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Cdl. Cupich’s rationales for not taking canonical action against prominent pro-abortion Catholic politicos are as unconvincing as ever

No one thought that Chicago’s Blase Cdl. Cupich would follow Springfield’s Bp. Thomas Paprocki’s example in calling upon Catholic state legislators, who had supported Illinois’ express attack on the basic rights of pre-born babies, to refrain from holy Communion until they repented of their evil deed (Canon 916), further directing that his ministers withhold holy Communion from two specific legislators based on their protracted and public support of such measures (Canon 915), so no one was surprised when Cupich didn’t. But, if only ‘for the record’, some replies to Cupich’s rationales for not following Paprocki’s example are in order.

1. Cupich claims that “it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions”. This misrepresents a crucial point: withholding holy Communion under Canon 915 is not the application of canonical sanction but rather the observance of a sacramental disciplinary norm. Casting the operation of Canon 915 as a sanction (implying thereby proof of canonical crimes upon the observance of special penal procedures) is a straw-man frequently posed by prelates skirting the plain provisions of Eucharistic discipline.

2. Cupich claims that “sanctions [sic] … don’t change anybody’s minds”. This misrepresents the two-fold purpose of withholding holy Communion, namely to prevent the scandal to the faith community that arises from the administration of holy Communion to Catholics who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin (say, by their formally depriving innocent human beings of any protection under civil law) and to prevent sacrilege from being committed against the august Sacrament. ‘Changing people’s minds’ has nothing to do with either goal.

3. Cupich claims that, when confronted with prominent Catholics who formally and actively cooperate in depriving innocent human beings of their right to life, his “primary responsibility is to teach”. This misrepresents the fact that bishops have not one but three primary responsibilities, namely, to teach, to sanctify, and to govern the People of God (Canon 375, emphasis added). Preserving sacramental discipline in the Church entrusted to him is a crucial part of a bishop’s governing duty (Canon 392). A bishop cannot therefore point to his admittedly sound teaching in regard to the right to life as if that satisfies his duty of governing his Church in support of that teaching, any more than a father can excuse sitting by while members of his household act against the common good, by saying, “Well, I told them what was right and wrong.”

4. Cupich might (it is not clear from the CNA article) claim that Paprocki’s action was taken in response to legislators “who championed the law”, referring only to the awful bill passed in Illinois a couple weeks ago. But if this is Cupich’s claim it would be factually wrong, for Paprocki, in invoking Canon 915 against two named politicos, expressly underscored their repeated and prominent role in advancing pro-abortion state legislation over a period of time and in multiple ways. Paprocki did not act upon news of a single bad act (although he might have been justified in doing so on these facts).

5. Finally Cupich claims that “an elected official has to deal with the judgment seat of God” adding that God’s judgment will be “much more powerful” than any here on earth. In that regard Cupich is certainly correct. Elected officials will be answerable to God for their acts and omissions. As will bishops. And cardinals.


Gov. Newsom and threats to the seal of Confession


California Gov. Gavin Newsom is and acknowledges himself to be Roman Catholic. His external conduct is, in several respects, gravely at odds with important Church teachings as in, for example, his long-term support for ‘same-sex marriage’ and his recent open invitation to pregnant women to come to California to abort their babies. He also appears to have been married in the Church but later divorced and subsequently attempted a civil marriage, in which relationship he apparently remains. In light of these public factors, Newsom already is, in my view, ineligible to present himself for holy Communion per Canon 916 and, if he presents himself for the sacrament anyway, he should be refused per Canon 915.

My concern here, however, is not for sacramental discipline as it impacts Newsom, but rather, with his vulnerability under penal canon law for his threatened role in attacking the seal of Confession.

California is considering legislation that would require Catholic priests to disclose, in certain cases, information they acquired in sacramental Confession. Setting aside a raft of interpretation questions and practical problems of application, serious obstacles to enforcement, and the certainty of protracted legal challenges, the bill itself threatens priests, bound by divine and canon law (CCC 2490, 1983 CIC 1388) to protect the seal of Confession, with State punishment if they do so. Newsom has signaled that he would sign such a bill into law.

