Fr Z’s post on Ed Peters provides refreching clarity about the force of the odd papal letter to Argentinian bishops

Ed Peters provides refreching clarity about the force of the odd papal letter to Argentinian bishops

People who pay attention are pretty disturbed about this.  I was rather troubled.

I am less troubled now.

That doesn’t mean that this is over.

Ed Peters tries to untangle it.  HERE

On the appearance of the pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis

Some three months ago I predicted that Pope Francis’ letter to the Argentine bishops, approving their implementation of Amoris laetitia, would make its way into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Now it has. An accompanying note from Cardinal Parolin states that the pope wishes the Argentine document to enjoy “magisterial authority” and that his endorsement thereof  has the status of an “apostolic letter”.

Fine. Let’s work through some points. [Thank you!]

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1. Canon 915.  [There it is.] It is crucial to understand that, today, what actually prevents ministers of holy Communion from distributing the Eucharist to divorced-and-remarried Catholics is Canon 915 and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received. Canon 915 and the fundamental sacramental and moral values behind it might be forgotten, ignored, or ridiculed, even by ranking officers in the Church, but unless and until that law is revoked or modified by papal legislative action or is effectively neutered by pontifically approved “authentic interpretation” (1983 CIC 16), Canon 915 stands and, so standing, binds ministers of holy Communion.Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law. Granted, little or nothing in these documents endorses or reiterates Canon 915, either, and the apparently studied silence that Canon 915 suffers these days is cause for deep pastoral concern. But law does not wilt under the silent treatment. [However…. We are living in an age when the Pope grants faculties to the SSPX – apparently – to receive sacramental confessions and validly absolve, even though there is no clear juridical document with clear language about just how that is.  He sort of mentions it, and, so let it be written, so let it be done.  And does law wilt?  I am thinking about how we got altar girls, etc.  Sure, eventually there was an “authentic interpretation” of the canon that dealt with who might substitute for an acolyte… but that only happened because the law withered.]

2. Apostolic letter. An “apostolic letter” is a sort of mini-encyclical and, however much attention encyclicals get for their teaching or exhortational value, they are not (with rare exceptions) legislative texts used to formulate new legal norms. Typically “apostolic letters” are written to smaller groups within the Church and deal with more limited questions—not world-wide questions such as admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion. Even where a special kind of “apostolic letter” is used to make changes to the law—such as John Paul II did in Ad tuendam fidem (1998), as Benedict did in Omnium in mentem (2009), or as Francis did in Magnum principium (2017)—the “apostolic letter” used in such cases carries the additional designation “motu proprio” (i.e., on the pope’s own initiative, and not in response to another’s action), and the changes made to the law thereby are expressly identified by canon number, not simply implied or surmised, especially not by silence. [Summorum Pontificum was an AP MP.]

The pope’s letter to the Argentines appears simply as an “apostolic letter”, not as an “apostolic letter motu proprio”, and it references no canons.

3. [NB] Authentic magisterium. Many people use the term “magisterium” as if it were tantamount to “Church governing authority”, but in its canonical sense “magisterium” generally refers to the Church’s authority to issue teachings on faith and morals, not to the Church’s authority to enforce discipline related to matters of faith and morals.  [A good distinction, but one that will be lost on libs, who are determined to find their own way in that uncertain mulligan stew of sort-of-law that is flowing.]

While Francis—albeit about as indirectly as is possible (through a memo to a dicastery official concerning a letter written by an episcopal conference)—has indicated that his letter to the Argentines and even the Argentine conference letter itself are “magisterial”, the fact remains that the content of any Church document, in order to bear most properly the label “magisterial”, must deal with assertions about faith and morals, not provisions for disciplinary issues related to faith and morals. [THERE IT IS.] Church documents can have both “magisterial” and “disciplinary” passages, of course, but generally only those teaching parts of such a document are canonically considered “magisterial” while normative parts of such a document are canonically considered “disciplinary”.

Francis has, in my opinion, too loosely designated others of his views as bearing “magisterial authority” (recall his comments about the liturgical movement), [Yes, we recall those comments.] and he is not alone in making, from time to time, odd comments about the use of papal power (recall John Paul II invoking “the fullness of [his] Apostolic authority” to update the by-laws of a pontifical think-tank in 1999).  [The Saint Pope also invoked his “Apostolic authority” when he “commanded” in his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta that respect be shown to those who wanted the traditional Roman Rite and that bishops were to be generous in the application of existing laws.  That happened, right?   So, libs will not demand that this thingy be obeyed, even though is it less clear that John Paul’s requirement.]

But that inconsistent usage only underscores that the rest of us [because we are not psychics] must try to read such documents in accord with how the Church herself usually (I wish always, but I’ll content myself with “usually”) writes them, and ask, here, are there “magisterial” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aires document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes. Plenty, running the gamut from obviously true, through true-but-oddly-or-incompletely phrased, to a few that, while capable of being understood in an orthodox sense, are formulated in ways that lend themselves to heterodox understandings (and for that reason should be clarified for the sake of the common ecclesial good).  [If only some well-informed and competent Cardinals would submit a series of questions or dubia to the Holy Father….!]

In any case, such teaching statements, to the extent they make assertions about faith or morals and come from bishops and/or popes acting as bishops or popes, already enjoy thereby at least some (relatively little) level of ordinary magisterial value, a value not augmented by sticking the label “magisterial” on them.  [I’m not trying to be flippant here, sincerely.  However, the image of “lipstick” popped into my mind when I read that.]

And, are there “disciplinary” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aires document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes, a few. [NB] But as I have said before, in my view, none of those rather few disciplinary assertions, even those ambiguous and capable therefore of leaving the door open to unacceptable practices, suffices to revoke, modify, or otherwise obviate Canon 915 which, as noted above, prevents the administration of holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics. [That’s it.  There it is.]

Conclusion. I wish that Canon 915 were not the sole bulwark against the abandonment of the Eucharist to the vagaries of individual, often malformed, consciences. [Wow.  A little scary, that.  So, HURRAY FOR 915!] I wish that a lively, pastorally-driven sense of the liberating permanence of Christian marriage, the universal need for Confession to reconcile those in grave sin, the power of the Eucharist to feed souls in the state of grace and to condemn those who receive irreverently, sufficed to make invocation of Canon 915 unnecessary in pastoral practice. But apparently, in much of the Catholic world these days, such is not the case and Canon 915 must be pointed to as if it were the only reason to bar reception of holy Communion in these situations.

But what can one say? Unless Canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.

Nothing I have seen to date, including the appearance of the pope’s and Argentine bishops’ letters in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, makes me think that Canon 915 has suffered such a fate.

And yet we all know that if a priest, or the rare bishop, sticks to what the Church has always said and done in these matters, soon he will be hanged in the sight of the mercy-wielding libs, who, in their mercy, will then mercifully slash open those priests, draw out their living guts, show them to them, in mercy, and then mercifully hack their limbs off for merciful distribution to the four corners of the diocese.

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