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Canon 377 § 5 and the Chinese negotiations

Canon 377 § 5 of the 1983 Code states “In the future, no rights and privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities.” Frankly, the canonical theorist in me has always been uncomfortable with Canon 377 § 5 (it has no parallel in Eastern law) in that the provision seems to be at odds with the important legal maxim “Par in parem non habet imperium”, that is, an equal (the pope who legislated Canon 377) cannot bind an equal (a later pope who might wish to disregard this kind of canon). But the law clearly says what it says.

Now, to judge from usually reliable news sources, the granting of certain rights of what look like, at least, “nomination” (in the English sense of the word, which differs somewhat from the Latin) or “presentation” (beyond the narrow sense of that phrase in religious law where it is usually encountered) of episcopal candidates seems to be what Pope Francis has in mind for China. At any rate, Joseph Cardinal Zen (emer. Hong Kong) seems to think so and his views always need to be considered very seriously in such matters.

Setting aside, though, the possibility that such a plan might not be, in the end, what Francis actually has in mind, and prescinding for the moment from the possibility that Canon 377 § 5 might have been written too broadly to begin with, it is important to realize that the norm itself rests on some very strong Conciliar roots.

The Second Vatican Council’s decree on bishops, Christus Dominus (1965) 20, stated: Since the apostolic office of bishops was instituted by Christ the Lord and pursues a spiritual and supernatural purpose, this sacred ecumenical synod declares that the right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority. Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the Church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities. The civil authorities, on the other hand, whose favorable attitude toward the Church the sacred synod gratefully acknowledges and highly appreciates, are most kindly requested voluntarily to renounce the above-mentioned rights and privileges which they presently enjoy by reason of a treaty or custom, after discussing the matter with the Apostolic See.

The kind of language suggests that more than temporary expediencies are at work behind Canon 377 and that, therefore, more than temporary expediencies should be considered before disregarding it.

A number of countries still enjoy a concordat-based right to prior notice of pending episcopal appointments in their lands, this, to allow time for exchanges of views concerning same (Exegetical Comm II/1:759), but a few others have, in whole or in part, surrendered their rights in these matters (GB&I Comm 216). The trend may be small, but it is welcome.

The Holy See / China negotiations are not, it seems, limited to episcopal appointment matters, and prudence will, as always, have to temper the application of principles. Still, let’s hope that Church-State negotiations in one very tense corner of the world don’t result in unintended Church-State consequences for others.

Addendum: A few months ago George Weigel made points worth recalling here.

‘Sexual relations’ and ‘conjugal relations’ differ categorically

Among the fault lines revealed by the ecclesiastical earthquakes erupting after Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, we can see, I suggest, how some high-ranking ecclesiastics seem inadequately to understand the differences between “sexual relations” and “conjugal relations”.

Most any man and any woman can have sexual relations, of course, but only spouses can have conjugal relations. While physically the actions are the same, the differences between a non-married couple engaging in sexual relations and a married couple engaging in conjugal relations are numerous in the natural order (emotionally, psychologically, even legally); if engaged in between Christians, those differences become categorical (sacramentally, spiritually, and even canonically).

I flagged this confusing of “sexual relations” with “conjugal relations” in my comments on the Maltese Disaster noting that Bps. Scicluna & Grech had carelessly spoken of non-married couples exercising a conjugal virtue (Criteria, # 9). But they were not the first, nor are they the only, prelates to disregard the crucial distinctions applicable here.

Amoris itself confuses “sexual relations” and “conjugal relations” by invoking, in its controversial footnote 329, the Second Vatican Council’s reminder to married persons not to “separate” for too long a time (see Gaudium et spes 51, which speaks exclusively in terms of spouses and conjugal relations) as if it were a warning against non-married couples discontinuing their sexual relations!  From a purely scholarly point of view, Amoris’ invocation of advice to married couples about safeguarding their rights as if it were a disincentive to non-married couples to cease usurping rights that are not theirs, is inexcusable, but—and this is crucial—footnote 329 is, as far I have seen, the only time that Amoris makes this fundamental error in categories. As such, and notwithstanding that footnote 329 should be repudiated, it could be excused as a one-time misstatement in an otherwise very lengthy document.

