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On Fr. Nichols’ recent remarks

Dominican theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols needs no introduction to readers of this blog and it suffices to say that, when a priest of Nichols’ credentials urges development of a canonical procedure to correct popes who—how exactly to put this?—leave confusion in their wake, people are going to take notice. I have seen only news reports of Nichols’ address (not the speech itself), but a few comments occur to me that won’t come as a surprise to Nichols but that might help inform others’ reactions to them.

First, while most provisions in the Code of Canon Law are of human (albeit, ecclesiastical, usually pontifical) origin, implying the possibility of changes in them in accord with circumstances, some canons rest on divine law foundations and are not, therefore, so easily amended—however appealing such changes might seem to be. Such is the case, I suggest, with Canon 331 on the full and supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff and Canon 1404 on the immunity of the Holy See from judgment (canonical or civil). These canons (and others besides, say, Canon 1372) serve the decision of Our Lord to leave Peter and his successors basically free to act as they see fit in guiding the Church, meaning that such canons, operating in support of a divinely-sanctioned freedom, are not liable to repeal if popes misuse that freedom. All of this Nichols takes for granted, of course.

Nichols also knows, however, that Petrine freedom has limits, that it is not something bestowed in order to make possible, say, papal plundering of Church property or dalliances with dangerous theological theories (both of which have happened in the past), but rather, it serves the Church’s need for, and the faithful’s right to, certainty and continuity in Catholicism’s witness to the teachings of Jesus. Canon law read as a whole (and not cherry-picked to get the results one hopes for) operates in service to all of doctrine (and not just the parts that sound convenient to this generation or that).

Canonical evidence of one such limitation on papal power is found in, for example, Canon 336 which recognizes the college of bishops (properly understood) as also a subject of full and supreme power in the Church—a mystery, to be sure, how one Church can have two subjects of full and supreme power, but nevertheless an ecclesiological given to be reckoned with, not ignored. Nichols might, for all I know, have referenced Canon 336 in his original speech; if he did not, he certainly could have done so.

But another check against this papal freedom turning into license, albeit a check harder to pin down than are neatly drafted canons, is “Tradition”.

Tradition, not canon law, holds the Church to accept a host of truths, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead, that canonized saints are in heaven, and that contraception between married couples is objectively gravely wrong, such that a pope who suddenly challenged the reality of the Resurrection, the status of one duly canonized, or the gravity of conjugal contraception—or who winked at others doing such things—would stand in urgent need of prayers and would be a proper object for some kind of correction, perhaps such correction as is apparently envisioned by Cdl. Burke and others.

But beyond even this—and moving back to what Nichols’ point seemed to be—Tradition has some even more startling things to say about popes who might fall into heresy. To summarize a long story already shortened here, the Church is not defenseless against heresy from popes. Under certain rare circumstances, one is talking, according to several weighty authors, about the loss of pontifical office itself.

There are, of course, several practical problems with Nichols’ proposal for changes to canon law (some of which problems he noted in the reported version of his remarks) and to which I would add a simple one: popes are the Legislator of canon law, and the chances of any legislator writing a law that could be used against him are slim. But, if the commentators cited in my earlier blog are really saying what they seem to be saying, we might not need new canon laws to deal with the problem.

Tradition might already have a solution.

Come over here and say that

Austen Ivereigh, in one of the most embarrassing essays Crux has ever run, recently smeared seven talented Catholic commentators as suffering from ‘convert neurosis’. Not once in passing, but repeatedly, Ivereigh uses ‘neurosis’ and ‘neurotic’ in regard to some seven writers, Ross Douthat, Daniel Hitchens, Carl Olson, Edward Pentin, Rusty Reno, Matthew Schmitz, and John-Henry Westen. Ivereigh even offers a primer on what “neurosis” means, suggesting a war-scarred woman’s throwing herself to the ground when later stopped by a policeman as, one supposes, an example of how ‘convert neurotics’, supposedly being persons given to extreme reactions to un-realities in the Church, might behave.

