The secular media doesn’t really understand religion and is prone to misinterpreting and/or characterizing many religious events unfolding around us.
CNN has a follow-up story on yesterday’s stories about my blog of March 27 and Abp. Vigneron’s recent comments on the obvious (well, obvious to Catholics familiar with settled Catholic teaching) inappropriateness of Catholics who promote, in this instance, “gay marriage”, still presenting themselves for holy Communion. I write like a lawyer, of course, while the archbishop speaks as a pastor, but anyone who understands Catholic doctrine and discipline—regardless of whether they agree with the Church’s position on this matter—would easily recognize that we each said the same thing.
But, when AOD spokesman Joe Kohn contextualized (I’m sorry so many politicians use that word to mean “dodge the issue”, but I use it to mean “place in a wider relevant context”) the archbishop’s comments to show the consistency of the Catholic rules for Communion across a range of situations, CNN cast Kohn’s remarks as “dialing back”* the archbishop’s sacramental admonition to Catholics who publicly promote something gravely at odds with Catholic teaching. Good grief, Kohn was affirming the archbishop’s teaching, not weakening it.
Of course, neither Kohn nor Vigneron could, or even should, try to guess all misconstruals and wild leaps of logic that others might attach to their words, nor do they have to repeat the entirety of Church teaching on the human body, marriage, licit sexual expressions of love, the place of the Eucharist in Catholic life, general norms of sacramental discipline, and levels of ecclesiastical administration, to name just a few related points, every time they comment on Catholics and gay activism. To impose such expectations on them is not to encourage speech, but to muzzle it.
Anyway, is there a secular news story here? Perhaps, if the correct enunciation of Catholic rules for Catholic faithful participating in Catholic Communion is a secular news story, then, yes, there’s a news story here. Beyond that, though (say, the idea that the Catholic Church expects Catholics to act like Catholics seven days a week in whatever walk of life they trod, that Catholic leadership is increasingly willing to make that expectation plain to Church members, and that promoting ‘same-sex marriage’ is not to be acting like a faithful Catholic), well, there could be a news story there, too, but it would be a different one than the Catholic Communion story before us today.
A good story, I think, but a different one.
* CNN has just retitled the piece, dropped the claim about Kohn’s “dialing back” anything, and substituted “reframe” as the key word. It’s an improvement.
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There are a couple of technical slips in Niraj Warikoo’s article in the Detroit Free Press on the reception of holy Communion by gay activists (e.g., I hold a professorial chair at Sacred Heart Seminary, I am not a “chairman”, and one of my longer quotes is condensed to the point of confusing), but generally his presentation of my views (and I think of Abp. Vigneron’s) is well done.
Only the comments of Fr. Thomas Reese, sj, require, as per usual, contextualization, if not challenge. Per Reese: “Most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues” and Peters’ views are “in a minority among American canon lawyers.“
Re Reese’s first comment—and setting aside his transparent attempt to steer the Canon 915 discussion into the voting booth, wherein no one thinks it applies—Reese is commenting on how bishops act whereas I am commenting on how canon law expects bishops and others to act. Reese’s claim about bishops’ (in)action, even if true, would not make my views (actually, the 1983 Code’s views, resting on settled Church teaching) wrong, it would simply mark them as ignored. To be sure, the implications for me if my views are wrong, and for others if my views are right, are pretty obvious, but my hunch is, Reese knows that.
Re his second comment, Reese cites no canon lawyers who regard my position as “minority” (as if being in agreement with John Paul II, Cdl. Burke, then-Cdl. Ratzinger, and the PCLT could leave one worrying about one’s ‘minority status’) though a few canonists have expressed alternative interpretations of the law. That’s fine, of course, it’s what lawyers do, but that only pushes the real question—namely, whose interpretation of the law is the more sound—back a bit. Eventually that fundamental question pops back up and needs to be addressed.
Finally, it seems to me that most of those (rather few) canonists who do express alternative interpretations of Canon 915 do not, when one gets right down to it, disagree with my read of the law, rather, they hesitate over whether the facts of individual cases meet the criteria set out in Canon 915. Fact questions are very important, I grant, but they lend themselves to resolution based on objective information. I’ve always said that and so have the US bishops. What concerns me, and what I spend most of my time defending in this matter, is the basic point that Church law requires, upon the demonstration of certain kinds of facts, that canonico-sacramental consequences follow.