That is, until others, the Maltese in a document published in L’Ossevatore Romano as above, and now Cdl. Coccopalmerio in a book published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana consciously repeat that confusion by saying about Amoris fn 329 that it presents “a suggestion given by the Council for matrimonial situations, in other words for legitimate unions, but was applied by [Amoris] to the case of unions that are, at least objectively, not legitimate. I believe, however, that such a difference is not relevant for the correctness of the aforesaid application” (Coccopalmerio, p. 24, my trans.).

Dare I say “obviously”—the categorical confusion between mere “sexual relations” and spousal “conjugal relations”  made in Amoris fn 329 when it misapplied Conciliar advice for married persons to non-married persons, by taking advantage of a wider disinterest in and/or ineptitude for theo-canonical precision among many ecclesiastical figures, is now spreading from the debate over admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion, as important as that is, to questions of the moral liceity of sexual acts between married vs. non-married persons, the basic ability of all the faithful to resist sinful temptations, and one’s eligibility for valid reception of Penance, among various other things.

Dare I say “obviously”—this confusion must cease.

A blow upon a bruise

Evelyn Waugh’s character Charles Ryder described his friend Sebastian’s protracted acts of self-destruction as “a blow, expected, repeated, falling upon a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne” (Brideshead Revisited, 1945) . I thought of Waugh’s words as I read, in the wake of the Maltese Disaster and the German bishops’ slightly more nuanced program to the same effect, some excerpts translated from Francesco Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s new, short book on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia.

If the excerpts I read are accurate, the President of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts (the body charged with issuing binding interpretations of ecclesiastical legal texts, notably the Code of Canon Law), comes down squarely on the side of the Maltese and Germans in holding that Catholics living in open contradiction to Church teaching on the permanence of marriage and in disregard of Church teaching that marriage is the only proper setting for sexual intercourse, may and should, after “an appropriate period of discernment”, be admitted to the sacraments of Reconciliation and holy Communion.

Per Rorate Caeli, Coccopalmerio holds: “The divorced and remarried, de facto couples, those cohabiting, are certainly not models of unions in sync with Catholic Doctrine, but the Church cannot look the other way. Therefore, the sacraments of Reconciliation and of Communion must be given even to those so-called wounded families and to however many who, despite living in situations not in line with traditional matrimonial canons, express the sincere desire to approach the sacraments after an appropriate period of discernment . . .Yes, therefore, to admission to the sacraments for those who, despite living in irregular situations, sincerely ask for admission into the fullness of ecclesial life, it is a gesture of openness and profound mercy on the part of Mother Church, who does not leave behind any of her children, aware that absolute perfection is a precious gift, but one which cannot be reached by everyone.” Fr. Z’s red-line translation reads similarly.

These words, assuming they accurately reflect the cardinal’s position, are more blows upon a swollen bruise.

It is important to recall that, despite being published by the Vatican’s publishing house and to be rolled out in a Vatican press conference {which it seems the cardinal suddenly backed-out of attending this morning}, Coccopalmerio’s book does not suffice as a vehicle for “authentic interpretation” of canon law itself, let alone is it a response by the Holy See to the Four Cardinals’ dubia—important, I say, because Coccoplamerio apparently stakes out, along with the Maltese and the Germans, an extreme position on reception of sacraments by divorced-and-remarried Catholics—a position not actually taken, whatever might be his personal predelictions, by Pope Francis in Amoris—one that effectively endorses the absolution of those who do not, at the time of their Confession, intend to amend their conduct (contrary to the canonical and ecclesial values behind Canons 959 and 980) and which places confessors in proximate danger of committing the crime of solicitation in Confession. Further, by urging ministers of holy Communion to distribute the sacrament to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” (contrary to the canonical and ecclesial values behind Canon 915), Coccopalmerio’s advice not only facilitates the irreverent reception of holy Communion, it tends toward giving what the Church has always recognized as classical scandal. Of course, those undeterred by my arguments offered on these points elsewhere are unlikely to be persuaded by my repeating them here, so I simply note them and move on, except to make one observation.

A few weeks ago, Cdl Muller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave an interview that upheld the traditional practice of withholding holy Communion from divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Now, Cdl Coccopalmerio has published a booklet in which he apparently says that, subject only to the toothless requirement of ‘discerning their situation’, such Catholics may and should be admitted to holy Communion. In other words, the Church’s arguably two highest-ranking cardinals in the areas of canonical interpretation and the protection of doctrine and morals are in public, plain, and diametric opposition with each other concerning a crucial canonico-sacramental practice.