While an expert in psychology can tell us whether any of these men are, in fact, “neurotic”, and an expert in morals can tell us whether Ivereigh’s employing and Crux’s circulating of such labels against brothers in the Lord meets any standard of decency in Christian discourse, Ivereigh’s constant referral to these Catholics as “converts” draws my attention.

Ivereigh’s description of several figures (Douthat and Reno as former Episcopalians, Olson as a former Protestant fundamentalist, and Hitchens and Pentin as former Anglicans) plus what I gather about Westen (a once fallen-away Catholic who went through an atheistic period) and Schmitz (who talks respectfully about his days as a Protestant), suggests that not one of them, not one, would, under American catechetical criteria, qualify as “converts” at all—let alone as neurotic ones.

According to the (US) National Statutes for the Catechumenate (November, 1986) no. 2 (my emphasis), “the term ‘convert’ should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.” Number 3 reiterates that this “holds true even … [for] baptized Catholic Christians … whose Christian initiation has not been completed by confirmation and Eucharist” (Westen) and [for] “baptized Christians who have been members of another Church or ecclesial community and seek to be received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church” (the other six authors).

Now perhaps the circles Ivereigh runs in ‘over there’ do not bother with this important distinction among persons entering into full communion, and I grant that some Catholics ‘over here’ might still show ecclesial insensitivity by referring to separated Christians coming into full communion as “converts”, i.e., as if they had not been baptized. But, as most of the men Ivereigh chastises are Americans, and as the American bishops are trying to get American Catholics to think more accurately about these things, I thought Ivereigh’s outdated and inaccurate use of the word “convert”—to say nothing of his abuse of the tragedy that is “neurosis”—worth noting.

The category in Maiorem looks sound, the criteria less so

There is a good impulse behind Pope Francis’ document, Maiorem hac dilectionem, providing a path to beatification/canonization for those who offer their lives for others, if only because Maiorem addresses more cogently the awkward notion of “martyr of charity” developed by Pope John Paul II in regard to such luminous figures as St. Maximillian Kolbe.  The distortion of the idea of “martyrdom” inherent in that novel terminology has led, I fear, to a lurch from recognizing as “martyrs” (for the Faith) pretty much any Catholic who dies as a victim of religious persecution, something that has never sat well with the traditional understanding (and values) behind the concept of martyrdom. Unfortunately, making that technical point has long labored under the shadow of impiety, and I am pleased that Maiorem deals with it more forthrightly.

No, my concern about Maiorem is not with the category, it’s with the criteria.

Eligible for a process under Maiorem are those who “have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard.” Problem: This status includes tens of thousands of soldiers, policemen, firemen, and, countless others whom, we all know, put their lives on the line for others constantly and in many cases do in fact ‘voluntarily and freely offer their life for others’. And that is to say nothing of innumerable spur of the moment, but ultimate, sacrifices. If Mairoem is retroactive—and nothing suggests that it isn’t—local Churches first, and then Rome, could be deluged with sympathetic petitions. Deluged.

Unless some other criteria limit potential petitions. So, do any?

Well, the candidate for recognition must have lead a life of “ordinary Christian virtue” prior to his or her sacrifice. Problem: Such a criterion, aside from being quite vague (and hence of little use in a legal process) also seems easy to satisfy for countless cases. Under it, one need not have led a Kolbe-life prior to taking another’s place in the death cell, one just needs to have been an ordinarily decent Catholic man or woman. So, not very many petitions can be eliminated on that score.

ASIDE: Strictly speaking, if the greatest love is shown by one who gives his life for another (and we know that is true because Jesus told us so), why is it necessary to have led an ordinarily decent Christian life prior to offering one’s life for another in order to be recognized in this manner as having given one’s life for another? Cannot the crisis of a life and death situation lead one, in an instant, with the grace of God, to put aside a sinful life and choose the highest act of love? Does Maiorem, as stated, suggest that self-sacrifices by ‘less-than-honorable’ individuals are less significant?