But again, I think Reese knows that; he just doesn’t like it.
The German edition of the Radio Vatican blog, authored it seems by Fr. Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, has opined at length on Pope Francis’ foot washing. While not trusting my German to have caught all of the nuance of Hagenkord’s remarks, I think he defends Francis’ actions along the well-worn lines that “liturgy is a living thing and needs to adapt to the times” etc, etc. I agree. Indeed, who could dispute that in principle?
What I find disconcerting in Hagenkord’s blog is that, having linked to my 2006 critiques of the Mandatum rite itself and to my recent critiques of Fr. Lombardi’s inept defense of Francis’ disregard for the rubrics of the rite, Hagenkord seems not to have read them, or he does not understand them, or he simply ignores them. My comments therein, I suggest, turn on points quite different from whether the liturgy may undergo change.
In my 2006 commentary on the annual and unseemly conflicts occasioned by the foot-washing rite, I expressly suggested that Scripture scholars and theologians should help the Church understand the symbolism of Christ’s action (which I’m guessing operates at several levels, some sacerdotal, some charitable, but all ministerial) whereupon, as appropriate, Rome could either open the rite to women (if the symbolism is primarily that of charitable service) or transfer it to a liturgy wherein the bishop and priests could perform the rite among themselves (if the example is primarily that of apostolic ministry). But Hagenkord ignores these 2006 points—which actually support his analogy of the liturgy as a living thing able to be adapted over time—and instead uses them as an occasion to make a joke about “foot-gate”.
Meanwhile, in my recent critique of Lombardi’s ‘explanations’ of Francis’ actions, I tried to point out the serious negative pastoral consequences of his encouraging every liturgist to become, in effect, a legislator unto himself. But again, Hagenkord ignores this point, which makes one wonder why he even bothered to link to it.
In any case, once again one may ask, what is so difficult about following this line of thought? (A) Rome rightly claims nearly exclusive competence to direct the liturgy (c. 838 § 1), one of the principle characteristics of which is unity (c. 837 § 1); (B) The foot-washing rite, though optional, is restricted to males (viri); and (C) a pope has the authority to modify this rite, but no one else does (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22.3).
Now, did Francis disregard the rubrics? Indisputably. Does his action constitute an abrogation of that rubric? (I would argue No, but have others contrary arguments?). If Francis’ action does not constitute an abrogation of liturgical law, where does his example leave many priests next year who, still being bound by the rubrics, will doubtless be pressured to ignore them based precisely on Francis’ example? Or, if Francis’ action does constitute an abrogation of liturgical law, are other liturgical norms likewise abrogated by similar papal actions (and if so which ones), and if not, why not?
I think, and I think I am reasonable in so thinking, that these are questions worth asking. What I don’t understand why so many folks seem frightened by the very possibility that these questions have been put in play, and go to such lengths to deny that they have been raised.
There are, I am sure, very good answers to such questions, but those answers won’t be explored as long as people ignore the questions.
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Additum: The always excellent Dcn. Keith Fournier has weighed in on the foot washing incident. Like most commentators, he prefaces his comments by wondering why so many people are commenting on it.
I on the other hand understand why so people keep talking about this: it’s because most of the foot-washing discussion (which immediately dives into what the rite means, with most folks thinking it’s about service, and some arguing that it’s about ordination—an argument I stay out of), but anyway, most of the discussion, as I say, avoids a crucial point, one that won’t go away till it’s honestly addressed: namely, what does Francis’ action teach about the import of liturgical law when Rome keeps repeating the law, even though the law makes people uncomfortable, and then exempts itself from the law?
My concern is legal (not Scriptural, not theological), legal. I think law contributes, on the whole, to the welfare of society; I think disregard for law sends a bad (or at best, a mixed) message, and that Francis’ action needs to be considered in this light. The question isn’t going away because it’s not being acknowledged, let alone considered.
Or so it seems to me.
This post arises in the wake of, but is not about, Pope Francis and foot-washing.
Rather, this post addresses the problems occasioned for others when canonical misinformation is injected into popular discussions of controversial matters. Although errors about canon law can be made very quickly, the time required to correct them allows such errors, thanks to modern technology, to be widely propagated among audiences largely unable to recognize them. But, like physicians honoring the Hippocratic maxim “First, do no harm”, those making canonical arguments should “First, don’t misrepresent the law.” I address here a misrepresentation of the law in one area that is being parlayed into a defense of disregard for it in others.
