The excellent canon law blog of Edward Peters, In the Light of the Law, there is an interesting post about a … well… read it.
Be sure to go to the site and look at comments and the rest. Spike those stats as only you WDTPRSers can!
The Pewsitter Petition on Canon 915
Pewsitter.com has published an on-line petition by which Catholics may call upon bishops to withhold holy Communion from Catholic political figures who gravely disregard Church teaching on certain fundamental life issues. The petition invokes canon law in support of some of its propositions. I know nothing about the organization behind the petition, but I feel confident in commenting on its canonical aspects.
The petition seems to me to qualify under 1983 CIC 212.3 as one way of helping the faithful to express "to sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful." I do not think the petition pretends to an expertise it cannot claim, nor does it seem to be violative of basic norms on faith, morals, and reverence toward pastors, etc. It does not impugn the fidelity of those who choose not to sign.
The petition calls for withholding of holy Communion under Canon 915 and in this regard it avoids the highly contentious, and I think erroneous, claim that certain politicians should be subject to excommunication for their actions. Moreover, the petition avoids identifying specific politicians for action under Canon 915, even though a strong case can be made for such action in the case of, say, Nancy Pelosi. Each politician’s situation, as I have said, needs to be examined individually by competent experts; this is by no means an impossible task, but it is not one best conducted in the blogosphere.
The petition highlights the scandal [this is a key] being created under the continued reception of holy Communion by those Catholic politicians who routinely ignore Church teaching on the sacredness of innocent human life; in this respect, the petition seems securely grounded in the arguments of Abp. Raymond Burke whose landmark article on Canon 915 makes correction of scandal a centerpiece of his position.
I would not have offered, however, in the petition any speculation on whether certain politicians need to be ‘reconciled with the Church’, for such language sounds more in the internal forum than the external. Given, however, that the rest of the petition has in view only observable political behavior and demonstrable Church teaching, and calls for action only in regard to one’s external conduct, I am inclined to think that petition language about ‘reconciliation’ is the result of the authors’ unfamiliarity with the nuances of certain phrases used by professionals, and that they intended no judgment of the state of the souls of Catholic politicians. In short, such language, to the degree a bishop might think it approaches an assertion about the internal forum, can and will be simply disregarded.
In the same vein, the petition’s use of the word ‘discipline’, while it is canonically correct, is liable to confusion in the public mind, and I would have avoided it. Canon 915 is a sacramental disciplinary norm (unlike, say, Canon 1331 on excommunication, which is a penal norm) but, to describe a bishop’s action under Canon 915 as a way to ‘discipline’ recalcitrant Catholic politicians seems to imply that some punishment is being inflicted on them. It is not, but it’s a distinction one would not expect lay readers to make. Thus, while the word ‘discipline’ is defendable here, I would have phrased it differently to avoid public confusion on the nature of the action being petitioned.