UPDATED: Ed Peters provides refreshing clarity about force of odd papal letter to Argentinian bishops


Joseph Shaw has some observations about the appearance of the Pope’s letter to the Bishops of Buenos Aires in AAS.  HERE

Among other things he states:

There is, however, more to making something part of the magisterium, and therefore binding on the consciences of Catholics, than simply asserting that it is magisterial. The content of the document is also relevant. ‘Legal positivists’ claim that laws are valid just by virtue of a valid procedure approving them, but this is false and has never been accepted by the Church. Even in the case of human laws, a law will fail to bind in conscience if it is impossible to follow, for example if it is incomprehensible, retroactive, or totally unreasonable. In those cases it fails to be a binding law, or, really, a law at all. Law is by definition something which guides action, and such putative laws are incapable of doing that.

In a similar way, if we are to talk of a papal magisterial act binding Catholics to believe something, then it must be in accordance with the existing magisterium, and it must be possible to understand what it means. […]


[T]here is no act this or any pope can perform which can free Catholics from the obligation to believe those truths of Faith and Morals which are taught infallibly by the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium.

Read the whole thing there, to get a fuller view.

____ Originally Published on: Dec 4, 2017

People who pay attention are pretty disturbed about this.  I was rather troubled.

I am less troubled now.

That doesn’t mean that this is over.

Ed Peters tries to untangle it.  HERE

On the appearance of the pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis

Some three months ago I predicted that Pope Francis’ letter to the Argentine bishops, approving their implementation of Amoris laetitia, would make its way into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Now it has. An accompanying note from Cardinal Parolin states that the pope wishes the Argentine document to enjoy “magisterial authority” and that his endorsement thereof  has the status of an “apostolic letter”.

Fine. Let’s work through some points. [Thank you!]


1. Canon 915.  [There it is.] It is crucial to understand that, today, what actually prevents ministers of holy Communion from distributing the Eucharist to divorced-and-remarried Catholics is Canon 915 and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received. Canon 915 and the fundamental sacramental and moral values behind it might be forgotten, ignored, or ridiculed, even by ranking officers in the Church, but unless and until that law is revoked or modified by papal legislative action or is effectively neutered by pontifically approved “authentic interpretation” (1983 CIC 16), Canon 915 stands and, so standing, binds ministers of holy Communion.Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law. Granted, little or nothing in these documents endorses or reiterates Canon 915, either, and the apparently studied silence that Canon 915 suffers these days is cause for deep pastoral concern. But law does not wilt under the silent treatment. [However…. We are living in an age when the Pope grants faculties to the SSPX – apparently – to receive sacramental confessions and validly absolve, even though there is no clear juridical document with clear language about just how that is.  He sort of mentions it, and, so let it be written, so let it be done.  And does law wilt?  I am thinking about how we got altar girls, etc.  Sure, eventually there was an “authentic interpretation” of the canon that dealt with who might substitute for an acolyte… but that only happened because the law withered.]

2. Apostolic letter. An “apostolic letter” is a sort of mini-encyclical and, however much attention encyclicals get for their teaching or exhortational value, they are not (with rare exceptions) legislative texts used to formulate new legal norms. Typically “apostolic letters” are written to smaller groups within the Church and deal with more limited questions—not world-wide questions such as admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion. Even where a special kind of “apostolic letter” is used to make changes to the law—such as John Paul II did in Ad tuendam fidem (1998), as Benedict did in Omnium in mentem (2009), or as Francis did in Magnum principium (2017)—the “apostolic letter” used in such cases carries the additional designation “motu proprio” (i.e., on the pope’s own initiative, and not in response to another’s action), and the changes made to the law thereby are expressly identified by canon number, not simply implied or surmised, especially not by silence. [Summorum Pontificum was an AP MP.]

The pope’s letter to the Argentines appears simply as an “apostolic letter”, not as an “apostolic letter motu proprio”, and it references no canons.