Several places assert that Pope St. Pius X (reigned 1903-1914) acted contrary to Church law when he famously authorized administration of holy Communion to a young English child. One phrasing of the Pius-qua-autocrat claim runs as follows (emphasis added):
The pope … can either depart from mere ecclesiastical law … or completely change it …. A good example is that of St. Pius X who, in order to combat growing threats of modernism and moral Jansenism within both the Church and the wider culture, lowered the age of Holy Communion from that of canonical adulthood to that of the age of reason. … St. Pius X also would have violated several canons when he ordered that a young child who had expressed to him faith in the Real Presence, but had not yet reached canonical age, be administered Holy Communion. It was only after that experience that he changed the law.
Now, whatever rhetorical use one wishes to make of this famous story, one cannot cite it as an example of a pope changing, let alone violating, Church law for Pius did not change or act contrary to the law of his time in this regard. Indeed he expressly and correctly described such action as being in full accord with then-current law. I will contest two specific allegations, namely, that Pius: (1) “lowered the age of Holy Communion from that of canonical adulthood to that of the age of reason”, and (2) would seem to have “violated several canons when he ordered that a young child who … had not yet reached canonical age be administered Holy Communion.” I think both of these assertions are wrong.
A preliminary point.
Both assertions (that the age of Communion was “canonical adulthood” and that several canons seemed contravened by the pope’s action) are offered gratuitously. Granted these assertions are made in internet posts, and internet posts need not be written as quasi-dissertations, but neither are internet assertions exempt from the norms of discourse, especially not when their claims concern technical and controversial matters. So, Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur, the public has a right to ask for evidence that the age of holy Communion in Pius’ time was “canonical adulthood” and that several canons stood in the way of the pope’s action with the child. Recalling that Pius X lived completely under Decretal (not codified) law, we would, of course, be awaiting evidence of these claims under the Ius Decretalium.
To save some time, let me suggest that no evidence supports these claims. While it is not my duty to prove negatives, I am willing to attempt that burden here.
1. The age of holy Communion in Pius’ day was not “canonical adulthood”.
We begin by asking, what was “canonical adulthood” in Pius’ time?
The canonical age of adulthood under current canon law is 18 (1983 CIC 97 § 1); the canonical age of adulthood under Pio-Benedictine law was 21 (1917 CIC 88 § 1). The canonical age of adulthood in Decretal law, however, depended on many factors including sex, location, state in life, and the context of the question (DDC I: 317 and DMC I: 128), but ranged from about 12 to about 25. Wernz-Vidal II: 4-5. No set age for “canonical adulthood” can be identified in Decretal law, so one should not claim that it was abandoned by Pius.
This obvious complication for the Pius-qua-autocrat argument need not detain us, though, for the age for licit reception of holy Communion in Pius’ day had nothing whatever to do with “adulthood” of any sort. Notwithstanding controversies among authors in Pius’ day, the canonical age for holy Communion was, under Decretal law, clear and Pius observed it.
2. In Pius’ day, holy Communion could be licitly administered at age seven—or even earlier.
Summarizing his presentation of the late Decretal law under which Pius governed (including citations to Lateran IV, St. Thomas, Trent, and several Roman interventions against local bishops delaying Communion), Crotty (1947) at 19, 21, wrote: “Despite the teachings of many theologians and the decrees of various local councils and synods, the official teaching of the Church from the thirteenth century has been that children should begin to receive Holy Communion immediately after attaining the use of reason. … [and] it is clear that Rome regarded children as having reached age of discretion when they could distinguish the Blessed Eucharist from common bread; … the opinions of those who demanded a more advanced age were not in accordance with the mind of the Church” (my emphasis).
So, how does one view Pius’ action now? The pope encountered a child who, in his opinion, “could distinguish the Blessed Eucharist from common bread” and, contrary to widespread practice, but not contrary to the law, he administered holy Communion to that child. I conclude that Pius followed Church law (an unpopular one at that); he certainly did not contravene it.
