy, finally removed from his parish for a long list of good reasons, faces further restrictions on his "ministry" given his continuing antics. An archdiocesan spokesman apparently said that Brisbane Abp. John Bathersby might "revoke Fr. Kennedy's priestly faculties - that is, his authority to perform weddings, baptisms, preach and hear confessions." Fine by me, of course, with one question: What can removal of one's faculties to perform baptism mean?

pastors have a certain right to perform baptisms in their parish per 1983 CIC 530, but Kennedy, it seems, is already out as pastor, so what is there to remove? No one can deprive Kennedy, or anyone else for that matter, of the power to perform baptisms, however illicit such baptisms might be (1983 CIC 861, CCC 1256, and assuming Kennedy has decided that valid baptisms should be performed). So, something's a little off, either in the spokesman's remarks or in SMH reporting of this long-standing mess.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dunnigan is worth reading on Legion debacle


Michael Dunnigan, a canon and civil lawyer, has just published in Christifidelis (27/2, May 1, 2009) a very interesting analysis of the stagnant mess that is the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. (How unfortunate that such a sentence must even be written.)

Anyway, Dunnigan explores several canonical questions that others have only been able to suggest, and he does so, I think, with balance and insight. I won't try to recap those points here; instead, I just pass along that, for those interested in seeing the LC/RC disaster settled as best one can, Dunningham's observations should be considered.

Update: Until the Dunnigan article appears on the Christifidelis website, you can read it here: Best, edp.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond parody: a priest wearing a Nazi arm-band


The stunt pulled by a priest* who was recently pictured outside a Catholic Church sporting a Nazi swastika armband is beneath contempt.

Canonically speaking, I think Fr. Angelo Idi is in plain violation of, among various other norms, Canon 285.1, which requires priests to "refrain from all those things which are unbecoming to their state". Now, this general canon can easily be supplemented by a specific personal precept (c. 49) against wearing Nazi gear, and such a precept could in turn be enforced by penalty (c. 1321). Personally, I think an excellent penalty for a priest honoring Nazism would be his dismissal from the clerical state (cc. 290, 1425). Yes, I understand that c. 1319 might be raised as an obstacle to my proposal, but I think there are canonically sound ways to address that concern, albeit discussion of these ways exceeds the limits of a blog post.

As a layman,
Mr. Idi might be ignored as just one more kook; but as a priest, Fr. Idi's execrable stunt is being flashed around the world. We need no more disasters in the priesthood. When a cleric shows himself so obviously unfit for sacred ministry, I say, expel him (and try to figure out, if possible, how he ever got ordained in the first place.) + + +

*Same day update: There are now some French and Italian sources that identify Idi as a (lay) "sacristan". Well, that would simplify things nicely. The Italian source in particular indicates that the local diocese is "taking action." Good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mary Ann Glendon brings good out of evil


I see Dr. Mary Ann Glendon's refusal to provide cover for Notre Dame's inexcusable conferral of honors on a prominent pro-abortion politician as an application of Canon 209.1 "The Christian faithful, even in their own manner of acting, are always obliged to maintain communion with the Church", or of Canon 225.2 "According to each one's own condition, [laity] are also bound by a particular duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel and thus to give witness to Christ, especially in carrying out these same affairs and in exercising secular functions."

The evil that ND President Jenkins and his Board of Trustees committed has,
Deus laudetur, occasioned one of the most striking displays of episcopal fortitude I can remember, mobilized hundreds of thousands of American Catholics against another quiet surrender to the Culture of Death, and effected notice to several once great Catholic institutions that it's time, finally, to decide where they stand.

I say, God bless Ambassador Glendon.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Three thoughts occasioned by Fr. Mullady's Q&A column


The Q&A column by Fr. Brian Mullady, op, in Homiletic & Pastoral Review always teaches me something, if not something new in substance, then at least a new way of explaining difficult concepts. Occasionally though, I find an explanation that, while correct, I think should have been put another way. Mullady's column in the April 2009 HPR has three such instances which I'd like to raise for consideration.

First, after correctly stating that a priest who attempts confection of the Eucharist with certain altered words acts invalidly, Mullady adds "The communicants would receive a spiritual communion, but not the true body and blood of Christ." I see what Mullady's getting at, I think, but I don't think we should put things quite that way.

Central to the typical act of "spiritual communion" is the intention to receive Christ
spiritually. But persons in a Communion line at Mass do not have that intention; they intend to receive Christ sacramentally. It's not clear, then, how one can perform a specific spiritual act without the intention of performing that spiritual act. Persons receiving un-consecrated hosts in good faith commit no sin and God recognizes the good of their actions toward receiving the Eucharist, but one can offer such reassurances without parlaying would-be communicants' actions into their having made a "spiritual communion", at least not without some allusion to issues of implied or contructive intentionality. The blunt fact is that, because the celebrant grievously (Mullady's good description) violated liturgical and sacramental law, he deprived the faithful of the graces they strove for and placed them in a position of committing material idolatry. Such a priest should be punished in accord with 1983 CIC 1379.

Second, Mullady correctly explained that couples who attempt marriage with the positive intention to contracept for a time would, according to current canonical jurisprudence, presumably marry
validly. But I would have been more cautious about adding, as Mullady did, that they also marry licitly.

Anyone who receives a sacrament with the specific intention to commit a gravely sinful act after that reception seems to me to receive that sacrament illicitly, notwithstanding its validity. Even the possibility that contraception-oriented couples receive the sacrament of matrimony "formlessly" (because of their evil intentions) raises, I suggest, questions about the
liceity of such reception (1983 CIC 843, CCC 1131). In addition, as to whether a priest should proceed to witness such a wedding, the question needed more space than Mullady could give it, obviously, but I'd point people to 1983 CIC 1066 and 1075 for starters.

Third, in the same question, Mullady said that marriages attempted "with the intention
never to have a child can be annulled." This seems poor phraseology. Marriages aren't "annulled" as if something is done to them by a tribunal; rather, some marriages are "declared null", which means that something is determined about them by a tribunal, namely, their nullity. It's a terminological distinction that is hard to get across, but that we should always strive to respect.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A canonical look at Saint Louis' new archbishop


Mixed feelings, of course: Bp. Robert Carlson will be sorely missed here in Michigan, but he's a terrific choice for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. While others can better describe his work with, say, the Institute for Priestly Formation, Cursillo, or Charismatic Renewal, it's Carlson the canonist who interests me.

Carlson's licentiate thesis (written at CUA in 1979*) was entitled "The mission of the diocesan priest to preach in light of the Second Vatican Council." I've not read it, but it seems an earlier indicator of what would be an abiding interest for the future arch/bishop: helping priests become, among other things, more effective preachers in a world that desperately needs to hear Good News.

Among Carlson's canonical academic works, two caught my eye over the years: first, an address he gave at the 1982 CLSA convention entitled "Chancery issues: impediments and dispensations, validity of acts, relationships between bodies", see
Canon Law Society of America Proceedings 44 (1982) 093-104, which was a solid, very practical look at three important areas of chancery practice, namely marriage dispensations, administrative acts, and consultative bodies; and second, his essay on "The rights and responsibilities of bishops: a canonical perspective", published in L. O'Donovan, ed., Cooperation between Theologians and the Ecclesiastical Magisterium: a Report of the Joint Committee of the Canon Law Society of America and The Catholic Theological Society of America (CLSA, 1982) at 31-52, written at a time when the distinctive roles of theologians and bishops needed especial clarification.

It's no secret that the Archdiocese of Saint Louis is a remarkable place in terms of bishops. Native sons (mostly by birth, some by service) now shepherd millions of souls in New York**, Philadelphia, Memphis, Knoxville, Kansas City MO and Kansas City KS, Springfield IL, Colorado Springs, Jefferson City, Belleville, Bismarck and even in Bolivia, while Abp. Raymond Burke directs Rome's supreme administrative court, the Signatura. More remotely, Saint Louis builds on an episcopal legacy founded by the missionary Rosati, the theologian Kenrick, the builder Glennon, the champion of racial equality Ritter, and the erudite Carberry, to name a few.

Abp. Carlson, I suggest, will serve that tradition admirably.

*Carlson's JCL class was small (only 13) but interesting. One classmate is now an archbishop (Schnurr in Cincinnati), another ran the CLSA for a number of years (the Franciscan Espelage), and several others are names that I recognize as having made various contributions to canonistics over the years.

**Come to think of it, Carlson might make his trip to Rome to receive his archepiscopal pallium (1983 CIC 437) at the time that Abp. Timothy Dolan goes to receives his for New York. Wouldn't a middle seat on
that trans-Atlantic flight be worth scrunching-in for?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are "family annihilators" owed a Church funeral?


Pretty obviously, the term "family annihilator" is one that Catholic pastoral ministers are going to have to add to their lexicon.

Men who kill their families, and then often take their own lives, are not found only amid the unchurched or even the fallen-aways; the Sueppel family last year, and the Wood family this year, are proof of that. Both families appear to have been active members of their respective Catholic parishes, active, that is, until the day their husbands/fathers, with all the appearances of deliberate planning and sufficient awareness of the evilness of their acts, killed their wives and children before killing themselves.

I can scarcely imagine a clearer example of "a manifest sinner" who "cannot be granted [an] ecclesiastical funeral without scandal for the faithful" per 1983 CIC 1184, than a murderous husband and father.