Next there must be “signs of and a reputation of holiness, at least after death.” Now the procedural requirement regarding a reputation for holiness, especially one after death, has always been a problem in Church life. On the one hand, the Church has rightly been on guard on against excesses of piety toward local sons and daughters morphing into de facto canonizations—hence the many rules over the centuries restricting public cult for non-blesseds and non-saints (see, e.g., 1983 CIC 1187). At the same time, the Church does not want to investigate a figure whom no one cares about anymore. The tension between these two values has led to the unhappy compromise of looking for, well, some attention but not too much. No longer being able to thin cases by the requirement of a life of demonstrable “heroic virtue”, the reputation problem remains in these new norms, but stories apparently eligible for consideration under Maiorem are going to suffer, at least in the short run, from an inability to show a “reputation for holiness” after death in part because Catholics who honor the memory of their fallen ones might have avoided, even discouraged, reputations for holiness precisely out of respect for the Church’s reticence toward such accolades, especially in the cases of so-called “ordinary Christians”—the group explicitly included in the new norms as being eligible for consideration.

The final requirement, that of a miracle attributable to the candidate, adds nothing to what is already required and, for that reason, it will do nothing to decrease the number of cases eligible for local and Roman investigation under Maiorem—which is, of course, the tedious and taxing part of the process. So, once again, the new norms seem of limited practical value.

I say again, I think that the basic idea behind Maiorem is sound but I also think that some fairly significant practical issues have not been adequately anticipated or addressed in a document intended by its genre to address practical issue.

So, we’ll see what happens.

Post-script. I see Latin took another one on the chin here. This morning’s Bollettino introduced the Italian version of Mairoem as “the text” of Francis’ letter and identified the Latin as a “translation”. The fact that Maiorem sports a Latin title means little for so did Evangelii gaudium (2013) and it was officially released in Italian. Last I checked is still not out in Latin.

About that ‘Humanae vitae’ rumor

Too many Roman rumors, it seems of late, have turned out to be true (or close enough to true) to rule out recent rumors that a “papal commission” has been set up “to reconsider” (perhaps as a step toward repudiating?) Bl. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae (1968). In any event, a few observations.

1. Humanae vitae itself, as brilliant as it was and as prophetic as it turned out to be, was not an infallible exercise of the (papal) magisterium. But rather than defend that view against the few serious-thinking Catholics who might disagree let me move directly to my second point.

2. In my opinion the central teaching in Humanae vitae—that contraception between married couples (both terms being correctly understood) is intrinsically evil—is a proposition infallibly taught by the (ordinary universal) magisterium of the Church. I say this in light of my third point.

3. That the substance of Humanae vitae is infallibly taught by the ordinary magisterium is masterfully argued in: John Ford & Germain Grisez, “Contraception and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium”, Theological Studies 39 (1978) 258-312. This article expands on ideas considered in John Ford & Gerald Kelly, “Can the Catholic Teaching Change?”, in their Contemporary Moral Theology  (Newman Press, 1963) II: 256-278, but the 1963 article, while very good, need not be read in order to follow the 1978 discussion. If Ford and Grisez are correct (as I think they are, even in the face of some important challenges over the years) then no substantive modification of Humanae vitae can be wrought by any commission, papal, dicasterial, or otherwise.

