Christ among the Doctors of the Law



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.