Last year, Steven Sueppel was granted an ecclesiastical funeral alongside the wife and children he murdered. I thought that was wrong. Murderers should
not be treated with the same deference as their victims. This year, the question of according Alan Wood the same funeral rites as his victims will probably be raised. I, for one, hope the answer will be No.

In any case, it is surely not too much to suggest that the canonical, pastoral, and liturgical questions raised by "family annihilator" cases are
not likely to go away on their own, and that therefore canonists, bishops, and liturgists should spend some time thinking through these cases before answers are demanded of them in the midst of shock, and grief, and media spotlights.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RIP Dr. Thomas Dillon


In your charity, kindly remember the soul of Dr. Thomas Dillon, President of Thomas Aquinas College, who was killed in a car crash yesterday. He was a real hero in Catholic higher education who, among many services, successfully fought some years ago an attempt by certain accrediting agencies to impose their own weird criteria for "Great Books" college curricula. It was a victory that benefits sound Catholic colleges and universities to this day. Thank you, edp.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Fr. Jenkins discovers canon law. Not.


Update, 22 April 2009: Bp. Darcy's letter of today correcting Fr. Jenkins purported "canonical defense" is a must-read.

Original post:

Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins continues to flail about for an adequate response (though short of resigning, there
isn't an adequate response) to his monumental gaff of bestowing an honorary doctor of laws degree on a president who has spent his entire political career seeing to it that millions of human beings are excluded from the protection of law. Jenkin's latest lunge is for the life ring stamped "canon lawyers we consulted". Figures.

It is paradigmatic of the theological Left to ignore canon law when it poses the slightest inconvenience for its plans, but to hide behind canons (or at least behind
canonists, even anonymous ones) when they afford some cover (however thin) for obvious blunders or malfeasance. And so Jenkins, invoking unidentified canon lawyers, holds that the USCCB's 2004 statement, "Catholics in Political Life", merely restricts Catholic institutions from honoring Catholics whose public record evidences disdain for fundamental moral principles.

Is the man serious?

Does Jenkins
really think that Catholic bishops would countenance a Catholic institution honoring a philanthropic murderer, or a free-speech crusading pornographer, or a right-to-privacy pimp, provided merely that the awardee was not a Catholic? Really, that's too bizarre for words.

But speaking of words, Jenkins' unnamed canon lawyers (assuming, by the way, that they were answering the question Jenkins thought he was asking, and that Jenkins understood and is accurately conveying their response) tell him that "by definition, only Catholics who implicitly recognize the authority of Church teaching can act in 'defiance' of it." Huh?

What's this "by definition" stuff? What definition? A definition of "defiance"? The word "defiance" is not in the Code. Even the Latin
pertinacia does not seem to apply to our facts, so, what exactly is Jenkins talking about here? I don't know, but whatever Jenkins or his canonists hope it means, the sentence he/they put so much stock in was obviously not drafted to stand up to close textual parsing. Else, all a Catholic would have to do to avoid the charge of acting in "defiance" of Church authority would be to decline recognizing Church authority in the first place!

Likewise, watch how Jenkin's claim that bestowing an honorary doctorate on the pro-abortion movement's most powerful politician ever does not "suggest support" for the politician's pro-abortion record, can be parsed into a
defense of Jenkins: an honorary doctorate of law does not "suggest" support for a politicians' legal philosophy, no, instead it screams it. Therefore, Jenkins is not guilty of "suggesting" support. Aren't word games fun?

Seriously, what I wonder is, why, amid the canon lawyers Jenkins claims to have consulted, not one, it seems, pointed out the most obvious solutions to their client's problem:

The USCCB's statement applies only to "Catholic institutions", right? Well, all Jenkins and the ND board need do is declare that Notre Dame is
not a "Catholic institution", and poof! all these problems disappear. Notre Dame could confer honorary doctorates in law on anybody it wants after that, even on people who have built a career out of denying unborn babies the protection of law, and nary a bishop would say a word about it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A few thoughts on "de-baptism"


Britons, we are told, have downloaded some 100,000 "de-baptism" forms, and another 1,500 blokes have paid $ 5 each for a "de-baptism" parchment. Presumably, people sign these forms and what, we're not sure, hang them up on the wall or something.

A few thoughts, beginning with: there's no such thing as "de-baptism".

Once you are baptized, you are baptized. It's not just a "church rule" that one can't cancel a baptism, it's divine law. I can no more cancel my baptism than I can cancel having been born in Missouri. Admittedly, folks who deny there is a God will also deny that 'divine law' makes impossible de-baptism, but that's a problem for apologetics, not canon law. Anyway, as cheesy as internet "de-baptism" certificates might be, at least they provide the inimitable Jeff Miller over at Curt Jester with fodder for humor: Says Miller, Julian the Apostate, when he wanted to renounce his baptism, had himself drenched in bull's blood. Such a stunt, quips Miller, is "just as ineffective as an internet certificate, but it at least shows commitment." LOL!

Second, the "de-baptism" fad does occasion (or, re-occasion, as the case may be) some questions about whether,
notwithstanding the indelible character of baptism, one might be able to renounce one's Catholicism, indeed, one's Christianity. There are good arguments for and against the possibility that one can cancel one's membership in the Catholic Church or even abrogate one's identity as Christian (without "voiding" one's baptism, which is impossible). I mention this only to caution against overly-hasty resort to pithy expressions like Semel Catholicus semper Catholicus or Semel Christianus semper Christianus when what might have been meant was only Semel baptizatus semper baptizatus and what exactly that means.

Third, signing these "de-baptism" forms does not, of itself, suffice for a "formal act of defection" under canon law (for an excellent article on this complex area of the 1983 Code, see J. Huels, "Defection from the Catholic Church by a formal act and the Circular Letter of 13 March 2006",
Studia Canonica 41 (2007) 515-549), but signing such a form is certainly at least a step toward, indeed, objectively speaking, a sinful step toward, such defection. Moreover, the proliferation of these documents (not just in Britain, but around the world) is going to force some closer attention to several related issues in canon law, e.g., in criminal and matrimonial law, to say nothing of its serving as an topic for evangelization and catechesis focus.

Finally, recognizing that the folks using such forms need our prayers (even if
they don't recognize it), we might encourage the hundreds of thousands of persons coming into the Church this Easter to pray especially for those who wish to leave her. The newly baptized, and the newly received, flush with great graces, would make powerful prayer allies in this matter!


PS: I had to laugh when radical secularist Terry Sanderson, who sells de-baptism certificates for about $ 5 each, said "The fact that people are willing to pay for the parchments shows how seriously they are taking them." Yeah, right. I remember when folks would pay $ 15 for a pet rock. That only showed us how serious people were about being dopes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Abps. Wuerl (c. 916) & Burke (cc. 915-916) on admission to Communion


I often tell my students, the answer to a canonical question is seldom found in a single canon.

Two prominent American prelates, Abp. Donald Wuerl of Washington DC and Abp. Raymond Burke of the Apostolic Signatura, are the lead figures in a significant disagreement over admitting certain pro-abortion Catholic politicians to holy Communion. Wuerl basically believes that, under Canon 916, Catholics, including pro-abortion politicians, should determine their own eligibility for reception of Communion. Burke argues that, beyond Canon 916, Canon 915 requires ministers of holy Communion to withhold the Eucharist from some pro-abortion politicians if they don't refrain from approaching on their own. Both sides can't be right, and I suspect that the more compelling case is made by reading the two canons together instead of reading one to the exclusion of the other.

Some preliminary thoughts toward sorting this out.

First, awareness of Church history helps contemporary Catholics sleep at night. This is not the first time that upright bishops have differed over important points of pastoral practice; for that matter, strong episcopal conflicts over (unsettled) matters of doctrine are not unknown in the Church. So, let's be confident in the Holy Spirit's power to lead the Church through this issue as He has led us through others.

Second, one must avoid "personalizing" the debate. Both archbishops are distinguished thinkers and both have many decades of loyal service to the Church behind them, including some services rendered under very difficult circumstances. In short, each is an attractive figure. But, while it's tempting to rally behind one or the other, personalities are not what's at issue here.

Rather, if we want to resolve the question of Communion admission, we must plainly identify the core of the disagreement. I think it's this: may one rely on a single canon to absolve arch/bishops of any direct responsibility to act when pro-abortion Catholic politicians present themselves for Communion, or must one read both the relevant canons in these cases, even if one of those canons requires ministerial intervention under certain circumstances?

The two relevant canons are not complicated.

Canon 916 expresses the fundamental responsibility of individual Catholics to weigh their conscience before approaching the Holy Banquet and to refrain from receiving Communion if they believe themselves to be in grave sin. Canon 915 requires ministers of holy Communion to withhold the Eucharist from Catholics who, though their public conduct is gravely at odds with Church teaching and/or morals, insist on presenting themselves for holy Communion.

I suggest that, for one to argue that Communion reception by Catholics is a purely personal decision under Canon 916 is to ignore impermissibly Canon 915 and its assertion of ministerial obligations in certain cases.

To be sure, both canons make serious demands on the faithful.

