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Follow-up on Bp. Morlino’s latest legal reforms

Bp. Morlino of Madison is not a canon lawyer but he has, besides a doctorate in theology, a Master’s degree in philosophy—which probably explains his penchant for clear thinking. (KIDS! Looking for an undergraduate degree that will prepare you for life? Major in philosophy, at a good school.) Anyway, if there’s an undotted “i” or an uncrossed “t” in Morlino’s recent “Decree of Abrogation” regarding outdated diocesan legislation, I missed it. This document is a model of local legislative action in the Church, from its deferring to universal legislation and preserving certain canonical exemptions, down to its specifying a manner of promulgation and precluding a vacatio legis. It’s got the fingerprints of well-trained canonists all over it.

There’s an especially interesting line about abrogating “[e]ach and every custom that is contrary to universal or particular law and that [] lies within my power to reprobate…” That line does what it should do (among other things, underscores the burden of proof on those asserting customs contra legem) without doing what it shouldn’t do (trampling over practices praeter legem that contribute to the good of the faithful, or, for that matter, pressure the universal Legislator to pronounce on close cases). The timing for the decree seems obvious: in a few weeks we mark the 30th anniversary of the Johanno-Pauline Code and Canon 26 takes on added (not absolute, often misunderstood, but nevertheless added) significance.

I don’t think every arch/diocese needs to rush in to follow Madison’s example (Madison certainly thought the idea through before acting on it), but it’s surely worth considering in other places. There’s considerable post-codification and even post-conciliar canonical underbrush in various pastoral vineyards and many could likely use some thinning. At the risk of reading the decree a bit eisegtically here, I sense an unspoken motivation: “Pauciores leges, astrictius acceptae” or, “Fewer laws, more strictly observed.”

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