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Sorting out the latest from Vienna

April 2, 2012

It appears that a small parish in the small town of Stützenhofen (Archdiocese of Vienna) elected an openly-homosexual man (one Stangl), currently living in a civilly-registered partnership, to the parish council. For reasons unknown, none of the candidates for parish council signed statements attesting to acceptance of Church teaching prior to standing for election. The pastor of the parish refused to seat Stangl (who had been elected by a large margin), and things went viral from there. The final position of the AOV is not clear yet, though it has indicated that it will not challenge the parish election on “formal grounds” (probably referring to the failure of candidates to have signed the proper attestations before the election).

Some points of canon law: Membership on a parish council (c. 536) seems to qualify as holding “ecclesiastical office” (c. 145). Holding ecclesiastical office (as opposed, say, to participation in the sacraments) is not a fundamental right of the faithful, and ecclesiastical authority has considerable leeway in setting out the qualifications for holding Church office (cc. 145, 148, and 223). To be eligible for ecclesiastical office, one must be “in the communion of the Church” (c. 149 § 1). Full communion with the Church is defined, for juridic purposes, as one’s being “joined with Christ in [the Church’s] visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.” One’s assumption or retention of ecclesiastical office can be declared invalid only for reasons “expressly required” by law for valid assumption or retention (c. 149 § 2). Reading the state of an ecclesiastical officer’s soul is not required by canon law (or indeed, by anything in the Catholic tradition), and so cannot serve as the basis for declaring one’s ineligibility for ecclesiastical office.

Now, canon law has been around a long time, but not every institute in canon law has a long tradition of interpretation behind it, nor are the social conditions under which canon law functions always well anticipated in the law. Parish councils, for example, are very new in canon law, and the theoretical bases on which they rest (such as, degrees of lay participation in ecclesiastical governance) are but recent objects of increased doctrinal and juridic study. Meanwhile, militant homosexual activism in general, and the civil recognition of various forms of homosexual unions in particular, are entirely new in Western law and society. How these (and other) factors come together in Church life need careful sorting out. To some degree this sorting out can come about only on a case-by-case basis, and mistakes will inevitably be made, even by people of good will. Mistakes need to be fixed, of course, but, in the meantime, I suggest that, when they occur in novel cases (or seem to have occurred), corrections be offered (c. 212 § 3), not hyperbolic condemnations.

In the present case, cries of Götterdämmerung from the Right (and for that matter, triumphalist shouts from the Left) are premature. + + +

Update: Cdl Schoenborn’s letter of April 5 is [not] here, but I’ll try to find a link that works.

Update: 24 April. Dr. Josef Seifert has an excellent analysis of what’s at issue here, offered in the manner that I hoped to see such advice offered (more evidence, by the way, that thought requires time, more time than the blogosphere is content to offer real issues). I have little to add to Seifert’s remarks, excerpt perhaps to say that the analogy Seifert offers from diocesan pastoral councils (c. 511) is useful, but the requirement of “full communion” for ecclesiastical officer holders (c. 149) which I outlined above is directly on point. I’d use both arguments.

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