It's not easy for an individual Catholic to refrain from going to holy Communion at Mass. The so-called 'Communion fast' offers no cover for a Catholic with a doubtful, let alone a guilty, conscience. These days, to remain in the pew while everyone else goes to Communion is tantamount to saying "I think I'm in the state of grave sin." Who wants to imply that? But neither is it easy on a minister of holy Communion to withhold the sacrament from a Catholic seeking it. Who wants the responsibility of taking the most august sacrament, the source and summit of the Christian life (1983 CIC 897), into one's own hands, only to say to a fellow Catholic in the Communion line "move along"?

So the question squarely confronts us: is the answer to the canonical problem of admitting notoriously pro-abortion Catholics to Communion found in a single canon, or is it found primarily in two canons? Do we read Canon 916 as if it sufficed to let pro-abortion Catholics decide about their own eligibility to receive holy Communion, or do we read Canons 915 and 916 together, being willing to invoke Canon 915 against certain Catholics who insist on receiving holy Communion despite their public disregard of important points of Catholic doctrine and/or morals?

Wuerl seems to think that one canon, namely 916, settles the question. Burke says that we must read both norms, Canons 915 and 916, together to arrive at the correct answer.

What can I say? I think Burke's right.


1. Wuerl recently indicated that, while he expects a politician's home arch/bishop to determine whether a given politician is eligible to receive holy Communion, he, Wuerl, would honor that decision. Setting aside whether Wuerl's position is, in the long run, adequate for this question, I think Deal Hudson is right to point out that this stance seems, among other things, to commit Wuerl to the possibility of withholding holy Communion from some Catholic politicians
irrespective of their own opinions on their eligibility under Canon 916. Interesting. And encouraging.

2. There are, of course, other norms with relevance to this issue, canons such as 18, 214, 843, and 912. These are not in dispute and both sides make plausible claims about honoring them.

3. Burke's recent video statements on Canon 915, although seriously misused by Randall Terry (to Burke's obvious anger), reinforce Burke's earlier call to apply Canon 915 in the face of the scandalous and potentially sacrilegious reception of holy Communion by some notoriously pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

4. The alleged action of the USCCB in 2004 to the effect of 'allowing' individual arch/bishops to decide questions of admission at the local level is much ado about nothing: the USCCB had, and claimed, no authority over admission to holy Communion questions; it had, and claimed, no authority to tell local bishops to handle such questions locally. It's
certainly time to stop invoking the 2004 conference statement as if it countenanced arch/bishops looking the other way in Communion cases.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Breviter: Two things Bp. D'Arcy couldn't do re Notre Dame


I read all my email and try, within the limits imposed by work, other consults, and family, to respond to the many good questions sent my way. The most common question sent to me this week has been about possible canonical responses to Notre Dame's unbelievable honoring of a major pro-abortion politician, namely, President Obama.

This matter is not simple and my analysis of it would not lend itself to blog-style discussion anyway. But, for the benefit of readers who have asked, I can at least take two options
off the table. Briefly:

1. The local bishop cannot put Notre Dame under a local interdict, even for a brief period, if for no other reason (and there
would be other reasons) than that local interdict is not a penal option under the 1983 Code. While local interdict (and community interdict, its cousin) were possible under the Pio-Benedictine Code (see 1917 CIC 2268-2277), today, interdict is a purely personal penalty, meaning that only specific individuals, convicted of a canonical crime, can be interdicted (1983 CIC 1332).

2. The local bishop cannot forbid the celebration of Mass in campus oratories and chapels by a precept under 1983 CIC 1225. While the argument here rests more on scholarly opinion than does that above, I think the weight of that opinion would
not support a bishop's using a precept to forbid Mass on campus during graduation weekend.

Mind, nothing in Bp. D'Arcy's statement today suggested that he was considering either option, but my advice to folks who have been considering suggesting them would be to save your time: neither action would be supportable under 1983 Code.

Salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

Whither Notre Dame


I remember my dad saying forty years ago that "Notre Dame is the alma mater of every Catholic who never went to college." He was right.

Forty years ago, most Catholics, like most Americans, had not been to college, though there was a growing sense that college was a good thing to do and thus a good thing to support. More importantly, forty years ago, Notre Dame's Catholicism was still recognizable by Catholics in the pews of America, so when Catholic parents dreamed of college for a son (and later, for a daughter), they dreamed of Notre Dame.

But all that's changed now.

Millions of American Catholics have gone to hundreds of colleges and universities, meaning that they have their own alma mater
s, thank you very much. More importantly, the kind of Catholicism that Notre Dame has been fostering since my dad's day has been less and less something a pew Catholic would even recognize, let alone support.

For as long as my (now middle-aged) generation of Catholics can remember, Notre Dame, as an institution, has been awol from the culture wars, and often caught flirting, even cavorting, with the enemy. We see in Fr. Jenkins' homage to Obama not the sudden betrayal of Notre Dame's Catholic legacy, but the consummation of an on-going repudiation that has been underway there since the late 1960s.

I say "as an institution" because there have always been some fine Catholic faculty members at Notre Dame, though most of them have retired or are about to. But then, I could say the same thing about my alma mater, Mizzou; it, too, had some fine Catholics on the faculty. What's so special about Notre Dame anymore?

In short, nothing. It's an undisciplined child that has run through the inheritance (moral and perhaps even financial) that was bequeathed to it by my parents' and grandparents' generation (most of whom could never go to Notre Dame), and has made almost no new friends among their children and grandchildren (most of whom went somewhere else). Well, at least, it's made no new friends among those who care for Notre Dame's once-robust Catholic identity.

When Notre Dame eventually goes the way that so many other Catholic institutions of higher education first in Europe, now in America, have gone, as I think it will, it will hardly be missed by those who remain committed to making the Faith matter in public life. Notre Dame will hardly be missed by my generation, let alone by my children's, when it is gone, because it has hardly been noticed while it was around.


See also: Notre Dame's Shame: do we care enough to click? and
be sure to visit the Cdl. Newman Society's protest petition page.



Monday, March 23, 2009

Notre Dame's Shame: do we care enough to click?


Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier for people to express their opinion on public affairs than it is today. Granting that kooks can express their opinions with ease as well, the simple fact remains that upright people can now weigh in on important issues like they never have before. Which means, I suggest, that good people have a heightened obligation to stand up for the right thing when they can do so with next-to-no inconvenience.

Notre Dame University has just invited President Obama, the greatest foe of unborn innocents ever to hold that office, to speak to its graduates, and has further determined to honor him with a Doctor of Laws degree. Not too long ago, Catholics who heard about it would have been basically limited to tsk-tsking another step in the dismantling of Catholic higher education.

Not anymore. There
is something you can do about this.

Go the Cardinal Newman Society website, click on the Notre Dame Scandal Petition page, and record your name as being opposed to this invitation and honor being accorded by a purportedly Catholic institution to an open enemy of the unborn. It's that simple.

For myself, I can only say, this is a list that I personally, would much, much rather have my name recorded on at Judgment, than have to explain why I didn't bother to sign.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fr. Mike Depcik's "Renewal Prayer for the Deaf Catholic Church"


Fr Michael Depcik, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales now living in Chicago, was our Deaf pastor during his ministry in the Diocese of Lansing. His website, Fr. MD's Kitchen Table, is a spiritual treasure for Deaf Catholics and anyone else who knows some American Sign Language.

Recently, Fr. Mike asked Catholics to join him in praying, especially on Fridays, for the Deaf Catholic Church. After a short Introduction video as to why he thinks that special prayers are needed for the Deaf Catholic community, Fr. Mike sets out in ASL a simple, very short, but beautiful prayer for our Deaf Catholic brothers and sisters. Below is my translation of that prayer.

Please consider accepting Fr. Mike's request to join him in praying for a renewal and a deepening of Christ's Gospel in the hearts of the Deaf community! Thanks!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Father, we ask You, please look with love on us in your Deaf Catholic Church.

We pray for our bishops, our spiritual leaders. Bless them, and give them the strength and wisdom to lead us. Help them to see, and to understand, and to support us in our needs.

We pray for our priests, deacons, religious men and women, and lay persons who serve Deaf Catholic people. Inspire them, and help them in turn to make Deaf Catholics eager to know You, and to love You, and to serve You and your Deaf Catholic Church.

We pray for Catholic brothers and sisters after their baptism, that You send your Holy Spirit upon them and touch their hearts and inspire them to want to pray and to keep receiving the sacraments and to serve other people.

Your young people, Lord, who have received baptism in your Catholic Church, must grow up in a world that is filled with confusion. Please help them to understand that the ways of the world do not lead to Life, and that so much better is your way that leads to Life. So please, touch their hearts and lead to embrace your love, and bring them back to you Church. Help them to pray, and to want to receive the sacraments, and to serve other people in your Church.

Holy Spirit, come upon us and transform us! We pray this though Christ our Lord.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us! Amen.

Update, 22 March 2009: Fr. MD has provided me the English text of a slightly longer version of the same the prayer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If Robert McElvaine hasn't violated Canon 1369, who has?


The Washington Post seems to be specializing in religious screeds.

About a year ago, WaPo made room for Joe "the-bishops-be-damned" Feuerherd's rant against the American episcopate for its articulation of pro-life ethics in politics. I said then that Feueherd's contempt must not be allowed to go unchecked. The US bishops let the insults pass. Well, except perhaps for a good reply by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh.

But now, Feuerherdian contempt has been taken to a new level by Robert McElvaine.