In 1910 (I suppose after the incident with the English child) Pius authorized publication of the famous curial document on early Communion, Quam singulari (good summary here). That document plainly reiterated that early holy Communion, administered around the age of reason—with ‘reason’ to be assessed partially in terms of years but more specifically in terms of a child’s ability to distinguish the Blessed Eucharist from common bread—was what Church law and teaching had long held and still held about early holy Communion, albeit in the face of many who were claiming that the law (or at any rate common practice and various extraneous factors like keeping kids in Catholic schools longer) supported delay.
In short, there is far more evidence that Pius was, and saw himself as, applying Church law on Communion exactly as it then existed, and that he boldly called on others to observe the law, too, even if that meant giving Communion to a four year old child when that child could distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread. Pius indeed received criticism for his actions, but it was criticism for having followed what was the law, not for his having changed it (which he did not do in this regard), and certainly not for his having disregarded it (which, again, he did not do). Pius brought about a welcome change of practice precisely by recalling the law for those who had—not malevolently, but misguidedly—strayed from it. His example is that, and nothing else.
I trust the above is sufficient to cast doubt on casual claims that Pope St. Pius X changed the age of Communion, let alone that he acted contrary to Church law in that matter, and reminds the public of their right to ask those making canonical arguments to be prepared to document or demonstrate their claims.
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In Lawrence of Arabia (1962) the diplomat Dryden quips (I’m quoting from memory): “If we’ve told lies, you’ve told half-lies. A man who tells lies merely hides the truth, but a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.” I thought of that line re ‘half-lies’ when I read Fr. Edward Salmon’s letter announcing his decision to allow two male students to attend the McQuaid Jesuit High School 2013 prom as a couple.
Catholics who were mercifully spared the “Church of the 70’s” might find illuminating Salmon’s letter; it’s vintage what so many of us were force-fed for ten dark years: condescending, platitudinistic, partial quotes of Church documents used to justify the exact opposite of what the Church wants her members to know about Christ and his Gospel. Folks may read the letter for themselves and reach their own conclusions on it. Here I address only one assertion by Salmon: “I am not encouraging nor am I condoning homosexual activity just as I do not encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance.”
What on earth is Salmon talking about? He does not “encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance.” Of course he does! And he should!
The whole point of a high school dance, in America, over the last century or so, was precisely to encourage “heterosexual activity” in a relatively controlled environment where men and women who were moving toward making selections for life-long partnerships of the whole of life (Canon 1055 on the definition of marriage, anyone?) could interact publicly as part of the dating/courtship sequence. The formal prom was just a more grown-up version of the mixer, conducted in recognition of the fact that the youth were approaching adulthood and should know how to dress the part.
And no, the point of a prom was not as prelude to “doing it” under some title of special dispensation for fornication (some schools don’t sponsor proms anymore because of this and related abuses), so if that’s what Salmon meant by not ‘condoning heterosexual activity’ at a dance, well, let’s just say he expressed himself very badly. But, school dances and proms are precisely about human coupling in ways tending ultimately toward adult relationships that will include sexual expression. And everyone knows it, including, I have to believe, Salmon, who is now formally authorizing that exact message to be given to two young men and to the McQuaid Jesuit High School community.
Update, 23 April 2013: Fr. Peter Stravinskas has some good thoughts here.
The background to this controversy is the antinomianism that prevails today.
The Church is passing through a period in which the relationship between ecclesiastical law and the life of faith is widely misunderstood and the very content of Church law is often poorly explained. My attempts to address this double problem include explaining how law is important to a faith community, but even more, I try to explain what the law is at present—for one can hardly debate how ecclesiastical law ought to read if one does not know what it already says.
The controversy over Pope Francis’ disregard of a liturgical law in the Mandatum rite exposes, I think, how many others in the Church misunderstand important aspects of ecclesiastical law and how a misguided attempt to explain Church law can actually provoke more issues for the faithful than it settles.
A Vatican Press Office statement asserts:
“One can easily understand that in a great celebration, men would be chosen for the foot washing because Jesus, himself wash[ed] the feet of the twelve apostles who were male. However the ritual of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday evening in the Juvenile Detention Centre in Rome took place in a particular, small community that included young women.”
Such language, I fear, confuses matters.
