Canon Law

Whatever that was, it wasn’t a ‘stunt’

By Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer
October 22, 2019

0D436026-B326-4085-B445-A02DAF27AA46A few days ago men removed some female figurines (centerpieces for several weird ceremonies in Rome the last few weeks) from a church and tossed them into the Tiber River. Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini dismissed the act as a “stunt”. Regardless of how one assess this act, however, I think it not accurate to describe it as a mere “stunt”.

A “stunt” is a gesture that calls attention to a problem but does not itself solve the problem. For example, chaining oneself to a lamppost could call attention to the plight of the unjustly imprisoned but does not itself free the imprisoned. Standing on the corner with one’s mouth duct-taped might call attention to the suffering of the voiceless but does not itself give them a voice. Such acts are stunts, good stunts or bad, but in the end, stunts. What the Tiber men did was different.

Removing these figures from a church and tossing them into the Tiber does not simply call attention to the problem of setting up such objects in a church it also removes the statues from the church and thus solves the problem of having them set up in a sacred place. Such an act, good act or bad, is more than a “stunt”, it is form of direct action against a problem.

The Vatican having ruled out the possibility that the nude statues might represent the Virgin Mary or ‘Our Lady of the Amazon’, it is disputed whether the figurines portray the Amazon pagan goddess Pachamama or (at least per a handful of Vaticanisti) merely some vague “life force”. It is not for me to opine on who or what the objects actually represent and if someone wants to argue that chanting to and bowing before figurines of naked women does not count as worshiping strange gods, well, who am I to say?

But a fuller assessment of the act of these two men does not rest solely on whether the figures are demonic or merely faddish. Canon 1210, addressing the dignity of Catholic holy places in general, states: “Only those things which serve the exercise or promotion of worship, piety, or religion are permitted in a sacred place; anything not consonant with the holiness of the place is forbidden…” And Canon 1220 § 1, addressing churches specifically, states: “All those responsible are to take care that in churches such cleanliness and beauty are preserved as befit a house of God and that whatever is inappropriate to the holiness of the place is excluded.”

Theses canons, in my view, do not simply preclude the placement of obviously demonic or pagan artifacts in our churches, but rather, require those in charge of sacred places to set up objects that are positively conducive to Christian prayer and worship. If, as the Congregation for Divine worship stated in 1987(*), the mere fact that that some music is admittedly beautiful does not justify its performance in churches, then all the more so should church authorities be on guard against setting up objects widely and reasonably seen as representing pagan deities in Catholic sacred spaces. I suggest (and more to the point, the Code of Canon Law understands in, say, Canon 214), that the faithful have the right to trust that what they see in Catholic sacred places is actually there in service to the sacred and is not simply a gesture toward some form of political correctness or the latest cause du jour, to say nothing of it possibly being simply evil. Ignoring concerns about the proper use of sacred space with a shrug and a ‘we don’t really know what it is’ is to ignore the positive duties that Church leadership owes to the faithful.

As a man of law I am also a man of order and, as a rule, I hold that removing objects from private property is not an act of good order. But then, neither is setting up idols (whether to demons or to secular causes) in Catholic churches an act of good order. Over time the disregard of law by those in charge eventually brings about disregard of law by those subject to it. And that in turn can result in acts that are much more than mere “stunts”.

* See Cong. for Divine Worship (Mayer), excerpt from let. “Qua in mentem quaedam normae quoad ‘Concerti nelle chiesa’ revocantur” (05 nov 1987), Communicationes 19 (1987) 179-181.

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A question on Mass-start times that warrants attention

by Dr. Edward Peters

Recalling, in the wake of a some recent discussions of Mass obligations, that I had promised some time ago to set out some materials for use in reasoning through another Mass attendance question, I offer some of that now.

This question concerns, What is the earliest a Mass on the ‘evening of the preceding day’ (c. 1248 § 1) can start and still satisfy one’s Sunday or holy day Mass attendance obligation? This question is not another aspect of the ‘two-for-one’ Mass idea or what texts and readings need to be used for Mass to satisfy an attendance obligation. It is simply, What is earliest Mass may start on the day previous to an attendance-obligation day and still count toward one’s obligation for that next day?

Now, it is very common, at least in English-speaking North America, to answer that question with “Four PM”, meaning that, only a Mass beginning after 4 PM on the day preceding that for which one is obligated to attend satisfies one’s Mass attendance obligation. The reason for this near ‘universal’ response is “Dr. John Huels says so.” And indeed he does: “‘Evening’ should be understood as anytime from 4:00 pm onward. The legislator uses the word ‘evening’ (vesper) not ‘afternoon’ (post meridiem); in keeping with the proper meaning of the word (cf. c. 17) an afternoon Mass before 4:00 pm is not an evening Mass and does not satisfy the [attendance] obligation.” CLSA New Comm (2001) 1445.

When Huels talks liturgy, people listen. And they should. But what qualifies as a ‘universal’ response in canon law goes considerably beyond what English-speaking North America might hold (even if it is held for very good reasons). Consider these overseas canonical commentaries, three of which hold for a noon start-time and one of which holds for a 2:00 pm start time (my emphasis in each).

From Spain: [A]s far as the [understanding of the previous] day is concerned [c. 1248 § 1] expands the schedule to twelve on the eve of the feast day.” Exegetical Comm III/2 (2004): 1901.

From Great Britain and Ireland: What is the ‘evening of the previous day’? Despite the view of some commentators that this [phrase] should be interpreted beginning only at 1400 hours (2 pm) on that day, it is the firm view of this commentary that the evening of the previous day begins at midday (12 noon) on that day itself. GB&I Comm (1985) 702.