In fewer than 500 words, McElvaine manages to insult meanly and repeatedly Pope Benedict XVI and to impugn (sophomorically, I grant, but nevertheless clearly and directly) a half-dozen important Church teachings on sacraments, ecclesiology, and moral doctrine. If McElvaine's column does not constitute a violation of, among other norms, Canon 1369, then folks, I am never going to recognize it when it is violated.

Now, it's one thing for the bishops to have ignored gross insults to themselves (I think they were wrong to have done that last year, but I can see why they might have acted thus). But it is entirely something else for them to ignore the kind of venom that McElvaine has just poured out on the pope. Their pope.
Our pope.

A canonical penal process should be undertaken against Robert McElvaine. Such a process would start with an investigation according to Canon 1717. From what I can gather about McElvaine, it seems that he would have canonical domicile or quasi-domicile in the Diocese of Jackson MS; his offensive conduct appears to have been committed there and/or in the Archdiocese of Washington DC. Thus, either local Church could act in this matter (1983 CIC 1408, 1412), but a coordinated approach might be beneficial.

Yes, I know that McElvaine is hawking a book and might enjoy the publicity of an ecclesiastical penal process being brought against him. So what? Just because someone might get paid to spread hatred of Christ's vicar and His Church doesn't mean he's immune from canonical consequences for his behavior.

As I have explained before, canon lawyers can't enforce ecclesiastical discipline. We can only make suggestions. Fine. Consider this one suggested.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Benedict's letter on the SSPX excommunications


One can hardly praise a pope without sounding a bit presumptuous, but here goes: the 10 March 2009 letter of Benedict XVI on the SSPX excommunications remission is a fine document.

The pope's letter acknowledges that the excommunication remissions came as a surprise to all and were issued without adequate contemporaneous explanations. As a result, even friends of the pope were ill-prepared to defend his actions in the court of human opinion (and yes, the court of human opinion matters, as evidenced by the pope's letter itself). Church enemies had a field day amid the confusion, but since that's what enemies do anyway, there's not much more to be said about them.

In any case, the canonical explanations I suggested for the excommunication remission on 27 Jan 2009 (see also 24 Jan 2009 and even 3 Feb 2006) now seem verified. I had said that: either the pope was acting on the basis of information available to him privately concerning the necessary withdrawal from contumacy before censures can be lifted under 1983 CIC 1358, or, that the pope was acting praeter legem in lifting the censures as a pure gesture of mercy.

Now Benedict writes: "The withdrawal of the excommunication . . . was possible after the affected had expressed their fundamental recognition of the pope and his pastoral authority, albeit with reservations as far as obedience to his magisterial authority and that of the Council is concerned." I take this to mean that the four bishops expressed to Benedict their regret at having taken episcopal orders contrary to the directives of John Paul II (albeit with some canonically irrelevant reservations about popes and councils). If I am right about that, such an apology would suffice as a withdrawal from contumacy for the act of illegal ordinations and would enable Benedict XVI to lift the penalty in accord with Canon 1358. But, even if the bishops did not apologize for their action, the pope (but no other authority in the Church) could still have lifted the excommunications as a praeter legem gesture of mercy intended to encourage the SSPX to move toward full communion. If the pope's action were of the second sort, one might be able to question its prudence (c. 212), but not its legality.

Briefly, in regard to two other points: (1) to no one's surprise (well, not if they read In Light of the Law!), Benedict XVI did not repudiate John Paul II's imposition of the excommunication in 1988; and (2) the pope confirmed that the remission of the censures impacts only the canonical status of four individual bishops and has no impact on the status of the SSPX itself, which is still irregular.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why does Prof Kmiec insist on dragging the Faith into everything?


Even if I could get beyond being bored with Doug Kmiec, I could probably only work up to being amused by Doug Kmiec. His latest romp through the poppy fields of nominalism has him essentially arguing that, although gay unions are "marriage" (because he and the far-left would have it so), that won't quite fly politically yet, so in the meantime, let's not recognize anything as a "marriage" and instead label everything a "civil union". Either way, it's nominalism, a school which holds, among other things, that some things exist because we name them so, and other things don't exist because we refuse to name them. And yes, the line between nominalism and delusion is at times a fine one.

But while others take apart the Pepperdine law prof's legal logic, I pause only to react to Kmiec's invocation, for the umpteenth time, of his Catholic faith as if it were some sort of inversely proportional credential as to why he must be right: the Catholic Church strongly opposes "same-sex marriage", so a Catholic layman must be very right to support it. He writes "As a Roman Catholic [my] faith stands against the recognition of same-sex marriage".

Beg pardon, but faith has nothing to do with it, counselor.

If she wanted to, the Catholic Church could mount an impressive doctrinal or theological case against "same sex marriage", though if she did, I frankly wonder whether Kmiec would be able to follow the argument. It's not his field.

Be that as it may, though, the Church is not making a religious argument against "same sex marriage", but rather, she offers a philosophical, specifically a natural law, assertion against it. Canon 1055, the first norm on marriage, describes marriage as being
by its nature a union of man and woman ordered to, among other things, the procreation of children. That's not a theological assertion, it's a philosophical and anthropological claim, one which admittedly the Church hopes that men and women of any religious affiliation would be able to grasp, but one for which, in any case, the Church simply does not use a creedal premise.

Argue with nature, if you want, Prof. Kmiec, argue logic, argue law both natural and civil, but don't argue Catholic faith when, in this regard anyway, it is not being invoked by your opponents. In opposing "same-sex marriage", the Church is talking about human nature; that's something even we lawyers should be able to understand.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rev. Reese and the Fallacy of the Mean


Rev. Thomas Reese, sj, after proposing ways to limit research on embryonic human beings, admits that his suggestions "will not satisfy those who find any use of embryos ethically objectionable, but it will indicate that the Obama administration is trying to find some middle ground that gives some respect to the many Americans who find such research repugnant." Emphasis added.

Well, Reese is certainly right about one thing: his proposal won't satisfy anyone who sees how perfectly, indeed almost literally, his suggestion commits the "Fallacy of the Mean".

The "Fallacy of the Mean" holds that when faced with choosing between two opposed options, a middle course is best. Sure, if I'm trying to decide between having two scoops of ice cream, and having none, I might choose to have just one. But that's about as far as "the mean" approach gets a bloke.

Example, some folks believed that no Jews should be gassed. Hitler thought that they all should be gassed. Should one offer to split the difference, and gas just half of them?

Don't like Nazi analogies? Okay. . .

Some Founding Fathers thought slavery should be protected throughout the country, others thought it should be made illegal everywhere. So they compromised, and made half the States slave, half free. We all know how that one turned out, don't we?

I believe that no embryonic human being should be experimented upon, let alone killed. The Obama administration believes that they all can be treated so. Reese suggests we settle our differences by only experimenting on and killing "the extra ones". How one squares Reese's compromise with the absolute prohibition against deliberately taking an innocent human life (Evangelium vitae, 57) I have no idea.

And yes, I know they're (almost certainly) "going to die anyway", and not like you or I are "going to die anyway." But that does not mean that these tiny people should die by my hand, or with my dollars.

As we look for a way out of Complication No. 658 that follows in the wake of separating sex from procreation, we're going to need better options than 'just-kill-some-of-them'.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brazilian abortion excommunication case


If reports coming out of Brazil are accurate, an abortion performed against the unborn baby of nine-year-old rape/incest victim has resulted in the declared excommunication of the doctors who committed the abortion* (1983 CIC 1398) and of those who directly assisted in the deed (1983 CIC 1329). The mother of the aborted baby* (the term "mother" hardly seems to make sense here) was not excommunicated for a number of reasons, but her age alone would have been sufficient to prevent her incurring any penalty (1983 CIC 1323).

This is not the first time Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda e Recife has vigoursly defended innocent human life in his particular church. I blogged about him in January 2008 regarding his firm stance against distributions of "morning after" pills.

As for the perpetrator of the rape, there isn't a mine shaft deep enough on this earth for him. Purely personal opinion, that.

*I found out later, the doctors actually aborted twins. Miserere nobis, Domine.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Young Voices, old canards, and Canon 1369


A few months ago, Joe "the-bishops-be-damned" Feuerherd, publisher and editor of the ever-petulant National Catholic Reporter, introduced readers to some "Young Voices", supposedly harbingers of the coming Church in America. One such voice, Kate Childs Graham, recently published a callow essay in the "I am a pro-choice Catholic" vein. I guess Feuerherd thinks that Graham speaks for the future because she calls upon her Catholic faith chiefly as a justification for crediting her repudiation of Church teaching on the inviolability of innocent human life.

In any case, Graham presents a somewhat different profile from that of most other Catholics who are effectively lapsed in regard to Church moral teaching (even if they adhere to some of the social justice principles and/or liturgical practices). Graham claims to have been pro-life at one point and to have taken a small but active role in college pro-life activities, only to have later changed her opinion after extensive study and prayer.

I wonder whether Graham fully realizes what she has just done.

