Canon Law

Cohabitation, Canonical Form and Marriage

by Steve Ray on September 12, 2014

Cohabitation and canonical form

by Dr. Edward Peters

The latest tizzy is over Pope Francis’ plans to preside at the weddings of several Roman couples, including some couples who have been cohabiting for lengthy periods. There are two perspectives from which to look at this news, one canonical, one pastoral.

Canonically, this is a non-issue. No divine, natural, or canon law impedes a wedding between cohabiting persons (cc. 1083-1094) and therefore the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments in general (cc. 213, 843) and to marriage particular (c. 1058) should prevail in such cases. Unquestionably, these couples can, and must be allowed to, wed.

Pastorally, however, this might be a bigger deal.

Many parishes and dioceses have developed practices (even formal policies) against offering weddings to cohabiting couples. While, as one should conclude from the above, such approaches have always rested on canonically thin ice (cc. 838, 843), they seemed, in some cases at least, to have been pastorally successful in getting couples to realize that marriage (as opposed to concubinage or even just regular pre-marital sex) is a momentous step to be undertaken by those with more than a passing awareness of what it means. Whether the pope’s action will likely make it more difficult for priests and bishops to persuade cohabiting couples to approach their wedding as a life (including life-style) changing event remains to be seen.

Of course, if canonical form were not required for the validity of Catholic weddings (cc. 1059, 1108), then cohabiting Catholic couples could be invited to enter marriage—presumptively valid, sacramental, indissoluble marriage—by any public act, whereupon the Church would simply record that fact and recognize, as she should, such couples as married; meanwhile, those couples desiring a “church wedding” could be expected to demonstrate a higher level of commitment to preparing for that wedding appropriately. A no-cohabiting prerequisite could easily be made part of such preparation and no one’s rights to the sacraments or to marriage would be impinged thereby.

If canonical form were not required for validity.

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When faced with practical problems, rely on principles not platitudes

by Dr. Edward Peters

The line between principles and platitudes is a narrow one. Both sorts of assertions are true and both can put into a few words concepts that otherwise require many paragraphs to explain. But principles and platitudes are not the same thing; in the face of concrete questions needing practical resolution, principles inform good decision-making, while platitudes derail it.

Catholic World News reports: “Looking forward to the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family has said that the status of Catholics who are divorced and remarried ‘should be looked at with a merciful eye. Mercy is not blind, and does not oppose the truth, [but] mercy is the suprema lex.’”

For starters, no, mercy is not the supreme law in the Church, but I’ll deal with that in a moment. First, we need to be alert to platitudes being substituted for principles when faced with concrete questions about divorce, ‘remarriage’, and reception of holy Communion.

One must ask, what does it really mean to say that divorced-and-remarried Catholics should “be looked at with a merciful eye”?

Pray, exactly who in the Church, nay in the world, should not be looked at “with a merciful eye”? No one, I would venture. But if everyone stands in need of a merciful eye, then singling out one portion of humanity as deserving to be looked at with a merciful eye either tells us absolutely nothing we didn’t already know, or implies that this portion of humanity has somehow been denied mercy; now, if that is the prelate’s claim, he should feel free to make it—and then be prepared to defend it.

*** Read Dr. Peters’ earlier entry “Why the Gathering Storm Over Divorce Might be Worse than Was Over Contraception

But if that is not his claim, his admonition to others to look at divorced-and-remarried Catholics with a merciful eye amounts to a platitude, that is, a true statement but not one that advances the practical resolution of a pressing pastoral question. No matter how it sounds.

Now, about mercy being the “supreme law” of the Church.

Sure, one can defend that assertion. Problem is, one can defend about a dozen other things as being the “supreme law” of the Church. What about love? What about charity? What about evangelization? What about the divine liturgy and worship of God? And so on.

The Church Defines Her Teaching Based on the Words of Christ

We must be very careful about asserting any given principle of action as being the supreme anything in something as complex as the Mystical Body of Christ, for what is “supreme” in the Church is often a matter of context. Sever assertions of supremacy in the Church from their ecclesial context and confusion quickly arises. (Want a canonical example? Read Canons 331 and 336, and tell me where rests supreme and full power in the Church.)

But since the prelate invoked law, let me frankly observe that canon law does not, as it happens, cite “mercy” as the supreme law of the Church. Instead, Canon 1752, the final canon of the 1983 Code, states that “the salvation of souls … must always be the supreme law of the Church.”

