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Does the Church have ‘small-minded’ rules?

September 20, 2013

Of course.

The Church is a two-thousand year old, transnational society. It’s bound to have acquired some small-minded rules along the way. Want an example? Take Canon 718 of the Pio-Benedictine Code, the rule that prohibited non-members of the parish rosary society from marching under the flag of the rosary society in a Corpus Christi procession.

Per Canon 718, mom (who was a member of the rosary society) could walk under the rosary banner, while dad and the kids (who were not members) had to march under, what? I guess, the banner of the Non-Members of the Rosary Society. One would think we’d have been happy to have dads march with moms in Corpus Christi processions at all, and not worry so much about which group they walked with. Still, canon law saw it differently then. But today, small-minded Canon 718 is gone.

The Church eliminates her small-minded or out-dated rules, once they are recognized as such, basically the same way that great nations like America or Italy or Argentina, or great cities like Detroit or Rome or Buenos Aires, eliminate their small-minded or out-dated rules once they are recognized as such. Not always as quickly as we might like—I remember my law school prof pointing out to us in 1980 that ‘The law in Missouri still is that anyone operating a motor vehicle at night must be preceded by a man on foot with a lantern!’—but eventually, such rules get tossed, as they should.

But great rules, rules that provide the very structure of great societies, must remain in place. Great rules for behavior (like, don’t kill preborn babies or take holy Communion if you persist in obstinately manifest grave sin), and fundamental definitions (like marriage is the union of one man and one woman) must be defended, by the mighty and the lowly alike.

Small-minded rules impede law’s service to society and should be eliminated. Great rules must be defended, in season and out. And explaining the difference between small-minded rules and great rules helps us all to know how to live with and for one another.

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