4. What one could imagine being discussed hereabouts is whether the rejection of contraception set forth (I would say, infallibly) in regard to conjugal relations is applicable to non-conjugal relations. Some theologians, solidly committed to defending Church teaching against conjugal contraception, have flagged the fact that the anti-contraception tradition, witnessed to in Humanae vitae, has been clearly articulated, so far at least, only in regard to conjugal sex. See, e.g., Ramón García de Haro (Spanish priest, 1931-1996), Marriage in the Documents of the Magisterium: a course in the theology of marriage (Ignatius, 1993) 297-298. To be sure, others (including the esteemed William E. May, translator of García de Haro) argue that the Church’s rejection of contraception between married couples, already part of the infallible magisterium, also applies to non-conjugal sex (sex that is, of course, by definition, objectively immoral); but it is also possible that the Church’s rejection of conjugal contraception does not apply outside of that context. I grant, of course, that explaining that difference, not to mention keeping it from morphing into a license for all sorts of morally illicit acts, would not be easy in age ill-equipped to follow subtle discussions and ill-disposed toward even trying, but for those respectful of the Church’s tradition of precision in complex matters, drawing the distinction seems a possibility.

In any case, my main point is this: before any commission or study group could move against the substance of the Church’s teaching reflected in Humanae vitae, the arguments for its infallible certainty, arguments set forth and steadily defended by Ford and Grisez, would need to be addressed and soundly rejected.

Something I don’t see happening. At all.

Rossi’s mean remarks

Civil lawyer C. T. Rossi, in his essay Permission for Divorce and the Catholic Lawyer’s Dilemma, complains that “the Church has done little to educate its legal practitioners about their responsibilities as Catholic lawyers”, complains that it is sometimes difficult for attorneys to know whether it is “morally safe for them to assist a potential client”, and complains about prelates “who refuse to lift a finger to assist in the moral burdens that American Catholic lawyers face every day.”

My initial reaction to Rossi’s litany of woes, however, (something akin to “Okay. So, deal with it.”), is insufficient given that, not only does Rossi aim these complaints-qua-accusations at “the Church” herself, but he manages to mangle nearly every point he addresses and, in regard to the Jesuit Felix Cappello, he truly, truly, embarrasses himself. Where to begin?

How about with the canard that “the Church has done little to educate its legal practitioners about their responsibilities as Catholic lawyers”.

Has Rossi ever, I mean ever, picked up a classical moral theology text book, perused a collection of reliable Catholic Q&A columns, or read a canonical journal? Virtually everyone one of these publications has dealt many times with the duties of Catholic lawyers toward their clients and the civil legal system. How can anyone remotely familiar with the Catholic moral tradition not be aware of the frequent treatment that these questions have been accorded by esteemed thinkers in the Church? Unless, that is, one is not really so familiar with the Catholic moral tradition, in which case, though, one is hardly in a position to accuse the Church of not addressing these serious issues.

What’s that? Can’t find reliable textbooks on moral theology? Okay, how about googling “John Paul II”, “lawyers”, and “divorce”, which is it all it took me to find reports on that sainted pope’s famous 2002 address to the Roman Rota in which he considered exactly the questions Rossi claims the Church has neglected. Frankly, I think that the pope’s rhetoric in that address was a bit narrow (or better, the word “divorce” needs to be understood the way the canonical tradition understands it) but at least I have a right to an opinion on it because I’ve actually read the address. I see no evidence that Rossi has even heard of it—unless he skipped it as an inconvenient counter example to his claim about the Church not addressing his concerns. Which I frankly doubt.

Rossi refers to a controversy between ‘Mary’s Advocates’ and a local bishop about whether Catholics need a bishop’s permission to file for divorce. He mentions my published commentary on the canon law in this area and notes the remarks of another canonist who takes a different position. Rossi, not being a canon lawyer, declines (at first) to arbitrate the dispute. Fine, although the impression that my article (extended and supported by pertinent citations) has been effectively countered by talk-show remarks from another lawyer is an impression that Rossi should have cautioned against.

But, in any case, having just admitted his lack of qualifications to weigh in on this canonical argument, Rossi attacks bishops for their (alleged) disregard of “Catholic lawyers … right to see canon law enforced [by] the local bishop giving or withholding approbation of a civil divorce proceeding”! Does Rossi not see it? That is the precise point at issue, whether bishops have to issue such rulings in the first place! So, is Rossi qualified to conclude that bishops have such an obligation, or not? I say, not. Not at all.

