Canonist Ed Peters looks into the issue of the excommunication incurred by a cardinal elector who “canvasses” for votes in the context of a papal conclave. HERE
I won’t, here, get into Dr. Peter’s proposal that automatic (late sententiae) excommunication should be done away with. That’s not at issue. His examination of the consequences of such an excommunication, incurred by a cardinal elector before (or during) a conclave is of great interest.
Automatic censures should be eliminated from Church law
Only two kinds of men publicly admit to doing evil: those who repent of their deeds and are willing to accept the consequences for having acted wrongly, and those who are comfortable with their conduct and believe that no serious consequences will come from divulging it.
Several reports based on Godfried Cdl. Danneels’ just-released, authorized biography indicate that the now-retired Belgian prelate helped lead a clique of cardinals directly opposed to Benedict XVI’s papacy. [Imagine my shock.] If true that suggests sin, but not crime. It seems, however, that some members of this clique, after Benedict resigned, engaged in pre-conclave politicking for then-Cdl. Bergoglio, politicking of the sort that is forbidden by conclave law (Universi 81). If true, that would be a sin and a crime. Danneels’ admissions, read in the light of other allegations and reports, suggests, then, that at least some cardinals committed at least some offenses for which they are at risk of the Church’s highest sanction, namely, excommunication, more precisely, latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication.
Which means they are at risk for—not much, really. Shall I elaborate? [Please do, Ed.]
The canonical consequences of “excommunication” are set out in Canon 1331. A cursory glance at that canon shows these consequences to be very serious, including: prohibiting individuals from celebrating Mass, participating in sacraments, or exercising ecclesiastical roles, offices, and functions, and so on. [roles, offices, functions… like being a Cardinal elector in a conclave?] Besides suffering the spiritual consequences of having engaged in whatever gravely sinful conduct underlies the crime in question (and note: consignment to hell has never been a consequence of excommunication, though it could be one of unrepented sin), any Catholic automatically excommunicated is in deep trouble. [It’s not good not to be able to “GO TO CONFESSION!”]
But that same cursory glance at Canon 1331 will not show (unless one is trained in canon law) that most consequences of excommunication become relevant in the external forum only if the excommunication is “imposed or declared”. That short, technical phrase means that, while one who is “automatically” excommunicated labors under the personal burdens of this sanction, it is only when an excommunication is “formal” that actions performed by canonical criminals raise questions for Church life and governance. [So, if you are excommunicated by your acts but there hasn’t been a formal public declaration, you still exercise your roles, etc. That is why after Archbp. Lefevbre et al. got themselves excommunicated automatically in 1988, the Congregation for Bishops issued a formal declaration of same.]
The canonically untutored do not (and should not be expected to) understand that the consequences of excommunication for public Church life differ dramatically based on whether the excommunication is “automatic” or “formal”, that most of the ‘bite’ that people attribute to excommunication (like not being able to function in Church offices) comes only with formal excommunication, and that formal excommunication has practically disappeared from modern Church life because (1) a host of canonical defenses unnecessarily burdens prosecution of excommunicable crimes, and (2) ecclesiastical authority apparently feels that, as long as latae sententiaeexcommunication is on the books (and most folks think it does what “excommunication” does anyway) why bother with a complex, portentous process for turning an automatic excommunication into a formal one? Whatever the reasons, Roman prosecutions of “formal” excommunication cases are rare; those involving prelates are very rare; those involving cardinals are essentially unheard of. [Too which I respond: Too bad! When I Pope, they won’t be.]
Thus, it is hard to see what canonical consequences a cardinal would have to fear if he were to admit to a canonical crime punishable by latae sententiae excommunication. If it turns out that one or more cardinals violated, say, Universi 81, they might (and I stress, might) be “automatically” excommunicated, but “automatic” excommunication impacts—I hate to put it this way—only the liceity of ecclesiastical acts, not their validity. So, while it might be distressing to see appointed to synodal service some cardinals who could be “automatically excommunicated”, whatever acts such men might place at a synod would be, by the plain text of canon law, valid. And no one seems especially incentivized to inquire further than that.
Read his jeremiad against automatic penalties there.
The core of this is that the election of Pope Francis was valid even though there were irregularities amongst cardinal electors which (I think) should be dealt with now. Better late than never.
Sigh. It looks like I have to impose the moderation queue again. I removed some intemperate comments.
ALL: Please make your points without having a nutty. This isn’t Fishwrap.