Wednesday, May 20, 2015

No Votive Candles Allowed

Picking up on the idea of faith and piety becoming cold, I found a directive from the Vicar of Rome, dated sometime in 1932. (Note that this statement would have pertained only to the Diocese of Rome):
The custom in many churches of placing at the disposal of the public wax tapers known as votive candles, to be lighted before statues and sacred pictures in exchange for money offerings by the faithful, is open to serious objections. It might easily become what appears to be a superstitious usage, besides giving the impression that it is permitted for the sake of the money which it brings in. Moreover, the practice detracts from the decorum and cleanliness of sacred buildings, bespatters the floor, impregnates the hangings with smoke, and consumes good air. The practice must therefore cease. ... The reasons for this prohibition are to be explained to the faithful by the clergy, who will also remind them that a single Mass, heard with piety, and a single Communion devoutly received will bring down more heavenly blessings and favors than thousands of candles burned for days on end (Canon Law Digest, vol. 2, p. 375).
If someone wanted a candle to be burned, the directive stated that he should buy one that would be used on the altar for Mass.

I never imagined I'd see a condemnation of votive candles: pretty unobjectionable, I thought. Even so, the statement does raise reasonable concerns. If today we didn't have votive candles, though, faith and piety would seem really cold, figuratively and literally--especially at shrines and pilgrimage sites. It's probably the most common way people show devotion....for better or worse.
Also, I wonder what "the hangings" were. I thought felt banners and that sort of stuff only came along in the 70s. So, my guess is that they are altar cloths. Take that guess with a grain of salt, though, since I have absolutely no knowledge of the typical decorations of a 1930s, Roman parish.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Guess the Date

While researching a canonical topic (comparing canon 12 of the 1917 Code to canon 11 of the 1983 Code), I noticed this passage from an "Instruction on Exhorting the Faithful to Frequent and Devout Assistance at the Sacrifice of the Mass":
But we all know that, as faith and piety have cooled, this most holy practice (of assisting at Mass) has been more and more neglected, and many of the faithful, drifting away from the love of things divine, have not the devotion they should have toward the Sacrifice of the Mass, and do not as in former times fervently have it offered for their necessities and in suffrage for the faithful departed, whereas they not infrequently have recourse to other relief less salutary (Canon Law Digest, vol. 2, p. 359).
What a sentence. When do you think this was written?

Update: The author: the Sacred Congregation of the Council (which corresponds to the Congregation for the Clergy). The date: July 14, 1941. I often think of the first half of the 20th century to be years of fervent Catholic practice. Maybe I should reconsider that notion. At the same time, I guess there is "cooling" of faith and piety and then there is the freezing of faith and piety...or the reduction of faith and piety to absolute zero. That reminds me of Dante's depiction of Satan, stuck in the ice at the very bottom of hell.

Friday, May 15, 2015

My First Act as Pope

This is not a canonical topic but I'll make it one. Looking at the readings for the Ascension (in the "new" Lectionary), I noticed that Ephesians 4: 1-13 is an option. Excellent choice:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Therefore, it says:
He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.

What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.

And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature to manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.
As is sometimes the case in this Lectionary, it is possible to omit a portion of the reading. I never like these options, by the way, since it implicitly devalues the part of the reading that can be left out. Anyway, in this case, the passage that can be omitted is this:
Therefore, it says:
He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.
What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.

As the youngsters say these days, "FAIL." This makes the reading pertinent to the Ascension. Who would ever think that it makes sense to even allow this part of the reading to be omitted? My first act as Pope would be to abolish this optional omission. Actually, I'd get rid of all optional omissions in the Lectionary.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

More Catholic than the Pope

Sometimes, if you are a person who wishes to maintain traditional Catholic practices and devotions, like to hear Latin at Mass, or crack open the Catechism of the Council of Trent, more "progressive" people might accuse you of trying to "be more Catholic than the pope." Well, here we have a person who actually takes that accusation in stride and runs with it, before a worldwide audience.
The prior of the monastery, Thomas Aquinas, explained the split simply: "The Pope is less Catholic than us."
The background is that a "traditionalist" priest was recently ordained a bishop by an ex-SSPX bishop. That new bishop has now said he will ordain other bishops. This schismatic movement seems to be based at a monastery in Brazil and "Thomas Aquinas" is the leader of the monastery.