Consider: Graham published her essay justifying the abandonment of unborn innocents to prenatal slaughter in a widely accessible, indeed internationally accessible, medium. I think that her remarks, considered specifically and generally, "gravely injure good morals" and thus constitute the kind of abuse of the instruments of social communication that renders one liable to a "just penalty" under canon law (1983 CIC 1369). Finally, and this is what distinguishes Graham's essay from the typical pro-abortion Catholic palaver, by her own words, she vitiates several defenses that might have been raised for such conduct, defenses based on say, one's ignorance of Church teaching, or because one acted without sufficient deliberation (e.g., 1983 CIC 1323-1324). I can scarcely conclude other than that Graham is daring the bishops to do something about her.

Good canonists advise bishops against turning to sanctions as a first reaction to published attacks on good morals. But good canonists also remind bishops that, in the end, penalties (especially flexible sanctions such as Canon 1369's "just penalty") were placed in the Code by the Legislator to help bishops defend important ecclesiastical values, and that the enforcement of Church discipline is one of a bishop's most important responsibilities (1983 CIC 392). In short, I think that the bishops should consider taking young Graham up on her offer.

Of course, I also think that Graham's essay is the just latest symptom of a deeper disorder long at work in the NCRep. The bishops, sooner or later, are going to have to take another, much harder, look at Joe "the-bishops-be-damned" Feuerherd's standing invitation to be disciplined for his anti-ecclesial conduct and his professional abetting of similar conduct by several others in the pages of his newspaper.

It might as well be sooner.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Pewsitter Petition on Canon 915 has published an on-line petition by which Catholics may call upon bishops to withhold holy Communion from Catholic political figures who gravely disregard Church teaching on certain fundamental life issues. The petition invokes canon law in support of some of its propositions. I know nothing about the organization behind the petition, but I feel confident in commenting on its canonical aspects.

The petition seems to me to qualify under 1983 CIC 212.3 as one way of helping the faithful to express "to sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful." I do not think the petition pretends to an expertise it cannot claim, nor does it seem to be violative of basic norms on faith, morals, reverence toward pastors, etc. It does not impugn the fidelity of those who choose not to sign.

The petition calls for withholding of holy Communion under Canon 915 and in this regard it avoids the highly contentious, and I think erroneous, claim that certain politicians should be subject to excommunication for their actions. Moreover, the petition avoids identifying specific politicians for action under Canon 915, even though a strong case can be made for such action in the case of, say, Nancy Pelosi. Each politician's situation, as I have said, needs to be examined individually by competent experts; this is by no means an impossible task, but it is not one best conducted in the blogosphere.

The petition highlights the scandal being created under the continued reception of holy Communion by those Catholic politicians who routinely ignore Church teaching on the sacredness of innocent human life; in this respect, the petition seems securely grounded in the arguments of Abp. Raymond Burke whose landmark article on Canon 915 makes correction of scandal a centerpiece.

I would not have offered, however, in the petition any speculation on whether certain politicians need to be 'reconciled with the Church', for such language sounds more in the internal forum than the external. Given, however, that the rest of the petition has in view only observable political behavior and demonstrable Church teaching, and calls for action only in regard to one's external conduct, I am inclined to think that petition language about 'reconciliation' is the result of the authors' unfamiliarity with the nuances of certain phrases used by professionals, and that they intend no judgment about the state of the souls of Catholic politicians. In short, such language, to the degree a bishop might think it approaches an assertion about the internal forum, simply can and will be disregarded.

In the same vein, the petition's use of the word 'discipline', while it is canonically correct, is liable to confusion in the public mind, and I would have avoided it. Canon 915 is indeed a sacramental disciplinary norm (unlike, say, Canon 1331 on excommunication, which is a penal norm) but, to describe a bishop's action under Canon 915 as a way to 'discipline' recalcitrant Catholic politicians seems to imply that some punishment is being inflicted on them. It is not, but it's a distinction one would not expect lay readers to make. Thus, while the word 'discipline' is defendable here, I would have phrased the line differently to avoid public confusion on the nature of the action being petitioned.

Same day update:

I just came across Michael Sean Winters' post on Canon 915 over at the America magazine group blog. Winters' qualifications to opine on matters canonical were not immediately evident to me, but he assures readers that applying Canon 915 in response to the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians would be "a radical innovation that should be resisted", that it "requires applying the canons in ways that are novel and dubious" and that canon law "should be applied with gentleness not vengeance" (you know, as if everyone agrees on what those terms actually mean in the concrete order), and so on.

Winters bravely confronts an evil unnamed blogger who, in a series of obvious misstatements, paints a picture of Canon 915 run amok. This device allows Winters to assume the mantle of moderation and warn us against those dangerous "cranks" who would substitute a blogger's opinion for that of pastor. Nice way to dispatch opposing views, that, present an obvious caricature, then tsk-tsk it away.

Ironically, it does not seem to occur to Winters that he is quite willing to substitute his opinion on how canon 915 should be applied for that of actual pastors like Abp. Raymond Burke (a prelate whose credentials in canon law dwarf mine and, I'm guessing, Winters'). Burke offers a powerful, and I suggest compelling, case for the application of Canon 915 in the face of the metastasizing scandal of the prominent pro-abortion Catholic politician. Has Winters read it?

In any case, I echo Winters' concern about "judgmentalism" being "profoundly uncharitable". But such concern should, I think, forbid labeling those who call for the correct application of Canon 915 as "cranks". Or is "judgmentalism" a temptation to only one side of this debate?

Friday, February 13, 2009

L/RC: Reform from within? Carry on the charism?


I think that Fr. Alvaro Corcuera's apparent claim that he knows nothing about Maciel's behavior, except that Maciel sired a daughter, is utterly unbelievable. I have nothing else to say about this kind of stone-walling. I will simply re-endorse Dr. Germain Grisez's and Mr. George Weigel's proposals for direct intervention by the Holy See. (See also Robert Moynihan's Feb 13 editorial at SperoNews.)

In the meantime, I'll offer some brief comments on two assertions that have surfaced in discussions about the Legion, namely, the "reform-from-within" assertion, and the "carry-on-the-charism" assertion.

Assertion 1. Because the Legion and Regnum Christi have within their ranks many obviously good and faithful Catholics, they should be allowed to try a reform from within. Response: the presence of good and faithful Catholics within an organization, particularly when the organization (in terms of Church history, if nothing else) is so young, says almost nothing about whether the organization itself is sound and/or salvageable. History affords us many examples of organizations or movements that were fundamentally and even fatally flawed, but which for a time attracted and held good Catholics in membership; but that only shows that good Catholics, too, can be duped. That's not their fault, certainly, but their innocence does not guarantee the basic soundness of the organization in which they serve. Membership is distinguishable from institution.

Assertion 2. Maciel's canonical crime spree was a grave personal failing, but it does not negate the L/RC 'charism', and they should be allowed to continue their work. Response: This argument misses the key question, namely, whether in fact Maciel ever bequeathed an authentic charism to the L/RC, or whether he left instead a legacy of systemic deception clothed in an attractive rhetoric that trusting men could mistake for a new route toward Christian perfection. There is, I think, at least as much reason to wonder whether Maciel set up an institute in order to assure himself of ample access to sexual targets and unaccountable funds, or whether he suffered from some warped psycho-emotional condition that enabled him to compartmentalize pious devotional practices and sexual predation for decades on end, as there is to wonder whether he left a real charism to a Catholic clerical, religious, and lay organization.

I do not know whether the L/RC can (following a complete leadership replacement!) reform itself from within, although I am almost certain that they cannot; and I do not know whether Maciel developed an authentic charism for clerical, religious, and lay life, but I have serious doubts that he did. But I do know this: the L/RC must, barely a year after the death of The Founder, extirpate everything associated with Maciel from their spirituality and mission, or face serving as permanent reminders of how high up, how long, and how brazenly the diabolical can work undetected in a Catholic movement.

If I am right, that makes the "reform-from-within" and the "carry-on-the-charism" arguments offered so far quite unconvincing.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

So if Maciel was a criminal (or a sociopath), what of his charism?


Fr. Maciel's siring of a daughter, obvious to everyone but still unacknowledged by Legion leadership, occurred after the 1983 Code took effect. If the mother of Maciel's baby was, as some now report, only 15 years old when the Founder impregnated her, then, had he been caught, Maciel could (and I think would) have been expelled from the Legion and dismissed from the clerical state.* Consider two canons:

1983 CIC 695.1.
A member [of a religious institute] must be dismissed for the delicts mentioned in . . . can. 1395, unless in [regard to] the delicts mentioned in can. 1395.2, the superior decides that dismissal is not completely necessary and that correction of the member, restitution of justice, and reparation of scandal can be resolved sufficiently in another way.

1983 CIC 1395.2.
A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.

Some might wonder why there seems to be the slightest doubt but that clerics impregnating children would be expelled (from consecrated life) and dismissed (from the clerical state). There isn't any doubt, in my opinion, but that needs a bit of explanation.

Most canons of the Code are meant to cover a wide variety of possible fact patterns (sometimes too wide a variety, but that's a different issue); in regard to "sexual misconduct", some flexibility in the law had to be accorded the local authorities who would need to apply these canons to real cases.

For example, although having sex with children is obviously an "offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue", so is, say, passing pornography to a co-religionist in the monastery; but the latter action, while sinful, might not warrant expulsion from religious life, at least not on a first incident, and so the canon can't realistically demand expulsion and dismissal upon one's conviction for every imaginable sex-related offense. Of course, clerics who have sex with minors deserve no learning curve, and on that basis, I think Maciel would have been expelled and dismissed for a single proven incident of child sex abuse (to say nothing of his pattern of sexual and financial misconduct that seems to have stretched over decades.)

