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Fixing things the wrong way

January 17, 2017

[Post-scriptum: I see now an editorial note from CRUX admitting the misquotation and subsequent correction. My objections to Ivereigh’s essay as being irrelevant to the Amoris debate in light of his omission stand, but the journalistic mistake (correcting an important error without noting it is a correction) I accept as remedied.]

On January 15 CRUX contributing editor Austen Ivereigh penned a mellifluous essay on the role of conscience in regard to holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics under Amoris laetitia in which essay he mentioned, but fatally misquoted, the central canonical norm in this debate, Canon 915, by leaving out the crucial qualifier in Canon 915, the word “manifest”, which word moves the question of Communion distribution out of the realm of conscience (where Ivereigh wants to leave it) and into the realm of public conduct where ecclesiastical tradition has always located it.

On January 16 I called Ivereigh on his misrepresentation of the law, pointing out that no discussion of the ecclesial values behind Canon 915 is possible if the word “manifest” is omitted from its text. I did not speculate as to why Ivereigh left out the crucial word, but at least two possibilities presented themselves: (1) Ivereigh was unaware that the word “manifest” was in the norm, in which case he could plausibly, if still incorrectly, opine away about the role of conscience as if that were the only criterion at issue here; or (2) Ivereigh knew the word “manifest” was there but, not realizing its importance, he forgot about it on his to way to plausibly, if still incorrectly, opining away about the role of conscience as if that were the only criterion at issue here. Either explanation, in my view, disqualifies Ivereigh’s CRUX essay from being taken as a serious contribution to this debate, but neither theory calls into question his motives for writing as he did.

On January 17, however, I see that Ivereigh (or CRUX?) has quietly slipped the word “manifest” back into the Canon 915 quote but, as far as I can tell, the rest of Ivereigh’s essay remains untouched—as if to say, Okay, fine, the word “manifest” is in the law, and yes, it’s apparently important enough to repair the quote, but no, I (or CRUX) don’t care that it renders essentially pointless the original essay for its failure to grapple with the now obviously crucial implications of the word “manifest” in Canon 915 regarding Communion distribution questions. I ask, is this how one rights journalistic wrongs?

My objection to Ivereigh (or CRUX) adding the word “manifest” to the essay, is not, I need hardly say, an objection to repairing a false quote per se. Electronic media lends itself to fixing typos and besides, accuracy before the reading public is to be valued over avoiding authorial embarrassment. But, quietly adding an omitted, yet absolutely crucial, word to a key quotation, without admitting that it was originally misrepresented (besides making CRUX readers unfairly question their own correct recollections of the essay) implies that such misstatements, in the midst of a tempestuous debate no less, are on a par with spelling mistakes or awkward auxiliary verb tenses. Sorry, but Ivereigh’s misrepresentation of Canon 915 went far beyond the typo stage.

In short, Option One for accounting for Ivereigh’s original phrasing is gone. He clearly knows the word “manifest” is in the law. That leaves, I suppose, Option Two, Ivereigh still does not realize the importance of the word (in which case he needs to do some serious study of this matter) or, I fear, it suggests an Option Three, Ivereigh doesn’t care about the implications of the law’s focus on public acts (instead of on personal conscience assessment) in Communion distribution questions (in which case other things Ivereigh might wish to say about the role of law in the Church should be questioned).


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