In my view, such an executive act by Newsom would be to “impede the freedom of ministry” making him liable to “a just penalty” under Canon 1375. Besides the plain text of that canon, note that the Pio-Benedictine predecessor norm on which the current law draws expressly sanctioned those “who issue laws, mandates, or decrees contrary to the liberty or rights of the Church” (1917 CIC 2334). Attempting to coerce priests into betraying the seal of Confession under any circumstances unquestionably violates the divinely-conferred rights of the Church to pursue her mission freely and of her priests and people to celebrate their faith correctly.

In addition, should Newsom sign such a bill into law, I think he can be rightly seen as causing “scandal or a grave disturbance of [ecclesial] order” such that he would be liable to “formal rebuke” under Canon 1339. This action, if technically not a penalty itself, could be pursued together with or independently of a prosecution for crime under Canon 1375. Its main predecessor norm, 1917 CIC 2308, was understood by Pio-Benedictine commentators as authorizing formal rebuke even upon the commission of a single act, especially it were related to a canonical crime. See, e.g., P. Love, Penal Remedies (1960) 131-132.

While other canons could be invoked against Newsom in this regard (e.g., Canon 1319 on penal precepts), the two above should give sufficient indication that the Church has, more than once, faced attempts to interfere with the seal of Confession and that she retains in her canon law the memory and means of responding to such threats.

Thoughts on ‘Vos estis’

Pope Francis’ m.p. Vos estis has provoked a range of popular reactions from “it’s a good start” to “it does not go far enough”. JD Flynn provides an informed overview here. Kurt Martens provides good remarks here. I limit my thoughts to some technical aspects of Roman canon law occasioned by VE.

1. The controlling text of VE is Italian, serving the short term convenience of the Roman Curia and contributing to long term inconvenience for canonistics. Translations in several modern languages appeared simultaneously facilitating implementation.

2. VE addresses some behaviors already criminalized in the Code of Canon Law, esp. acts recited in Canons 695 and 1395, and seems to introduce some new crimes (VE 1, e.g., that of interfering with criminal investigations). Both approaches contribute to the growing disconnect (occasional under John Paul II, increased under Benedict XVI, and common under Francis) between codified law and other ecclesiastical disciplinary provisions, even in regard to key matters such as sexual misconduct. See, e.g., successive versions of John Paul II’s m.p. Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (30 apr 2001, etc.) and Francis’ m.p. Come una madre (04 jun 2016). Such disconnects can lead to inconsistent treatments of some topics while letting other matters fall between the cracks. A unified, legislatively sound treatment of clergy and religious sexual misconduct is needed.

3. Sexual acts performed by clerics and/or religious with consenting adults, though sacrilegious by their very nature and often extremely disruptive to the faith community (think, adultery between a pastor and a member of the parish or a religious’ participation in ‘adult pornography’ rings), are still not criminalized.

4. Some “crimes against the Sixth Commandment” are usefully identified in VE but the actual phenomenon, and specifically what constitutes a “sexual act”, is not canonically defined. Consultation with approved authors (Pio-Benedictine and Johanno-Pauline) is still necessary. See, e.g., my identification of works by moral theologians useful for canonical consultation in E. Peters, “Applications of the Essential Norms in cases of doubt”, Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions (2009) at 133-138.

5. The seal of confession (cc. 983, 1388) is not directly referenced in VE but is indirectly affirmed by the document’s deference to Canon 1548 (which in turn leads to Canon 1550 rendering confessors “incapable” of testifying about matters subject to the seal). There is no question of the Church abandoning the seal, of course, but a more vigorous assertion of the inviolability of the sacramental seal in a document such as this one would have been helpful in other, chiefly civil law, contexts.

