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What I owe to Bl. Pope Paul VI

Bl. Paul VI was not the greatest pope ever. He is not on my “Top Five Popes” list and I am not sure he even makes my Top Ten. Paul VI was often feckless and he made some terrible episcopal appointments, appointments whose reverberations hinder us to this day. But for all that, I owe Paul a special debt of gratitude, one I can scarcely ever hope to repay. It goes back nearly 40 years.

Like most reasonably bright sophomores in college, I knew pretty much everything about everything and I was certainly an expert on anything I chose to take a position on. That included, among matters ecclesiastic, contraception. Not that I had ever read Pope Paul’s Humanae vitae, mind, or knew anything whatsoever about the topic beyond what I had picked up from groovy 1970s clergy (who smirked whenever they talked about Paul VI, or about sex, or, come to think of it, just about anything else), but I was quite sure that the funny-looking pope was out to lunch on contraception and that the Church was only embarrassing herself by pretending otherwise.

Anyway, one day at lunch in the dorm the topic of contraception came up and I began dropping omniscient quips about Pope Paul and his silly teaching, whereupon a classmate (who, not being afraid to admit his own limitations, was not afraid to point out others’) asked me point blank, “Have you ever read Humanae vitae?” Thank God I answered honestly, “No”, because it freed him to say, “Well then, you really don’t have much to add to this conversation, do you?” I was instantly convicted, not just in the eyes of all at that table, but in my eyes, too, of laboring under ignorance and arrogance, and my teenage world suddenly widened to reveal that some people in it were not much disposed to indulge people spouting nonsense rooted in both at their lunch table.

I drove immediately to the local Catholic bookstore, asked for a copy of Humanae vitae and was handed a 20 page pamphlet (surprising me, for I had figured that Humanae vitae must be a large book to have generated so much attention). I returned home, went to my room, closed the door, sat down at my desk, and read Paul’s VI little booklet straight through.

I’ll never forget it: I reached the last paragraph, closed the text carefully, sat up straight, and heard myself say aloud (I think I said it aloud, but the words were just as clear): “My God, if the Church is right about contraception, it could be right about everything!” And neither my many sins since, nor the Church’s frequent bungling of her divine message, nor any other factor taken singularly or in combination, has ever led me to doubt, since that day, that the graces guaranteeing the Church’s proclamation of the truths contained in Humanae vitae are at work in her always and everywhere. It has been an unswerving consolation to me ever since.

That’s what I owe to Pope Paul VI. I’ll never be able to repay him.

Say it’s so, Joe, say it’s so

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (Louisville KY) and I served together at the 2012 Synod and I was consistently edified by his example of love for the Church, for the Truth she proclaims, and for the people she serves. Thus, a recent comment by Kurtz, reported in Robert Royal’s valuable daily commentary on the 2014 Synod, seems a portent of some good that might yet come from it.

Per Royal: “A reporter who interviewed Cardinal Kasper this week informed the panel that Kasper claims there’s a growing majority for his position on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Though the panel wouldn’t venture to say whether that was true, Archbishop Kurtz claimed that the general sense of the Extraordinary Synod is that that particular question will need to be studied by the experts between now and the 2015 follow-up Synod” emphasis added.

Could it be that, finally, the unswerving and public commitment of Cdls. Burke, Müller, and Pell, to name just three, to settled Church teaching on divorce and remarriage, on contrition and Confession, and on the nature of and the requisites for sharing in, the Eucharist, is bearing fruit? Could the fine essays of the authors of Remaining in the Truth of Christ (Ignatius, 2014), and perhaps even some posts by bloggers in the provinces, finally be having an impact on the consciousness of the Synod that certain ecclesiastical matters cannot simply be “felt” their way through, or “emoted” through, but instead have to be thought through by men and women who know what they are talking about and are ready to share that information with prelates, lest, from lack of knowledge or insufficient attention, incalculable harm be done to the Church’s mission and to the people she serves?

Please, say it’s so, Abp. Joe, say it’s so!