3. [NB] Authentic magisterium. Many people use the term “magisterium” as if it were tantamount to “Church governing authority”, but in its canonical sense “magisterium” generally refers to the Church’s authority to issue teachings on faith and morals, not to the Church’s authority to enforce discipline related to matters of faith and morals.  [A good distinction, but one that will be lost on libs, who are determined to find their own way in that uncertain mulligan stew of sort-of-law that is flowing.]

While Francis—albeit about as indirectly as is possible (through a memo to a dicastery official concerning a letter written by an episcopal conference)—has indicated that his letter to the Argentines and even the Argentine conference letter itself are “magisterial”, the fact remains that the content of any Church document, in order to bear most properly the label “magisterial”, must deal with assertions about faith and morals, not provisions for disciplinary issues related to faith and morals. [THERE IT IS.] Church documents can have both “magisterial” and “disciplinary” passages, of course, but generally only those teaching parts of such a document are canonically considered “magisterial” while normative parts of such a document are canonically considered “disciplinary”.

Francis has, in my opinion, too loosely designated others of his views as bearing “magisterial authority” (recall his comments about the liturgical movement), [Yes, we recall those comments.] and he is not alone in making, from time to time, odd comments about the use of papal power (recall John Paul II invoking “the fullness of [his] Apostolic authority” to update the by-laws of a pontifical think-tank in 1999).  [The Saint Pope also invoked his “Apostolic authority” when he “commanded” in his Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta that respect be shown to those who wanted the traditional Roman Rite and that bishops were to be generous in the application of existing laws.  That happened, right?   So, libs will not demand that this thingy be obeyed, even though is it less clear that John Paul’s requirement.]

But that inconsistent usage only underscores that the rest of us [because we are not psychics] must try to read such documents in accord with how the Church herself usually (I wish always, but I’ll content myself with “usually”) writes them, and ask, here, are there “magisterial” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aires document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes. Plenty, running the gamut from obviously true, through true-but-oddly-or-incompletely phrased, to a few that, while capable of being understood in an orthodox sense, are formulated in ways that lend themselves to heterodox understandings (and for that reason should be clarified for the sake of the common ecclesial good).  [If only some well-informed and competent Cardinals would submit a series of questions or dubia to the Holy Father….!]

In any case, such teaching statements, to the extent they make assertions about faith or morals and come from bishops and/or popes acting as bishops or popes, already enjoy thereby at least some (relatively little) level of ordinary magisterial value, a value not augmented by sticking the label “magisterial” on them.  [I’m not trying to be flippant here, sincerely.  However, the image of “lipstick” popped into my mind when I read that.]

And, are there “disciplinary” assertions in Amoris, the Buenos Aires document, and Francis’ endorsement letter? Yes, a few. [NB] But as I have said before, in my view, none of those rather few disciplinary assertions, even those ambiguous and capable therefore of leaving the door open to unacceptable practices, suffices to revoke, modify, or otherwise obviate Canon 915 which, as noted above, prevents the administration of holy Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics. [That’s it.  There it is.]

Conclusion. I wish that Canon 915 were not the sole bulwark against the abandonment of the Eucharist to the vagaries of individual, often malformed, consciences. [Wow.  A little scary, that.  So, HURRAY FOR 915!] I wish that a lively, pastorally-driven sense of the liberating permanence of Christian marriage, the universal need for Confession to reconcile those in grave sin, the power of the Eucharist to feed souls in the state of grace and to condemn those who receive irreverently, sufficed to make invocation of Canon 915 unnecessary in pastoral practice. But apparently, in much of the Catholic world these days, such is not the case and Canon 915 must be pointed to as if it were the only reason to bar reception of holy Communion in these situations.

But what can one say? Unless Canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.

Nothing I have seen to date, including the appearance of the pope’s and Argentine bishops’ letters in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, makes me think that Canon 915 has suffered such a fate.

And yet we all know that if a priest, or the rare bishop, sticks to what the Church has always said and done in these matters, soon he will be hanged in the sight of the mercy-wielding libs, who, in their mercy, will then mercifully slash open those priests, draw out their living guts, show them to them, in mercy, and then mercifully hack their limbs off for merciful distribution to the four corners of the diocese.