Which bring us to the "charism issue": can a creep like Maciel really have bequeathed a sound charism to the Legion? The Legion implosion is making us ask, among other things, what it means to say that the Church has "approved" a religious charism. A couple of thoughts.

I defer to religious historians here, but it seems that a few saints who founded (or re-founded) religious institutes eventually found themselves at odds with their own institutes, and were even thrown out of them. Now the question goes, if those incidents were not enough to challenge the "charism" of those institutes, why should Maciel's situation (assuming that he would have been expelled from the Legion) raise questions about the integrity of his "charism"?

Well, for starters, Maciel's expulsion from his institute would have come about, not because he wanted to live the charism more radically than did his followers, but because he treated it and his whole religious family with perduring and pervasive contempt. Moreover, Maciel's actions warranted not only expulsion from religious life, but additionally, penal dismissal from the clerical state, something unthinkable for the controversial founders of healthy institutes. And from all I've seen, the "Legion charism" is virtually indistinguishable from the "Maciel persona". In short, the chances that Maciel (whether he was a culpable criminal or an inveterate sociopath) could have bequeathed a genuine charism to any religious institute seem diminished. If all this seems too speculative, think of it this way: what can one say, with a straight face, about a religious institute that must scramble to remove, forever, its Founder's pictures from the walls hardly a year after laying him in the grave?

Against this, and setting aside questions about what exactly the Legion's "charism" is, Legion spokesmen are invoking the ecclesiastical approval of their charism in the same terms that one sees used to defend the celebration of sacraments by grave sinners, that is, as if dicastery approval of a charism worked ex opere operato to guarantee the authenticity and spiritual fecundity of a given charism. I ask, says who?

Notwithstanding some authors who think that Roman approval of a religious institute enjoys the certitude of (one level or another) of infallibility, the better opinion is, I think, that ecclesiastical approval of a religious institute's charism is not protected by any level of infallibility. See Avery Dulles, Magisterium (2007) at 78.

Which, if true, would let us explore the question of the Legion's future with a frankness that would be harder to muster if one feared impugning a determination made by the Church's magisterium.

* The canonical analysis here also applies to acts of sexual abuse of the sort that Maciel has long been accused of committing against boys, and which the Legion now seems to have conceded occurred in at least some cases. Because these acts were older, the canon numbers would have changed (e.g., 1917 CIC 2359 instead of 1983 CIC 1395), but the penalties were the same.

+ + +

Also today, George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published a compelling call for immediate intervention in the Legion by a personal delegate of the pope. Weigel's call, and Germain Grisez's similar proposal, deserve serious and prompt consideration.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Fr. Thomas Berg, LC, has it right


[second post today]

Fr. Thomas Berg, LC, directs The Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, a think-tank specializing in exploring and responding out of the wisdom of the Church to vexing moral, especially medical-moral, issues. Fr. Berg has just issued a short, superb statement regarding the Maciel debacle. Read it carefully first, so as to better follow my observations on it.

Notice: Instead of oblique references, Berg calls Maciel by his full name and title; Berg expressly identifies the grave offenses which he now knows Maciel to have committed, and he makes no claims, for or against, the possibility of other crimes which have not been disclosed to him.

Berg issues no cost-free, third-party apologies for things he (Berg) did not do, but instead expresses his profound personal sorrow for the victims of Maciel. Berg has no power to make material reparations to the victims, but he has pledged the power of his priestly prayers and personal penances on their behalf. Berg recognizes that the Maciel crisis is not simply some sort of internal Legion imbroglio, but a crisis for the whole Church. Berg clearly understands what "communion of the saints" demands of us in this life, as well as what it portends for the next.

Finally, Berg makes no rash and premature predications about the future of the Legion, but asks for prayers toward discernment of that future, keeping Christ and his Church first in view, and not just focusing on a small part of it.

In sum, Berg's is a moving statement from an accomplished priest and scholar; I hope it's a break-through statement for the Legion at large, or at least for many of Berg's brothers who doubtless feel exactly as he does.

+ + +

Update, 7 February 2009: Fr. Richard Gill, LC, has published a statement in the same healthy vein as that released by Fr. Berg yesterday. Inevitably, comparisons between the two letters will be made, but in the meantime it is heartening to see that at least two individual Legionary priests are willing to step forward, even while their leadership dithers day after day.

One demurral seems in order, however, concerning Gill's expression of confidence that Legion "superiors are working closely with the appropriate dicasteries of the Holy See to chart the best course forward for the Legion of Christ". I see not a shred of evidence that such is happening.

To contrary, not only is the picture of Maciel's salacious conduct worsening by the day, but more credible assertions of Legion leadership's long awareness of it are emerging, along with new questions as to how long some dicastery officials might have known of Maciel's guilt. Thus, what Gill's describes as 'confidence' about Legion superiors and Roman officials, I could only call 'hope'.

I repeat, if Pope Benedict XVI chooses not to direct motu proprio an intervention in the Legion crisis, an intervention conducted independently of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, then, I feel sure, no truly effective ecclesiastical action will ever be taken in this case. I need hardly say that the secular media and civil authorities await no authorization from the Vatican to act in their respective spheres; but history suggests that they are, if anything, even more likely to act in the face of real or perceived ecclesiastical paralysis than they would if they saw a firm hand being taken by the competent Church authorities.

Re Maciel and the Legion: why doing the truth in charity is so hard


[first post today]

As the Legion continues to flounder for a coherent response to the Maciel revelations (none of which revelations has yet been specifically admitted by Legion leadership), wide-spread and long-standing frustration is, I think, building into anger, which will next (and probably already has in some fora) spill over into verbal violence and hatred. I had that sequence in mind when I asked earlier that only my opinions be attributed to me, but I'm sure that others who are trying to think and speak clearly in this mess feel as I do.

Anyway, I want to suggest two reasons why "doing the truth in charity" in regard to the Legion crisis (even if Legion leaders were "getting it", which they demonstrably aren't) is so difficult.

First. The truth that needs to be done here is brutal, and I think it's going to get worse. It is never easy to learn of and confront a horrible reality and, as portraits of Maciel have to be removed Legion school lunchrooms all over the world, we have every reason to believe that more disclosures about their Founder, some ranker than the ones already public, are coming, and that the complicity of some or many in the Legion is going to emerge. In short, one could scarcely imagine a harder truth to do than the truth about Maciel and his associates in the Legion.

Second. My point concerning charity is harder to describe: briefly, we all live in an age of pervasive hypersensitivities. Doubtless in reaction to past times when many truly were not sensitive enough of others' feelings, reputations, situations, etc., today, even the slightest criticisms of another are quick to be 'personalized', and anything like 'plain taking' about one's conduct is reacted to as if the ancestry of one's mother had been publicly impugned. We can't help it; we've been steeped in "sensitivity awareness" and monitored by "sensitivity police" for several decades now. As a result, I fear that, among other things, many people have lost what Chesterton described as the ability to distinguish between an (objective and frank) argument and a (personal, ill-motivated) quarrel. Today, arguments against the Legion are routinely perceived as being quarrels with Legionaries.

To all this add that even those trying to operate within the parameters above are inevitably going to violate those standards themselves and one sees better just how deeply difficult it is to try to talk sense in the middle of a chaos of this magnitude.

In the end, other than to point out this double-obstacle confronting those who are trying to do the truth in charity here, I'm not sure what else to do, except to go on making the arguments against the Legion's conduct and structure that I think, for the welfare of all involved, need to be made, and to suffer suspicions in some circles that I am really exploiting the "failings of Maciel" to quarrel with Legionaries.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ad usum praecipuum sacerdotum Legionis


1. Dr. Germain Grisez has written a graceful (as in, grace-filled) open proposal letter to the Legionaries of Christ (and Regnum Christi, but my focus is on the Legion). I warmly endorse it. Where a few of his concrete suggestions differ from mine, I would remind folks that mine are only that, suggestions; Grisez's approach seems quite sound to me.

I would especially reinforce Grisez's observation about Legionary priests being able, and perhaps even obligated, to appeal outside of the Legion structure for Roman intervention in this unprecedented crisis. For example, 1983 CIC 212.3 states:
"According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they [i.e., the Christian faithful, which includes Legionary priests] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [up to and including the pope] their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons." The canon takes on added weight when its placement, near the top of a list of the fundamental rights and duties of all the Christian faithful, is noticed.

2. Canons 691, 692, and especially 693, form the basic parameters of the exclaustration / excardination process for religious clerics interested in joining diocesan presbyterates or other institutes of religious life. Canon 270, though taken from norms on the excardination / incardination of secular priests, is also relevant. The text of the law, of course, is bare bones; a canonical commentary on the canons (there are many) will help orient the reader to the process.

Updated, 8 February 2009. George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has just published a compelling call for immediate intervention in the Legion by a personal delegate of the pope.

The Williamson recantation and freedom of conscience


Within the (unsigned, grrr) Note of the Secretariat of State on the remission of excommunication against four SSPX bishops, Point Three thereof is causing some concerns among the faithful regarding liberty of thought and/or speech in the Church:

3. Declarations on the Shoah . . . Bishop Williamson, in order to claim admission to episcopal functions in the church, must distance himself in absolutely unequivocal and public fashion from his positions regarding the Shoah, which were not known by the Holy Father when the excommunication was lifted.

