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Should one take Cdl. Schönborn’s comments on female ordination seriously?

Symptomatic of a society experiencing a breakdown of its order are, among other things, casual assertions by prestigious figures within that society that, if taken according to the plain meaning of their words, are deeply opposed to fundamental values within that society, but which, though uttered, raise nary an eyebrow among those charged with care for that society.

Recent comments from Viennese prelate Christoph Cdl. Schönborn, apparently supportive of ordaining women, are opposed, I suggest, to at least three fundamental ecclesiological values but they have occasioned, as far I have seen, no correction whatsoever from Church leadership, and thus seem to be a chilling illustration of the erosion of order in the Church.

Consider, please.

Apparently Schönborn holds that “The question of ordination [of women] is a question which clearly can only be clarified by a council. That cannot be decided upon by a pope alone. That is a question too big that it could be decided from the desk of a pope.” There are least three serious errors in these remarks, all them ecclesiological, and all of them (assuming we are to take cardinals giving formal interviews at their word), quite disturbing.

First, the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood (and episcopate) was definitively ruled out on ecclesiological grounds by Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994) n. 4 when he declared that “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”. Whatever additional sacramental, Scriptural, or historical arguments against female ordination John Paul II could have relied on, he framed his conclusive ruling against female sacerdotal ordination in terms of the Church’s in-ability confer such orders on such persons. Schönborn’s claim, therefore, that female “deaconesses, female priests, and female bishops” could someday happen is to contradict a central ecclesiological assertion set out in Ordinatio. 

Second, for Schönborn to say that a pope cannot, on his own, rule on (specifically, against) the possibility of female ordination is directly to challenge a pope’s authority in the Church as set out in Canon 331, specifically, that the pope “possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.”* Given that John Paul II ruled (yes, from his desk,  gasp!) that the Church had no power ordain women to priesthood and that his ruling was “to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”, Schönborn’s statement, I suggest, directly denies the authority of the pope to issue such an ecclesiological teaching and/or such a directive to the faithful.

Third, in the same breath wherein he denies the authority of a pope to rule as John Paul II ruled, Schönborn claims that the female ordination question (humoring him that there even is such a question in regard to the sacerdotal state) can only be decided by an ecumenical council, committing thereby, I suggest, the ecclesiological error of holding ecumenical councils to be superior to popes and coming thereby perilously close to crossing a line that few modern canonists thought ever could be crossed, that one marked out in Canon 1372, which states “A person who makes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure.”

Now the modern Canon 1372 had, as it happens, a Pio-Benedictine predecessor norm, 1917 CIC 2332, which read as follows: Each and every one of whatever status, grade, or condition, even if they are regal, episcopal, or cardinatial, appealing from the laws, decrees, or mandates of the Roman Pontiff existing at that time to a Universal Council, are suspected of heresy and by that fact incur excommunication specially reserved to the Apostolic See … .

The great Swiss/American canonist Dom Augustine, commenting on Canon 2332 (in his Commentary VIII: 327-328), granted that appealing to a general council rested on a theory that was “absurd” and “ridiculous”, adding that such an attempt would be “neither excusable nor intelligible”. He observed, in any case, that even cardinals could be charged under its terms and that “it makes no difference whether the general council appealed to is in session or to be held in the future”. Finally, said the scholar, the papal act being contested could be any papal “decree, either dogmatical or disciplinary.” Ordinatio, clearly, is a papal act both dogmatic and disciplinary.

In sum, that such comments, coming from one of the most prestigious figures in the Church today, comments that, if understood according to their plain sense, expressly impugn the sufficiency of a prominent papal act, deny the capacity of a pope to issue such rulings on his own, and imply that an ecumenical council is the only authority that could decide certain ecclesiological matters, that such comments, I say, have not elicited, as far I can tell, a single fraternal correction, is, I think, a sign of how urgently a restoration of order in the Church is needed.

