Canon Law

About Fr. Martin’s book

September 16, 2017 by Dr. Ed Peters:

webRNS-JAMES-MARTIN2-040617Defending 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 is a priest in good standing, is neither contested nor relevant to the question of whether his book is doctrinally sound or pastorally trustworthy.

Martin’s second claim, that his book enjoys canonical approval, requires some context before one can appreciate what that means—and doesn’t mean.

The Roman Catholic Church’s canonical discipline on publishing materials related to faith and morals is found chiefly in Canons 822-832 and focuses on two well-known markers of doctrinal orthodoxy and pastoral suitability, namely, the “nihil obstat” (a theologian’s certification that nothing obstructs faith or morals per 1983 CIC 830 § 2) and the “imprimatur” (a local ordinary’s determination that the writings may be responsibly published per 1983 CIC 830 § 3). The nihil obstat does not imply that everything in a text is stated correctly, but rather, is concerned with whether anything is stated wrongly; the imprimatur does not imply that a book is actually good or helpful, but rather, asks whether it is a bad idea to publish it. Throughout the process, authors and their works are generally, and understandably, viewed benignly (e.g., 1983 CIC 212).

Martin’s book, though falling within the categories for which a nihil obstat and an imprimatur are expressly recommended (1983 CIC 827 § 3), does not, in my opinion, require such certifications and he is within the law to have published it without them. Of course, the lack of these common certifications is hardly evidence of the soundness of his work.

Martin’s book does have what it is required to have, namely, a religious superior’s “permission to publish” (imprimi potest), a clearance all members of institutes of consecrated life must obtain prior to publishing these sorts of materials. Instructions issued in 1992 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expect religious superiors, prior to issuing their permission for publication, to consult with at least one trustworthy theologian about whether anything in a book such as Martin’s is harmful to the faith or morals. Martin himself might or might not know whether this prior theological review was actually carried out but Fr. John Cercero, sj, the superior who granted permission for Martin to publish his book, would certainly know.

But let’s assume that a qualified censor cleared the content of Martin’s book whereupon his superior concluded for its general prudence. Does that mean that Martin’s opinions and views are, as he seems to claim, necessarily acceptable in the Church?

No.

First, there are notorious examples of quite unworthy books boasting ecclesiastical approval until the faithful’s consternation over such aberrations finally gets someone’s attention somewhere and the approvals are withdrawn. The decade-and-a-half argument over Wilhelm’s Christ Among Us (1968), which lost its imprimatur in 1984 after Roman intervention, lingers in Catholic conscientiousness to this day.

Second, and more importantly, and notwithstanding some “hyperbole” (CLSA New Comm. at 984) in the CDF instruction about ecclesiastical approval constituting a “juridical and moral guarantee”, the nihil obstat, the imprimatur, and the imprimi potest are, in the end, judgment calls made by ecclesiastical officers about how authors have presented their views on important (and often complex) Church teachings and practices, and are not themselves infallible exercises of the Church’s teaching office. One would like to think, of course, that all Church officers are qualified for and committed to performing their duties in this area but, even without reaching the extreme cases recalled above, differing analytic approaches can be followed and old-fashioned mistakes can and do happen in the course of such reviews.

So, Martin’s book apparently does not have a standard nihil obstat or imprimatur; it might or might not have a Jesuit theologian’s in-house certification of its avoidance of doctrinal error; it does have a Jesuit superior’s indication that, in his view, the book can be prudently published.

Thus, in short, to tout a religious superior’s imprimi potest as proof of one’s personal or authorial orthodoxy is to misconstrue what that certification is and what it means.

Update (same day): Martin’s superiors have just released a statement indicating that his book did go through a theological analysis. They do not identify who performed that assessment, but then, the new law does not require disclosure of that name, as was generally required under the old law. The canonical commentary I offered above applies as I indicated.

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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 grave’ situation

A prominent theologian has proposed reforming canon law to allow a pope’s doctrinal errors to be established.

Fr Aidan Nichols, a prolific author who has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge as well as the Angelicum in Rome, said that Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia had led to an “extremely grave” situation.

