Christ among the Doctors of the Law



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?