The basic meaning of a rite, and certainly the interpretation to be given a rubric like this one, does not depend on the number of people attending the liturgy. No theory is offered to show that in large congregations Christ’s modeling of apostolic ministry is intended by the Mandatum, but in small congregations his modeling of love is intended. Asserting otherwise only sows confusion for other liturgical questions. Similarly, to say that the interpretation of this rubric turns on the presence of “young women” is to make effectively universal that odd interpretation (really: how many pastoral settings consist only of males?)
“To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet on Holy Thursday night in this Roman prison, would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel…”
This unguarded language risks being understood as “following this Church law detracts attention from the essence of the Gospel”. I cannot imagine that this was really meant, but that is basically what is communicated. I do not think there is a conflict between Church law and the essence of the Gospel, notwithstanding that Church laws, from time to time, need to be reformed (as I have suggested the Mandatum rubric should be). In any case, this problematic language exemplifies why Vatican press statements are not vehicles of official legal interpretation in the Church. Canon law makes clear who has authority to authentically interpret Church laws (1983 CIC 16 § 1, ap. con. Pastor Bonus 154 ff., and certain congregations in regard to certain matters).
“… and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules.”
Again, this is unfortunate language.
The implication seems to be that rubrics are understandable by (and ultimately applicable only to) “refined experts of liturgical rules”. I disagree: many rubrics indeed reflect deep theological truths (and thus rubrics are often exercises in something more than legal positivism), but most rubrics are meant to be easily understandable by normal priests ministering in typical pastoral settings. It is a disservice to suggest that respect for Church law is primarily the concern of “refined experts” or that ecclesiastical law has little bearing on how believers should conduct their faith life.
“That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”
I agree that Francis’ action achieved this good effect.
What I find distressing is the inability to recognize (or refusal to acknowledge) that this action also had other effects, effects that might not be so benign. I have argued that among those effects was the sowing of new confusion about the binding character of liturgical laws in general, about the influence of a pope on good order in the community, and so on. Now, to be sure, there are sound answers to these questions, but they are not easily offered in the middle of the Triduum and splashed across secular news stories and blogs. This whole matter should have been handled differently from the start.
Finally, this sort of language pits “love, affection, forgiveness and mercy” against “legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.” Thus accepted is the well-worn but false dichotomy between the spiritual goods of the Church and her legal traditions. Such a charge is often leveled against canon law today, but it was expressly rejected by Pope John Paul II when he wrote that Church law “is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms, and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace, and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.” John Paul II, ap. con. Sacrae disciplinae leges (1983) 16.
Law in the Church—canon, liturgical, sacramental, etc.—is not an end in itself, but instead serves greater ends. Yet, precisely as law, it cannot serve these purposes if it is ignored and/or explained away, two fates often suffered by law in antinomian times.
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Additum: Permit me to express some impatience with the continuing recirculation of a bad theory.
Every time I turn around, someone is citing Fr. Lombardi’s comment that the pope’s washing of women’s feet on Holy Thursday is “absolutely licit” because it’s not a sacrament. Now, whatever one might finally conclude about the liceity of the pope’s action, it simply CANNOT be defended on the grounds that Lombardi uses.
Consider: the homily is not a sacrament (obviously); the homily is optional at weekday Masses (c. 767 § 3); the homily is reserved to clerics (c. 767 § 1). Okay? So, if a priest decides, as a gesture of charity and to model Christ’s inclusivity, to allow a woman (well, any lay person) to preach the homily at a weekday Mass, is his action suddenly licit?
And don’t tell us this does not really happen.
We could multiply this example many times over, of course.
86-year-old George Sanders held a gun to his elderly and sick wife’s head—he says at her request—told her it would not hurt, and pulled the trigger. Some days later—maybe in pain, maybe not—she died as a result of that bullet to her head.
Now, the chances that Sanders will ever kill again are virtually nil. In that lone respect, the slap on the wrist he received for the first degree murder charge (which was plea-bargained down to manslaughter, God knoweth how) is not unreasonable. But in every other respect imaginable (e.g., moral per CCC 2277, or canonical per Canon 1397), his act was gravely wrong. What Sanders did is the matter of mortal sin and if he is a Catholic he needs to get to Confession right away. He shows, I think, some awakening of conscience re the deed.
The rest of us, meanwhile, need to pray that we not be tempted to kill our loved ones, too, and that, even if tempted, we will resist, trusting that God has his reasons.