Unless, of course, Cdl. Schönborn is not to be regarded as one who says what he means and means what he says. + + +

* Canon 331 draws heavily here from Lumen genitum 22 and Christus Dominus 2, both of which conciliar documents Schönborn himself cited in crafting the accurate description of papal authority that he provided for the Catechism of the Catholic Church nn. 882 and 937. 



Why Dr. Luckett’s abortion essay is not the same old same-old

Over the last few decades a genre of Catholic literature has emerged, namely virtue-signaling, autobiographical essays about ‘Why I, though born and raised Catholic, am leaving the Church, or dissent from her teachings, or participate in, say, women’s ordination events, or (as Catholic obstetrician and gynecologist Rebecca Luckett recently wrote in USA Today) had an abortion’. But this genre is exhausted. These essays are routinely formulaic, tedious, and boring.

To be sure, when I read a professional woman’s explanation about why she killed her pre-born child, I experience something akin to the visceral repugnance that reading, say, a father’s account about why he kidnapped the neighbor’s children and sold them into sexual slavery would engender. When the author of an abortion-defending essay is a physician, no less, the same anger that reading, I dunno, an essay by a high-school drug counselor about why she decided to sell drugs to students arises. But for the most part these ‘Yes-I’m-Catholic-but’ attempts at public conscience massaging warrant little consideration and usually no follow-up.

But Luckett’s essay could be an exception.

Setting aside what emotions might be stirred by Luckett’s ‘confession outside of the confessional’, her essay on feticide, read in the light of the law of the Catholic Church, suggests that Luckett has committed a grave ecclesiastical crime, abortion (c. 1398), despite her having a remarkably high degree of understanding of the horror of the act, and that therefore her Ordinary (usually, a bishop) should ‘carefully inquire personally or through another suitable person about the facts, circumstances, and imputability of the matter’ (c. 1717 § 1). Unprecedented in this case is just how much hard information about these very issues has already been freely provided by Luckett herself.

Now, if one can imagine SVU detectives reading a column by a man who enslaves kidnapped children but not investigating the claim, or a police chief reading a guidance counselor’s defense of her drug-dealing but not making an arrest, then one could, I suppose, imagine a bishop reading Luckett’s essay about killing her pre-born child and not calling her to account. But make no mistake, that would be the depth of official negligence needed to support a failure to act on the facts that Luckett herself has published.

So, I guess we’ll see what happens, won’t we?

Meanwhile, let me briefly address a point guaranteed to distract from the discussion of Luckett’s deed: abortion is a canonical crime punished not simply with excommunication (a suitable penalty for a heinous offense) but with an automatic (technically, a latae sententiae) excommunication—a procedural device that, without fail, complicates the visitation of sanctions on offenders and shifts the discussion away from, here, a baby who was killed by a mother who killed him, and toward the intricacies of ecclesiastical law treading the complex boundaries between public conduct and personal conscience.

You see, penal canon law—which needed considerable reform by the 1960s—was, unfortunately, so badly reformulated in those heady days just after the Second Vatican Council, that today, even I, who think that an unrepentant Luckett should be canonically prosecuted for killing her pre-born baby (and for ‘using published writings and the instruments of social communications to gravely injure good morals’ contrary to c. 1369), even I  would be confident in defending her against excommunication for the deed (see, for starters, c. 1324 § 1 n. 5 and the articles cited below) and certainly against any suggestion that she is currently bound by a latae sententiae excommunication for it (see c. 1324 § 3). In short, automatic penalties not only fail canonically to reach most offenders for whom they are intended but they actually interfere with later attempts to enforce the Church’s more serious penal provisions. Poenae latae sententiae delendae sunt!

But granting all of that, based on her public admissions, as read under penal law as it stands today, I think a promoter of justice (the canonical equivalent of a prosecuting attorney in criminal cases, per c. 1721, etc.) should be able to secure the penalty of interdict (see c. 1332) against someone like Luckett and, for a lay person, an interdict is practically indistinguishable from an excommunication. Moreover if, Deus vetet, Luckett refused to abide by the conditions imposed by such a penalty as could be imposed for abortion and for one’s public defense of the act, the penalty could always be increased later (c. 1393).

