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Even if Rep. Hamilton doesn’t care, I do, and so do many others

Some people—I include myself among them—find writing therapeutic. Getting our thoughts on paper can help us acknowledge what’s right about them; but, in addition, writing often gives us insight into our thoughts. Writing helps us step back from first impressions and lets us check them for balance, for usefulness, for basic fairness. Often I find that what might be therapeutic for me to write would be harmful—to me or to others—to publish.

The few times I’ve read Rep. Rebecca Hamilton I’ve liked what she’s had to say. The little I know of her professionally seems impressive. But, to quote from her recent column on “Our cold-calling pope”, let me say “I don’t care” if Hamilton’s had a long week at work and “I don’t care” if she is dealing with a failing family member. Countless Americans find themselves in exactly the same boat at one or more times in their lives, but I don’t see them using their access to an important religion website to put the rest of us through their personal angst, therapeutic or otherwise.

Now maybe the 84% of Hamilton’s recent essay on the pope (sic?) that deals with taking care of aging mothers is of benefit to others taking care of aging mothers. I couldn’t say. I only know the 16% of Hamilton’s essay on the pope that actually deals with the pope, pronouncing her “I don’t care” attitude whether Pope Francis approved the taking of holy Communion by a Catholic who, on the facts alleged, is unquestionably ineligible for It, is plainly contemptuous of those of us who do care whether the story is mostly false (in which case the Church is under open attack from without) or is mostly true (in which case Church teaching and discipline is in obvious disarray at the top). Either way, I care, and Hamilton’s scolding of the many others who care (as if we should be ashamed of harboring such concerns when, after all, Hamilton’s job is hard and her mother is sick) is not appreciated or helpful.

So, Representative, by all means, write an essay about caring for sick mothers, and I’ll be quiet, because I have no experience doing that; write an essay about the ramifications of Francis’ governance-by-telephone techniques, and I’ll agree or disagree with your views based on your arguments; but don’t claim to write an essay about the pope, dismissing therein the serious doctrinal, sacramental, and even media-related concerns raised by Francis’ actions, all the while invoking your poor mother (to the extent of putting her picture at the top of your essay!) as proof against rebuttal of your “I don’t care” attitude in regard to ecclesial matters.

Because when it comes to, among other things, Church sacramental and governance issues, I do care.

An interesting no-comment comment from the HSPO

For a no-comment comment this is interesting. Let’s look at Fr. Lombardi’s four-sentence statement.

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships. {Okay}.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information is to be expected from the Holy See Press Office. {The HSPO has never been limited to commenting only on a pope’s “public” activities, but this statement certainly serves to distance the HSPO from anything related to Francis’ phone calls. The phrase “in any way” strikes me as strong language.}

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion. {Through the garbled syntax of the sentence, I think this says, again, that the HSPO has no intention of trying to parse what might or might not have been said in a papal phone call, so please don’t even ask.}

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences. {The most important sentence in the communique, and a welcome one, first for what it says—though that should have been obvious—and for its not repeating what was said earlier in regard to Francis’ homilies and ferverinos, namely that they supposedly form no part of the papal magisterium. Of course such statements, being liturgical, public, and on points of faith and morals, were part of the papal magisterium. Not a very big part, I grant, but still, a part. Popes cannot switch-off being popes in the middle of Mass, and the HSPO was, I think, wrong to imply otherwise. Anyway, that mistake is not repeated here.}

Overall a helpful statement. Certainly an interesting one.

These days it helps to be from Missouri


See why I have pointed out (so many times) that Canon 915 does not deal only with divorced-and-remarried Catholics? It covers a variety of fact patterns including—it now seems we need to know—Catholics who are themselves free to marry but who enter purely civil marriages with other persons who are not free to marry.

The canonically correct advice to a Catholic in such a situation (outside of a few very rare circumstances which there is no reason to think are relevant to this case) is to refrain from seeking holy Communion per Canon 916, and to ministers in such cases to withhold administering holy Communion per Canon 915.

If, on these facts, a Catholic nevertheless approaches for holy Communion or if a minister nevertheless administers holy Communion, that act is on his or her conscience.