This division cannot stand.

Restrictions on absolution are not so easily placed

Clergy, lawyers, and physicians have long been exempt from the duty to report certain crimes known by them to have been committed by certain persons. I do not know what use the Australian Royal Commission charged with investigating child abuse might wish to make of the information being provided to it regarding Catholic canon law and sacramental doctrine on Confession in regard to clerical civil duties under criminal reporting statutes, but the commissioners will certainly need, before anything else, an accurate understanding of that Catholic law and doctrine.

Apparently (I say “apparently” because I have read only a few pages of the copious testimonies presented to the Royal Commission), some ecclesiastical witnesses are telling the commission things like, absolution from the grave sin of child abuse can, as matter of Church law and doctrine, be withheld or made conditional based upon penitents reporting themselves to civil authorities, this, either because the refusal to ‘turn oneself in’ is supposedly a sign of “impenitence” (and impenitence renders the sacrament null) or because it represents a failure to perform sacramental “satisfaction” (and this failure supposedly renders the sacrament null).

Such claims, if they were in fact made, would, I suggest, significantly distort Catholic law and doctrine concerning the sacrament of Confession-Penance.  I shall try to clarify these points for concerned parties.

POINT ONE. Confessors may withhold absolution from penitents who are not sorry for their sins (1983 CIC 980, olim 1917 CIC 886), but the refusal of a penitent to manifest his or her sins publicly does not suffice as proof of a lack of sorrow for them. Perhaps those who claim that absolution may be withheld from penitents who decline to disclose their sins publicly could point us to an official or a credible scholarly source supporting that claim so we could consider it.

While we wait for that show of proof, let me offer a couple observations:

(1) Penitents confessing sins enjoy the presumption of being sincerely sorry for their sins. McAreavey, Great Britain & Ireland Comm (1985) 538: “The very fact of approaching this sacrament implies sorrow for sin and so a penitent should always be presumed to be in good faith”; McManus, CLSA New Comm (2000) 1161: “[c]anon 980 affirms the presumption that the penitent has confessed his or her sins in good faith and has the requisite disposition”; and Dom Augustine, Commentary (1920) IV: 295: “No one who gives signs of repentance should be refused absolution.”

This presumption of being sorry for one’s sins and, in that respect, of being eligible for absolution, yields only in the face of “positive and serious doubt regarding the required dispositions”—(those requisite dispositions being: sorrow for sin with a firm purpose of amendment, self-accusation before a confessor, and acceptance of a lawful penance, per CCC 1451, 1459-1460)—all the while bearing in mind that “the refusal of absolution is an extreme and odious measure…” per Loza, Exegetical Comm (2004) III/1: 807, emphasis added. Again, “Though the priest may think that a delay of absolution would be of greater benefit to the penitent, he may not for that reason delay absolution without the free consent of the penitent.” Woywod, Practical Comm (1948) I: 495.

(2) Further, the few commentators who discuss the possibility of absolution being conditioned upon a future event (such as a later self-reporting of one’s crimes) reject that theory. Davis, Moral & Pastoral Theo (1945) III: 256: “The Sacrament of Penance cannot be given conditionally on some future event for the absolution cannot be suspended in its effect.” Cappello, De Sacramentis (1953) II, n. 77: “The sacrament [attempted] on a future condition is certainly rendered invalid, especially under the tradition and practice of the Church which has never administered this sacrament with this condition.” (my trans.)

In short, I see no canonical or sacramental support for the claim that a public self-disclosure of a penitent’s sins, at the time of or following confession, can be required for absolution.

POINT TWO: While the refusal to accept a lawful penance can be grounds for refusing absolution, the failure to perform a penance lawfully imposed does not render the prior confession and/or absolution null. As above, perhaps those who think that the failure to perform even a lawfully imposed penance renders a prior confession/absolution invalid could point us to an official or a credible scholarly source supporting that claim so we could consider it.