Fr Nichols proposed that, given the Pope’s statements on issues including marriage and the moral law, the Church may need “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error”.

The Dominican theologian said that this procedure might be less “conflictual” if it took place during a future pontificate, rather as Pope Honorius was only condemned for error after he had ceased to occupy the chair of Peter.”

For the rest of the article click here.

Canon Lawyer Ed Peters responds “On Fr  Nichol’s Recent Remarks

“Dominican theologian Fr. Aidan Nichols needs no introduction to readers of this blog and it suffices to say that, when a priest of Nichols’ credentials urges development of a canonical procedure to correct popes who—how exactly to put this?—leave confusion in their wake, people are going to take notice.

I have seen only news reports of Nichols’ address (not the speech itself), but a few comments occur to me that won’t come as a surprise to Nichols but that might help inform others’ reactions to them.

First, while most provisions in the Code of Canon Law are of human (albeit, ecclesiastical, usually pontifical) origin, implying the possibility of changes in them in accord with circumstances, some canons rest on divine law foundations and are not, therefore, so easily amended—however appealing such changes might seem to be.

Such is the case, I suggest, with Canon 331 on the full and supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff and Canon 1404 on the immunity of the Holy See from judgment (canonical or civil). These canons (and others besides, say, Canon 1372) serve the decision of Our Lord to leave Peter and his successors basically free to act as they see fit in guiding the Church, meaning that such canons, operating in support of a divinely-sanctioned freedom, are not liable to repeal if popes misuse that freedom. All of this Nichols takes for granted, of course.

Nichols also knows, however, that Petrine freedom has limits, that it is not something bestowed in order to make possible, say, papal plundering of Church property or dalliances with dangerous theological theories (both of which have happened in the past), but rather, it serves the Church’s need for, and the faithful’s right to, certainty and continuity in Catholicism’s witness to the teachings of Jesus.

Canon law read as a whole (and not cherry-picked to get the results one hopes for) operates in service to all of doctrine (and not just the parts that sound convenient to this generation or that)……”

For the whole article, click here.

 

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I was asked a question about Catholics, cremation and the scattering of ash. Here is my brief answer:

Ancient cremation practices

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 necropolis which was the city of the dead. Every year on the anniversary of the death they would “visit” the dead in remembrance and pour their favorite wine into the ashes. 

Imagine the contrast in ancient times. The Romans would build a pyre and lay the body on top. The flames would take many hours to completely consume the body. The whole time the smell of burning hair and flesh would waft through the air. It was a big project and you watched the body disappear with nothing left but a heap of ashes and foul smells.

In contrast, the Christians prepared sarcophagi for their dead. Often it was decorated with biblical images related to the resurrection. Or the body was carefully wrapped in white to represent forgiveness of sins and eternal life. They were placed in the ground or the catacombs with respect for the integrity of the body which would one day be raised.

Christians forbid cremation because they wanted to stand in contrast to the pagans who cremated as a statement against the bodily resurrection. They also did not have an necropolis, the city of the dead. Rather, Christians had a cemetery which means a sleeping place. 

Christians reverently preparing body for deposit awaiting the resurrection

They did not bury the dead – they deposited them in the grave. Why deposit? Because just as you deposit money in the bank you intend to come back and withdraw the money. The body was deposited in the ground in preparation for Jesus coming back to withdraw the body at the end of time.

So cremation was a denial of the bodily resurrection and burial was an affirmation that the body was sleeping awaiting the day of, resurrection.

The Catholic Church has recently taught that cremation was OK as long as it was not a statement against the bodily resurrection. As long as one affirmed the resurrection of the body at the end of time, cremation was acceptable. However to preserve the integrity of the body the remains were to remain in one place and not scattered across an ocean or field, etc.

The Code of Canon Law says, “§3. The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the deceased be observed; nevertheless, the Church does not prohibit cremation unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.”

The Catechism states, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

The scattering of the ashes could be seen as denying the bodily resurrection because scattering the ashes everywhere can imply the person is gone — reabsorbed into the physical creation as its final end. It ceases to exist. 