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  1. Antony says:

    Sigh. This is all well-and-good if the persons in question care a whit for the law, not to mention God’s will. If the persons in question show a propensity for caring not a bit about the latter, how is the former anything but an obstacle to be ignored? Pesky obstacles such as Canon Law are easily ignored when a person or group of persons has successfully cowed all of them who may offer up resistance. So the question is…I suppose…is there anyone left to oppose them, whether or not 915 is obeyed or ignored? Time will tell. At least Henry VIII had the decency to go ahead and try and formally change the law. Speaking of that…when Roper said he’d whack down all of the laws to get at the devil, he wasn’t thinking 21st century. Forget removing or changing the laws…just ignore them.

  2. Pharisee says:

    This pope isn’t trying to hide what he’s doing. He’s put it down on paper. Twice, AFAIK.

    Consider: if 150 years ago any bishop decided to make swingeing changes to the Mass, allow Communion in the hand, altar girls, sideline EENS, and then finish up with letting manifest public mortal sinners receive Communion, he’d have been packed off to an asylum run by steely nuns.

    Now, we merely argue the legalities.

    If I wasn’t Catholic myself, it’d be an interesting sociological study. As I am, it’s highly annoying.
    As a revert, I can tell you: outside the Church, there is only fog. It’s just the opacity that varies.

    I recall in my youth the priests seemed to be chasing after The People. As one of The Young People, I though this a little creepy.

    I know know that they should have steadied themselves, and lead them.

    We have veered too much into letting our religion become mainly literary. We need to regain the mystical element.

    Anyone who has felt Christ acting in their heart would know that letting manifest public sinners receive Holy Communion is a grave insult. It’s sacrilege to invite, nay, _force_ Christ to unite Himself with evil-doers, however briefly. It is also stupid.

    Someone more perspicacious than I wrote: If the divorced and remarried are allowed to public receive Communion it undermines the institutions of Marriage, Communion _and_ Confession. He might have said “blows up” instead of “undermines”. That fits too.

    I wonder how much is enough, before someone shouts “Enough!”

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    This greatly troubles me, as has do many of this Popes actions and inactions.

    However, I finally made it to a long overdue Confession yesterday.

    So it is still a good day today.

  4. jhayes says:

    Dr. Peters mentions Omnium in mentem (2009) as an example of how a teaching should be implemented. It’s worth noting that Omnium in mentem was issued in 2009 to update the Code of Canon Law to agree with a change John-Paul II had made many years before in the Catechism of the Cathllic Church (regarding the effect of Holy Orders on deacons).

    I don’t think that anyone has ever argued that J-P II’s decision published in the Catechism had no effect during all those years until Benedict issued Omnium in Mentem to revise the CIC to agree.

    Sometimes the CIC has to catch up with Papal teaching rather than announcing it.

  5. frmh says:

    I found this post offensive and annoying.
    Our opposition to the Pope proposing heretical novelties should not be by taking refuge behind Canon 915 because there is nothing to stop the Holy Father from overturning that, and then would your canon lawyer suddenly accept the wicked ideas of our pope?!

    This is the wrong angle. We oppose him because of the theology of sin and grace which his novelty undermines, not because of some article in canon law.


  6. Mike says:

    Bottom line: Current confusion about the Sacraments has been ratified; new confusion (about the Magisterium) has been introduced; clear, unambiguous teaching has been flouted; faithful clergy and laity have been given the back of the Vatican’s hand.

  7. Ave Crux says:

    Isn’t the overriding, frightening concern regarding the impact this will have on priests and the faithful (most of whom remain clueless concerning the particulars and the minutiae of canon law) is that very few will really pay attention to what orthodox canon lawyers say .

    It seems they (and even more now, some feeling obliged by this development) will simply cave before (or run with) the now pervasive impression that the troubling and heterodox applications of AL are here to stay and binding on the Universal Church, even if they’re not.

    We’ve been here before and it just keeps getting worse. Everyone who cared and was concerned said that AL did NOT overturn the Millennials old teaching of the Church, and yet Bishops conferences and individuals everywhere were interpreting it that it does.