While we wait for that show of proof, let me offer a couple observations:

(1) Confessors are required to impose “salutary and suitable penances”, penitents are “obliged to perform these personally” (1983 CIC 981), and the refusal of a penitent to accept a suitable penance could be grounds for refusing absolution. See, e.g., McManus, op.cit., 1162; Loza, op.cit., 810; Davis, op.cit., 261-262. But,

(2) The refusal to perform (or to seek the commutation of) a lawful penance/satisfaction, while it is generally regarded as objectively sinful (Davis, op.cit. 267; Cappello, op.cit., n. 246), does not retroactively render null or invalid an absolution previously granted. Davis, op.cit. 262; Cappello, op.cit., n. 236; Palazzini, s.v. ‘Satisfactio’ in DMC (1968) IV: 205.

In short, I see no canonical or sacramental support for the claim that the failure to perform even a rightly imposed penance renders a penitent’s previous confession invalid or a confessor’s prior absolution null.

POINT THREE: Unusual public activities may generally not be imposed as penances for sins, and certainly not, I suggest, if those sins are not already known to have been committed by the penitent.

Sins come in many degrees of gravity and are committed under a wide variety of circumstances, but traditionally, the post-absolution penances to be assigned for sins are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. McManus, op.cit., 1162; Palazzini, op.cit. 205. Others rightly suggest performing works of mercy, restitution of stolen goods, retraction of slanders, and so on. CCC 1459-1460; McAreavey, op.cit., 535.

Public acts, however, which might be taken by others as works of sacramental satisfaction, must generally be avoided lest the revelation of the confession follow. Cappello, op.cit., n. 244, Palazzini, op.cit., 207.

Only, it seems, if a penitent’s sins are already known by the community to have been committed by the penitent (such as could occur if, say, one is known to have gone around falsely accusing an innocent neighbor of theft or adultery), could that penitent be directed, as a penance/satisfaction for sin repented of and absolved, to publicly retract the slander. Note, however, that such an obligation of ‘restitution’ already exists as matter of natural law, regardless of whether it was ordered as a penance, per e.g., Abbo-Hannan, Sacred Canons (1960) II: 16, citing Coronata, De Sacramentis (1943) I, n. 371, who seems worth quoting at length here:

“As for whether a public penance as sacramental satisfaction can be imposed on a penitent, under current law, it seems that such should be entirely rejected, for that would be to oblige a penitent to manifest his sin, something too burdensome and unreasonable. One could except the case where it is necessary for the public repair of scandal properly so-called, in which case the penitent is bound to repair this scandal publicly even if the confessor did not impose it as a sacramental penance.” (my trans.)

In sum, any assertions that: (1) absolution from sin may be withheld from a penitent who declines to report his or her acts to civil authorities; (2) absolution may be made contingent upon a penitent’s later reporting his or her acts to civil authorities; (3) a penitent’s failure to perform a penance/satisfaction renders the prior confession and/or absolution null; or (4) public acts of penance/satisfaction may be imposed on a penitent for sins not known by the community to have been committed by the penitent, are either simply wrong or, at best, are subject to serious interpretive restrictions.

Compared to Malta the Germans seem restrained, emphasis on ‘seem’

Displaying somewhat more scholarly technique than was shown in the Maltese Disaster (whereby that nation’s two bishops flatly contradict unbroken ecclesiastical observance by stating that holy Communion cannot be withheld from divorced-and-remarried Catholics, living sexually actively, if they feel “at peace with God”), the German Episcopal Conference statements on the implementation of Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia just as effectively repudiate Canon 915 and the canonical-moral tradition that it represents.

More directly than do Amoris and the Buenos Aires plan, if less blatantly than do the Maltese, the Germans claim that no general rule exists (Für die Frage nach dem Empfang der Sakramente sehen die Bischöfe in Amoris laetitia keine allgemeine Regel und keinen Automatismus) to guide ministers of holy Communion when they are approached for the sacrament by divorced-and-remarried Catholics living sexually actively, that is, by those whom unanimous canonical and moral tradition recognize as ‘obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin’ (Canon 915, CCC 2384). 

In the alleged absence of a rule, say the Germans, a case-by-case discernment process should be conducted and, if the results of that process lead a sexually active, divorced-and-remarried Catholic to approach for holy Communion, “that decision must be respected” (Aber auch eine Entscheidung für den Sakramentenempfang gilt es zu respektieren)—less in-your-face phrasing, I grant, than the express Maltese claim that holy Communion cannot be withheld in such cases, but just as effectively a directive to ministers, under pain of disrespecting a decision that “must be respected”, to distribute holy Communion under circumstances unquestionably forbidden by the rule of Canon 915. Faithful ministers of holy Communion in Germany now join those in Malta as needing special prayers against the pressures they will inevitably face in the wake of their bishops’ failure to “urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws … especially regarding … the celebration of the sacraments” (1983 CIC 392).