Variations on this theme (e.g., salus animarum et bonum Ecclesiae) are common in theological literature and have, I think, just as sound a claim on our thinking as does the assertion that mercy is the supreme law of the Church in regard to divorced-and-remarried Catholics and, while we’re at it, to any other Catholics.

Those who invoke platitudes as if they were principles enjoy a rhetorical advantage, of course, in that it is hard to disagree with the content of most platitudes, being, as they are, almost always true. (Anyone want to count the nanoseconds that it will take for someone to decry this post as a denial that divorced-and-remarried Catholics should be looked at with a merciful eye?).

Nevertheless, the gravity and the clarity of Christ’s teaching against divorce and remarriage are beyond reasonable dispute and the obligation of the Church to uphold the integrity of the sacraments, of all the sacraments, is clear. To those struggling against the easy substitution of platitudes for sound and principled thinking about these and related vital matters, I can only say, shoulder on.

For Dr. Peters’ earlier entry Why the Gathering Storm Over Divorce Might be Worse than Was Over Contraception

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New post on In the Light of the Law. Dr. Edward Peters, advisor to the Vatican. My comments are below. Dr. Peters writes,

I have long held that nothing can rehabilitate the institution known as the Legion of Christ nor any of its affiliated works, and I’ve seen nothing in the last three years that gives me any reason to change my views. The LC and its progeny should be completely and forever dissolved. Period.

The question of “what to do with” the many wonderful people taken in by the Legion is partly pastoral and partly practical. Obviously, the good people therein need to be invited and welcomed into authentic Catholic institutions; priests in particular should be assisted to incardination elsewhere (several savvy bishops have already incardinated highly talented former-LCs into their local Churches).

As for Legion property issues, canon law has norms governing the assignment of goods once belonging to (dissolving) canonical juridic persons. Bottom line, the Church is master of ecclesiastical assets, assets don’t control her. No insoluble problems lurk there.

But, in my opinion, the protracted efforts to resuscitate the LC, the LC what? – - – the LC corpse seems not too strong a word—need now to cease. Indeed, even proposals to let Legion survivors, clerical and lay, as survivors, found new canonical institutes seem quite unsound to me.

Maciel the founder

Ask yourself: what, besides their Catholic faith, do survivors qua survivors of the Legion have in common, except that they were all deceived into affiliating with a deeply disordered institution founded by a sick and/or evil con-artist? Such shared traumas might make for some level of survivor-bonding, and they certainly leave such persons deserving of special pastoral outreach, but they are not the foundations on which lasting, healthy religious institutes are built. Do we have to say that?

The Catholic Church has zero tradition of institutes of perfection being founded, directly or even indirectly, by predatory charlatans. Admittedly, Maciel, we see now, seemed to pull that off for a few decades, but his cult imploded almost immediately upon his death.

What I can’t fathom is why we are still talking about ‘reorganizing’, or ‘reforming’, or ‘refounding’, anything having anything to do with him or his concoction.

STEVE RAY HERE: I have many Legionary friends who are still in the Legion and other friends who have left. These good men deserved better than what they got.

I understand why those who stay, stay. I also understand and sympathize with those who have left. I believe they are justified in their actions.

May God bless all these good men with their good hearts who really have given their lives to serve the Lord. I care a great deal about them; I care nothing for the leader or the Order but I have sympathy for the good men in the organization Maciel founded and deceived.

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Before Mass: 1 or 3 Hour Fast?

August 29, 2013

Interview note from my friend Dr. Edward Peters (his opinions are not necessarily mine; I post this for information and discussion only) This afternoon at 5:15 Eastern, Drew Mariani (Relevant Radio) and I [Ed Peters] will be talking about my suggestion that the fast required for holy Communion be re-extended to three hours (up from [...]

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“Please Pray for Tom Peters” from his Dad, Canon Lawyer Ed Peters

July 18, 2013

Please consider invoking Felix Cappello, SJ, for Thomas Peters by Dr. Edward Peters I tell my kids what my mom told me: to pray for the sick and the poor every day if only because any of us can find ourselves being either or both at any time.

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In Light of the Zimmerman Acquittal – Self-Defense?