But, as I said above, we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

Finally, while these canonical points will, I hope, be considered by those who need to consider them, let me close with some words for any one who has done what Luckett did or who has helped push a woman into such acts: there is no sin, not even forgetting the child of one’s own womb (Isaiah 49:15), or helping a wife, daughter, girlfriend, or acquaintance to forget her child, that Jesus cannot, and does not dearly want to, forgive. The first step to recovery is simple: tell Jesus you are sorry in your heart and, if you are blessed to be Catholic, go to sacramental confession. Millions of people have, themselves or through others, fallen for the massive lie that is abortion; may they not fall for the deeper lie yet that Jesus won’t forgive them.

The whole point of canonical censures such as excommunication and interdict is to move offenders to personal repentance. If that repentance can be accomplished without resort to a formal penal process, wonderful! But if not the law needs to be allowed to take its course. + + +

* See, e.g., my “Exemption from a penalty” and “Excommunication for procured abortion” in 2010 CLSA Advisory Opinions at pp. 169-174 and 178-182.

Taking it apart, one canon at a time

Ecclesiastical discipline has been slowly built up over many, many centuries, at times, in ways that could even be described as ‘canon-by-canon’. Lately that approach, ‘canon-by-canon’, seems to be a good way to dismantle Church order.

Divorced-and-remarried Catholics are not prohibited from attending Mass; indeed, they are required to attend Mass on Sundays and days of precept (c. 1247) just like everybody else. But divorced-and-remarried Catholics are not to approach for holy Communion and, if they do approach, ministers of holy Communion are required by Canon 915 and the unanimous tradition behind that norm to withhold the sacrament from them. The discomfort that they and the faith community feel at that exclusion is meant to spur those excluded to examine their conduct and to bring it into line with Christ’s fundamental expectations of his followers and to protect the community from the appearance of officially condoning the publicly contrarian conduct of some of its members.

Likewise, divorced-and-remarried Catholics are not prohibited from joining in many parish activities: prayer groups, service organizations, and fellowship activities come to mind. But as above, some roles, especially institutional and liturgical leadership roles, are, I suggest, prohibited to certain members of the faithful based on their public actions.

It is nonsense  to hold, as it seems an influential diocesan bishop just a few clicks from the shadows of St. Peter’s holds, that divorced-and-remarried Catholics, though ineligible for holy Communion, might nevertheless be “outstanding in … the witness of Christian life” (c. 804) such that they could be “ideal for the teaching of the Catholic religion”. The inescapable contradiction between the canonical expectations in such cases and the public status of some persons might explain, albeit ironically, why many are so feverishly working to undermine the plain meaning of Canon 915 and now, I guess, Canon 804.

But to the objection that Canon 804 raises against admitting as teachers of the Catholic faith persons living in public contradiction to several important Church teachings, I would note one more problem.

Canon 149 states that, in order to be named to an “ecclesiastical office”, one “must be in communion with the Church” (debet esse in Ecclesiae communione). I have long argued that persons performing many ecclesiastical services, such as teaching religion or serving on a parish council, should be recognized as holding an “ecclesiastical office” per Canon 145 § 1. Several interesting implications would follow from such recognition but these can be discussed in another context. My point here is simply that, if, say, teaching religion under the auspices of a Catholic parish or diocese is  a form of ecclesiastical office (as I think it is), then, the problems raised by a bishop promoting to such service those who are plainly not  in communion with the Church despite what Canon 149 says is even more obvious. Or at least it should be. And that’s how the list of canons (I can recite a dozen more without even thinking about it) that must be distorted, ignored, or simply broken in order to accommodate holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics gets ever longer and longer.

In short, Canon 915 might be in the front lines of this controversy but it, and the ecclesiastical values behind it, are not the only ones being assailed these days. + + +

1983 CIC 145. § 1. An ecclesiastical office is any function constituted in a stable manner by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance to be exercised for a spiritual purpose.