But finally—and what really got me to sit down and make this reply—were Rossi’s painfully and obviously ignorant remarks about Felix Cappello, sj, who was probably the finest canonist-moral theologian of the 20th century—you know, the tradition Rossi shows no signs of ever having actually studied.

Cappello makes, among many other points in this area, the time-tested and universally-accepted observation that, under certain circumstances, confessors can leave penitents ‘in good faith’ about a situation that the penitent is, in fact, wrong about, but not wrong with what the tradition would recognize as a ‘studied will’. Rossi crudely casts this advice as a “don’t ask, don’t tell”, something that “arguably promotes some of the favorite vices of the modern day Church: sloth, cowardice, and pride”, and suggests that Cappello’s position (whom Rossi refers to in scare-quotes as a “renowned Roman canonist”) believes “it’s easier for the churchmen if the sheep remain blind.” That’s not just wrong to the point of ridiculous, it’s insulting to the memory of a man whose reputation for holiness perdures decades after his death.

What Cappello (and every other trustworthy moralist who has ever addressed the matter) knew was that “material error” is bad, but “formal error” is spiritually worse and that the first duty of a spiritual physician is to do no harm! Cappello’s advice, by the way, it would doubtless surprise Rossi to find out, was offered by his colleague, the Dominican Prummer, in regard to advising civil lawyers about divorce cases, writing, “In practice a confessor should not cause disquiet to any Catholic advocate who cannot refuse to undertake such cases without very serious inconvenience, provided that there is no scandal and nothing more is intended than the civil effects of the divorce.” Prummer, Handbook (1956) n. 949 (my emphasis). Why should civil lawyers get some slack here, while their clients don’t? 

The Servant of God Felix Cappello is buried in the St. Ignatius Church in Rome, a few feet from where his well-worn confessional stall stands today. Rossi might stop by there some day and peer through its glass panel. He would see therein a seat littered with slips of paper left there by pious faithful asking for the great man’s intercession or thanking him for favors that some think he has accorded.

Rossi might also ask for the grace to avoid accusing the Church of a negligence she has not shown and ask forgiveness for his mean remarks against the memory of a fine priest about whom he knows nothing.

+ + +

Update (11 July 2017): Mr. Rossi has replied, here.

The problem with internet debates, even between intelligent writers, is that there is no impartial judge to rule responses irrelevant, out of order, repetitious, and so on. Thus both sides can go on arguing “You missed my point” or “I never said that” and so on, pretty much forever if both sides are inclined. I could well make these kinds of responses to Rossi’s reply and add that, if he didn’t follow my points the first time I made them, why would he follow them the second, especially some points that, I reiterate, he simply does not realize he is in fact making. Sed cui bono?

Instead, let me say this: I have the academic credentials Rossi has (a law degree), so I understand broadly how lawyers think, but he does not have the credentials I have (a canon law degree and decades of experience in the field) so he often does not understand how canonists think, and he does not understand that he does not understand it. Many will take that observation, I know, as condescension–since experts who point out the errors of amateurs are pretty much always viewed as condescending. Oh well. I leave others to draw their own conclusions on that.

As to the deeper issue that Rossi seems to support, the interpretation of canon law that holds all Catholics bound to seek episcopal permission prior to divorce, I have set out canonical arguments for my views with which some others (so far, quite unqualified others) disagree. But I frankly wonder, why are some so upset that I disagree with their reading of the law? I will not decide what happens to their petition, so why, in the end, should they care what I think about the law in question? If I am right I am right, and if I am wrong I am wrong. Either way, it’s not my call. And lawyers in both traditions would agree, I am sure, that a lawyer might be quite correct in his arguments and yet the court yet rule wrongly, and vice versa. But as it is not my call, the distress that my disagreement with the views of some on this matter is, in the meantime, apparently causing them, and their reactions to my disagreement, is startling.  (And I frankly have Rossi less in mind here, he being a newcomer to the matter.)

