Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let's avoid “consequence-driven analysis”

I’m noticing a common, almost universal, line of argumentation against my thesis that even married clerics in the West are bound by perfect and perpetual continence (c. 277). I call it “consequence-driven analysis”. It runs like this.

If Peters’ interpretation is correct, there will have to be, sooner or later, major changes in the permanent diaconate and married priesthood. Therefore, he must be wrong. Alternatively, if Peters’ interpretation is wrong, the permanent diaconate and married priesthood can continue as they are. Therefore, he must be wrong.

Either way, I’m wrong, but not because the arguments that I have presented from law and tradition are flawed (and precious few critics seem even to have read them), but rather, because my arguments lead to consequences that some don’t like while precluding other consequences that they do like. Hmmm.*

To my way of thinking, the first question should be whether my interpretation (I say mine, but it is obviously shared by many scholars) is correct on the merits. If, and only if, it is correct, do we then proceed to pondering what should be done about it. But, that said, if it is correct, then, with the confidence that comes from knowing that Truth will set us free (John 8:32), we do need to consider the next step(s).

In short, first things first: is the assertion that 'All clerics in the Western Church, including those married, are bound by perfect and perpetual continence', correct?

I think it is. + + +

*A recent admonition by Pope Benedict to ecclesiastical leadership seems relevant for canonists as well: “I think that courage is one of the chief qualities that a bishop and a Curia head have to have nowadays. One aspect of this courage is the refusal to bow to the dictate of opinions but, rather, to act on the basis of what one inwardly knows is right, even when it causes annoyance.” Light of the World, at 85. And I well recall Cdl. Raymond Burke's recent quip to a young man asking for advice as he prepared to enter canon law studies: "Well," said the world's finest canonist, "the first thing I would tell you is, Canon law is not for the faint of heart!"