Canonist Ed Peters: What does can. 915 really say?


Some people on the Kasperite side (give Communion to the divorced and remarried who have no purpose of amendment, etc.) have a spittle-flecked nutty when can. 915 is brought into the discussion.

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.

Click me.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, 1983 CIC can. 915, Canon Law, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Grumpy Beggar says:


    The doctrine that claims that a person’s faith in God and in the person of Christ frees him from the moral obligations of the law, whether natural or positive, biblical or ecclesiastical. It is a logical consequence of any theory that so stresses the work of the Holy Spirit as to exclude the need for co-operation with divine grace. The most authoritative condemnation of Antinomianism was by the Council of Trent, which saw in the Reformation principle of faith without good works the source of Antinomian conclusions. Hence among other anathemas of Trent was the censure of anyone who says that “God has given Jesus Christ to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust, but not as a lawgiver whom they are to obey” (Denzinger 1571). (Etym. Greek anti, against + nomos, law.)

  2. quamquam says:

    I’ve learned a lot from Dr Peters over the years, his wisdom and precision, but unfortunately this wasn’t one of his better efforts. I’m not previously familiar with Stephen Walford. I didn’t agree with everything in his essay, but it was respectful, intelligent and thought-provoking, and I thought it deserved more respect in return.

    Dr Peters’ response spent time making unnecessary personal digs. The length of Walford’s essay was commented on (from which I got the impression, Walford’s 5000+ words were a self-indulgence when he must know that Dr Peters has better things to do with his time than reading and responding to such irresponsible writings). In truth, Walford’s words were not used wastefully – he covered a lot of ground, and I found his essay a fairly easy read. Then Dr Peters’ comment about the mention in Walford’s standard bio provided by Vatican Insider at the end of the article that he was a pianist – almost as though Walford had appealed to this fact to back up his argument. Dr Peters might just as well have questioned whether it was relevant for the bio to have provided the name of Walford’s wife and the number of his children.

    Then, quite a bit of the substance of Dr Peters’ response seemed to be that Walford was an amateur, and that professional canonists had access to unspecified wisdom and information that would sufficiently refute Walford if there was time and space to do so. This doesn’t really get us very far. (I leave aside the ‘internal forum’ matter, which I didn’t think Amoris was especially dealing with.)

    I’m not especially in favour of any modifications to Canon 915, but Dr Peters seems to exalt the canon almost to the status of a defined dogma. And there is an obvious way a Pope might ‘adjust’ the canon other than by removing words – by adding further clauses to it specifying in what ways it did or did not apply to e.g. the divorced and remarried.

    As a parallel, Canon 844, after saying that Catholic ministers may administer the Sacraments only to Catholics, goes on in later clauses to state exceptions to this, and thus expand access to the Sacraments in certain cases. (Thus Protestants, despite their public perseverance in material heresy (which in itself is surely even graver than adultery), can in certain exceptional cases be admitted to Holy Communion in the Catholic Church – one of the conditions being, of course, that they are ‘properly disposed’, including that they are not in a state of mortal sin, due to their lack of full personal responsibility in their material adherence to what they surely know the Catholic Church considers to be heresy.)

    We must distinguish the truth of Amoris Laetitia from its prudence. Canon 915, dealing with the actions of the minister of Holy Communion, is a wise and pastorally prudent derivation from various divine laws, and is hallowed by the centuries – but that doesn’t make it in itself an absolute and exceptionless divine law (unlike the exceptionless laws against adultery, or against someone consciously persisting in mortal sin presenting themselves for Holy Communion). So a Pope could make exceptions to the application of the canon that some people might think unwise, without thereby contradicting God’s own law.

    But on prudential matters, the leader has the call. Soldiers are best off following their captain (even when they think he hasn’t made the wisest decision), rather than darting off in every direction following what they (perhaps correctly) think would have been better.

  3. iamlucky13 says:

    I made the mistake of clicking on a link you provided to a Phyllis Zagano article yesterday. I had a thought that seems now like a glimpse into the future of what Dr. Peters’ wrote today:

    “The chief problem with electronic publishing is that writers and editors, no longer limited by the physical capacity of pages to contain words, now crank out copy with abandon…but responding to them in anything like completeness is simply impossible.”

    Zagano’s piece did not have a high word count, but it did have a high false assertion count. By the time I was halfway through, I was pretty much convinced it was a deliberate strategy – make so many mistakes that nobody can reasonably address them all (or if they do, the corrections will be so lengthy that nobody reads all of them).

    This was a common frustration for me when I dabbled in forensic debate in college: if your opponent made a claim that you did not respond to when you next had the floor, you were not permitted to challenge it later, meaning it is effectively accepted as true. In formal proceedings, it prevents stalling the proceedings with repeats of debates that competent, attentive participants should have settled. In competitive debate, a rapid-fire list of contentious claims was a questionable tactic to overwhelm you in order to slip a couple through.

    In editorializing, there’s obviously no official rule against challenging anew claims that you did not challenge in the past, but if they are initially overlooked, the opponent can easily return to them after their other claims are disproven. It’s a mix of the fallacies of proof by verbosity and moving the goalposts, and by jumping back and forth it can lead to wearying cycles that amount to argumentum ad nauseum.

  4. JARay says:

    My thanks to “iamlucky13 “. I quite see the point that by those who wander all over the place it becomes impossible to give a coherent ripost to all the errors which they have made. I did enjoy the clear, precise demolition which Dr. Peters gave against the suggestions of that person Walford.

  5. Pingback: THURSDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  6. Grant M says:

    “If you feel all confused by the verbiage used, that’s Amoris.”

    (My little addendum to the parody at lifesitenews.)

  7. Toan says:

    “1983 CIC 915. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

    If I were to guess, the “adjustment” Walford is talking about is simply to remove the word “not” from “not to be admitted to holy communion”.

  8. Titus says:

    Dr. Peters’ comments on the adjustments to Canon 915 are accurate, as far as they go, of course. But as quamquam (among other statements that I do not join) alludes, there are other potential ways that Canon 915 could be adjusted that would expand, not restrict, the universe of people to whom Holy Communion might be administered.

    For instance, it could be amended to say, “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, unless they affirmatively communicate to the minister of the Sacrament that they feel at peace with God, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

    Now, that is—no, let’s make that “ought to be”—unthinkable. But it is a way, at least from a grammatical perspective, that one could modify the language of the canon to accommodate Kasperites. Surely the people, like Mr. Walford, who acknowledge the impediment to the implementation of the Kasperite heresy posed by Canon 915 but who wish to amend the Canon to remove that impediment have in mind amendments of insertion, or substitution, rather than of deletion.

    Dr. Peters and others have written ably on the theological and historical underpinnings of the Canon in its current form. Given that any amendment that would have the effect sought by Mr. Walford would effectively destroy the Canon’s effective operation, those writings should be employed in rebuttal.

  9. Daniel W says:

    Dr Peters writes about as ably as Cd. Kasper. Peters wonders why being a pianist qualifies Walford to comment on complex questions of canon law. I wonder why someone as qualified as Peters uses his qualifications to undermine what he calls the “Church’s deep wisdom on these matters.”

    Dr Peters comments regarding Walford’s suggestion of changing c. 915 is particularly unimaginative. Any lawyer would be aware that besides the current words in a law, words may be added in a revision.

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Dr. Peters.

Comments are closed.