From Spain: En cuanto a la expressión ‘el día anterior por la tarde’, oficialmente se aclaró: ‘Expresamente se utiliza una fórmula general para evitar casuismos y ansiedades. Con todo certeza se cumple el precepto mediante la participación en cualquier Misa del sábado por la tarde’. Código edición comentada (1985) 594.

From Italy: La celebrazione, però, della domenica e delle solennità inizia dai vespri del giorno precedente … ossia, secondo una fondata interpretazione, ab hora secunda post meridiem.  Chiappetta II (2011): 522.

Plainly, these scholarly authorities hold for a start-time much earlier than is argued for by Huels. But, even if these overseas authors are not correct (and Huels has some good arguments besides Canon 17 on his side, though, frankly, so do the others), they constitute, I think, a large enough school of thought to allow for doubt of law considerations to enter this discussion in support Catholics who hold any Mass attended beginning at 12:00 noon of the day previous as satisfying their next-day attendance obligation.

Bottom line, this very practical question question (unlike the two mentioned above, over which there is no serious dispute among experts) needs to be investigated more fully, and settled authoritatively.

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A comment on a cardinal’s tweet re capital punishment, by Canon Lawyer Ed Peters:
June 17, 2019

Earlier today Cdl. Dolan of New York tweeted: “With the clear and cogent clarification of the successor of St. Peter, there now exists no loophole to morally justify capital punishment.”

The supposedly clear and cogent clarification that Dolan has in mind must be Pope Francis’ 2018 modification of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert that the death penalty is “inadmissible”. But, while it is likely that Francis meant what Dolan said, the pope did not quite claim what the cardinal clearly did. Francis (or his handlers) left just enough wiggle room (by using “inadmissible”, an ambiguous term in magisterial-moral discourse) to avoid flatly declaring the DP “immoral” and setting off thereby a magisterial firestorm such as has not been seen for some centuries.

Highly recommended book on legitimacy of Catholic teaching and tradition on Capital Punishment.

Dolan, in contrast, tweeting in terms well-known to tradition, plainly stated that the DP is immoral, thus going beyond what Francis was willing to say. That’s a problem. Indeed, it’s two problems.

(Photo: Highly recommended book on the legitimacy of Catholic teaching and tradition on Capital Punishment.)

1. Numerous serious studies argue (convincingly, in my view) that the liceity of the DP in certain cases is taught by the Church’s infallible magisterium (specifically, as “secondary object” thereof); at the very least, such studies make a prima facie case for the liceity of the death penalty under the infallible magisterium. Therefore, Church leaders contradicting that position must, simply must, deal with the possibility that infallibility is in play here, and, at a minimum, they should refrain from unnuanced declarations that might, in the end, be shown as “opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church” per Canon 750 § 2. See also Canon 1371 n. 1.

But the stakes might be higher still.

2. Many of the sources invoked for the liceity of the DP as a secondary object of infallibility (Scripture, Patristics, etc.) are those commonly associated with infallible assertions of primary objects of infallibility, that is, with matters of revelation. Now, while contradicting infallible assertions regarding secondary objects is, as stated above, to make one opposed to the doctrine of the Church, contradicting primary objects of the Church’s infallible magisterium is a specific element of heresy per Canons 750 § 1 and 751. See also Canon 1364. Obviously, this characterization risks even greater harm to the Church.

Am I saying that Dolan has committed heresy in his tweet or that he has expressed opposition to the teaching of the Church? No, but I am saying that declaring the DP as immoral per se puts one at risk of asserting something that many qualified scholars argue powerfully is opposed to infallible Church teaching, and possibly even to contradicting something divinely revealed. The real possibility of so offending the truth should, I think, trigger more respectful caution by those in positions of authority when speaking on these matters.

Think of it this way: A hunter shooting toward something moving in the underbrush can’t defend his accidental killing of a human being by saying “I did not know it was a man, I thought it was a deer.” The hunter has a duty to verify the status of his target before he shoots. Likewise, popes and bishops taking shots at the long-recognized moral liceity of the DP have a duty to verify the magisterial status of that teaching lest they accidentally hit something they had no business aiming at in the first place.

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Signer of Letter accusing Pope Francis of Heresy explains why he signed the letter

May 21, 2019

Edward Pentin interviewed Professor John Rist as to why he signed the controversial letter along with 85 other prominent theologians and scholars. Frankly, I admire these men who stood up and spoke out. They may not have proven formal heresy (which is something I leave to experts and canon lawyers) but the silence in the […]

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Genuflecting a No-No?

May 5, 2019

Several years ago my wife and visited a new parish (new for us). I genuflected before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Believe it or not, I was reprimanded by the Extraordinary Minister while he handed me the host. After Mass I spoke with the priest about it and he reprimanded me as well. I told them Quite […]

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Time to Excommunicate! Canon Lawyer Ed Peters weighs in on Pro-abort politicians

January 25, 2019

Canon 915’s moment has arrived January 25, 2019  by Dr. Ed Peters Gov. 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 […]

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A Canon Law Primer on Church Teaching Regarding “Same-sex Marriage”

January 4, 2019

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 […]

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INTERVIEW: Cardinal Müller on Homosexuality Practiced and Covered Up within the Clergy and Hierarchy

November 24, 2018

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: “In this discussion about the abuse crisis, Müller does not shy away from pointing out that the Church needs to address the problem […]

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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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