But, unless and until an “authentic interpretation” on this matter comes down contrary to how I read the law (something that can’t happen in a recourse action against denial of an imprimatur, see c. 16), or unless someone (likely a qualified someone, but someone) provides a canonically cogent refutation of my interpretation of the law here, I will continue to defend faithful and bishops alike against ill-informed views that, in my considered opinion, chastise the consciences of those who are acting quite within the latitude left to them by law.

Bp. McGrath’s letter on sacramental service

In 1977, during the darkest period of canonical confusion that ran from the end of the Second Vatican Council until the promulgation of the 1983 Code, then-Fr Patrick McGrath earned a doctoral degree in canon law from the Lateran University in Rome. Now-Bp Patrick McGrath of San Jose is surely aware, then, that multiple canonical requirements for sacramental participation exist and he would, I imagine, be distressed to learn that his recent letter, implying that “good faith” is the only criterion for admission to the sacraments, could be pastorally misleading.

A key—not the only, but a key—norm controlling the administration of sacraments to the faithful is Canon 843 § 1 which states: “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” Phrased negatively (because, given the fundamental right of the faithful to receive the sacraments established elsewhere in the Code, the burden is on ministers to demonstrate why they should refuse someone requesting a sacrament), this canon sets forth three factors that can require a minister to withhold sacramental services from a member of the faithful, namely, a petitioner’s: (1) bad timing; (2) inadequate disposition; and/or (3) canonical ineligibility. Bp. McGrath’s letter, expressing only one criterion (“good faith”), is already confusing, therefore, for those who do not know that at least three factors, and not just one, impact sacramental administration.

Now, about those three requirements.

1. That requests for sacraments be made at “appropriate times” is not an issue here and so I pass over it.

2. That “proper disposition” for sacraments must be shown by a member of the faithful is contested by some and unappreciated by many in the Church these days. Thus, failing even to mention this requirement does not advance the cause of pastoral clarity.

A closer look at the pastoral tradition on “proper disposition” for sacraments (or “worthiness” for them, per most older commentators) suggests that two questions are involved here, specifically, what we might call ‘external disposition’ (e.g., completion of catechesis, public comportment with the Faith, even dress and decorum) and ‘internal disposition’ (e.g., the state of one’s soul, level of belief, advertence to the act). While, as will be seen shortly, some aspects of the third requirement (canonical eligibility, below) can impact one’s disposition for sacramental service, in brief, the failure to show a suitable external disposition (including, therefore, public comportment with the Faith) leaves a minister little choice but to withhold sacramental service; in contrast, one’s internal disposition can, in most cases of public administration, be presumed. None of these important nuances would be apparent, of course, if one is told that “good faith” alone (even if that phrase is understood as something akin to proper internal disposition) suffices for sacramental administration.

3. Finally, that one must be canonically eligible for a sacramental service would, in earlier days perhaps, be so obvious as to not need restating. But these are not those days and, again, failing to mention this requirement does not advance the cause of pastoral clarity.

But that we might be clear, for example, Catholics who do not repent of extra-marital sexual acts (whether heterosexual or homosexual) cannot be absolved in Confession; Catholics who undergo a “sex-change” operation cannot receive a new Baptism; two Catholics of the same-sex cannot marry each other (nor can a Catholic cleric officiate at such a ceremony); and Catholics who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” as that phrase is understood by the tradition and those who take the time to study it, must not be given holy Communion or granted Christian funeral rites.

Bp. Paprocki’s decree, unlike Bp. McGrath’s letter, underscores the exclusion of certain persons (more precisely, of persons who have taken certain public actions) from sacramental services based on the express or implied canonical requirements established by the Legislator. And Paprocki (a canonist, too, Gregorian Univ. 1989) goes on to indicate the canonically recognized conditions under which some or all sacramental services might be restored to such persons—information omitted from McGrath’s letter as being, one supposes, unnecessary if “good faith” is really all that is needed for sacramental service.