I think Canon 331 ably supports a pope making phone calls to whomever he wishes and saying pretty much anything he has a mind to say. We others will just have to deal with the recurrent confusion that such practices produce over time, beginning with wondering whether any given such phone call was ever made at all and, if so, whether it was reported accurately. In short, it helps to be from Missouri. That said, let me deal with some of the latest confusion here.

Now, I get that the alleged comment about receiving holy Communion was made to a divorced-and-remarried Catholic. Really, I do. But, read the report and look carefully at the phrasing actually attributed to the pope: “The woman’s husband, writing on Facebook, claims that the Pope – introducing himself as ‘Father Bergoglio’ – spoke to his wife, who’d been divorced before marrying him and told her that men or women who were divorced and received Communion weren’t doing anything wrong” my emphasis.

That claim would be right! “[M]en or women who were divorced and received Communion weren’t doing anything wrong.” Divorced persons, per se, are eligible for holy Communion. And the truth of that statement does not depend on to whom it is said. Would such language lend itself to instant misunderstanding? Sure, especially if it were not otherwise explained (and who knows whether this alleged comment was otherwise explained). But it’s not wrong per se.

While we’re at it, it might be worth repeating that there is no canon that specifically declares divorced-and-remarried Catholics ineligible for holy Communion; rather, (most) divorced-and-remarried Catholics are prohibited from being administered holy Communion under Canon 915, the norm whereby those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” (all those terms to be correctly parsed according to well-settled canonical and moral tradition) are declared ineligible for holy Communion. Modifying the interpretation of Canon 915 in regard to divorced-and-remarried Catholics would be, inescapably, to modify it in regard to many other persons as well, but that’s a different matter.

So, as I said above, these days, it helps to be from Missouri.

Updates: (1) Fr. Z goes to town on this mess, here. (2) So, I guess, at least, a papal phone conversation did take place?

Was Jackie O excommunicated?

There is a rollicking Sun News broadcast editorial calling for, among other things, the excommunication of Justin Trudeau. It’s important viewing for several reasons. I’ll have some commentary on it later.

In the meantime, one comment in the broadcast startled me, namely, that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was excommunicated. Was she?

Any talk of Jackie’s excommunication centers on her October 1968 wedding to Aristotle Onassis. At the time, Jackie was (tragically of course) a free-to-marry Roman Catholic. Ari was a baptized non-Catholic divorced from another woman and thus not free to marry (1917 CIC 1069). The Jackie-Ari wedding took place on a private island and, as near I can tell, disregarded canonical form (1917 CIC 1094). In two respects, then, Ari’s presumptively valid prior marriage and Jackie’s apparent failure to observe or seek dispensation from canonical form, the Jackie-Ari marriage was invalid.

But where might an excommunication have come in?

Three possibilities occur to me, though none of them concern what I imagine most people might guess, namely, Jackie’s knowingly entering into an invalid marriage. Assuming that action is itself a crime under canon law (a difficult but not impossible case to make) it is certainly not a crime punishable by excommunication.

Let’s look, however, at three other theories.

1. Under Pio-Benedictine law, Catholics who disregarded canonical form in attempting to marry (certain persons) before non-Catholic ministers were automatically excommunicated (1917 CIC 2319 § 1, 1º). Setting aside my consternation at the interminable complications that arise from making certain excommunications automatic (including a number of ‘affirmative defenses’ that avail defendants even if they do not know to invoke them), Jackie might (depending on the person of the officiant) have fallen within the highly specific terms of this canon. But, in March 1970, Pope Paul VI, as part of a wider reform of marriage law, abrogated all excommunications levied in this regard (CLD VII: 717). Jackie’s marriage was not “validated” by the pope’s action but any penalty associated with her possibly having violated this aspect of canonical form would have ceased in 1970.

2. Bigamy and attempted bigamy were crimes under Pio-Benedictine law (1917 CIC 2356). Jackie, though herself free to marry, knew of Ari’s prior marriage and would have been liable to this penalty (Dom Augustine, VIII: 411-413). The penalty for bigamy, however, was not excommunication but “infamy” (1917 CIC 2293-2295) and, while the consequences of infamy were significant, they were not equivalent to excommunication. There is no evidence, moreover, that the canonical steps by which infamy could have been parlayed into excommunication were taken in Jackie’s case.