That is why the Catholic Church affirms the need to keep the ashes with integrity remembering that those ashes in the urn are the very matter that will be raised up at the end of time and reconstituted into the body of the person. The new heavenly body will be reunited with the soul to live forever — either in glory or in the torments of hell separated from God for eternity.

Mom with Dad before he died

When my father died my mother had no desire to visit the grave (though she has several times since) because she said, “That is not Dad”. I explained to her that this attitude denied the bodily resurrection because God loves stuff. He made stuff, matter, the body. On the day he created Man he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he had created.

That cold dead body was still Dad and when Jesus comes back he loves that body enough to raise it from the dust and re-fashion it into a new heavenly body. God keeps his eye on those dry bones and dust every day. My mom now understands. Her’s was an understandable reaction to the body with the life gone.

At the end of time my Dad will be raised from the dead and his body will be glorified. If God loves the bodily remains inside the coffin or urn then how much more should we respect the integrity of the remains as well.

For more info.

Catechism (CCC) 1004:  In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering: “The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?… You are not your own; … So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:13–15, 19–20).

CCC 997 What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. 

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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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Excellent EWTN World Over interview With Cardinal Burke on the Pope’s Encyclical

December 16, 2016

Let me speak my mind clearly. I support Cardinal Burke and the others 100%. God bless them!

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A Canonical Primer on Popes and Heresy

December 16, 2016

No one in a position of ecclesial responsibility—not the Four Cardinals posing dubia, not Grisez & Finnis cautioning about misuses, and not the 45 Catholics appealing to the College, among others—has, despite the bizarre accusations made about some of them, accused Pope Francis of being a heretic or of teaching heresy. While many are concerned […]

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Rome in the Eye of a Storm

December 13, 2016

Catholic Journalist and writer for National Catholic Register summarized the situation in Rome as the Pope refuses to respond to a growing number of voices requesting an explanation of his document Amoris Laetitia. I found it worth reading, along with the two below. Msgr. Charles Pope has written  the clearest and simplest explanation I’ve read to […]

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Four cardinals make public plea to Pope to clarify Amoris Laetitia

November 14, 2016

Four cardinals have made public a message to Pope Francis in which they plead for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, pointing to tensions between the papal document and traditional Catholic teachings on marriage. The four cardinals sent their request for clarification to Pope Francis on September 19. They have received no reply. The prelates explain that […]

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

September 17, 2016

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’ by Dr. Edward Peters 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 […]

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Canon Law and the Pope’s Unfortunate Words on Cohabitation and Non-sacramental Marriages

June 19, 2016

There are so many issues to write about; I would have wished that this would not be one of them, but… Canon Lawyer Dr. Ed Peters brings clarity to the confusion caused by the Pope’s recent words.  If you’re concerned about marriage, the problems in the Church in that regard, the Pope’s recent words about […]

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UPDATED 6/18/16: Pope: “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null” -Ed Peters Responds

June 17, 2016

Updates: Dr. Peters’ follow-up to article below: The Missing Middle Term on the Pope’s Off the Cuff Comments on Marriage John Allen of Crux responds to Dr. Peters and defends the Pope: Lets Not Get Bent Out of Shape by Changes to Papal Transcripts Canon Lawyer Ed Peters fires back to John Allen’s comments and criticism: A […]

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Interview with German Philosopher and Friend of St. JP II: Robert Spaemann on Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia”

April 30, 2016

Stuttgart, Germany, Apr 29, 2016 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Greatly valued as an advisor by Saint John Paul II, a friend of Benedict XVI, and widely held to be the most important German Catholic philosopher of recent decades, Robert Spaemann, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Munich, expressed a distinctly critical interpretation of Amoris […]

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My Final Post on Pope’s Exhortation: A Catholic World Report Symposium with Links Galore

April 13, 2016

From Catholic World Report: Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “On love in the family,” has been one of the most widely anticipated papal documents in recent years, following the closely watched and sometimes controversial Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 2014 and the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in 2015. It is also one of the […]

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