A demur on the AOW document implementing Amoris laetitia

A single sentence threatens to undercut the good presented in “Sharing in the Joy of Love”, the graphically-attractive, 55-page pastoral plan published by the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) to implement Pope Francis’ document Amoris laetitia

The problem sentence reads as follows: “Priests are called to respect the decisions made in conscience by individuals who act in good faith since no one can enter the soul of another and make that judgment for them.” SJL, p. 52.

This admonition can, of course, be appropriately applied in innumerable situations. But, if  the sentence means that priests must “respect the decision” of divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics, living as though married to each other, to approach for holy Communion, and administer the Sacrament to them, then the admonition fails for violating Canon 915 and the Eucharistic discipline which that canon has always represented.

I say “if”, however, because whether that is  what SJL calls for is not clear. The words “canon”, “law”, and “discipline”, for example, do not appear in SJL. Canon 915 is never mentioned—not attacked, mind, just never mentioned.

What makes one fear, however, that the sentence might be intended to sway ministers of holy Communion toward administration of the Eucharist under gravely illicit conditions—besides the fact that ministers so inclined could easily invoke SJL’s phrasing here in support of precisely such administration—is that the rationale offered for such a stance, namely, that “no one can enter the soul of another and make [a conscience] judgment for them”, is repeatedly put forth these days as if a would-be communicant’s conscience preempted a minister’s application of Canon 915.

But the claim that Canon 915 yields to the conclusions of personal conscience as reached by a Catholic approaching for holy Communion is, as I have pointed out many, many times, completely wrong. Canon 915, and the tradition upon which it stands, operate in the face of observable behavior and not personal conscience. Civil marriage after divorce is observable behavior, behavior that is gravely contrary to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, to the Christian’s duty to avoid giving scandal, and to the Church’s law on reception of the sacraments.

In short, if encouraging ministers to give holy Communion to divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics is indeed what SJL intends by its wording here, then SJL is wrong; even if such is the use that some ministers intend to make of this passage in SJL, they are using the ambiguous wording of this sentence to avoid the clear directives of canon law and sacramental discipline.

About proposals to transfer Catholic grade schools away from pastors’ control, not so fast

Pardon my suspicious take on the line that eliminating priests’ responsibilities for Catholic schools in their parishes “will let priests focus on the pastoral and spiritual aspects of schools and parishes”—I can imagine Henry VIII’s henchmen sarcastically making similar comments to monks being expelled from their monasteries—but, admittedly from afar, this proposal has the potential to be a major Church property grab.

Those familiar with the facts Down Under can tell me whether my concerns are well-founded, but, in a nutshell: if Catholic grade schools in Australia are owned by Catholic parishes, then the establishment of self-perpetuating boards, independent from effective ecclesiastical governance, as owners and directors of those schools, is canonically an “alienation” (that is, a transfer of Church property rights) that must meet certain canonical criteria for liceity and even validity even if no money changes hands and even if the pastor is happy to rid himself of the parish school.

You see: Parishes are “juridic persons” (c. 515 § 3), juridically under the direction of pastors (c. 532) who are charged with, among many other things (e.g., cc. 528-530), correctly administering the property of the parish (e.g., c. 1282), which property includes all parish assets (c. 1256) which assets can be “alienated” (sold, leased, mortgaged, even given away) only in accord with canon law (mainly, Book V of the 1983 Code). The canonical consequences of not following the canons on alienation range from an episcopal “Tsk-tsk, don’t do that again”, through a valid-but-illicit act that occasions accusations of negligence in office (c. 1389), to invalid transfers that can result in civil lawsuits against the transfer and personal liability for restitution (cc. 1281, 1296).

Moreover, organizational actions (such as disposing of parish property) that do not follow internal rules (such as canon law) can ‘put a cloud on the title’ civilly, in turn impacting title insurance and civil registration of the deed.

So bottom line, there’s a lot to watch out for here.

Oh, if someone asks, no, Catholic schools, even those established by parishes and dioceses, are not themselves juridic persons absent a decree establishing them as juridic persons (c. 114).

