Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some options for responding to the Albany diocese's needle exchange program

I have made the case that, in authorizing a needle-exchange program, Albany's Bishop Hubbard, et al., is formally* cooperating with the evil of drug abuse. As no man can judge his own cause, however, I must leave to others to decide whether I have made the case against the bishop's decision adequately.

In the meantime, some who think that my arguments are correct (or that I have at least shifted the burden of proof to the Albany authorities) are now asking who might have the ecclesiastical authority either to prohibit further cooperation by the Church of Albany in this program or to direct it to vindicate its actions against the arguments raised by opponents.

I address those procedural questions now.

Individual faithful are free to make known to sacred pastors their opinions on matters affecting the good of the Church (c. 212), but they have no basis for seeking the canonical equivalent of "injunctive relief" or a "declaratory judgment" in a case like this.

The metropolitan of the province of New York has no authority to intervene in this action by a suffragan church, but if he concludes or fears that Albany's action is an 'abuse of ecclesiastical discipline', he could inform the Roman Pontiff of same (c. 436).

The USCCB has no authority to intervene directly in this action by a particular church. The USCCB could, I suppose, issue an opinion on the moral liceity of this program, but beyond that, any formal intervention by the conference would require prior Roman approval (c. 455).

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (
ap. con. Pastor Bonus 48, 50) and the Congregation for Bishops (ap. con. Pastor Bonus 79) have, I believe, the authority to seek from the bishop an explanation of these actions, and (especially in the case of CDF) they also have the authority to direct the diocese to cease its cooperation in the program if they find it inconsistent with or contrary to Church teaching and/or practice. Whether Roman dicasteries find this situation to rise to a level warranting their attention is not for others to say.

*Beyond the possibility that this needle exchange program constitutes formal cooperation in an evil action, there is the possibility that it constitutes unacceptable immediate material cooperation with evil and on that basis should be discontinued. I have focused on the formal cooperation question, and leave to others the case against this program insofar as it might be unacceptable material cooperation. If this program fails moral analysis under either rubric (formal or material), of course, it should cease.