It's a sad situation. At least the article contains a bit of progress in regard to the notion of women priests:
By contrast, women supposedly made priests by dissident Catholic bishops are not validly ordained because Catholic law reserves the priesthood only for men.
Secular news usually accepts "women priests" as being ordained, without qualification. So, the use of "supposedly" is a step in the right direction. A point of clarification: while "Catholic law" certainly "reserves the priesthood only for men" (see canon 1024), that restriction does not originate in canon law. Since the restriction "pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself" (Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4), it's origin is our Blessed Lord.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Once a Cardinal, Not Always a Cardinal

It is quite unusual for a Cardinal to become not-a-Cardinal. That seems to have happened today, however:
The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges of a Cardinal, expressed in canons 349, 353 and 356 of the Code of Canon Law, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, after a long period of prayer. With this provision, His Holiness would like to manifest his pastoral solicitude to all the faithful of the Church in Scotland and to encourage them to continue with hope the path of renewal and reconciliation. Link
In addition to "resigning" the "rights and privileges of a Cardinal", one can certainly be deprived of these rights and privileges and even the office and title itself (see c. 1336.1.2). As for O'Brien, I think it is correct to conclude that he is no longer a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church even though the communique does not say this explicitly. If a Cardinal no longer has the rights and privileges of a Cardinal, what's left of the essence of being a Cardinal? Nothing, it seems to me: it doesn't make sense to have a CINO (Cardinal in name only).

Since this is such a rare occurrence and I know so little about it, I could be mistaken.

Update: Catholic News Agency has an article on this event, with the title "Pope accepts disgraced Scottish prelate's resignation from cardinal status."
Update II: Other news outlets are reporting that "the Vatican" has said that O'Brien "will retain the title" (here, for example). "Title" can refer to the rank of "cardinal" as well as to his titular church (Ss. Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano). I would be interested to hear what the people of that parish think if their titular Cardinal is now a "CINO" due to grievous, moral failures.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Excommunication Confusion

The Archbishop of Turin has decided that, on the occasion of the displaying of the Shroud, he will grant to priests the faculty to remit the penalty of excommunication incurred due to abortion. I am disturbed by the title of the linked, Crux article: "During shroud display, Turin will forgive women who had abortions." The title suggests that women who confess this sin are not usually forgiven or that priests cannot usually absolve this sin....and states that "Turin" forgives sins. I know titles have to be catching and concise but I think they can do better than that.

Let's continue to consider the idea that priests are not always able to forgive certain sins. The article states that the Archbishop has granted "special permission to offer absolution to women who confess to having had an abortion." Actually, what he has done is grant these priests the ability to remit a penalty of excommunication. Any priest (in the Latin Church) can absolve any sin as long as he has the faculty to absolve: there are no reserved sins (granted, there is one exception in canon 977). Certainly, if a person is excommunicated, he is not to receive any Sacraments (canon 1331.1.2). This is a hindrance based on the person's excommunication, not on a priest's inability to absolve a certain sin.

For example: a person goes to Confession and, let's say, confesses to having been a manifest apostate. The priest should be aware that the person may have been excommunicated because of this (cf. canons 13301364). In fact, let's say that the person was automatically excommunicated. If the priest is not aware of the excommunication but is nevertheless certain of the penitent's contrition, he would absolve him (canon 980). The absolution would not be invalid because the priest can't absolve this sin: the priest can absolve it. If the absolution was ineffective ("invalid"), it would have been due to the penitent's defective disposition. Usually, though, we can reasonably conclude that a person who goes to Confession is contrite and wishes to reform his life. In the case of abortion, this is also true. Any woman who has an abortion and then confesses this sin is apparently contrite and has a proper disposition. The confessor can absolve her.

What if the priest concludes that the woman has been excommunicated for this offense--should he just go ahead with the absolution anyway? No, he should first remit the penalty since it is against the law for an excommunicated person to receive any Sacrament. He has this ability, too, as we can see in canon 1357.1: "a confessor can remit in the internal sacramental forum an undeclared latae sententiae censure of excommunication ... if it is burdensome for the penitent to remain in the state of grave sin during the time necessary for the competent superior to make provision." Concerning the word "undeclared"--a competent Church authority may decide to initiate a trial to "declare" the fact of the automatic penalty. Without such a trial, there is no declared excommunication. Rare indeed is a woman who has been declared to have been automatically excommunicated for abortion. The confessor then, in virtue of canon 1357, can remit the automatic excommunication which resulted from a completed abortion. As the canon notes, either the confessor or penitent is to make recourse to the competent authority, and follow his instructions. After granting the remission, the priest proceeds to absolution. What the Archbishop of Turin has done in granting this faculty is to remove this "recourse" to the competent authority.

Regarding the "automatic excommunication" of canon 1398, it bears repeating that it is not necessarily "automatic" (consider the possible, mitigating factors in cc. 1323-1324). In the opinion of Dr. Ed Peters, the odds of this penalty being automatically incurred are very small (cf. CLSA Advisory Opinions, 2010, p. 178ff).

One last point, of less importance. From the article: "Only the bishop or a priest he designates can lift the excommunication." Actually, an "ordinary" can remit the penalty (canon 1355.2). This means that the bishop and his vicars (vicar general and episcopal vicars) have the ability, by law (canon 134.1). Now, I suppose you could say "well, doesn't the bishop designate the priests who will be a vicar?" Ok, sure. But, that's not what the article means. The article is saying, correctly, that a bishop can delegate to any priest the faculty to remit this penalty. The law itself already grants this ability to the vicars--the bishop doesn't do it.