Why, even this comment lifted from today’s Language Group reports seems to acknowledge that doctrine is very, very much at stake in the so-called “disciplinary” question about reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics: With regard to possibility of divorced and remarried persons partaking in the sacrament of the Eucharist, two main perspectives emerged: on the one hand, it was suggested that the doctrine not be modified and to remain as it is at present; on the other, to open up the possibility of communication, with an approach based on compassion and mercy, but only under certain conditions.” VIS 141016, emphasis added. Indeed, “only under certain conditions”.


A note on Relatio post disceptationem 51

I do not know exactly at what point understatement becomes platitude, and where platitude descends into patronizing, but those points were reached and passed on the Synod’s way to informing Catholics “that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.” Relatio 51.

For starters, by definition, no mere “union” between human beings can be on the ‘same footing’ as “marriage” because marriage is that unique human relationship wherein there is established a permanent consortium of the whole of life ordered to, among other things, the procreation and education of children. Canon 1055. Obviously, if there is only one of something, nothing else can be on the ‘same footing’ with it.

But if by the term same-sex “union”, the Relatio really has in mind “same-sex marriage” (and various reasons suggest that is what it intended to address), then, to leave Catholics with the impression that such “unions”, while not on the ‘same footing’ as “marriage”, nevertheless approach marriage, is pastorally irresponsible: The Church teaches with infallible certainty that two persons of the same sex cannot enter marriage. The only, highly technical at that, question on the table regarding that teaching is whether it is infallibly proclaimed as “an object of belief” or as “a doctrine to be held”, a question this Synod seems ill-equipped to consider.

But, regardless of how that technical question is answered, whatever “union” results from the coming together of two persons of the same sex, that relationship cannot be analogized to natural or Christian marriage—at least not without risking serious harm to settled Church teaching and needless confusion among those who depend on that teaching.

Keep Calm and Canon On

Pretty much every Christian who is persecuted (physically or psychologically) for his beliefs sooner or later parlays that persecution into divine approbation of his beliefs. Nevertheless I try to avoid leaping to such a conclusion when I, or people I respect and care about, are persecuted for positions taken on this ecclesial matter or that. Notwithstanding verses like “Blessed are you when you are reviled for my name’s sake…,” I think scorn usually has a more mundane explanation than divine messaging. Besides, even if one is persecuted for one’s beliefs, that’s no guarantee one’s beliefs are sound.

I mention this by way of preface to observing that lawyer-bashing and law-dissing seem lately to have become very common in certain Catholic circles. If I had a dime for every time I’ve been called, say, a Pharisee, I’d have—if not the proverbial million dollars—then certainly enough dimes to feed the parking meter for the rest of my life. Amid the avalanche of Bible verses now being hurled at canonists and lawyers, however, one passage is curiously omitted. Matthew 23, verse three, quotes Jesus thus: “Whatever [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you to do, do it and observe it…” (emphasis added). Now, considering who those lawyers were and what they later did, that’s a pretty startling thing for our Lord to say.

So I wonder: from such a divine admonition, should not one understand that, even if lawyers do stand in peril of their soul (and this canonist thinks about that possibility every day), lawyers generally know what they are talking about? Or was Jesus wrong to direct his people and disciples to do what the lawyers told them they should do?

A note on Relatio post disceptationem 48

From the Relatio post disceptationem:

48. Suggesting limiting [divorced-and-remarried Catholics] to only “spiritual communion” was questioned by more than a few Synodal Fathers: if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament? As a result a greater theological study was requested…

Fathers with access to the Dictionarium Morale et Canonicum (1962-1968) should consult P. Landucci, “Communio spiritualis”, DMC I: 790-793, esp. 792. The possibility of making a spiritual Communion while in an irregular state is ably discussed there along with the basic differences between spiritual and sacramental reception of holy Communion.

By the way, making a spiritual Communion is a partially indulgenced action under the 2004 Enchiridion, conc. 8 § 2, 1°.

Update: This post now available in French, ici.