3. In 1884, the bishops of the United States enacted particular law by which divorced Catholics who attempted (even civilly) to marry another were automatically excommunicated. Although this penal law famously survived the advent of the Pio-Benedictine Code, its automatic nature meant, again, that a wide variety of ‘affirmative defenses’ could have prevented Jackie’s falling with its scope (assuming that she, not being divorced herself, were subject to it at all). In any case, Pope Paul VI abrogated all penalties associated with this special American law in October 1977 (CLD VIII: 1213-1214) and, as above, all sanctions possibly incurred under it immediately ceased.

Bottom line: it is possible, but not likely, that Jackie was excommunicated under universal law for some 18 months in the late 1960s and/or under particular law for some years into the 1970s; it is certain that Jackie labored under no marriage-related excommunications at the time of her death in 1994.

Et poenae latae sententiae delendae sunt.

Sure, celibacy is “disciplinary”, but then, so is …

In the wake of the latest off-hand, private, ambiguous, papal comment to be trumpeted around the world as a harbinger of impending change, I note that, for the proverbial umpteenth time, solemn heads are nodding in agreement that clerical celibacy is “merely disciplinary.” Good grief, everyone knows that. The question is not whether clerical celibacy is “merely disciplinary”—unquestionably it is; rather, the question is, What does it mean to designate an institute or practice as “merely disciplinary”?

In Catholic circles the phrase “merely disciplinary” conjures up things like the Communion fast or giving up meat on Fridays. In a very well-read crowd, perhaps the directing of bishops to make ad limina visits or requiring canonical form for marriage would be recognized (and rightly) as “merely disciplinary”. Now, provided one means by the technical phrase “merely disciplinary” that the institute or practice in question could be changed, even eliminated, without the Church ceasing to be the Church, then yes, Friday abstinence, ad limina visits, and clerical celibacy are all “merely disciplinary.”

But, considered from that technical perspective, there are very few things about the Church that aren’t “merely disciplinary”, that is, there are very few things in the Church that, when push comes to shove, are essential to her existence. An episcopal hierarchy would make the short list of non-negotiables, as would the seven sacraments. Eliminate the hierarchy and the Church ceases to exist, jettison even one sacrament from the Church and whatever that institution would be, it couldn’t be the Church founded by Christ.

So, yes, eliminate clerical celibacy and the Church would still be, in essence, the Church founded by Christ. No one can plausibly dispute that narrow claim. But those pushing for the elimination of clerical celibacy, touting the fact that it is “merely disciplinary”, should advise their audiences that, by the very same token, many other things could be eliminated in the Church as well, including:

• the Sunday obligation (not to mention all holy days)

• religious congregations, third orders, and secular institutes

• Catholic schools (including seminaries and universities)

• virtually everything in the liturgy

• parishes, arch/dioceses, provinces, etc.

• the College of Cardinals (and papal conclaves), and so on and on and on.

Each of these things appeared only in the course of Church history (sometimes only recently) and all have undergone major changes over time (sometimes in our very own lifetimes). Any of these things, and indeed all of them, could be altered, or even eliminated, and yet the Church would still be the Church founded by Christ. But is there (serious) talk about tossing them? Of course not. Just because something is “merely disciplinary” does not mean that it bears no connection to divine law (consider the Sunday obligation), or that it does not contribute to the holiness of the Church (consider religious life), or that ecclesiastical authority cannot impose its observance under pain of sin (consider liturgical law). This is so obvious it almost defies demonstration.

But if one can scarcely imagine (let alone seriously propose) doing away with any of these long-standing and spiritually formidable Catholic institutions and practices simply because they are “merely disciplinary”, then how do some propose eliminating an observance like clerical celibacy, of all thingssomething much older than most of the items listed above and at least as great a fount of holiness as the otherswith the facile assuagement that clerical celibacy is, after all, “merely disciplinary”?

You know, like we’re talking about a little Communion fast or something.

