Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, December 26, 2011

Canon Law Blog is migrating to WordPress

My blog, "In the Light of the Law", is migrating to WordPress at the end of 2011. Things like Twitter and Feedburner can be handled more efficiently from there, and I expect the technical maintenance that I will have to perform on the blog will be considerably reduced.

Many blessings in the New Year!
Dr. Edward Peters

Monday, December 12, 2011

The reconciliation of Sr. Margaret McBride

Despite the great attention that excommunication generates in the secular media, actual instances of excommunication are rare. Rarer still are remissions of excommunications for, as we all know, some offenders never repent. Most Church or Church-related officials have little experience in dealing with excommunication matters, and most reporters have zero experience reporting on them. Thus, when what looks like an excommunication (rare) remission (rarer still) makes the news, one should treat such news, welcome in itself of course, with some caution.

ILOTL readers will recall (see e.g. my posts of 21 May 2010, 1 Jun 2010, 19 Jun 2010, 21 Dec 2010, and 23 Dec 2010) the case of Sr. Margaret McBride, rsm, the religious whose consent, as administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, was apparently necessary for the commission of an abortion in that hospital back in 2009. Against many who argued that Sr. Margaret’s actions could not, as matter of law, result in her excommunication under Canon 1398, I argued that her reported actions could result in her excommunication at least as an accomplice to abortion per Canon 1329. Prescinding from my long-standing misgivings about the operation of automatic censures in canon law, I argued that nothing in the reports available to the public suggested that Sr. Margaret had not met the requirements for excommunication in her case. As to whether Bp. Olmsted’s early public statements about Sr. Margaret’s canonical status sufficed for a formal declaration or imposition of excommunication, my sense was that we had too little information to decide either way; in any event, the bishops later confirmed the status of Sr. Margaret as excommunicated, a development that raised canonical issues about Sr. Margaret's future in her religious community.

There the matter rested for a year or more.

Last week, however, per the Catholic News Service, St. Joseph’s Hospital stated that Sr. Margaret has “met the requirements for reinstatement with the church and she is no longer excommunicated. She continues to be a member in good standing with the Sisters of Mercy and is a valued member of the St. Joseph's executive team.” This seems like good news, of course. The whole point of excommunication is to bring offenders to repent of their action. But the generation of the announcement itself seems odd to me.

The announcement comes from neither the Diocese of Phoenix (pace 1983 CIC 1355-1357) nor from Sr. Margaret’s religious superiors (pace 1983 CIC 573, 654, 696), but rather from St. Joseph’s Hospital, that is, it seems, from her employer. Now, whatever one makes of the process for remission of sanctions possibly automatically incurred and apparently later formally declared or imposed—and we do not have enough information to speculate on those permutations—the one group that is not empowered to bring about the reconciliation of anyone under an ecclesiastical sanction is that person’s employer. So, it seems, someone else must have acted here, and that someone else must have communicated their actions to Sr. Margaret and/or to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Given the extraordinary publicity that was associated with this matter and the direct statements made on it by the competent ecclesiastical authorities, I think it would be good to know, officially and free of ambiguous phrases like "reinstatement with the church", that Sr. Margaret's status has been rectified. Considering that sanctions themselves operate in the external forum, appropriate news of the remission of a high-profile censure can, I think, be offered or confirmed without endangering the internal forum; doing so here would broadly contribute to the common good.

That said, I hope the report about Sr. Margaret's status is accurate, and that we can put this sad episode behind us.

PS: I've seen nothing in these recent reports suggesting that Bp. Olmsted's revocation of the Catholic identity of St. Joseph's Hospital would be impacted by changes in the canonical status of Sr. Margaret.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A canonical comment on Newt’s oddball remark

I have family and friends who (Deo gratias) do the hard work of following closely the ebb and flow of political theories and the rise and fall of politicians who back them. Many abler than I have already weighed in against Newt Gingrich’s conversation-stopping comments to the effect the human life begins at implantation [of an embryonic human being in the mother’s uterine wall]. I simply offer a canonical reinforcement of their remarks.

In 1988, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts authoritatively (authentice) answered the question about whether deliberate destruction of pre-natal human beings “by any method at any time after the moment of conception” (quocumque modo et quocumque tempore a momento conceptionis) was an excommunicable offense under Canon 1398. The Council’s answer, approved by Pope John Paul II on 23 May 1988, was Yes. See AAS 80 (1988) 1818-1819.

Since that ruling there has not been, of course, a rush to excommunicate women for, say, miscarriages, etc., etc., and not just because such things were never threatened in the first place, but for simple legal reasons that basically leave hard cases (and there are hard cases, although miscarriage is not one) in the confessional, where they belong, while preserving the principle that innocent human life, at any stage of dependency and irrespective of how it came to be, can never be intentionally targeted for death. CCC 2271, 2275.

Update, 5 December: Well, this is interesting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recommended: Fairbairn’s guide for beginning Greek and Latin students

It’s nearly Christmas, and with it comes the challenge of shopping for that budding linguist or seasoned translator in the family. Search no more: Just get a copy of Donald Fairbairn, Understanding Language: a guide for beginning students of Greek & Latin (Catholic University of America, 2011) 190 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8132-1866-3.

