The great Ed Peters, Canonman, has offered on his blog In the Light of the Law some observations about the discussion of c. 915 and the Governor of New York.
But first, I ask rhetorically… how many times have I railed against the false dichotomy liberals assert between being “pastoral” and … well… faithful?
My emphases and comments.
Communion, Canon Law, and Pastoral Practice
There is a line of thought emerging in regard to the Cuomo-Communion controversy that runs as follows: “Okay, maybe Peters has a point about the canon law of this case, but c’mon, questions about individual reception of holy Communion are really matters of pastoral practice.”
You know, as if canon law and pastoral practice were two entirely different things.
Let’s think about this.
Certainly, there are many canons in the Code that scarcely impact pastoral practice. It’s difficult (not impossible, just difficult) to see a pastoral application for, say, Canon 141 on priority among successive delegees, or for Canon 707 on residence options for a retired religious bishop, or for Canon 1601 on a judge’s discretion over time limits for filing briefs in tribunal cases. No one seriously argues that the faithful are bound to recall such canons in daily life or at least to think about them during the Communion rite. [Qui bene distinguit bene docet.]
But, while many canons do not have immediate pastoral relevance, many other canons do have obvious pastoral implications, and surely the canons on the reception and administration of holy Communion count among them. Indeed, the whole purpose of Canons 915 and 916 is to direct concrete pastoral practice! [It would be hard to find a pair of canons with greater pastoral significance, given then fact that the duty of a pastor is to care for the Blessed Sacrament and for the souls of those under his care.]
Canons 915 and 916 boast aged, even ancient, nay apostolic, roots, [Perhaps Scriptural? What was it St. Paul said about Communion that was inadequately prepared?] and both norms are illuminated by copious and consistent canonical commentary reflecting many centuries’ worth of . . . . . what? . . . [INSERT ‘JEOPARDY’ MUSIC] . . pastoral practice. In other words, one cannot discuss Canons 915 and 916 without discussing pastoral practice at the same time. The two disciplines are inextricably related. And not because I say so, but because they are. [And when you are right you can’t be wrong.]
Ours is certainly not the first generation to face the serious problem of Catholics whose lifestyle is protractedly and publicly at odds with important Church teachings, nor are we the first to face rampant ridicule and accusations of hypocrisy* for holding Catholics to higher standards for their public behavior than we hold others to. It is precisely because the Church [The greatest expert on human beings there has ever been.] has such extensive experience in dealing with difficult issues that she has set down, for the guidance of pastors and faithful alike, certain norms for behavior in her Code of Canon Law, norms such as Canons 915 and 916.
Obviously, the time to think about what certain canons on pastoral practice might require of bishops and faithful is before controversy arises over them, [Imagine such a thing.] if only because, if fundamental and reasonable norms for conduct are not attended before controversy erupts in the Church, they will be most assuredly be invoked afterward. Like most good lawyers, I think it’s easier to head off problems than it is to solve them; but, like many Catholics of my generation, I think even worse than not solving, once it has arisen, a serious problem in pastoral practice (even problems that we only inherited, instead of ones we cooked-up for ourselves), is our simply leaving it to the next generation to face.
To be clear, I do not think that every pastoral question imaginable has a certain canonical answer. Nor, even in regard to those many pastoral questions that do have, at least in part, a canonical answer, do I think that those answers can be implemented overnight. Moreover, I recognize that bishops have the primary responsibility for governing the Churches entrusted to them (c. 381 et seq.). And I certainly recognize that canon lawyers have no more authority over the application of canon law in the Church than attorneys in a law firm or professors in a law school have authority over the enforcement of civil law. On all of these points, nothing I have ever written supposes otherwise.
But what canon lawyers do have is expertise and ready access to the detailed resources that are necessary to set out, accurately and clearly, exactly what the Church’s legal system says (if anything) about this topic or that, and canonists do that, or should do that, in service to the Catholic faithful who strive to live within the Church’s order and for Catholic leaders who are charged to uphold it.
If nothing else, canonists should correct, I think, any claim that canon law and pastoral practice are simply distant cousins on the Church’s family tree. “Brothers” would be much closer to the truth. + + +
* One of the just-plain-dumbest accusations of hypocrisy made against me is that I only “go after” Catholic Democratic politicians and not Catholic Republicans. Folks, if, among Americans who care at all about politics (and yes I recall enough Plato and Madison to care about politics), if, I say, there is one who cares less about political party affiliation than I do, please, introduce us!
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KUDOS to Canonman! Dr. Peters!