Much ado about, literally, who-knows-what

We either know what Sr. Jane Dominic said at Charlotte Catholic High School or we don’t. Is it too much to ask, which is it?

Sr. Jane’s remarks were either recorded or she spoke from a text that can be verified as being the one she delivered. The first option, however, has been repeatedly denied and the second seems not to have been mentioned (suggesting the talk was delivered ex tempore). I’d even grant some credibility, some, to Sr. Jane’s own assertions as to what she actually said. But Sr. Jane has, to my knowledge, said nothing publicly since her talk at CCHS.

But despite this screamingly obvious lack of reliable information, everybody and his brother has an opinion on Sr. Jane’s talk, including Sr. Mary Sarah, President of Aquinas College (where Sr. Jane teaches), who makes the following assertions.

In her presentation, Sister Jane Dominic spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals.” But how does Sr. Mary know what Sr. Jane said?

“[Sr. Jane’s] deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise.” How does Sr. Mary know that, and, while we’re at it, what does she mean thereby, sort of prohibiting theologians from commenting on anything beyond doctrine (which I doubt is Sr. Mary’s view.)

The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students.” The only way this phrase makes any sense is if it means that Sr. Jane’s “events” (her speech) are not representative of her positive influence. But if so, how does Sr. Mary know what Sr. Jane’s speech was, and what about that speech was not representative of her other work?

The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver.” Again, beyond the title of the talk, what does Sr. Mary know about the talk itself? And, by the way, whose responsibility was it “to prepare” the audience for Sr. Jane’s talk? Sr. Jane’s?

The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school’s intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace.” The consequence of what? Of Sr. Jane’s talk? If so, how does Sr. Mary know what Sr. Jane said? If of the public’s reactions to whatever Sr. Jane’s talk was, how would that reaction be Sr. Jane’s fault, or Sr. Mary’s problem, or anyone else’s responsibility?

There are no words that are able to reverse the harm that has been caused by these comments.” For the umpteenth time, WHAT COMMENTS? How does Sr. Mary know what Sr. Jane said?

From where I sit, I cannot tell whether: (a) some nun with a doctorate in theology gave a lunatic address on sex to an audience of shocked children; (b) some nun with a doctorate in theology gave a reasonable address on Church teaching about sex to an audience that was not informed about what the address would be, which audience then went ballistic over the misleading advertising for the talk; or (c) some nun with a doctorate in theology gave a reasonable address on Church taching about sex to an audience who hates her message and hates her for giving it. I simply can’t tell which of these scenarios (or variations thereon) describe what happened at CCHS.

But everyone else sure talks like they know.

My series on select canonical issues in Deaf ministry is complete

Several years ago, I sat down to write a canonical study on the possibility that Deaf Catholics might be able to use video communication technologies for sacramental Confession. About half-way through the writing of that article, however, I realized that some important questions concerning the celebration of sacraments in sign language needed to be settled first, so I set aside the Confession article and started writing an article on sacraments and sign. About half-way through writing that article, however, I realized that several preliminary questions about the ordination of Deaf men needed to be examined, so I set aside the sacraments article and started writing the Deaf clergy article.

In 2008 my Deaf clergy article came out in the Josephinum Journal of Theology and about a year later my article on sacraments in sign language appeared in Studia Canonica. The Confession article, though, was unfortunately delayed by a string of pressing projects and I only was able to get back to it a year or so ago. But today I am happy to announce that it has been published by The Jurist.

The three studies are best read in this order:

• Edward Peters, “Canonical and cultural developments culminating in the ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century”, Josephinum Journal of Theology 15 (2008) 427-443.

• Edward Peters, “The ordination of men bereft of speech and the celebration of sacraments in sign language”, Studia Canonica 42 (2008) 331-345.

• Edward Peters, “Video communications technology and the sacramental confessions of Deaf Catholics”, The Jurist 73 (2013) 513-537.

I don’t believe any of these articles are on-line (canon law is, and will remain for some time, a largely physical-medium science) but one might try academic interlibrary services for copies.

Here’s hoping these articles might help advance Deaf ministry.


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