Distinguished canonist Ed Peters (who also comments here) has posted on his fine blog In The Light Of The Law some thoughts about Pope Francis’ latest move, the letter to the Argentinian bishop about a draft document that seems to attempt to apply Amoris laetitia chapter 8.
First, On the Buenos Aires directive:
On the Buenos Aires directive
September 13, 2016
Canon 915, the modern (yet resting on ancient roots) norm that prohibits ministers of holy Communion from giving that sacrament to Catholics who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” does not expressly name divorced Catholics living in their second (or third, or fourth, or fifth…) ‘marriages’ as examples of persons ineligible for holy Communion, but they have long been the ‘go-to’ example of those covered by the canon. Even its harshest critics generally conceded that Canon 915 applies to divorced-and-remarried Catholics—the emotional hardships associated with such cases being, in some critics’ minds, a good argument for abandoning the norm.
Now, in his unequivocal endorsement (“There are no other interpretations possible” [!]) of a leaked draft of some Argentine bishops’ plan for implementing his document Amoris laetitia, [NB] Pope Francis has neither ‘abrogated’ Canon 915 nor ‘interpreted’ it out of existence (both being the sort of technical operations the pope shows little interest in). Nevertheless, his action will likely make it harder for Catholic ministers, who remain bound by canon law even in stressful cases, to observe Canon 915 at the practical level. [That is, isn’t it. Priests who are faithful and obedient to the law will be between a hard spot and that other thing. If they obey the law, they will be accused of being against the Pope.]
Basically, the Argentine draft (assuming it is still a ‘draft’) directs ministers of holy Communion (chiefly parish priests) to work through concrete cases impacting access to at least three sacraments (Matrimony, Penance, and the Eucharist), guided not by the Church’s accumulated pastoral wisdom as summed up in norms like Canon 915 (which seem not even not to be mentioned!), but instead by a line of endlessly malleable considerations phrased in verbiage redolent of the 1970s. [Rem acu!] If some pastors after the publication Amoris were already being told by irate parishioners that ‘Pope Francis says you have to give me Communion’, [Yes, that happened.] what might they expect in the wake of his sweeping approval of this Argentine interpretation of Amoris? [We’ll know soon.]
Fundamentally the Argentine draft stumbles, I suggest, in the same way as does Amoris, namely, in thinking that an individual’s subjective, albeit sincere, conclusions about his or her eligibility for Communion per Canon 916 trumps the Church’s authority, nay her obligation, to withhold the sacrament in the face of certain objective, externally verifiable conditions per Canon 915. …
Read the rest there.
May I demur re Mirus this once?
Pretty much everything Dr. Jeff Mirus writes is worth reading, but his latest column, correctly defending Pope Francis against charges of heresy based on his endorsement of the Buenos Aires Directive, overstates the argument in one small, technical regard and, I think, misses a larger, more important point in another. I basically agree with everything Mirus wrote, except as follows.
1. Mirus writes: “It is impossible to prove that advocacy of any disciplinary approach indicates heresy in the mind of the advocate.” That is not correct. A classic example pointed to a man whose refusal to abide by disciplinary norms such as genuflecting before the tabernacle might show a wordless, but clearly heretical, denial of the Real Presence. This is a small, technical point, perhaps, but it reminds us all to be wary of universal assertions. My second concern is larger.
2. Most of Mirus’ column is spent trying to show how the objectively grave sin of remarriage after divorce (with all necessary caveats & conditions included) might in a specific case be rendered subjectively venial at least for one partner. As holy Communion may be (and perhaps even should be, assuming sorrow for sin, CCC 1393) taken by one in venial sin, Mirus argues that some divorced-and-remarried Catholics should feel free to approach for holy Communion. Now, everything Mirus says so far is at least arguably, and much of it is actually, true.
[NB] But it misses the crucial point: One’s approaching for holy Communion is a matter of personal conscience chiefly guided by Canon 916 (which Mirus does not cite, but would have cited had he adverted to it); but distribution of Communion by a minister is a matter of objective status chiefly under Canon 915, which Mirus does not cite, but should have considered.
As has been explained many times, [NB] in certain cases ministers of holy Communion are bound not by the would-be recipient’s assessment of conscience, but by the demands of canon law responding to one’s external, objective status. [external, objective] Long story made short, Catholics who have entered marriages subsequent to mere divorce are objectively disqualified from being given holy Communion (CCC 1650, 2384), whatever might be their subjectively reduced culpability for their state. This is a crucial point: two canons (and the values behind two canons) come into play every time a minister and recipient meet over the Host. Yes, Amoris seems to miss this point and the Buenos Aires Directive clearly misses it. Still. [So, many people in irregular situations are going to be told by the less than faithful (or well-informed) dissidents that they can go to Communion regardless of their objective status. On the other hand, faithful priests will be in an awkward situation. When they try to apply the law (which they are obliged to do, which they promised to do) they will be accused of being [FILL IN BLANK]. Two parishes, side by side, will communicate diametrically opposed messages. Hey… what’s new?]
To be sure, more goes into these cases than what I just outlined, but this should suffice to show that, even if Mirus’ theory of venial sin for some divorced-and-remarried Catholics is correct, it does not answer the question about their being admitted to holy Communion.
Thanks to Ed Peters. He has no combox over there. Comment here, but remember that he works hard on his posts at his blog. You should check it out often.