Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why is this Milingo case getting complicated?

It would be nice to have Rev. Ciro Benedettini's actual words. He is the Vatican spokesman who is reported as asserting that Milingo's expulsion from the clerical state itself renders invalid any future ordinations the disgraced former archbishop might attempt. But, hmmm. What precedent is there for such a stance (well, later than St. Cyprian, anyway)?

I asked day before yesterday whether anyone knew of a precedent for "withholding recognition" of certain ordinations, and a couple-three knowledgeable readers pointed me to Documentation Catholique 73 (1976) at 858, Ench. Vat. 5: 1388-1391. Indeed, the language of "withholding recognition" of orders in the Thuc/Palmarian case was used there.* So, thank you, folks, you have advanced our discussion of this case.

Another colleague further suggested that the language about "non-recognition" was also tried for some centuries to describe the Roman stance on Anglican orders, but lingering confusion over what the phrase "to withhold recognition" actually meant lead Leo XIII eventually to declare the invalidity of Anglican orders (primarily on the basis of their faulty form and contrary intention) in his
bullum Apostolicae curiae (1896). Again, thank you, this too is an advance in our understanding (or in mine, at least) of this situation.

Pretty obviously, use of the phrase "to withhold recognition" of holy orders allows Church officials to punt on the question of their validity. Nothing wrong with that; better caution than haste in such matters. But the danger, as I see it, is in misconstruing "withholding recognition" of orders into something much more fundamental. As might be happening here.

To say that the capacity of one to confer valid holy orders is dependent upon that one being a member of the Catholic clerical state--if that is what Benedettini is really saying--is something quite different from saying that the Church does not plan "to recognize" these conferrals of orders or those. We would have gone from deciding not to decide, to deciding not. And I wonder, can we?

So, I ask again for help: does anyone know of any precedent for saying that one must be a cleric in good standing with the Catholic Church in order to confer valid orders? Mind, I am open to such arguments (I think it's maybe time to revisit Cyprian on this question, and I further suggest that we have already quietly started to do so in another context), but I would caution that such inquiries should take place with a full appreciation of just how weighty is the sacramental and canonical scholarship holding for the capacity of schismatic bishops to confer valid holy orders, albeit in schism.

As far as Milingo himself is concerned, I could see questioning the validity of orders he has attempted or might attempt to confer on a number of traditional grounds, including form, intention, and the capacity of certain recipients.

But to challenge them on the basis that he has been dismissed from the clerical state? That, I think, would be something quite new. + + +

* " . . . whatever might be said about the validity of such ordinations, the Church does not and will not recognize them . . . ." My trans.