Canon Law

Canon 915’s moment has arrived

January 25, 2019  by Dr. Ed Peters

andrew-cuomo-ny-governorGov. Andrew Cuomo’s blatant promotion of New York’s horrid abortion law seems to have been a tipping point.

Demands, demands, that Catholic leaders do something serious to confront unbridled abortionism in the ranks of Catholic politicos are being published like I’ve never seen them urged in four decades of watching such things. To that authentic Catholic sense, right at so many levels, I give nothing but an Amen. Here’s my only concern: Catholics at various stations in the Church, most largely untrained in canon law (no shame in that, that’s what five decades of pervasive ecclesial antinomianism will get you), are making, whether they know it or not, demands for canonical actions in Cuomo’s regard, which actions might or (more likely) might not be possible under current canon law and, having missed their mark, will wrongly conclude that canon law offers no remedies in the face of Cuomo-like conduct. I refer specifically to calls for the formal excommunication of Andrew Cuomo, but the issues in this case are applicable to other cases on the near horizon.

So, first and foremost, and setting aside Richard Burton’s Abp. Becket stentoriously excommunicating enemies of the Church from the cathedral high altar, excommunication is today what it has always essentially been, a canonical penalty that can be meted out only in accord with canon law. As a canonical sanction, the application of excommunication requires, at a minimum, (1) a law in place that prohibits, under pain of excommunication, a given action, (2) accessibility to facts sufficient to demonstrate the guilt of an individual accused of doing such an act, and (3) an independent process to interpret the law and apply it correctly to the facts at hand. See Canons 18 and 221, and most of Books VI and VII of the 1983 Code.

partialbirthabortionThose who think that Andrew Cuomo should be excommunicated for signing New York’s appalling abortion law need no invitation to make their case for that canonical sanction in accord with the canon law. Thomas Becket could make his case for excommunication (the curious and Latin-literate can verify that claim by checking, say, Gasparri’s footnotes to 1917 CIC 2343 § 4, provisions that took a dim view of murdering priests). But, if moderns cannot make the case for Cuomo’s excommunication (and I, among many others trained in canon law, do not think they can), they should cease calling for the (presently) impossible and focus instead on what can (and I, along with some notable others, think should) be done in the face of a Cuomo-like affront to Church teaching and basic human dignity.

Fine, but what?

Consider: the single most publicly-observable aspect of excommunication (hardly surprising, given the very name of this sanction) is, of course, exclusion from holy Communion. Whatever other sacramental and disciplinary consequences are visited upon an excommunicate (and those consequences are several and significant, per Canon 1331), what is most obvious to the individual, to the faith community, and to the general public, is that an excommunicate isbarred from participating in the Church’s greatest sacrament, holy Communion (Canons 915 and 1331). This public barring prevents sacrilege from being committed against the Sacrament, mitigates the scandal inflicted on the faith community when patently unworthy Catholics pretend to a communion in faith belied by their deeply contrarian actions, and alerts the world that the Church is serious about securing upright witness in her own ranks.

Now, here’s the point: all of the personal, community, and even secular values served by barring an excommunicate from holy Communion as part of the sanction of excommunication areimmediately available simply by applying Canon 915a sacramental disciplinary norm in Book IV of the Code (and not a penal norm from Book VI), which canon requires ministers of holy Communion to withhold the Sacrament, not just from those under formal sanction, of course, but also from those who ‘obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin’. Let that phrasing sink in.

Applying Canon 915, moreover, is not constrained by narrowly-drawn definitions of crimes and/or cooperation therein, it does not rely on loophole-ridden latae sententiae procedures (a canonical relic that today is mostly useful for letting bishops avoid making hard decisions), and it does not continue the rampant disregard for the rule of law in the Church seen over the last 50 years (mostly by figures, I grant, themselves none too concerned about human conduct and the rightful role of the Church in shaping it, and so, in that respect, distinguishable from those lately calling for Cuomo’s excommunication).

Instead, Canon 915 enables, indeed requires, prompt (not precipitous, but prompt) action by ministers to protect the Most August Sacrament from abuse, to alert an individual about his or her morally gravely dangerous public conduct, to protect the faith community from scandal, and to give serious witness to the world about the importance of Church teaching to Church members. Are these not the key goals sought by those calling for Cuomo’s (and some others’) excommunication? If so, why try to purse those goals with a cumbersome penal institute such as excommunication when Canon 915 is sitting right in front of us?

In short, has not Canon 915’s moment, at last, arrived?

For the rest of the article click here.

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A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’

by Dr. Edward Peters

STEVE RAY’S INTRODUCTORY COMMENT: This article was written by Canon Lawyer Ed Peters around the time the US Supreme Court foolishingly and arrogantly decided that homosexuals could marry and it was a valid and legal marriage. Now that we have lived with this egregious ruling for several years, I thought it good to remind ourselves of the issue and the teaching of the Church. We will no doubt be persecuted for our stand against “Same-sex marriage.”

Remember that John the Baptist was not beheaded for preaching Jesus Christ, but for speaking out against the government, particularly on the issue of marriage.