Some notes on Cdl. Burke’s EWTN interview

There are too many important passages in Raymond Cdl. Burke’s recent 29 minute interview with EWTN to quote and comment upon here. The entire interview should be seen by those wanting to understand better what is happening in and around the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Even so, a few parts warrant underscoring.

At approx. 11:45, Burke talks about helping couples in irregular unions (Catholics civilly remarried after divorce) to “lead a chaste life”. Burke is referring to the brother-sister relationship long recognized by moralists and canonists as a viable way for such couples to stay together (say, for the sake of children), cease taking for themselves the prerogatives of the married, and access holy Communion.

{At approx. 12:45, I wish Burke had been allowed to respond to Cdl. Kasper’s astounding claim that sacramental Confession is possible for someone who does not express firm purpose of amendment. Instead the discussion went down another interesting path. Oh well.}

At approx. 15:58, Burke rejects, with the bluntness it deserved, Kasper’s claim that the annulment process itself is nothing more than Catholic divorce. The 1944 address of Pius XII mentioned by Burke is available in English at Canon Law Digest III: 612-622 or in Italian here.

At approx. 17:08, Burke makes a subtle but vital point that it is of divine law that the Church have a process for assessing (among other things) the validity of marriage. It must be understood that, whatever else it is, marriage is, by Christ’s decision, a relationship rooted in contract (though this contract is raised to the level of sacrament between the baptized, c. 1055) and therefore the ecclesial society needs a legal process to assess the binding character of those contracts apparently entered into by its members. While the Church can, and does, make use of both judicial and administrative procedures to attain justice (annulment cases being among those matters treated judicially, c. 1671), the notion of hearing marriage nullity cases “administratively” has become code for deciding such cases “pastorally” or “mercifully” or in some way or another that is not “legal” in nature. Burke’s comment is an urgent call not to abandon the idea that some legal process be employed to satisfy certain aspects of divine law.

At approx. 18:50, Burke makes an important observation on the “complexity” of the annulment process, namely, that the process is, for the most part, only as complex as are the situations that the process is meant to assess. If life (including its legal aspects) were simple, then living life (and settling its legal questions) would also be simple. He makes the same point at approx. 19:30, calling for more people to be trained in canon law.

At approx. 21:10, Burke concedes the oddity of the pope’s naming a commission to revise tribunal procedures before it was even settled that tribunal procedures needed to be revised, let alone agreed to in regard to the manner in which they should be revised. For my part I too was surprised to learn that such a commission had been appointed so quickly, and then struck by, among other things, how few of the members seem to have extensive first instance experience or come from nations wherein tribunals function on significant scales.

At approx. 21:20, Burke says he would make very few and very small changes to the current annulment process. “Very few” because, as I and others have argued, the tribunal process already is a bare-bones legal process, that is, almost nothing that tribunals do is not directly required by natural law for the achievement of justice. Things like citation of parties, use of witnesses, settled grounds for investigation, moral certitude of decision, and so on—to eliminate any of these aspects of an annulment case would be to deprive the process of something required by natural law itself for justice. “Very small” because Burke strongly supports, among other things, maintaining mandatory second instance review of affirmative sentences (c. 1682). Now, this is one of the few points on which reasonable Catholic minds can differ with Burke (and still make sense while doing so).

     All informed discussants recognize that mandatory review of trial court sentences is not required by natural law for the attainment of justice, so in that regard it is a matter left to human genius for decision. Precisely because it is a matter for human determination, I am comfortable leaving the continuation or abandonment of mandatory second instance to the wisdom of ecclesiastical authority. Personally, I prefer its abrogation—but I grant that my experience in tribunal work colors my view: I served in tribunals where qualified first instance judges took their duties seriously and (I’d like to think as a result thereof) second instance courts rarely failed to ratify first instance decisions. Too, perhaps one incentive to the good work being done in first instance is knowing that second instance is going to examine it. Removing mandatory review is a risky way to test that hypothesis.

