Distinguished commonsense canonist Ed Peters has offered us yet another extremely helpful observation about a wild suggestion made by a Kasperite that can. 915 could be “adjusted”.
The other day, Peters explain that certain folks deal with can. 915 by 1) ignoring it, 2) belittling it, or 3) violating it. None of these are acceptable. HERE
Now, Peters, in his surgical way, makes clear what can. 915 says to those who think that it can be “adjusted” so that it is no longer a obstacle to Communion for pretty much everyone, anywhere, at any time for any reason. HERE
He is addressing something written by a guy named Walford. Thus, Peters with my emphases and comments:
Walford makes one comment in passing that is illustrative, I think, of the dangers to which amateurs’ suggestions about law are prone. Walford says, “I accept that canon 915 may need adjusting if the Holy Father sees fit …”
Oh, really? Canon 915 “may need adjusting”, may need changes in its wording, I take this to mean. Alright, let’s think about that. [This is fun!]
Canon 915, as has been explained many times, restricts the basic right of the Christian faithful to receive holy Communion. Like all restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights, the terms of Canon 915 must be read ‘strictly’ so as not to curtail illegally the rights of the faithful. [odiosa restringenda]Every one of the five qualifiers in Canon 915—obstinacy, perseverance, manifest-ness, gravity, and sinfulness, as those precisely refined terms have been used by the canonico-moral tradition (and not necessarily as non-specialists might understand them)—must be satisfied before holy Communion can and must be withheld from a member of the faithful. [Did you get that? Read it again.] Remove any, let alone several, of the qualifiers from the criteria set out in Canon 915 and, as a matter of law, [NB] the restrictions on access to holy Communion expand, not contract. [This is what those who denigrate can. 915 – or who won’t uphold it – don’t get.]
So which word or words, one wonders, might Walford like to see changed in Canon 915?
If we drop, say, the word “sin” from Canon 915, we would authorize ministers to withhold holy Communion from would-be communicants whose, say, mannerisms or attitudes irritate us.
If we drop the word “grave” from the law, then those in light or common sin need also to be rejected.
If we drop the word “manifest”, then even occult sinners (a concept Walford blurred above) would have to be publically banned from holy Communion.
If we drop the notion of “perseverance”, then those in one-time or occasional sin must be prevented by ministers from taking holy Communion.
And if we do not care whether public sinners have actual or construed knowledge of the wrongness of their conduct, we could eliminate the word “obstinate” from the law.
Which of those adjustments to Canon 915 might Walford support? I hope, none. [See? That was fun, wasn’t it?]
But perhaps Wolford has in mind not changing Canon 915 (so much for his call to “adjust” the law) but rather, effectively supports repealing CCC 2384[CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church, btw] and the tradition behind it such that post-divorce civil remarriage is no longer understood as “permanent and public adultery” (and thus is not a sin, and thus Canon 915 does not apply). [But, wouldn’t that also “repeal” the teaching of Christ, who is God?] I trust it is obvious, though, that this approach strikes not at sacramental discipline as reflected in Canon 915 but at the sacramental doctrine being protected by the canon. Such a proposal, in any case, would need to go to someone higher in the Church than a blogging canon lawyer.
In sum, Canon 915 summarizes many centuries of ministerial reflection on doctrine and pastoral practice. That accumulated wisdom is not available to ministers and faithful, though, if its terms, singly and in combination, are subject to tweaking by people who seem inadequately to understand them and who seem to appreciate only in part what lies behind them.
Wasn’t that a great lesson in how the precise language of law expands rights? This is one reason why priests should be well instructed in the law. They can use it to ease people’s consciences.
But, to the antinomian, this is an utter surprise.
God bless Ed Peters.
Fr. Z kudos.