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No matter which way the US Supreme Court rules in the “gay marriage” cases before it the international debate over the definition of marriage will continue because that debate is, at root, about matters beyond a civil court’s competence, things like the nature of human beings and the fundamental good of society. Because we Catholics are and will surely remain major participants in such a debate we should be clear among ourselves as to what our Church teaches in this area. I offer as a primer (I stress, primer) toward such better understanding my position on following points.

1. The Catholic Church teaches, though its ordinary magisterium and with infallible certainty, that marriage exists only between one man and one woman. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) passim; CCC 1601-1608; CCEO (1990) 776; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1; Rite of Marriage (1969) n. 2; Vatican II, Gaudium et spes (1965) 48; Pius XI, Casti connubii (1930) 6, 20, 23; Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880) 5, 24; Matthew XIX: 4-6; and Genesis II: 21-24. There is no evidence of ecclesiastical authority ever supporting any other definition of marriage.

1. Note. It is possible that this teaching is proposed as an object of belief (credenda, per Canon 750 § 1, doubt or denial of which assertion would be heresy under Canon 751 and thus sanctionable under Canon 1364 § 1); at a minimum, however, the Church proposes the man-woman assertion as necessarily to be held (tenenda) in order “to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith” (Canon 750 § 2), rendering those who “obstinately reject” the assertion liable to “a just penalty” if, having been duly admonished, they refuse to retract (Canon 1371, 2º).

2. The Catholic Church has the right and duty “always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it.” 1983 CIC 747 § 2; CCC 2246.

3. Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1369 for gravely injuring good morals.

3. Note. The situation of Catholic politicians lending support to “same-sex marriage” is to be assessed as above, with special attention being paid to the heightened responsibility that civil servants have to protect the common good. CDF, “Considerations” (2003) 10; CCC 2235-2237, 2244; 1983 CIC 1326 § 1, 2.

4. The Catholic Church would regard any attempt by persons of the same sex to marry, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof, as null. CCC 1603; 1983 CIC 1055 § 1.

5. Catholics who attempt a “same-sex marriage” act contrary to Canon 209 § 1 and should not approach for holy Communion per Canon 916. Depending on the facts of the case, they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them under Canon 915, being rebuked under Canon 1339 § 2, and/or being sanctioned under Canon 1379 for simulation of a sacrament. Morevoer, Catholics who assist others toward attempting a “same-sex marriage” cooperate in the bad act of those others, which cooperation is liable to moral assessment in accord with the usual principles applicable to cooperation with evil and, under certain facts, according to the canonical principles applying to cooperation in crime per Canon 1329 and/or scandal per Canon 1339 § 2, etc.

5. Note. Catholics who have attempted a “same-sex marriage” or who have assisted another toward a “same-sex marriage” can be reconciled morally under the usual conditions by sacramental Confession (Canon 959) or by a ‘perfect act of contrition’ per CCC 1452; they can be reconciled canonically, if necessary, in accord with applicable law.

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Pope Francis recently fired him from his position as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and maybe now we know why!)

Here is part of the interview:

Cardinal_Gerhard_Muller_-_Getty_810_500_75_s_c1“In this discussion about the abuse crisis, Müller does not shy away from pointing out that the Church needs to address the problem of practiced homosexuality in the ranks of the clergy, saying that “homosexual conduct of clergymen can in no case be tolerated.”

“He states, however, that leaders in the Catholic Church still underestimate this problem.  The prelate states: “That McCarrick, together with his clan and a homosexual network, was able to wreak havoc in a mafia-like manner in the Church is connected with the underestimation of the moral depravity of homosexual acts among adults.”

“Cardinal Müller also challenges the Vatican for its lack of earnest investigations — early on — into the rumors concerning McCarrick, saying that a public apology is needed. He writes that “there should very clearly come out a public explanation about these events and the personal connections, as well as the question as to how much the involved Church authorities knew at each step; such an explanation could very well include an admission of a wrong assessment of persons and situations.”

“Cardinal Müller criticizes as a “disastrous error” the changes in Canon Law that have been made in the 1983 Code of Canon Law which, when dealing with priestly offenses against the Sixth Commandment, does not even mention homosexuality as an offense anymore, and which contains a less rigorous set of penalties against any abuser priests.

“Returning to the matter of the abuse crisis, the German prelate explains that in the Church, “it is part of the crisis that one does not wish to see the true causes and covers them up with the help of propaganda phrases of the homosexual lobby. Fornication with teenagers and adults is a mortal sin which no power on earth can declare to be morally neutral.” He calls the “LGBT” ideology within the Church “atheistic,” and adds, in light of the recent Youth Synod in Rome, that the “LGBT” term “has no place in Church documents.”

“Moreover, Cardinal Müller, in light of his stricter handling of sex abuse cases at the CDF, wonders whether there was a homosexual lobby in the Vatican which was glad to see him being dismissed: “But it could be so that it has pleased them that I am no longer tasked in the Congregation for the Doctrine to deal with sexual crimes especially also against male teenagers.”