6. Potential conflicts between arch/diocesan curial confidentiality obligations (c. 471) and the reporting requirements of VE seem resolved in favor of VE. Possible conflicts, however, between the specific immunity of clergy from disclosing matters known to them “by reason of sacred ministry” (c. 1548) and VE is more problematic. Assuming one can arrive at an accurate understanding of what it means “to know” something “by reason of sacred ministry”, then favoring the immunities in Canon 1548 undercuts the effectiveness of VE, obviously, while favoring the obligations as presented in VE puts an onerous burden on individual clergy to determine what they may and may not disclose, and, over time, could have a chilling effect on the willingness of persons to seek advice from clergy about moral matters if those same matters might have legal ramifications.

7. The investigatory duties of “metropolitans” (basically, archbishops) as investigators represents an augmentation of their authority as envisioned by Canon 436 § 2.

8. The expression of the presumption of innocence (VE 12 § 7) is perhaps useful against the real or perceived predilection among bishops to assume the worst about clergy accused of sexual misconduct these days, but it should have needed no affirmation in light of, say, Canons 18 and 221, and Regula Iuris 49 (1298).

9. The requirement of monthly investigation updates (VE 12 § 8) is remarkable. The requirement that investigations be completed within 90 days (VE 14), even if subject to extension by Roman authorities, is unrealistic.

10. Payment for the professional services of “qualified persons” who assist in the investigations (VE 13), though not expressly mentioned, seems anticipated by the fund to be set up under VE 16. But, while it is appropriate that arch/dioceses and religious institutes bear the costs of investigating their own, the Holy See should bear the costs of investigating those covered by Canon 1405 (chiefly, arch/bishops, cardinals, and papal legates, i.e., officials regarding whom local Churches had no voice and over whom they have no authority).

A word on lay involvement in episcopal disciplinary matters: Against those who maintain an absolute bar to lay authority over clergy (exaggerating Canon 129), I think real authority over clergy is not only possible for lay persons, but it has already appeared in a couple of places in the Code (though not in matters relevant to the issues in this post). That said, however, the ecclesiological obstacles to authoritative “lay involvement” in episcopal disciplinary matters are formidable and, in my view, ultimately insurmountable (lsms, see Canon 336). Christ founded his Church on popes and bishops, and He knew what He was about when He did so; the solution to the clergy sexual abuse, and to the hierarchic failings related to that abuse, must be found within that structure, not a new one.

11. The three-year “experimental period” for operating under VE, recalling that one of those years is available for establishing the basic mechanisms under which VE will operate (VE 2 § 1), seems unduly short, especially in that VE was issued as a papal motu proprio, meaning that the document can be modified or scrapped by the pope at anytime he wishes.

12. Statutes of limitations for criminal acts (“prescription”) play a very important role in the order of any society, but in canon law they are becoming unnecessarily complex. Against the background of codified law on prescription (which sets frustratingly short periods for investigation and prosecution per cc 1362-1363), some crimes against chastity are already subject to special periods of prescription per Sacramentorum, and now VE seems to introduce additional offenses, which might (or might not) be reserved to CDF and thus might (or might not) be subject to different statutes of limitation. Some clarifications would be helpful regarding periods of prescription and the possible reservation of certain offenses to CDF.

13. Some oddities remain in VE, including: restricting the choice of notary (a minor office, c. 483 § 2) to priests in cases where the reputation of a priest might be called into question—even though numerous laypersons can be involved in the case in much more important roles; expressly mentioning personal prelatures (currently, only one in the world) as being covered by VE but not likewise mentioning personal ordinariates; leaving unaddressed the scope of confidentiality obligations, if any, on those conducting investigations (as opposed to, say, those making reports); the ambiguous scope given to a suspect’s or an accuser’s right to counsel; and so on. Some of these issues can be resolved by practice of course, while others (such as prohibiting lay notaries in clergy misconduct cases) need simply to be abandoned.

Some blog updates

A number of pressing projects have occupied my time the last several weeks but I now have updates on a few other items.

First, as promised a couple months ago, I have prepared a response to Dr. Monica Miller’s reiterations that (depending on how narrowly or broadly her own exceptions to the application of Canon 1398 are read) potentially millions of Catholic women around the world are excommunicated for abortion. I find such an opinion wrong to the point of startling but it is sincerely raised and deserves a considered reply—one too long, however, for a typical blog post. My remarks are found here.

