Showing posts with label Canon Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canon Law. Show all posts

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Heavier Than the Burden of Sand

Stone is heavy, and sand a burden, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both. Proverbs 27:3 (NABRE)

As the fallout continues from the “Excommunicate Cuomo” movement (discussed HERE , I’m seeing a deadly snare that the anticlerical movement has set. Having consistently preached a message of “cowardly and heretical” bishops, this movement has undermined trust in the Church to the point that if the bishops don’t do what they want, people are deceived into thinking the bishops are deliberately rejecting Church teaching.

In this case, the snare is telling everyone that the bishops must excommunicate Cuomo. When the bishops point out that canon law doesn’t include politicians in canon 1398, their statement of fact is portrayed as a “refusal” to carry out their task. It’s devious because it’s a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition. Regardless of what the bishops do, it simply cannot include excommunication unless Canon Law is changed. But the Church doesn’t do ex post facto [@] laws, so this won’t affect Cuomo anyway [§]. 

But since the anticlerical faction has ramped everybody up to demand excommunication, anything the bishops do will be written off as sympathy or laxity. Their enemies will demand that the bishops be replaced by those who will “enforce Church teaching,” even though what they want has nothing to do with real Church teaching.

Authentic interpretation of the Church teaching in each age is determined by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. This isn’t an ecclesial version of legal positivism [#]. This acknowledges the fact that this is where God bestows His authority (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Canon law is human, so it can be amended for a good reason. But a mob of pissed off Catholics clamoring for vengeance is not a good reason.

I believe we need to start looking at the anger and bitterness that drives these movements. These are not the righteous anger of the prophets. These are wrathful responses to something hated. That something hated is the Church and those entrusted to lead her. The problem is, these attitudes are completely opposite to the Fruits of the Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [Galatians 5:22–23 (NABRE)].

That doesn’t mean we’re to be indifferent to wrongdoing by Catholics. But it does mean that a reaction of wrath and hatred is a warning sign that we are not acting in a Christian way. We should remember God’s words to Cain: “Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.” [Genesis 4:6–7 (NABRE)]. 

It’s time to stop getting needlessly angry at the Church. In the course of the past week, Catholics have forgotten the abuse crisis, the March For Life, and World Youth Day in favor of Covington and New York. Not in a righteous anger, but in a screaming fit very much like the “snowflakes” they mock in the political arena. That’s not the behavior Catholics are called to.

Let’s all remember this: You won’t always like everything that happens in the Church. But our response should be seeking to understand, not assuming that the Church can and should meet our preferences. You won’t ever find a bishop (or anyone else in the Church) who’s not affected by sin. Remember even the Apostles cut and ran once upon a time. Our response should be to pray for them, so they might have the strength and grace needed for their task.

If we won’t do that, then we’re part of the problem by adding the weight of our needless wrath to the real troubles of the Church.


[@] “law that makes illegal an act that was legal when committed, increases the penalties for an infraction after it has been committed, or changes the rules of evidence to make conviction easier.”

[§] It should be noted that Cuomo is already barred from Communion (canon 915) on account of his cohabitation relationship. So, unless he formally commits heresy or schism or another excommunicatable offense, there’s not much left the Church can do to him.

[#] The theory that whatever is law is right because it’s law.

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous

After New York passed its barbaric abortion law, Catholic Social Media attacked Cardinal Dolan for not excommunicating Cuomo. There were two problems with this. First, it’s not Cardinal Dolan, but the bishop of Albany (Bishop Scharfenberger) who has jurisdiction over Cuomo. Second, Excommunication for abortion is for those involved in the act of procuring [brings about, achieves] abortion. Canon 1398 states 

person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication.

When it comes to the Catholic politicians that legalize abortion, the proper canon is 915:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

In most cases, the individual is told by the bishop not to present themselves for Communion and the appropriate pastors are notified. Usually this is done privately. In rare cases (e.g. Sibelius, during the Obama administration), this is made public.

So, the attacks on the Cardinal Dolan were doubly wrong. First, because they demanded action from someone who could not perform it. Second, the action demanded was not the action that the Church applies. All excommunications involve grave sin, but not all grave sins have the penalty of excommunication. The bishops cannot arbitrarily go beyond the penalty set. This is a safeguard against abuse of power. Otherwise a bishop could excommunicate someone for any minor irritation.

This incident is an example of one problem in the Church. Many people do not know how the Church governs herself. The Church is not a tyranny (rule by the whim of one with dictatorial powers). She is governed by canon law which lists rights, responsibilities, and procedures. The Pope can amend canon law when needed (it is a human law, after all) to serve justice, but he doesn’t do so arbitrarily.

So, it is unreasonable for a Catholic to get angry with a bishop when the bishop doesn’t have the authority to do something through jurisdiction or the obligations of law.

So, the Catholic must ask whether he or she understands how the Church handles things in general and whether he or she has all the information needed to correctly judge what is going on. If the Catholic does not, he or she has no right to condemn the bishop.

If, however, a Catholic should do the required study, and remain concerned that wrong is being done, he or she has an obligation to convey that concern properly. As Canon 212 §3 puts it:

According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Even if you’re concerned that a bishop made a “bad call,” you have the obligation to be reverent and respectful. That means no snide comments about “backbone” or insults. The bishops are successors to the Apostles and must be treated as such.

This is an example of why the adage, “a little knowledge is dangerous,” is true. A person ignorant of what the Church requires, accusing the Pope or bishop of doing wrong, is risking committing schismatic or heretical behavior because they don’t understand the responsibility and obligations of their office. They are effectively picking a needless “hill to die on.”

Understanding what the Church does and why is essential for assessing the actions of the Pope and bishops. Without that knowledge, those clamoring for “justice” are merely committing rash judgment.