“Discussing possible reasons for his sudden dismissal from the CDF – for which Pope Francis never gave him any reasons – Cardinal Müller comes back to his defense of Catholic doctrine on marriage with regard to Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He says: “Amoris Laetitia has to be absolutely in accordance with Revelation, and it is not we who have to be in accord with Amoris Laetitia, at least not in the interpretation which contradicts, in a heretical manner, the Word of God. And it would be an abuse of power to discipline those who insist upon an orthodox interpretation of this encyclical and of all the papal magisterial documents.”

For the whole interview, click here.

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About Witholding Funds from the Church

August 16, 2018

There has been a lot of discussion about withholding funds from the Church as a way of speaking out against bishops who have not done their job and been bad shepherds, protecting bad shepherds. I have suggested it is something we should think about especially if we know of abusers or those who facilitate abusers. […]

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Bishops, Homosexual Sins and the Law (Church and Civil)

August 12, 2018

For those who want to follow the legal aspect of the homosexual and paedophilia situation with (clergy, especially the case against bishops that are coming out), I would suggest you keep up with Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer at https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/ Here is his latest – a critique of Msgr. Guarino’s comments, Msgr. Guarino’s response, and […]

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A Quick Reply to Question about Cremation and Scattering the Ashes

May 15, 2018

I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer: The whole issue of cremation goes back to the Romans. They denied the bodily resurrection so they often burned the body and if they were rich they put the ashes in urns and put them in the […]

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“Encouraging ministers to give holy Communion to divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics”?

March 5, 2018

Luke 16:18  “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” Thus says Our Lord Jesus. Some Church leaders today seem to be contradicting His words and the Laws of the Church. Canon Lawyer Ed Peters comments on new developments: “A […]

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The Mid-air Marriage Gets Muddier

January 21, 2018

Written by Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer Popes on planes aren’t supposed to be a setting from which to draw fodder for canon law essay exams, but as far back as Pope Benedict XVI, such flights have occasioned more than their fair share of papal words or actions carrying canonical implications but undertaken with little […]

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Two Masses Over Christmas: Sunday and Monday. One Priest dispensed his people from Sunday Mass. Can he do that?

December 4, 2017

The Ray family will happily celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve (Sunday) and Christmas (Monday). Yeah, I know there is a lot going on. I know hams have to cook and presents be presented. But come on … it is the celebration of the birth of Our Savior! One priest thought he would make it easier […]

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“Francis was never pope? Call me unpersuaded.” By Dr. Ed Peters

September 29, 2017

By Canon Lawyer, Dr. Ed Peters: (Note: I am giving this one shot. If it sways some adherents of the ‘Francis-was-never-pope’ group, great; but if it only reassures observers who, regardless of what they think about how Francis is governing, are disquieted by the suggestion that his papacy itself is a chimera, that satisfies me […]

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Fr. James Martin’s book “Building Bridges” – Comments by Dr. Ed Peters

September 17, 2017

About Fr. Martin’s book September 16, 2017 by Dr. Ed Peters: Defending his book, Building a Bridge (2017), Jesuit Father James Martin claims that its consistency with Church teaching is attested to by (A) his own good standing as a priest, and (B) the canonical approval the book received from his Jesuit superior. Martin’s first claim, that he […]

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Leading Theologian: Change Canon Law to Correct Papal Errors

August 19, 2017

Fr  Aidan’s proposal for procedures to rein in an errant Pope and below, Canon Lawyer Ed Peters astute and complementary thoughts. Leading theologian: change canon law to correct papal errors, by Dan Hitchens posted Friday, 18 Aug 2017 In the Catholic Herald… “Fr Aidan Nichols said that Pope Francis’s teaching had led to an ‘extremely […]

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Did the Pope Change Doctrine with Amoris Laetitia?

February 24, 2017

I AM A LAWYER, NOT A MIND-READER February 23, 2017 By Canon Lawyer Ed Peters, Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ echoing of claims that Amoris laetitia changed no doctrines occasioned a question for me: Am I the only (or among the few) Amoris critics who agrees with Amoris defenders that Pope Francis made no doctrinal changes in […]

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Difference between “Sexual Relations” and “Conjugal Relations” in Relation to Amoris Laetitia

February 16, 2017

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters writes, “Among the fault lines revealed by the ecclesiastical earthquakes erupting after Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia, we can see, I suggest, how some high-ranking ecclesiastics seem inadequately to understand the differences between “sexual relations” and “conjugal relations”. Most any man and any woman can have sexual relations, of course, but only […]

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Amoris Laetitia and Divorced-Remarried: the Wounds Get Deeper

February 14, 2017

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters writes (excerpts), “[Regarding] some excerpts translated from Francesco Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s new, short book on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia. If the excerpts I read are accurate, the President of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts (the body charged with issuing binding interpretations of ecclesiastical legal texts, notably the Code of Canon Law), comes […]

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Denzinger Timeline of the Controversy over Communion for the Divorced and ‘Remarried’ in Adultery and Pope Francis

December 27, 2016

This is an amazing resource compiled by Andrew Guernsey. It provides all the source material on the subject of Communion for Divorced and civilly “remarried.” It starts with the Old Testament and then the New Testament before moving historically through the Fathers, Popes, Councils and more. A thorough resource for all the source documents upon […]

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