Second, my thoughts on the Eastern Open Letter accusing Pope Francis of the delict of heresy appeared in Catholic Herald on-line. They are available here.

Third, I will offer some technical observations on Pope Francis m.p. Vos estis later today, in a separate post. (Update: Those thoughts are now here.)

Be careful what you ask for: interim thoughts on recent claims that women face automatic excommunication for abortion

Dr. Monica Miller continues to insist that Catholic women are liable to automatic excommunication for abortion. I think this assertion is wrong and, in the detail necessary, I plan to respond to it. Meanwhile, though, I want to consider here a different question, namely, What if Miller is correct and potentially huge numbers of Catholic women around the world are excommunicated for having obtained an abortion?

While a range of reactions to such a prospect, from seeing it as proof of how dark are our days to muttering ‘Good riddance, serves them right’, seems possible, I want to suggest that Miller’s position would, if canonically correct (it’s not, but let’s suppose), provide the basis for its own repudiation. Briefly, what Miller and some others do not appreciate is that, the more Catholics are excommunicated for any offense, the less likely the Church is to continue punishing them that way. This is not mere academic speculation. It has happened before: the fact that great numbers of Catholics were committing an act punishable by automatic excommunication led the Church to admit the failure of a penal law approach to the problem and drop the excommunication for it. As usual, history illumines.

In 1884 the Third Council of Baltimore, in an attempt to stop Catholics from performing the then rare, but still evil, act of obtaining a divorce and attempting a civil marriage, enacted an automatic excommunication against such conduct (Acta, n. 124). Now, who knows, maybe the threat of automatic excommunication did dissuade some Catholics from divorcing and remarrying (Deo gratias). But with each passing decade the numbers of divorced-and-remarried Catholics continued to climb at rates nearly identical to those of the general population and, by the 1970s, literally millions of American Catholics were supposedly excommunicated.

Neither deterred from breaking the law nor spurred to seek forgiveness for having done so, many divorced and remarried Catholics instead boasted of their excommunication (I heard such claims myself), or, less confrontationally, they saw their excommunication as a excuse ‘to pay no more attention to a Church that has already kicked me out’. In time it became obvious that the canonical sanction attached to divorce and remarriage, whatever feasibility it might have enjoyed in its early years, had not only failed in preventing Catholics from divorcing and remarrying on a massive scale, it had actually become, canonically and pastorally, a hindrance to their reconciliation.

In 1977 the US bishops approached the Holy See and asked Pope Paul VI’s permission to abrogate the excommunication for divorce and remarriage. The pope consented, the Baltimore penal law was abrogated, and all of its excommunications were lifted (immediately per many but unquestionably within a couple years). CLD VIII: 1213-1214, and 1983 CIC 1313 § 2.

In dropping the excommunication for divorce and remarriage the Church did not, of course, change her teaching on the permanence of marriage nor did she recognize these second, pseudo-marriages; to this day, civilly divorced and remarried Catholics are prohibited holy Communion under the (non-penal) Canon 915. But, however irregular their situation, divorced and remarried Catholics no longer labor under the canonical and pastoral consequences of being automatically excommunicated for it and so their reconciliation with the Church, and with God, is thereby facilitated.

With the lesson of Baltimore in mind let’s now consider automatic excommunication in general and as threatened for abortion.

Of the seven automatic excommunications left in codified canon law, five of them—desecration of the Eucharist (c.1367), physical attack on the pope (c. 1370), absolution of an accomplice (c. 1378), illicit consecration of a bishop (c. 1382), and violation of seal by a confessor (c. 1388)—affect, legally or practically, only a tiny percentage of the Catholic population. Likewise with the few extra-codical automatic excommunications such as for procedural misconduct in a papal conclave or the attempted ordination of females. See ap. con. Universi dominici (1996) and CDF De delicto (2008).

Thus, only two automatic excommunications, abortion (c. 1398) and apostasy-heresy-schism (c. 1364), arise from acts that could be perpetrated by large numbers of Catholics. Of course, the crimes of apostasy-heresy-schism, though theoretically committable by large numbers of Catholics, would, if such rebellion ever erupted to the point of involving millions of Catholics as is the case with abortion, provoke crises in the Church quite beyond canonical. The Church has not suffered that sort of catastrophe for some centuries.

