Christ among the Doctors of the Law



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.