 + + +

Perhaps the following sources and studies would be helpful.

[Pont. Council Leg. Texts] (Castillo Lara), Resp. ad dub. re Can. 1263 (20 mai 1989), AAS 81 (1989) 991. Latin on-line here. Summary: Schools administered by religious are not thereby juridic persons. Cites: 1263.

Pont. Council Leg. Texts (≠), nota, “La funzione dell-autorità ecclesiastica sui beni ecclesiastici” (12 feb 2004), Communicationes 36 (2004) 24-32. Summary: As titled, summary of ecclesiastical authority over temporal goods. Cites: CIC 0113, 0114, 0115, 0116, 0117, 0118, 0119, 0120, 0121, 0122, 0123, 0305, 0325, 0331, 0333, 0392, 0494, 1254, 1255, 1256, 1257, 1259, 1273, 1276, 1277, 1279, 1281, 1285, 1292, 1301, 1308, 1309, 1310.

Patsy James Gonsorcik (American religious, 1943-), The canonical status of separately incorporated healthcare apostolates in the United States: current status and future possibilities for the public and private juridic person, (SPU/USP doctoral diss., 2001) 298 pp. Abstract and/or dissertation here.

Bernard Waters (New Zealand priest, ≈), The canonical status of diocesan and parish schools in New Zealand, with particular reference to the Diocese of Auckland, in the light of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, (SPU/USP doctoral diss., 1999) 336 pp. Abstract and/or dissertation here.

Brian Dunn (Canadian priest, 1955-), The Catholic schools in Newfoundland: an investigation into their nature according to the Code of canon law, (SPU/USP doctoral diss., 1991) 356 pp. Abstract and/or dissertation here.

An important week for Eucharistic discipline–or lack thereof

Three items on the discipline of holy Communion round out the week. Two are simple but diametrically opposed, a third is licit but ill-advised.

1. This is simply right. Bp. Thomas Paprocki of Springfield IL, no stranger to my readers, has reiterated that Catholic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, one of the Bloody 14, may not, in view of Durbin’s longstanding support for abortionism as seen in the light of Canon 915, be given holy Communion. Paprocki’s statement is clear and, besides being canonically correct, is pastorally sensitive to the spiritual dangers into which Durbin has placed himself. May Paprocki’s prayers for Durbin’s return to his earlier respect for innocent human life bear fruit. As for Paprocki himself, no worries there—an accomplished amateur hockey player and goalie, he is used to taking hard shots while defending what is important.

2. This is simply wrong. The German bishops as a whole (and not just an executive committee thereof) have approved the administration of holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics under the malleable conditions typical of these times. Think Malta. The only mildly remarkable thing here is that this latest degradation of sacramental discipline has caused so few ripples in Catholic media. But I suppose that no one really expected the German hierarchy to act other than to authorize disobedience to an inconvenient canon law, regardless of how unanimous the tradition behind that canon might be.

3. This one is licit, strictly speaking, but such a bad idea that the canon allowing it probably needs to reformed. Once again, the German bishops are acting, but the law was convenient so it was respected.

Canon 844 § 4 allows baptized non-Catholics to receive holy Communion if “grave necessity urges” the local bishop or (here) the conference of bishops to allow such reception, provided further only that those seeking holy Communion claim (as most can) to satisfy some practical and minimal credal criteria. Effectively, then, the canon expects the “grave necessity” requirement to keep the Communion rite at Mass from turning into a free samples line.

The problem, obviously, is about when (besides, one might concede, at the time of death, an option already allowed under a different part of the canon) is it ever gravely necessary for non-Catholics to receive holy Communion? Not, when might it be helpful or decorous or embarrassment-squelching to receive holy Communion, but when is it necessary for them to receive, and gravely necessary to boot?

I suggest, Never. Even Catholics are required to receive holy Communion only once a year (c.  920). 