How, some are asking, can the pope order someone, even a bishop, to retract assertions (however stupid) concerning, not Catholic faith or morals, but points of history?

I think here's how: (
1) The pope is demanding a retraction from Williamson not as a pre-condition to full communion, but rather, as a pre-condition to higher function in the Church. Verifying that someone, however 'orthodox' he might be, is not also a nut-case before allowing him to function in higher office within the Church seems to me entirely within a pope's authority. (2) Williamson, though a bishop, 'stole' episcopal orders in the first place and has never been in full communion with the Church since that day; therefore, given his track-record of canonically illegal actions, a higher level papal scrutiny may be applied to him than might otherwise be appropriate for a bishop who has always been in full communion with Holy Mother Church. (3) Notwithstanding the legal anomalies surrounding hate-crime legislation, Williamson's inane espousals seem to set him afoul of [German]* law. At the risk of setting out on slippery slope here, the pope's special demand of Williamson may be seen as a papal directive to "Stop breaking local civil law, if you ever hope to exercise a legitimate role in the Church."

I leave to others to decide whether a single retractive statement by Williamson would, in fact, demonstrate his suitability for ecclesiastical office down the road, but such a statement would certainly seem to be a prerequisite.

PS: While we're at it, I think Williamson should also recant his fringy statements that 9/11 was an inside American job. In short, the man needs a complete vetting.

* I could have the foreign law reference here wrong, as in, I'm not sure which nation (with relevance to Williamson) regards Holocaust denial as a crime. I claim no expertise there. A reader tells me that Williamson's comments are at odds with German (not English) law. Thanks! But if I am wrong about civil law concerns for Holocaust denial, it just reduces the possible defenses I suggest for the pope's actions from three, to two. I think defense no. three is the weakest of the trio, certainly.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rome must take control of the Legion crisis


When catastrophe strikes (or finally erupts within, however one prefers to see the Legion crisis) a major institution in the Church, a thousand voices go off at once. It can be difficult to distinguish among them. I leave it to my readers to decide whether my opinions are conducive to responsible governance in the Church, but I do ask that only my views be attributed to me, even if some of my views overlap in places with those of others with whom I would, in fact, disagree in many respects.

1. The second "official" Legion response, this one from Fr. Paolo Scarafoni, LC, in Rome, is out, and it is almost as worthless as yesterday's from Jim Fair. More palaver about finding "certain aspects of [Maciel's] life that are very hard to understand" and which "were not appropriate to the life of a priest." Amorphous 'rights of privacy' are invoked as if their mere assertion should silence every questioner. "Facts", though completely unspecified, are "admitted". Such comments are useless. They sound like phrases lifted from a 1980s ecclesiastical PR handbook and they give more evidence, I think, that Legion leadership truly has no idea how to respond to this situation.

For the record: No one is asking for the name(s) of Maciel's child/ren, or the name(s) of the woman or women involved; the immediate questions here are simple: did Maciel sire one or more children with one or more women while he was running the Legion; did Maciel take money donated to the Legion (afoul of 1983 CIC 1267 for starters) to pay off mistresses or to make child-support payments; who in the Legion knew of or suspected Maciel's sexual liason(s); and who in the Legion abetted such payoffs as might have been made? If the answers to these questions in turn lead to discoveries of additional canonical or civil misconduct by Maciel and others, and they very well might, so be it. One must start somewhere.

2. Based on everything I've seen so far,* I do not think Legion leadership is able to conduct the kind of investigation that is necessary here, and at this point the credibility of any Legion-led inquiry would be near zero. In my opinion, the best thing for the Legion to do is to ask the pope for an independent investigation, "a visitation", by two, at most three, prelates who really know how to get hard answers to embarrassing questions, who can see through financial obfuscations and moral rationalizing, and who are not afraid to confront ingrained, systemic denial behaviors. These prelates should make use of canonists, civil lawyers, and accounting experts, to be sure, but also, I think, they should seek out a few carefully selected Legionaries, say, some priests in the order long enough to know its operations, but far enough away from leadership to allow them to be objective in advising the investigators. Doubtless such men exist.

If the Legion does not ask for such an investigation, Rome should impose one without its consent. Quickly.

3. I don't think that an investigation of the Legion should be carried out by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, this for at least two reasons. First, the Congregation still needs to be able to interact with the Legion on routine business while an unprecedented investigation into the Legion is going on; conducting regular business with an institute while at the same time carrying on a comprehensive investigation of it is at best awkward, perhaps even damaging. Second, a truly independent investigation will eventually need to inquire into the Legion's interactions with Congregation officials over the years, and those officials need the freedom to answer frankly.

One thing is sure: Rome's handling of this crisis will itself be subject to evaluation in the public arena, so it had better be effective, and be seen to be effective.

More as circumstances warrant and permit.

* I can now add Fr. Alvaro's letter to Regnum Christi to the examples of how adrift Legion leadership is. First, Legion statements, such as they are, are coming out haphazardly. Somebody has to be named the spokesman here. I suggest that spokesman be a priest. And LC websites (which, last I checked, still had no hint of the slightest problems), should be used as archives of Legion responses. Currently, people must visit a number of websites, secular and Catholic, news and opinion, to get anything like an official read on the Legion's position.

Anyway, the great part of Alvaro's letter could have been written by any pastor to any flock in this Valley of Tears, in other words, most of it is not remotely responsive to the Legion crisis. Worse, the very few comments about Maciel (whose name is avoided) are either laudatory (for crying out loud!!) or are no more critical than "he was a man". In short, more idiot-children language. Additional platitudes follow, interwoven with pietisms which suggest that no leadership is going to be exercised by Legion shepherds, only quiet commiseration with the sheep.

I doubt any point would be served by parsing additional statements, if any, from the current Legion leadership; they must all be benched, now, and competent people put in charge of responding to this worsening disaster.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Maciel meltdown and the future of the Legion


[Second post today]

The disclosures (start here and here) that Marcial Maciel Degollado (d. 2008), founder of the Legionaries of Christ, fathered at least one child, possibly more, destroy a decade of increasingly implausible denials by Legion leadership that their Founder, contrary to LC lore, was a sexual miscreant; today's developments inevitably increase the likelihood that other allegations, including those of homosexual exploitation, drug abuse, and financial misconduct could be verified over time.

It is going to take years for the full implications of Maciel's 'lifestyle' to emerge, but among other things, the Church must now, for the first time, ask whether a religious institute that was founded by such a self-delusional and/or duplicitous character can really be sound. We don't even know how to analyze that question yet, let alone what the answer will be, but this much seems clear: Maciel and Legion leadership have handed the worst enemies of the Church a hundred years' worth of ammunition to use against her. And that must be tearing the hearts out of the many good Legion priests and their faithful lay cooperators.

Anyway, my preliminary thoughts on the Legion's catastrophe.

1. What won't happen: The 2006 canonical process against Maciel that ended so oddly will not be reopened. Church jurisdiction extends only to the living; we can't punish the dead.

2. What should happen: The Legion should (if it can, and I'm not sure it has the self-possession to do this) identify every official who knew of Maciel's canonical crimes or who suspected them, but did nothing (let alone cooperated with them!) and expel them under 1983 CIC 696. Canonical crimes by a number of persons might well have been committed here (see e.g. 1983 CIC 1389); these should be pursued.

Everyone, within the Legion and without, who has publicly attacked the motives and/or character of Maciel's accusers and of Legion critics should, just as publicly, apologize.* While not every accusation was accurate and not every critic was temperate (an impossible standard even for those who have not been physically or psychologically abused), the denials and even recriminations that met their complaints were, in my opinion, unconscionable.

3. What could happen: The Legion could survive, of course. How, I don't know yet. How do priests live the 'charism' of Maciel? How can a religious institute disavow (as the Legion must eventually) its founder but at the same time carry on his work? It's too bizarre to think about.

But another thing could happen here: the Legion could dissolve itself. Hear me out.

The Legion will never outlive the ignominy of having been founded and entirely shaped by Maciel, and the Nixonesque mentality of Legion leadership saps any credibility the organization qua organization might enjoy. So, what is there to build on?

As I see it, the only, or at least the main, strength the Legion retains is its many good priests (admittedly, lessened by a number of other good men who knew that something was deeply wrong with the Legion but, being unable to do anything about it, left in frustration over the years). These rank-and-file priests have been lied to, exploited, and used (as have an even greater number of lay cooperators, of course) and they will need time 'to process' that betrayal.

In any case, (and setting aside those Legionary priests who will want to excardinate to diocesan presbyterates or other institutes of consecrated life, and who should be welcomed as the treasures they are, with no obstacles to their transfers being raised by the Legion), the other LC priests who might wish to remain together could dissolve the Legion, and reconstitute themselves as a new institute under a dramatically new form of governance (not simply with the correction of some strange points in the Legion rule as occurred under Benedict XVI) and with a substantially new charism.

But everything that came from Maciel must be chucked. Absolutely everything. Starting fresh means starting from scratch. If that sounds like an 'impossible' solution, well, I can only say, I find it 'impossible' that the Legion has landed itself in such a massive and unprecedented debacle as this one in the first place.