But the crime of abortion differs markedly from these other excommunication situations especially when one looks at the canonical situation of the women obtaining abortions.

Around the world, Catholic women obtaining abortions each day number in the hundreds, perhaps in the thousands, and they certainly amount to many millions over recent decades. Those assuming, or insisting, that mothers obtaining abortions are automatically excommunicated are not talking, therefore, about punishing the occasional corrupt cleric who absolved his accomplice or some lunatic who lunged at the pope; instead they are talking about the excommunication of staggering numbers of Catholic women.

Moreover, the act of obtaining an abortion, gravely evil to be sure (CCC 2270-2271), is nevertheless not marked with the anti-institutional animus inherent in, say, a bishop consecrating other bishops without Roman authorization, nor is it driven by the conscious ecclesial contrariness associated with formally repudiating one’s Christian identity (apostasy), contradicting divine revelation (heresy), or throwing off ecclesiastical jurisdiction (schism). Abortion, unlike all other excommunications (automatic or otherwise) in the 1983 Code, does not involve an attack on the Church’s sacraments, identity, or governing authority. Notwithstanding that abortion is a grave moral offense on par with murder, euthanasia, sexual-slavery, drug-trafficking, blasphemy, and devil-worship, only abortion is punished with automatic excommunication. That anomaly alone should give pause to any one concerned for the right operation of justice in the Church.

Thus, if Miller is right in asserting that Catholic women obtaining abortions are (subject to a few exceptions she concedes) automatically excommunicated for it, the Church would be faced with a failure of canon law global in scope, massive in numbers, and decades in the making; to a degree that would make the Baltimore excommunications seem like a misstep, the automatic excommunication asserted against women for abortion would manifest a juridic impotence that could only induce widespread contempt of law itself in the ecclesial community and complicate the reconciliation of those Catholic women who do, sooner or later, come to regret regret their abortion. Upon realizing the magnitude of such a canonical debacle, the Church would have no choice but to abrogate, or severely derogate from, Canon 1398.

If Miller is right. But, as I say (and tried to demonstrate here, but shall demonstrate in more detail elsewhere), she is not right.

Although Canon 1398 could be abrogated or at least derogated without doing damage to the Church’s witness to the value of innocent human life, I do not think that the canon needs to be dropped or substantively changed to prevent millions of Catholics from (supposedly) ending up the morass of latae sententiae excommunication. Canon 1398 is soundly written (pace its automatic operation) and it can be effectively applied by persons charged with the implementation of law in the Church.

Canon 1398, properly understood, stands as a witness against the carnage unleashed on pre-born human beings in the wake of modern States’ reprehensible abandonment of them. It provides a precedent for Roman canon law to imitate Eastern by making murder itself (notably euthanasia) an excommunicable offense (1990 CCEO 1450), albeit ferendae sententiae.

Canon 1398, properly understood, enables the canonical prosecution of abortionists and their accomplices toward excommunication. Right. Now.

Canon 1398, properly understood, enables the canonical prosecution of women procuring abortion toward sanctions other than excommunication (notably, interdict) in the highly unusual case that such prosecution could be warranted because of other factors.

Finally, Canon 1398, properly understood, does not threaten automatic excommunication against women caught up in abortion, and therefore these women are free of the canonically and pastorally complicating implications of being automatically excommunicated. A point, I grant, disputed by Miller.

The deeper malice of sexual misconduct by clergy and religious

Recent remarks by Pope Francis regarding the ‘lightness’ of “sins below the belt” are receiving various responses, but his comments, not wrong as far as they went, nevertheless prompt, I think, especially against the background of the clergy and religious sexual misconduct crisis, some observations as to how sins ‘below the belt’, even if they are generally reckoned among the lighter of the still-serious sins, become markedly more grievous when committed by clergy and religious. Appreciating how the status of a sinner can worsen the evil of a sin is important, I think, for addressing the Church’s sexual misconduct crisis to the degree it urgently needs.