    Now Pope Francis is taking it one step further and given them even more impetus and standing; and it seems that no amount of canon law precision is going to change the growing and lasting impact on the Church as a whole.

    Ambiguity and scandal does incredible damage to the Faith which no amount of precision by Canon lawyers can reverse in the minds of the vastly uneducated Catholics in the Church throughout the world.

    For this reason I am no less concerned and uneasy following Ed Peters’ analysis.

    In fact, the Vaticanista Tosatti has just reported (see link on Canon212 website, which appears to be down at the moment because of high traffic) that one of the Cardinals who helped elect Pope Francis was overheard having a shouting match with him about the fact that he is “shattering” the Church, not simply reforming it according to their liking.

    We are now in serious trouble…

  8. JARay says:

    I am delighted to read this clear exposition of the teaching and power of Canon 915. For me, the matter is closed. Long live Canon 915!

  9. LarryW2LJ says:

    I enjoyed reading Dr. Peter’s post. However, every time I travel on an Interstate Highway, the Speed Limit signs read “65 MPH”. I hope that Canon 915 will not be ignored like the Speed Limit signs seem to be.

    [“will not be ignored”? Too late for that, I think. Still, there it is, in the book. Staring at us.]

  10. nine man morris says:

    Ed Peters sounds like an abused woman – perpetually radiating a good, strong denial of his abuser. Perhaps he should have cooked the dinner or law-books better and he wouldn’t have those broken teeth…

    It seems like it’s the turtles of cowardice all the way down throughout the church, even down to the abused law-clerk.

    I am reminded of Hillary White’s comment about this pontificate made quite a while ago now, that, according to Foucault, the ultimate show of authority and dominance is to spout nonsense and have your victims too afraid to say, “What?!”

    [“What?!”, indeed.]

  11. Pingback: MONDAY CATHOLICA EXTRA II – Big Pulpit

  12. teomatteo says:

    I have wondered for some time now that our Pope has a long term vision which includes the reunification with the Orthodox. Probably not with the next pope or two but maybe 50 years from now. So… could his change signal to the Orthodox that we are heading towards a meeting of the minds on pastoral items of divorce and remarriage? Why is this ‘wonderment’ on my part so off? Francis handles this issue and the next guy gets calendars alligned and the next one- governance and then…..?

  13. Suzanne says:

    The thing is, no one knows Canon 915. How many priests know it? How many of them know that if the Pope tells them to give Communion to the divorced and remarried, Canon 915 is still on the books so, by law, he has to disobey the Pope? How long until someone, looking to embarrass the Church, will find the one young priest who actually knows Canon 915 and believes he should obey it, come to receive Communion from that young priest, and then horribly embarrass the priest in a public firestorm condemning the priest for refusing Communion to such a person? And how many bishops will back up the young priest? And besides, how does any priest of any age know what to obey? It would seem that obedience to the Pope would override obedience to a canon when the two are in conflict.

    And finally, what happens when Pope Francis removes Canon 915?

  14. TonyO says:

    It’s worth noting that Omnium in mentem was issued in 2009 to update the Code of Canon Law to agree with a change John-Paul II had made many years before in the Catechism of the Cathllic Church (regarding the effect of Holy Orders on deacons).

    JHayes, it is worth noting that effectively ALL of the recent popes have left something to be desired regarding their attention to following the law and making the laws effective, including Canon Law.

    For example, when Pope Paul instituted the new Mass via “implementing legislation” and the Missale Romanum, he neglected to be specific, detailed, and comprehensive about the status of the old Mass and whether the new law abrogated the old. This created a tremendous uproar, and a huge window for those who found the Novus Ordo revolting to point out – insistently – that since the old Mass had not been abrogated, priests could still say it. Pope Paul could have settled the question simply by coming out with a new legislative mandate expressly saying “permission to say the old Mass is hereby abrogated” and spelling it out comprehensively: who, when, how, what, etc. Did he do that? Or, he could have said, authoritatively and interpretively “no, we have not abrogated the old Mass…” Did he do that either? No, he spent 7 years or so dithering about, pretending that the issue didn’t NEED a clarification, and letting the troubles brew until a grievously wounded archbishop disobeyed Rome and ordained 4 bishops against direct orders, setting up a schism. All without need. All because of not paying attention to law.