Fairbairn, like me, is neither a classicist nor a linguist (in the strict sense); rather, as an historian and theologian, he uses Greek and Latin to get at the roots of deeper questions, just as I use (mostly) Latin to delve into canonical questions. Over the decades, both of us, it seems, developed similar approaches to learning these ancient languages that worked for us as students of Greek and Latin (and not as 'proto-teachers' of G&L, although we both have taken on such duties in our respective institutions). And precisely as once-beginners in ancient languages, with vivid memories of struggles we experienced, we want to encourage students to stick with it for reasons that, well, can hardly be explained.

Even a rank beginner in ancient language will profit by Part One of Fairbairn's text, but with even a semester, let alone two, of either Greek or Latin, his explanations of the concepts behind Greek and Latin will greatly assist the student in orienting the English speaker to their wonderful world.

On my list of books that I am really, really grateful someone else took the time to write, Fairbairn’s Understanding Language figures prominently. I wish I had read it 20 years ago, but I am glad I read it now.

My own Ecclesiastical Latin Page is here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sandro Magister on clerical celibacy and continence

Sandro Magister’s recent column on the debate over clerical celibacy and continence is worth a careful read. While continence is distinguishable from celibacy, of course, it is closely related to it in terms of history, theology, and canon law. I and others argue that continence is the primary good protected by Canon 277 (and by the unbroken line of legal provisions leading up to it) and that celibacy, although truly “a special gift from God” in its own right, is ordered to continence. But all of this is discussed elsewhere.

Here I limit myself to three remarks on Magistro’s essay.

Magister rightly names the Jesuit priest Christian Cochini and Alfons Cdl. Stickler as among major scholars refuting the received history that clerical celibacy/continence was optional for many centuries in Church life, that the West only gradually imposed these weighty obligations on its clergy, and that the East maintained the original institution of married clerics exercising their conjugal rights. There are other scholars pursuing these lines, of course, including the priests Stefan Heid, Donald Keefe, and Thomas McGovern, and some recent doctoral students.

I thought it a bit odd that Magister cited Eastern canon law on married clerics, but not Roman canon law, despite the fact that Western law (c. 277) expressly preserves the value of clerical continence (although, of course, that value has not been inculcated in formation programs for married clergy).

As for whether there are quite as few scholars pursuing the continence issue as Magister suggests, I grant that relatively few scholars are weighing in either way on this matter (most preferring, perhaps, to let only the most serious researchers wade into such deep and turbulent waters), but would add that at least some of those trying to have their views in behalf of clerical continence aired have run into problems over the years getting their works into print. In any case, that is changing in recent times and awareness that these serious questions are afoot is widespread now.

Finally, a reminder that, while reform in the Church is constant, it happens slowly. +++

ps: Readers know of my appreciation for those doing translations, so, a special note of thanks to Matthew Sherry for his consistently fine work in bringing Magister into English!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

If we have to say it, we will: No conjuring up the dead on campus property

Granted, a lot of things get hosted in student unions that administration knows nothing about, and the same can be said of many postings on a college website, but by now the St. Bonaventure University higher-ups must know that their website was used to promote a “spiritualist” contacting the dead, on SBU property, on behalf of SBU students and staff. Seems to me it’s time for an addition to the SBU Policy Handbook, something along the lines of “No campus assets shall be used to promote divination or superstitious practices. Violations of this policy are grounds for disciplinary action.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2116 states “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance*, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone." See also CCC 2117.

Back in the day, Canon 2325 of the Pio-Benedictine Code (1917) stated “Whoever excites superstition or perpetrates a sacrilege is to be punished by the Ordinary according to the gravity of the fault, with due regard for the penalties established by law against such superstitious or sacrilegious acts.” The great Swiss-American canonist, Charles Bachofen, commenting on this norm, recalled for readers that Decretal canonical commentary gave “a long list … [of such deeds, including] geomantia, aeromantia, hydromantia, pyromantia, haruspicium, auspicium, augurium, pedomantia, chiromantia, omina, onyrocritica, physiognomia, spatulamantia, metoposcopia, pythonia, necromantia, and astrologia” adding “we quote these names to show that the number of fools has not yet decreased.” Dom Augustine, Commentary VIII: 313 (1931).

By the early 1970s, when modern penal canon law was being drafted, the occult was not a serious problem among Catholics, and Canon 2325 did not seem to warrant inclusion in the revised law. But SBU’s experience, and similar instances elsewhere, suggest that the spiritual crisis gripping the West has left the door open for a resurgence in these stupid, and evil, stunts.

Maybe it’s time to dust off some old canons.

* I do wonder, though, whether “the phenomena of clairvoyance” should be listed here. If clairvoyance, whatever exactly that is, is a phenomenon (as opposed to a willed action like palm-reading or astrology or seances) then further study of it might be legitimate, no? + + +

Same Day Update: Sounds like SBU is taking the right steps to address the mess.

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. + + +