By the way, other passages in the German documents imply that Confession, too, might be sought in these cases, but without, it seems, requiring of penitents a ‘firm purpose of amendment’ (even in regard to voluntary sexual activity with a non-spouse). As I noted in HPR a few years back, this approach exposes the celebration of Penance to the risk of sacrilege and its minister to the charge of solicitation in confession.

I realize that some find “making a mess” to be a governing virtue, but it can hardly be denied that, in the wake of several ambiguities in Amoris, ambiguities that must be resolved, a spreading “mess” of Catholic sacramental practice in general and of the Church’s witness to the indissolubility of Christian marriage in particular, is being made, regardless of what anyone’s intentions might have been going into it.

Update: I need hardly say, not all German-speaking bishops endorse these conference statements. See, e.g, Chur’s bishop, Vitus Huonder.

When, please, were ‘adulterers’ actually ‘excommunicated’?

I hold amateurs to canonical standards when they venture canonical claims, so I certainly hold canonists to canonical standards when they venture canonical claims. Lawyers must respect the legal meaning of legal terms when discussing law, else, what’s the point of their expressing opinions on law?

Abp. Charles Scicluna, a highly credentialed canonist, recently asserted that “in the olden days, whoever was guilty of adultery was excommunicated. It was a proper excommunication. But now, in the Church’s law this is not so any longer…”

The phrase “olden days” does not have a canonical meaning, of course, but words like “adultery”, “excommunication”, and “Church law” do have canonical meanings. So here we have a canonist-prelate, while defending his shocking implementation of Amoris laetitia, contrasting his modern approach with a time wherein, supposedly, Church law punished adultery with excommunication.

But, may I ask, does any one actually know such days? Does Amoris and/or Scicluna’s implementation of it, represent a dramatic shift in how the Church has, till recently as far as anyone is aware, regarded certain Catholics? Let’s see.

The Johanno-Pauline Code of Canon Law, which is already 34 years old, does not excommunicate Catholics for adultery. Adultery is mentioned in only one canon of the 1983 Code (1983 CIC 1152) where it provides grounds for spouses to separate but not for an offender’s excommunication.

But perhaps Abp. Scicluna has in mind older olden days.

The Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, which went into effect 100 years ago, did not excommunicate Catholics for adultery. The 1917 Code did criminalize adultery in c. 2357 § 2—using language that suggested that the adultery had to have been a crime under local civil law (see Dom Augustine, VIII: 415, but see Sipos, 860)—but even so, the canonical penalty for adultery was not excommunication, it was “exclusion from legitimate ecclesiastical acts until [the adulterer] gives a sign of returning to his senses.” And the “legitimate ecclesiastical acts” from which those convicted of adultery were excluded, you ask: things like working as a Church property administrator or as an ecclesiastical notary, or serving as a godparent at baptism (1917 CIC 2256, 2º)—i.e., things having little to do with excommunication.

But perhaps Abp. Scicluna has in mind even older olden days.

A good place to look for pre-1917 excommunications is Bl. Pius IX, const. Apostolicae Sedis moderatione (1869), in Gasparri, Fontes III: 24-31, but Pius’ reformed list of censures (including many excommunications) does not mention adultery. Is it possible that some universal excommunications survived the promulgation of ASM and that some of those excommunications dealt with adultery at least up until 1917? I suppose, but given that ASM does not mention adultery among the acts occasioning excommunication, the burden falls on those who would make that claim.

Having looked back, now, nearly 150 years and having found no evidence that adultery was canonically punishable by “a proper excommunication”, I have to wonder whether the archbishop really meant “adultery” when he said “adultery” (or did he mean perhaps “divorced-and-remarried” instead of “adultery”, two related but distinct phenomena?); whether he really meant “excommunication” when he said “excommunication” (or did he mean perhaps “withholding holy Communion” instead of “excommunication”, two significantly distinct phenomena); or whether he really meant “Church’s law” when he said “Church’s law” (or did he mean perhaps “particular legislation”, two rather distinct phenomena)?

Each of those topics can be, and should be!, usefully discussed in the context of Amoris, but that can’t happen until we are sure about what matters are on the table for discussion at any given point.