I do not know whether McGrath’s letter was really a ‘response’ to Paprocki’s decree, but I do know that the latter’s document is a much more complete and accurate presentation of Church discipline on sacramental administration than is the former’s.


Bp Paprocki’s norms on ‘same-sex marriage’

A few days ago, doubtless in response to pastoral questions he had been receiving from ministers in his local Church, Springfield IL Bp Thomas Paprocki issued diocesan norms regarding ministry toward persons who had entered a ‘same-sex marriage’. These norms, hardly remarkable for what they say, are nevertheless noteworthy for being necessary and for Paprocki’s willingness to state them clearly while knowing what kind of vilification he would suffer in their wake.

Predictably New Way’s Ministry attacked Paprocki’s norms using equally predictable language and arguments and by hosting a combox replete with personal attacks on the bishop. All of this is sad, but none of it is newsworthy. Worth underscoring, though, is the glibness with which Robert Shine, an editor at New Ways, attempts to school Paprocki, of all people, on canon law, of all things. A little background.

Paprocki has, besides the master’s degree in theology that Shine claims, a further licentiate degree in theology and, even more, a licentiate and doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. While I can’t quite say that Paprocki “wrote the book” on the defense of rights in the Church, he certainly wrote a book on it, his 580 page doctoral dissertation, Vindication and Defense of the Rights of the Christian Faithful through Administrative Recourse in the Local Church (1993), which tome I can spy from my desk right now. And before his canon law studies, Paprocki had already earned a civil law degree from DePaul University and had centered his legal practice around services to the poor.

And now Shine (sporting zero legal credentials) is going to tell Paprocki how canon law should be understood? Okay …

According to Shine, among the “other things wrong with Paprocki’s new guidelines” is their use of Canon 1184 which, as Shine correctly notes, restricts ecclesiastical funeral rites for, among others, “manifest sinners” whose funerals would provoke scandal. But then Shine attempts to explain what Canon 1184 means by the phrase “manifest sinners”.

Per Shine, “It is discrimination to target LGBT people when, in a certain sense, all Catholics could be deemed ‘manifest sinners.’” Channeling Fr. James Martin’s outrageous claim that “Pretty much everyone’s lifestyle is sinful”, Shine apparently thinks that, because it is manifest that everyone sins, everyone’s sins must be “manifest”. But Paprocki, having actually studied canon law, knows what canon law means by the phrase “manifest sinners”.

Paprocki knows, for example, that the CLSA New Commentary (2001) discussing Canon 1184 at p. 1412, understands one in “manifest sin” as one “publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin”. That’s a far cry from Shine’s rhetorical jab, delivered as if it were the coup de grace to Paprocki’s position, “Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments?” Hardly anyone, I would venture, and so would Paprocki. But the law is not directed at those who, from time to time, commit sin, even a public sin; it is concerned about those who make an objectively sinful state their way of life. Fumble that distinction, as Shine does, and one’s chances of correctly reading Canon 1184 drop to, well, zero.

Yet Shine goes on, thinking that offering some examples of supposedly-sinning Catholics who yet are not refused funeral rites should shame Paprocki into changing his policy, citing, among other debatables, “Catholics who … deny climate change.” Yes. Shine actually said that. And this sort of silliness is supposed to give a prelate like Paprocki pause?

There are several other problems with Shine’s sorry attempts to explain the canon law of ecclesiastical funerals, but I want to end these remarks by highlighting a much more important point: Paprocki’s decree is not aimed at a category of persons (homosexuals, lesbians, LGBT, etc., words that do not even appear in his document) but rather, it is concerned with an act, a public act, an act that creates a civilly-recognized status, namely, the act of entering into a ‘same-sex marriage’. That public act most certainly has public consequences, some civil and some canonical.

Bp Paprocki, by long training and awesome office, understands what the consequences of ‘same-sex marriage’ are and are not and he is much more likely to be thinking clearly about them than is Mr Shine.

Update, 28 June: An interview with Bp. Paprocki in the wake of his norms.