July 14, 2013

There will be many opinions and the discussion and wrangling will go on for quite a while, I suppose. Unhappily, this promises to further divide our country, especially along racial lines. However, I am not getting into that discussion here. Rather, it is important to understand the teaching of the Church on the matter of [...]

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Gays, Boy Scouts and Catholics

May 26, 2013

Thoughts for Catholics impacted by the Boy Scouts of America membership policies, by Dr. Edward Peters Steve Ray’s Comments Below. Two groups of Catholics are directly impacted by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to formally admit as scouts youth who profess a same-sex orientation, namely, Catholic sponsoring organizations and Catholic scouts and [...]

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Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral; Violation of Sacred Space; Protest Against Gay Marriage?

May 21, 2013

Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral by Dr. Edward Peters Suicide—whatever mental/emotional problems induce some to commit it and which might even mitigate its culpability—is objectively a gravely evil action (CCC 2280-2283) and may never be licitly chosen. When committed in a sacred place such as a church or shrine, suicide effects the “violation” of that space [...]

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Gay Marriage and Communion

April 25, 2013

Post-script on the Detroit debate over Catholics and holy Communion by Dr. Edward Peters A few days ago I gave written interview to Lauren Abdel-Razzaq of the Detroit News on the question of Catholic supporters of “gay marriage” approaching for holy Communion. Abdel-Razzaq quoted me accurately if not quite as precisely as I wrote and I’ve [...]

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Canon Lawyer Ed Peters Comments on Vatican Press Offices Unfortunate Comments about Disregard for Liturgical Law with Foot-washing

April 1, 2013

UPDATE 4/6/13 Ed Peters Responds to a critic Ed Peters Discusses Disregard for Liturgical Law in Washing Women’s Feet and Unhelpful Response from the Vatican Press Office. http://wp.me/p25nov-AP The background to this controversy is the antinomianism that prevails today. The Church is passing through a period in which the relationship between ecclesiastical law and the [...]

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So, the Pope Washed Female & Muslim Feet on Holy Thursday (updated Friday 9:00 AM EST)

March 28, 2013

Ed Peters Discusses Disregard for Law in Washing Women’s Feet USA Today Catholic World Report UK Telegraph, included kissing foot of a young Muslim woman Full Content of Pope’s Holy Thursday Foot-washing Mass New: Vatican’s Comments on Pope Francis Washing Women’s Feet Jimmy Akin’s Comments here. Fr. Longnecker’s comments Fr. Z’s comments AP’s Pope’s Foot-washing [...]

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

March 27, 2013

A primer on Church teaching regarding ‘same-sex marriage’ by Dr. Edward Peters (Steve Ray’s note: With the Supreme Court of the United States hearing the California case now, this is very much in the top of the news and could be a decision that has profound and lasting effects – like Row v. Wade. No matter [...]

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Annual Lenten Foot-fight: Women’s Feet Washed on Holy Thursday

March 26, 2013

The Annual Lenten Foot-fight by Dr. Edward Peters “The annual Lenten foot-fight is almost upon us. Again. “May I suggest that discussion of this matter begin with what canon and liturgical law actually say (and don’t say) about the Mandatum rite, and that serious attention be given, if not this year then next, to eliminating [...]

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Pelosi and Biden and Communion in Rome

March 20, 2013

Nancy Pelosi will not change on her own, by Canon Lawyer Dr. Edward Peters > (L’Osservatore Romano/AP) Pope Francis meets U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, after his installation Mass at the Vatican on March 19, 2013. Communion time in St. Peter’s is, for the vast majority of lay persons (not heads [...]

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Can You Wager or Bet on the Conclave?

February 26, 2013

New post on “In the Light of the Law“ Betting on the conclave? by Dr. Edward Peters According to the (Old) Catholic Encyclopedia , in his bullum Cogit nos (21 March 1591), Pope Gregory XIV forbade under pain of excommunication all bets concerning the election of a pope, the duration of a pontificate, or the [...]

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Gov. Cuomo, Abortion and Canon Law

January 25, 2013

From my good friend Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer at his site http://www.canonlawblog.wordpress.com. I am not expressing my own opinion here, simply relaying Dr. Peter’s assessment. An appropriate response to Gov. Cuomo’s latest abortion push by Dr. Edward Peters Two years ago I engaged in an extensive public discussion about whether New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, [...]

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