    Worse, when Pope JPII inherited the problem, he had the power to solve the problem the same way, but he did not. Eventually, after more than a decade of nonsense, he (reportedly, anyway) appointed a commission of cardinals to discover whether the old Mass had been abrogated. I have never heard that their result was published, but some 12 years later Benedict, in HIS Motu proprio, effectively (but implicitly) settled the debate in favor of “no, it was not abrogated.” But JPII would have had 10 years to act on that conclusion, and did not. Or, if he felt that conclusion was wrong, he could have acted on that judgment. Or, if he felt that there was NO sure answer, he could have MADE a sure answer, by authoritatively decreeing that the old Mass either is, or is not, abrogated. He did none. This is not how to wield authority. This is a failure to respect the law.

    And virtually all of the recent popes have allowed penal laws to lapse of their proper effect. Hardly a heretic gets censured – even though there are heretics in the ranks of priests, bishops, and cardinals. Hardly any violation of the liturgical laws is censured – even when such nonsense is foisted upon a pope during one of his visits to foreign places, so he cannot but be aware of them. The enforcement of law is so lax, so ignored, that most people don’t even know there are penal laws that could be employed to reign in the abuses. This is not respect for the law.

    And lack of respect grows. We go from rulers who do little to rein in the liturgical abuses, to rulers who notably and willingly turn a blind eye to abuses right in front of them, to rulers who actually promote the stuff. The Vatican almost never regains lost ground, so gradually the protected territory shrinks, toward nothing – not even refusal to grant communion to manifest sinners is defended.

    God is a God of order. Love of the law is part of the love of God:

    O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day…

    I shall delight in Your commandments, Which I love…

    So that the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

  15. dans0622 says:

    jhayes: it would have been most interesting, and I would say applicable to the present topic, if the Catechism had said that the canonical form for marriage was binding on Catholics even if they had “formally defected” but the Code of Canon Law was left untouched, until Omnium in mentem was issued in 2009.


  16. VP says:

    The smoke of Saul Alinsky continues to pollute the sanctuary. Those canon lawyers, theologians, bishops, and priests who stand by Canon 915 are the personalized targets for attack, frozen in their intransigence, polarized against the merciful Church of the future. Those who drive events know that making Canon 915 totter might be enough to kill it in practice. Watch for them to turn up the public beatings of those who question AL’s (newfound) legitimacy as Church teaching. Clergy everywhere will soon find themselves under more and more pressure to take “pastoral” approaches with a confused laity. The Papal Wrecking Crew – makin’ a mess since 2013!

  17. Glennonite says:

    Boy, I am so very thankful to have your input on this seemingly unending mess. Thank you, Father…everyday.

  18. JonathanTX says:

    These are times when I am comforted by the Bux Protocol.

  19. Lurker 59 says:

    The Pope, being the supreme lawgiver, is not bound by Canon Law. The Pope is sovereign in this regard to the point that he need not chance the codified law before he acts in a way that is new, different, or opposed to it. The Pope need not change the Law before he changes the practice of the Church. That would make the Church constitutional not monarchical. The Law must, in fact, catch-up to his actions, as jhayes points out above. [If a Pope wants other to obey the laws he legislates, he does well not simply to ignore order and practice.]

    The Law catching up to Pope Francis, of course, will be the removal of Canon 915 in so far as it applies to divorce and remarriage. The groundwork is all there to do so, if it doesn´t already, because it is very much the manifest will of His Holiness that marital relations of a second marriage after a divorce without an annulment need not defacto bar one from the reception of the Eucharist.

    Does Canon 915 bind all the rest of the ministers of holy Communion. ONLY those who choose to follow the Law and not Pope Francis. Ed Peter´s argument is a great one, but Pope Francis has changed the game that we are playing. He has stacked the deck, while everyone was watching, so that now things are about those Pharisees who only care about the Law vs those that care about the human person especially in following the person of the Pope as he grants The Mercy^tm towards those who have been forgotten by the Law. That is how this is to be spun.