It seems that if excommunication is discussed, errors are sure to abound--as this "Crux" article demonstrates. It is a difficult topic to adequately address in a blog but I hope this post is nevertheless helpful in clearing up some of those errors. If not, comments/questions are welcome.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Rota Overturns 92% of USA Nullity Decisions?

I have seen this statistic cited here and there over the years. The source seems to be a book titled What God Has Joined Together: The Annulment Crisis in American Catholicism, by Professor R. Vasoli, on page 62 (and other pages as well). In formulating this statistic, Dr. Vasoli referenced the research of Fr. W. Varvaro as found in the 1991 and 1993 editions of the Canon Law Society of America's Convention Proceedings and the work of Msgr. C. Hettinger in an article entitled "Too Many Invalid Annulments" as well as personal communication with Msgr. Hettinger (see Vasoli, p. 61-62). The statistic suggests that the USA declares all these marriages invalid, the cases go to Rome and the Rota says "Nope, you're wrong. There's no proof of an invalid marriage" 92% of the time.

When I had heard this statistic in the past, I then often thought "Well, maybe it's accurate but it must be out of date." As it turns out, the 92% statistic is certainly inaccurate.

Let's look only at the cases from 1980-1985 as recounted by Varvaro in his 1991 presentation. Vasoli states that only five of the cases received affirmative decisions. Two of these involved defective consent. One involved physical impotence and two were defects of form. From this, Vasoli concludes: "the Rota and the American tribunals were at odds in 95 percent of the cases where grounds were related to defective consent" (p. 61; 42/44 cases = 95%).

Vasoli's error stems from a misunderstanding of this comment from Varvaro: "Unless otherwise noted all decisions mentioned below were for validity of the marriage" (p. 28). In Varvaro's list of cases, Vasoli is correct that you will indeed only find five cases followed by the words "pro nullitate", and only two of them for defective consent (pp. 28-29). In addition to these five cases, however, the Rota ratified four decisions of American courts. One denied a further hearing of a case, thereby accepting the lower courts' decision. Three declared that the American sentence was not null (the decision of the lower court was allowed to stand). These are eight additional cases where the Rota concurred with an American court but the two words "pro nullitate" are not present: other Latin phrases are used to indicate the Rotal action. Adding the numbers, we see not a 42/44 ratio but 34/44. I think it's fairer to include all the cases (so, 34/47--72%) but even following Vasoli's deletion of three cases of agreement between the Rota and America results in not 95% disagreement but 77%. This is a significant difference but is this the actual "reversal rate"?

Some background information before answering that question. There are two, typical ways a case can go before the Rota: a Party appeals the decision of a lower court or the case automatically proceeds to the Rota after conflicting decisions of two lower courts. For example, Clark Kent introduces a nullity case before the tribunal of Metropolis. That court renders an "affirmative" decision. Lois Lane appeals the decision to the Rota. If she did not appeal the case, it must then move to Metropolis' appeal court, in Gotham. Let's say Gotham reaches the opposite conclusion: the marriage has not been proven invalid. Clark appeals that decision to the Rota. If the case first received a "negative" decision and then an "affirmative" decision in American courts, it would automatically proceed to the Rota with no appeal. It seems that Vasoli overlooked this, even though the point was made by Varvaro:
We also want to remind ourselves at this point--because we too easily forget it--that many of these cases reached the Rota because of a discordant decision given at the appellant level. Some of these decisions were negative in first instance and affirmative in second instance and therefore came to the Rota in third instance. Others were first instance affirmatives, reversed in the appellate jurisdiction, and appealed by the petitioners to the Rota (Varvaro, p. 25).

We can see, then, that "many" Rotal cases will have already received conflicting decisions in the USA: one affirmative and one negative. No matter what the Rota does, it is not really "overturning" or "at odds" with the American tribunals. It is reaching a final decision which will be in accordance with one lower court and contrary to the other. While the plain statistics of the cases listed by Varvaro reveal that relatively few marriages were declared invalid by the Rota, many of those cases already received a "negative" decision from an American court.
Since I do not have the text of all of the decisions before me (I only have summaries of some of them), I can't say how many fall into this category. Let's suppose that 50% received a negative and affirmative in the USA. Applying this to the numbers from earlier (34/44), we have a 17/44 ratio (39%) where the USA only said "affirmative" and the Rota said "negative." Again, this is only an estimate based on the summaries I have seen but, for the sake of argument, I think it is fair.

It is apparent that I have not yet actually addressed the 92% statistic. Vasoli arrived at this number by referring to decisions from 1980-1988 and 1991-1992. I have only addressed the cases from 1980-1985 and I will not examine the cases from 1986-1988 and 1991-1992, since I have already demonstrated that Vasoli misunderstood/misinterpreted at least about half of the data he used and therefore his conclusions are mistaken. Instead of 92%, I think the true statistic is clearly closer to 40%.

Is that a good number? No, I think it's too high. Are all American Judges/Tribunals always right and above suspicion? Of course not. But, if we are going to criticize American Judges/Tribunals, in the hope of improving them, let's use accurate information.