     In any event, Burke in his office regularly sees tribunal cases from around the world: he might therefore appreciate second instance as being a much more important practical, if admittedly optional, check on faulty first instance processes or decisions and, as a prudential matter, favor retention of second instance on those grounds. If that’s the case, well, let’s just say that Burke’s prudential judgment on such things is worth considerably more than mine.

{At approx. 22:30, I wish the discussion on the “nature of the Synod” had turned first to the incredibly bad ecclesiology that allows such nonsense as “Synod 2014 is like a new Vatican Council II” even to be uttered. How does such nonsense get said at all? Compare Canons 336-341 on ecumenical councils (subjects of “supreme and full power over the universal Church”) with Canons 342-348 on synod (groups of bishops that foster unity and advise). Good grief.}

At approx. 26:20, Burke makes the kind of comment that resonates with every good lawyer: when asked how he felt about being removed from the Congregation of Bishops, Burke replies, No one has a right to be on such a body. Brilliant, go right to the heart of the law (cc. 331, 360-361, and ap. con. Pastor bonus) and defend the pope’s authority over his own dicastery. Whether Burke’s is a voice that Pope Francis wants to hear is entirely the pope’s call to make. Opinions may differ on the wisdom of such a removal, but it is not for this group or that, for the media, or for any one else to impose their preferences in such matters on the pope.

Burke the lawyer upholds that papal authority.

Ambiguity does not serve discussion, and bad logic destroys it

John Allen reports that two influential Italian cardinals, Coccopalmerio and Tettamanzi, have expressed support for permitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics access to holy Communion. Did they?

I ask this not rhetorically but sincerely because, in his report, Allen does not actually quote any statements by Tettamanzi (retired from Milan) about Communion (the only substantive assertions attributed to Tettamanzi are platitudes or irrelevant to the question) and Coccopalmerio (an important dicastery head), says everything but ‘divorced-and-remarried Catholics should be allowed access to holy Communion’. On a matter of such importance I think that important prelates’ exact words (even in translation) should be offered. If those words are direct, quote them, so that due response can be made; if they are ambiguous, quote them too, so that requests for clarity be made.

Of course, Allen the journalist might himself be faced with incomplete reports and/or badly rendered transcripts; besides, it is quite possible that neither man expressed himself clearly, relying more on tone or gesture to convey their positions. This seems especially likely in regard to Coccopalmerio whom Allen quotes in several passages that admittedly imply support for a dramatic change in praxis. But, call me a lawyer, I need to know what a man said before I can respond to what he meant.

I have in mind here something Cardinal Burke said about halfway through a 28 minute interview that is a must-see, namely, that one crucial step toward discussing marriage, divorce, and Communion coherently would be for discussants to abide by the “principle of non-contradiction” (that is, accepting that something cannot be and not be in the same way and at the same time). In that spirit, and granting that the Church is very skilled at teasing out subtleties and qualifications in statements of doctrine and rules of practice and that some finer points apply below, the following seems clear:

Either the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2384 is right, or it is wrong, to call remarriage after civil divorce “public and permanent adultery,” and either Canon 915 is right, or it is wrong, to prohibit administration of holy Communion to Catholics whose protracted public conduct is gravely at odds with fundamental Church teaching. Either the Sacrament of Confession requires of penitents a ‘firm purpose of amendment’ (that is, one’s casting off the sinful act), or it does not require such resolution for absolution (CCC 1451, CIC 959), and either Jesus’ frequent words against divorce and remarriage conveyed His meaning, a meaning which the Church in turn correctly understands, or not. But, if the Catechism is right, if the Code is correct, if sacramental theology is sound, and if Jesus knew what He was saying and His Church has rightly understood Him, then, how does one countenance administration of holy Communion to the typical divorced-and-remarried Catholic without at the very least disregarding the logical principle of non-contradiction?

That’s why I would like to know (and not just have my own hunches about) what some important voices in the Church said before I conclude that they really are, as they seem to be, disregarding one or more of the above considerations.


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