Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A canonical look at +Dolan's Decree

I understand that other bishops have issued decrees similar to the one issued by New York Abp. Timothy Dolan a few days ago, but anything that New York does inevitably serves as a reference for other local Churches, and so “Dolan’s Decree”, as it has been dubbed, against formal ecclesiastical cooperation with so-called “same-sex weddings”, deserves a closer look. Catholics striving to think with the Church will, I think, like what they see.

Preambulatory matters

Most of the first paragraph of the decree is taken directly from Canon 1055 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The last sentence of the paragraph resonates strongly with Canon 747 § 2.

The second paragraph recites facts not in serious dispute.

The third paragraph begins with themes enunciated by Canon 386 § 1 and, drawing on episcopal authority recited in Canons 381 § 1 and 392, proceeds to enact particular legislation for the Church of New York. My lone quibble with the decree is here, with +Dolan’s use of the word “moral” to describe the authority he has over those subject to this decree. I would have suggested that he say "canonical" authority, as its meaning is clearer in this context, but "moral" works too.

Disciplinary matters

Norm 1. Catholic clergy belonging to or working within the AONY are expressly forbidden from taking any part, at any time, in “same-sex wedding” ceremonies. While ministry to homosexual persons, even those claiming to be married to a same-sex partner, is not prohibited, of course, I would take the decree to prohibit clergy’s mere attendance (as a type of ‘advantage’) at a “same-sex wedding”. Canon 209 § 1 is also relevant here, as is, of course, Canon 273.

Church lay and religious employees acting in the course of their duties are also prohibited as above, but it’s not easy to think of how they might actually be involved in such ceremonies, except as specified in norm 2, below.

The reference in the last sentence of norm 1 to canon law expressly prohibiting ecclesiastical solemnization or celebration of “same-sex marriages” comes about, I suggest, as follows:

Canon 1055 defines marriage as a consortium between a man and a woman, and Canon 1066 requires Catholic ministers to assure themselves, before any wedding is celebrated, that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration. Such could never be verified of a “same-sex wedding”, of course, so a Catholic minister could never lawfully participate in such a ceremony. Indeed, to attempt to do so under these circumstances would be to violate Canon 1389. Moreover, among Catholics (and for that matter, among baptized persons), marriage is a sacrament (c. 1055 § 2) and, where a wedding would be null on its face (as would the case of two persons of the same sex attempting marriage), to attempt that wedding would be to simulate a sacrament, an action forbidden by Canon 1379. For the ecclesiastical would-be officiant, such would again be a violation of Canon 1389.

Norm 2. Specification of directives contained in norm 1.

Norm 3. In part, a specification of directives contained in norm 1, but also an application of Canon 1376.

Norm 4. It is not necessary, for the enforcement of most canonical penalties, to recite this kind of warning, but it serves to underscore the gravity of formal cooperation with actions forbidden by divine and canon law.

Finally, the decree became effective as soon as it was issued (as opposed to after 30 days, per c. 8 § 2), another sign of the immediacy of the problem that the Church is confronting here. + + +