4. What must not happen: Any more language whatsoever from Legion leadership that tries to spin this disaster. Today's pathetic first response must not be repeated.

I have some other thoughts, but the above suffices for now. + + +

* Tom Hoopes, a layman who edits the Legion's National Catholic Register was the first, and so far the only, Legion official to offer any apology for the LC's treament of it's critics.

Memo to the Legion: We are NOT idiot children


[First post today]

Along with the rest of the Catholic cyber community, I have been following the unfolding allegations and possible confirmation that Marcial Maciel Degollado (d. 2008), founder of the Legionaries of Christ, fathered at least one child, possibly more.

Watching, all day, for any official comment from the Legion, and refraining from comment until the Legion said something for the record, I was astounded when American spokesman Jim Fair finally said only that the Legion has "learned some things about our founder's life that are surprising and difficult to understand," adding that some of Maciel's behaviors "weren't appropriate for a Catholic priest." I am aghast at the vacuity of such a response.

Is this how the Legion of Christ, even today, is going to act when confronted with grave questions of Maciel's whole life? Is Legion leadership really going to continue talking to the Catholic world as if it were inhabited by idiot children? If so, and notwithstanding my deep sadness for the fine Legionaries I know, there really is no hope for the institute.

I will have additional comments. (They are posted now.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Avoiding a rush to judgment on 'embryo adoption'


In outlining the responsibilities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus (1988) states "Fulfilling its duty of promoting doctrine, the Congregation fosters studies so that the understanding of the faith may grow and a response in the light of the faith may be given to new questions arising from the progress of the sciences or human culture." (PB 49, my emphasis).

An instruction from CDF itself, Donum veritatis (1990), in discussing the mutual enrichment that occurs between theological scholarship and the Church doctrine, affirms that "Theology and the Magisterium are of diverse natures and missions and cannot be confused. Nonetheless they fulfill two vital roles in the Church which must interpenetrate and enrich each other for the service of the People of God." (DV 40, my emphasis).

Finally, the statutes of the International Theological Commission (m.p. Tredecim anni, 1982) affirm the responsibility of that august body "to study doctrinal problems of great importance, especially those presenting a new issue, and in this way [help] the Magisterium of the Church, particularly the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to which it is attached." (TA, norm 1, my translation and emphasis).

These sources highlight the deliberation with which the Church in general, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in particular, approach new and complex questions. One can only imagine, then, the study that preceded CDF's recent instruction Dignitas personae (2008). Within that important instruction one finds, I think, several points of 'first impression', that is, official responses that are just beginning to participate in the Magisterium of the Church.

But it is very important to recall not only that some of the points made in DP are new and therefore enjoy level of doctrinal authority quite below that accorded settled teaching, but also that some of them are, upon closer reading, offered with a nuance that admits the need for further study by scientific and theological communities in service to the Magisterium. One obvious invitation to such further study is, I think, found within the Congregation's circumspect remarks on "embryo adoption" (DP 19). Consider:

"The proposal that [frozen] embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood; this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of 'prenatal adoption'. This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above."

I understand why some responsible scholars oppose "embryo adoption" and why they make the argument that the CDF has rejected, or has all but rejected, the process. Nevertheless, I think a fair reading of DP leaves open the possibility that the adoption of embryonic humans, properly understood and rightly motivated, could pass moral muster and, if this is so, why it might actually be an exercise in heroic charity on the part of adopting parents, however disordered was the process by which these tiny human beings first came into existence.

In short, I hope that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith resists calls for a rush to judgment on this novel and complex question, and I encourage scholars, particularly scientists, theologians, and others with expertise in this area, to help the Magisterium, and the couples directly facing this question in their lives, to reach a correct decision.

The rest of us should support them with our prayers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why the original SSPX excommunications were valid


While we await the L'Osservatore Romano article that is to offer an account of how Pope Benedict XVI arrived at the decision to lift the excommunication imposed on the four priests who received episcopal orders illicitly (c. 1382) from Abp. Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, the materials now coming from the Society of St. Pius X continue, in my opinion, to add to the burden such an article must carry if the remission is to make sense to otherwise well-disposed outside observers.

In the meantime, for the benefit of those who would like to see some responses to the canonical arguments by which the SSPX claims that the 1988 excommunications were never incurred in first place, let me very briefly note the following:

SSPX Arg. 1. A person who violates a law out of necessity is not subject to a penalty (Canon 1323.4). Correct, but in asserting what amounts to an affirmative defense, the burden is on the SSPX to prove that it was objectively necessary for them to ordain four bishops in violation of universal canon law and the specific prohibitions of the Holy See. Of course, most people who break the law think they are justified in breaking it. But it's not the offender's opinion of "necessity" that counts, it's lawful authority's determination of "necessity" that matters. And Rome is the lawful authority here, not the SSPX.

SSPX Arg. 2. Even if no state of necessity existed, if one inculpably thought there was, he would not incur the penalty (Canon 1323.7). Correct, but the burden is, as above, on the SSPX to prove that they were "without fault" in thinking that it was necessary for them to ordain four bishops against universal canon law and the specific prohibitions of the Holy See. Now, if the SSPX bishops could show that, by late June of 1988, after all that had transpired to that point, they were "without fault" in still thinking it was necessary for them to violate canon law and papal prohibitions, then I don't know who could not show themselves to be "without fault" for breaking just about any law and disregarding just about any papal directive.

SSPX Arg. 3. If one culpably thought there was [necessity], he would still incur no automatic penalties (Canon 1324.3; [other citations garbled]). Correct, but this argument avoids the crucial point that the excommunications which were lifted last week were not automatic excommunications, they were imposed excommunications (see c. 1331), that is, ones formally declared, by the Holy See no less. Whatever was the canonical status of the SSPX bishops on June 30, 1988, by July 1 they labored under declared excommunications, not automatic ones.

SSPX Arg. 4. No penalty is ever incurred without committing a subjective mortal sin (Canons 1321.1, 1323.7). Incorrect. Canon law does not attempt to read the souls of Catholics and does not require proof of them having committed "subjective mortal sin" before visiting penalties on offenders among them. Canon law does require that the underlying act be one that is objectively gravely sinful, but who doubts that ordaining Catholic priests to the episcopate against the norm of canon law and the express prohibition of the pope is objectively sinful? The "culpa" mentioned in these two norms refers to legal responsibility in the external forum, not to moral responsibility in the internal forum. The Holy See reasonably concluded that the external, observable actions of the SSPX bishops were in violation of canon law. That's all that was necessary.

In sum, while I think that Canon 124 suffices to put the burden on the SSPX bishops to prove the alleged invalidity of the excommunciaitons they incurred in 1988, to the degree they think that their arguments above accomplish that goal, I disagree. I would only add that, if anyone still wants to claim that the SSPX excommunications were invalid, please read John Paul II's m. p. Ecclesia Dei adflicta (2 July 1988), esp. para. 1-3, and show us where the pope missed the point. PS: Good luck.

+ + +

Some other quick points, if only for the record:

The SSPX censures were incurred in the context of Canon 1382 (illicit episcopal ordinations). What various SSPXers said before and since about the Church, Vatican II, "Modernist Rome", the Holocaust, and so on, might well be offensive, but it must be distinguished from assessment of the canonical crimes they committed in June of 1988. The pope's action last week, however it will be explained, is focused, I expect, only on their illicit ordinations.

The age-old question "Are popes above canon law?" admits of no easy answer, but this much should be said: first, don't confuse actions which are only
praeter legem (outside, or beyond the law) with actions that might seem to be contra legem (against the law); second, it is easier for popes to act praeter legem than it is for others to so act (c. 331).

I, in company with many others, hold that latae sentenitae penalties have outlived their usefulness in canon law and are today simply a source of neuralgic and distracting debates. They should be abandoned.

I, in company with many others, hold the Book VI of the 1983 Code needs to be revised to make it clearer how ecclesiastical leadership has the canonical authority to impose sanctions on offenders in accord with law (c. 221) but without becoming embroiled in an at-times hopeless tangle of affirmative defenses and "pastorally-inspired" mitigations and exceptions.

More good commentary from: Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, 25 ian. 2009, and 26 ian. 2009, and 27 ian. 2009; George Weigel, 26 ian. 2009; Amy Welborn, 26 ian. 2009; Damian Thompson, 24 ian. 2009; Jeffrey Mirus, 26 ian. 2009;

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lifting the excommunications of June 1988


I have just seen the news stories about the lifting of the excommunications imposed on the four surviving bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988.

Based on what is public so far (in what are obviously only quick translations), it seems that Pope Benedict sees something like the "withdrawal from contumacy" required by 1983 CIC 1358 for the lifting of censures (Light of the Law, 3 feb. 2006). That would be cause for rejoicing, to be sure, healing another wound on the mystical Body of Christ. Having said that, however, I confess that I'm having a hard time seeing in Bp. Bernard Fellay's January 24th letter to the faithful, at least, any withdrawal from contumacy for the actual canonical crimes he and the others committed (receiving episcopal orders without pontifical mandate, 1983 CIC 1382), or for that matter, much of a retreat from anything else he has said for the last 20+ years.

A fuller explanation of the reasons for withdrawing the excommunications is apparently coming in L'Osservatore Romano so, until we all get a chance to read those remarks, it's probably better to refrain from further comment.


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