But, unless the canon is establishing a criterion that can never be satisfied, what does the clause “grave necessity” mean? Apparently, pretty much whatever a bishop or (here) conference of bishops decides it means, including, as the Germans have decided, non-Catholic spouses who assert “serious spiritual distress” and a “longing to satisfy hunger for the Eucharist”—albeit, exactly the kind of healthy spiritual ferment that has occasioned countless baptized persons over the centuries to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. So much for that motivation.

Nevertheless this ruling falls narrowly within the law, I think, suggesting that maybe the law’s desire to legislate on an admittedly “hard case” has resulted in a bad law. As hard cases usually do. Other “hard cases” will doubtless follow. Just watch.

A last thought. How the Germans’ ruling on non-Catholic spouses receiving holy Communion will combine with their recent provisions for divorced-and-remarried Catholics receiving holy Communion—well, it makes the head spin.

Congrats to Bermuda

Last year a court, as happens so often these days, unilaterally imposed ‘same-sex marriage’ on Bermuda. That judicial fiat has now been legislatively reversed and, while “domestic partnerships” are recognized in Bermuda, some of which partnerships will make it legally easier for same-sex partners to carry on their common life, only one man and one woman can enter marriage in Bermuda. In short, Bermuda law again respects reality.

I have often said that, although “domestic partnerships”, even between persons of the same sex, are a proposition that could be considered on the merits (or lack thereof), the idea that marriage is a union other than one between a man and a woman cannot even be debated, let alone conceded. Ever.

Thus I have also argued that overly-scrupulous language in the otherwise sound Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 2003 declaration discouraged Catholics from considering the legal recognition of domestic partnerships (or “civil unions” to use CDF’s term), making the contest a winner-take-all wager that, especially in the face of massive main stream media bias, marriage was destined to lose. 

To be sure, Catholics can, of course, disagree with my views here (that domestic partnership legislation could be considered), chiefly by arguing that recognition of even domestic partnerships between persons of the same sex has the effect of indirectly encouraging objectively immoral behavior. And they are right. It does.

My question is, so?

A thousand, no, make that a million, things allowed under law have the effect of encouraging immoral behavior. This is so obvious that I don’t think it needs demonstration.

The real question is, whether the activity allowed under law is itself (a) objectively immoral (which would be a deal-breaker); and, assuming it is not immoral per se, (b) is a net contributor to or detractor from the common good. The first question here, then, is one of morality and I hold that domestic partnerships are not per se immoral. I need only demonstrate the goodness of one domestic partnership to carry that point and I can think of a dozen.

But the second question is, I think, one of prudence (practicality or politics, if one prefers) and hence, I hold that, precisely as a matter of practicality,  recognition of domestic partnerships is eligible for debate. But to treat a matter of prudence (domestic partnerships) as if it were a matter of principle is a serious mistake. Among other things, that kind of thinking has, I suggest, helped reduce a matter of principle (the definition of marriage) to a matter of politics.

And look where that approach has gotten us.

A last thought. I don’t know if this will help, but what comes to my mind here is that great (and historically accurate) scene in A Man for All Seasons where Sir Thomas More is asked whether he recognizes, and will swear that he recognizes, the children of Anne Boleyn as heirs to the throne. Such recognition would have the obvious effect of encouraging Henry VIII in his adultery against Catherine of Aragon and his repudiation of the Church’s authority over marriage.

Thomas More answers ‘Yes, and I will so swear, because the king in parliament tell me they are the heirs’. This is a crucial point.

Making the children of Anne heirs to the throne might have been a terrible idea but it was not per se an immoral idea (the king and parliament could have made the children of Bob Your Uncle heirs to the throne if they had felt like it) and so More could accept it even if he deeply disagreed with it.

But when a matter of principle arose (say, honoring the Church’s teaching on matrimonial indissolubility), More flatly refused to concede. That refusal cost him head, of course, and he now reigns with the angels and saints in heaven. But More went to his death for a point of principle and not over a matter of prudence.

A Catholic (well, any human being, but one audience at a time) can never agree that marriage is other than the union of one man and one woman. But a Catholic could support domestic partnerships per se, or not, as his or her prudential judgment directs.

Anyway, congrats again to Bermuda.