In sum, perhaps someone can let us know where canon law excommunicated Catholics for adultery; or perhaps someone can clarify whether the words used in this part of the archbishop’s interview expressed what he really meant; or perhaps the claim that Church law imposed excommunication on those who committed adultery, at least in the memory of anyone alive today, could be acknowledged as mistaken and withdrawn. Progress can be made, I think, by following any of these options.

An afterthought: by extending the notion of the “olden days” back several centuries to, say, the Council of Trent (ref. XXIV, chap. 8), one can find sanctions threatened against persons (including married persons) living in concubinage and thus one can see a form of “adultery” punishable by censures up to and including excommunication. Now, whether a Tridentine legacy on a socially noisome form of adultery (a norm that seems, in any case, to have been abandoned 100-150 years ago) justifies the Maltese bishops’ recent evisceration of Canon 915 in face of divorced-and-remarried Catholics (and inexorably before anyone who feels “at peace with God”), remains to be seen. One wonders just how old the “olden days” can be and still so vex people who never lived under them to the point that a modern norm such as Canon 915 and the values it protects today must be jettisoned. But as above, one has to know that’s what’s on the table for discussion before being able to discuss it usefully.

Do footnotes count?

Fr. Regis Scanlon, in a column that makes several interesting criticisms of Amoris laetitia, offers a comment that I think requires more than his simple claim.

In criticizing the very regrettable Amoris footnote 329, which I criticized in my first comments on Amoris, Scanlon writes “Since footnotes are not part of the text, footnote 329 is probably not the work of the pope or the magisterium.”

Come again? Footnotes are not part of this duly published papal text? How is that, I wonder.

Granted, footnotes usually supply bare references to the sources underlying the assertions made in the main body of a text and so are not typically used for making substantive assertions on their own. But does such an adjectival footnote convention mean that footnotes cannot make assertions if that is in fact how they read?

Looking at, say, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, one sees that, while most conciliar footnotes were merely informational in nature, some did make substantive assertions of their own and a few even carried legal consequences.

For example, footnote # 1 of Optatam totius (Decree on Training of Priests, 1965) states “It is clear from the words by which our divine Lord appointed the apostles [that]… the progress of the whole People of God depends in the highest degree on the ministry of priests.” That is unquestionably a conciliar teaching assertion, albeit one made in a footnote. Optatam footnote # 2 directs that future adaptations in priestly formation programs should be made by episcopal conferences and competent religious superiors (which is what happened), and Optatam footnote # 12 expressly abrogated Canon 1357 § 4 of the Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law. Clearly, such footnotes were making substantive assertions on par with those in the main text.

To be sure, the footnotes of some ecclesiastical documents are recognized as not carrying substantive force. The footnotes of the Johanno-Pauline Code, for example, were not even available when it was published in 1983, and when they did finally appear in late 1989, Cdl. Castillo-Lara underscored that they were of private, albeit scholarly, value. Bouscaren & Ellis (1957) at p. 6 made this same point in regard to the footnotes of the 1917 Code.

But simply claiming that footnotes in a papal text are not part of the text, besides being unsubstantiated in itself, seems also to raise serious questions about the value of footnotes in numerous other papal texts. In footnote # 100 in Veritatis splendor (1993), for example Pope St. John Paul II states that Pope St. John XXIII’s opening address to the Second Vatican Council, though dealing with questions about formulating doctrine, can also be applied to formulations of moral principles. Well, does John Paul II hold that his predecessor’s teachings can be so understood, or does he not?

For that matter, Pope Francis himself makes several assertions in the footnotes of Amoris that it would seem strained to dismiss as not reflecting his thoughts. In Amoris footnote # 351, for example, Francis quotes himself to the effect that the Eucharist should be made widely available to the faithful, in Amoris footnote # 364 he warns against priests exaggerating the demands associated with purpose of amendment in the confessional, and in Amoris footnote # 378 he calls attention to the espousal/betrothal character of God’s covenant with his people. Should these observations, too, be dismissed as not contributing to Francis’ magisterium?

Perhaps Scanlon has in mind a convention for reading certain kinds of ecclesiastical texts of which I am unaware; if so, I look forward to learning of it. Till then, I think that Amoris laetitia needs to be read as the whole it appears to be and its problems confronted, not avoided.