At least two factors augment the moral malice of sexual misconduct by clergy and religious, namely, sacrilege and homosexual character. I will outline these two factors here, but would alert readers to other important information regarding the incorporation of moral theology materials into canon law that I offered in Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions 2009: 133-138.

Sacrilege itself, though gravely evil (CCC 2120), is not a crime under either the Johanno-Pauline Code of Canon Law or the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Sacrilege is a qualifying element of desecration of the Eucharist (1983 CIC 1367, 1990 CCEO 1442) and it undergirds criminalizing, for example, the profanation of sacred objects (1983 CIC 1376, 1990 CCEO 1441) and some physical attacks on clergy (1983 CIC 1370, 1990 CCEO 1445), but in other respects sacrilege per se is not directly actionable under current canon law.

The Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, in contrast, not only recognized sacrilege as a qualifying element in several canonical crimes (Jone, Commentarium III: 509; Ayrinhac/Lydon, Penal Legislation 181) but, per 1917 CIC 2325*, it made sacrilege itself a crime punishable “according to the gravity of the fault”. However seldom that norm seems to have been applied in its day, the failure to carry Canon 2325 into the 1983 Code leaves bishops bereft of a direct remedy against the offense of sacrilege itself (and, by the way, of a canonical response to superstitious practices, another ill that spreads rapidly among the faithful in evil times such as these).

The manual moralists writing before Vatican II identified three kinds of sacrilege, namely, “personal” (involving persons set aside for God, such as clergy), “local” (involving sacred places such as churches), or “real” (involving blessed objects such as chalices). Jone-Adelman, Moral Theology 108-111; Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology II: 33-36; Prümmer, Handbook 204-206. All three forms of sacrilege identified by the moralists were criminalized by Canon 2325 of the 1917 Code. Dom Augustine, Commentary VIII: 314-315; Beste, Introductio 1051. Here, that form of personal sacrilege committed by sexually-active clergy or religious, described by some commentators as ‘carnal sacrilege’, interests us.

Setting aside whether specific instances of clergy sexual misconduct might have also been crimes under civil law (e.g., rape) or were punishable as a distinct offenses under canon law (e.g., offenses against minors), a sense of the deep depravity involved in every act of ‘carnal sacrilege’ is seen in Bernard Häring’s 1963 treatment of “Sacrilegious impurity” wherein he wrote: “All sins of impurity between persons who have pledged themselves to unmarried chastity for the kingdom of heaven either by a vow of chastity or by entering the state of celibacy are sins of sacrilege. The same is true if only one of the persons is consecrated by vow or the special state of chastity. … Indeed all sins of impurity committed by those especially consecrated to God (whether alone or with others) are sacrilege.” Häring, Law of Christ III: 301. Häring, in common with other moralists, recognized all sins by the baptized as ‘sacrilege’ in a broad sense, of course, but he singled out those in Holy Orders or religious life for special attention in virtue of their “sacral” consecration. Häring, Law of Christ II: 210-211; Naz, ed., Traité IV: 717. In brief, the higher the state of life to which one is admitted the more serious are offenses against the dignity and duties of that state. Indeed, Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology I: 60 uses the sexual sin of one under a vow of chastity as an example of how the status of sinner can increase the malice of a sin. Thus to think of clergy sexual misconduct as just another form of ‘sins below the belt’ would be to disserve the truth that sexual sins, when committed by clergy and religious, are more vicious than when committed by others.

A second factor aggravates the malice of ‘sins below the belt’ when committed by clergy (and often religious); it arises from the fact that the overwhelming majority of clergy sexual misconduct (against minors or otherwise) is homosexual in nature.

Turning again to the manual moralists, they identified various forms of sin (see Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology I: 34-63; Roberti, ed., Dictionary of Moral Theology, s.v. Sin, species of, at 1135-1136), including sexual sin, and found in them gradations of evil, ranging from light to grievously wrong.

