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If Robert McElvaine hasn’t violated Canon 1369, who has?

March 18, 2009

The Washington Post seems to be specializing in religious screeds.

About a year ago, WaPo made room for Joe “the-bishops-be-damned” Feuerherd’s rant against the American episcopate for its articulation of pro-life ethics in politics. I said then that Feueherd’s contempt must not be allowed to go unchecked. The US bishops let the insults pass. Well, except perhaps for a good reply by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh.

But now, Feuerherdian contempt has been taken to a new level by Robert McElvaine.

In fewer than 500 words, McElvaine manages to insult meanly and repeatedly Pope Benedict XVI and to impugn (sophomorically, I grant, but nevertheless clearly and directly) a half-dozen important Church teachings on sacraments, ecclesiology, and moral doctrine. If McElvaine’s column does not constitute a violation of, among other norms, Canon 1369, then folks, I am never going to recognize it when it is violated.

Now, it’s one thing for the bishops to have ignored gross insults to themselves (I think they were wrong to have done that last year, but I can see why they might have acted thus). But it is entirely something else for them to ignore the kind of venom that McElvaine has just poured out on the pope. Their pope. Our pope.

A canonical penal process should be undertaken against Robert McElvaine. Such a process would start with an investigation according to Canon 1717. From what I can gather about McElvaine, it seems that he would have canonical domicile or quasi-domicile in the Diocese of Jackson MS; his offensive conduct appears to have been committed there and/or in the Archdiocese of Washington DC. Thus, either local Church could act in this matter (1983 CIC 1408, 1412), but a coordinated approach might be beneficial.

Yes, I know that McElvaine is hawking a book and might enjoy the publicity of an ecclesiastical penal process being brought against him. So what? Just because someone might get paid to spread hatred of Christ’s vicar and His Church doesn’t mean he’s immune from canonical consequences for his behavior.

As I have explained before, canon lawyers can’t enforce ecclesiastical discipline. We can only make suggestions. Fine. Consider this one suggested.

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