Looking only at the sexual act (and setting aside several factors not here relevant), moralists identified three main types of sexual intercourse that were morally illicit, namely, fornication (male-female), sodomy (male-male), and bestiality (human-animal). Davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology, II: 237-238, 246-247; Jone-Adelman, Moral Theology 159-160. All three acts were deemed gravely sinful, but the evil of illicit sexual intercourse present in non-conjugal male-female relations was worse in male-male acts and worse still in human-animal situations. Indeed, homosexual acts (and bestiality) were described as “the worst sin” in the famous instruction from the Holy Office, Crimen sollicitationis (1962) nn. 71-74. To the extent, then, that clergy sexual misconduct is overwhelmingly perpetrated against males (by other males, of course), these acts of ‘carnal sacrilege’, besides whatever harms they inflict upon victims, are again more grievous in themselves than a simple description of such acts as being ‘sins below the belt’ might suggest.

I have many times lamented the generally weakened (but not eviscerated) state of penal canon law in the Church but have nevertheless pointed to plausible theories of canonical prosecution against sexually offending clergy and religious under the Code as it is. Besides the enforcement of canons already applicable against certain offenders, Canon 1399 is also available for consideration, but a blog is not the place to work out the mechanics of such cases nor to review the canonical defenses that, in justice, those accused of sexual offenses may raise.

Instead, in light of the augmentation of the moral malice of sin that one’s status and dignity as a cleric or religious produces in cases of sexual misconduct, I conclude these thoughts by simply recalling, with emphasis added, Canon 1326 § 1 of the 1983 Code which states “A judge can punish the following more gravely than the law … has established: … 2° a person who has been established in some dignity or who has abused a position of authority or office …”.

* 1917 CIC 2325. Whoever excites superstition or perpetrates a sacrilege is to be punished by the Ordinary according to the gravity of the fault, with due regard for the penalties established by law against such superstitious or sacrilegious acts.

Another welcome return to the earlier age for Confirmation

Bishop James Wall of Gallup NM just announced that Catholic children in his diocese can receive the sacraments of Confirmation and holy Communion in a single Eucharistic liturgy celebrated for them around their attaining age seven or eight. This makes a dozen arch/dioceses that have jettisoned the once-trendy-but-pastorally-flawed practice of delaying Confirmation until well into a young person’s teenage years. I will not rehearse the numerous spiritual and practical problems associated with this delay. My focus is, as usual, canonical.

While Eastern Catholic Churches usually confer Confirmation (Chrismation) at the time of Baptism (1990 CCEO 686 § 1, 694695) and thus generally in infancy, the Roman Church had long delayed Confirmation until about the age of reason (roughly age seven). See 1917 CIC 788, 1983 CIC 891. As there are good reasons for going with infancy or the age of discretion, and noting that both Roman codes allowed for accelerating the time of Confirmation in cases of need, I think this East-West disciplinary difference re timing is one the Church can live with. 

But the 1983 Code’s stipulation of a early-ish and unified age for Confirmation became, after some periods of ‘experimentation’, a fixed hodgepodge of delayed and scattered dates when the USCCB, taking advantage of language in Canon 891 that allowed the conference of bishops to determine “another age” (note: age not ages), once-and-for-all abandoned a common age for Confirmation, whereupon Rome signed off on the to-each-his-own approach whereby every bishop decided for himself what age this sacrament of initiation would be conferred in his arch/diocese. That’s still the law in the United States and it’s effectively the law in several other countries. Gallup, therefore, has simply joined the small but growing list of arch/dioceses that have said, ‘Fine, we get to decide? then we’re going with an earlier age, the age of reason.’ May other local Churches follow them, and soon.

Meanwhile, children and parents in arch/dioceses that still maintain a delaying approach to this sacrament should bear in mind that Rome has, in regard to suitably instructed and disposed candidates for Confirmation, ruled that the rights of (at least) an 11-yo child to the sacraments (e.g. 1983 CIC 843) prevail over policies setting a later date for Confirmation. See Cong. for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (Medina Estévez), doc. [de Confirmationis receptionis aetate] (no date), Communicationes 32 (2000) 12-14 (English text).

And, by the way, Catholic children in danger of death should receive Confirmation without delay.