  20. Ave Crux says:

    The more I reflect on this post, the more it almost seems like discussing the laws of physics after an atom bomb is dropped and why certain structures are able to sustain that particular blast because they meet certain specs. Meanwhile, the radioactive fallout is coming down all around us.

    Let’s be honest, the radioactive fallout from this “Authentic Magisterium” move will be incalculable — far worse in the order of grace and the stability of the Church than a metaphysical atom bomb.

  21. Macgawd says:

    I appreciate Mr. Peters’ explanation that Pope Francis’ letter holds no force of law as long as Canon 915 remains intact, but this seems to me to be merely a semantic argument, and not a matter of practical application. It doesn’t really matter if Canon 915 remains intact if it is never enforced in practice. Is there any priest willing to risk the ire of their Bishop by invoking Canon 915 as they deny the Blessed Sacrament to those parishioners they know are living in manifest sin?

    Our parish priest is, under normal circumstances, very orthodox. Yet he still distributes Communion to those he (and everyone else) knows are living very public, adulterous lives. He does so because he knows that if he denies them the Sacraments, they will complain loudly to the Bishop, and he will be reprimanded and ordered to stop.

  22. billy15 says:

    I must admit, I was still a little confused after initially reading Dr. Peters’ essay, but after re-reading it with Fr. Z’s comments, it honestly made more sense. Still though, I’d like to throw the following out to you, Fr. Z, and to the other readers: Canon 915 is NOT “the sole bulwark against the abandonment of the Eucharist to the vagaries of individual, often malformed, consciences” who have civilly divorced and remarried, and live more uxorio. Please allow me, or rather Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., to explain…

    As I said, I was a bit confused when I was reading Dr. Peters’ essay. This was one of the portions in particular:

    “[I]n its canonical sense ‘magisterium’ generally refers to the Church’s authority to issue teachings on faith and morals, not to the Church’s authority to enforce discipline related to matters of faith and morals. …

    “[T]he fact remains that the content of any Church document, in order to bear most properly the label ‘magisterial’, must deal with assertions about faith and morals, not provisions for disciplinary issues related to faith and morals.”

    Now this made me pause for a second because I was recalling Fr. Harrison’s recent essay in “The Latin Mass” magazine entitled “Divorced and Invalidly Remarried Catholics: The Magisterial Tradition”. This exhaustive essay could be found divided into two parts in the Summer 2017 and Fall 2017 issues of the magazine. He notes that “this study [is] considering the dogmatic status of the traditional exclusion of those in question from the sacraments, arguing that this is in fact an infallibly proposed doctrine of the Church’s universal and ordinary magisterium.”

    So as I read Dr. Peters’ essay, I was scratching my head thinking, “How can the teaching regarding civilly divorced and remarried Catholics be infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium, as Fr. Harrison says, if Dr. Peters is claiming that withholding the Blessed Sacrament in such cases is a disciplinary matter?”

    Then I re-read Dr. Peters’ essay and noticed two things. First, it became clear to me that Dr. Peters is specifically talking about Canon 915. He is arguing that nothing in the Argentine Letter or AL has abrogated Canon 915, which not only covers those who live more uxorio, but people in many other cases. However, Dr. Peters notes that Canon 915 is the “only reason [we have] to bar reception of holy Communion in these situations”; that is, a situation in which the a civilly divorced and remarried person who lives more uxorio wishes to receive the Holy Eucharist.

    Second, I realized that Dr. Peters was not necessarily denying that this teaching of the Church (regarding the civilly divorced and remarried) does not fall under the umbrella of faith and morals. As Fr. Harrison notes, “the Latin term ‘mores’ includes more than just ‘morality’.

    Fr. Harrison’s essay lays out many examples where the Church infallibly taught, via her ordinary and universal magisterium, that those living more uxorio were to be withheld from receiving the Eucharist. This is the other avenue, besides Canon 915, in which one can defend the Church’s practice of withholding the Blessed Sacrament from the civilly divorced and remarried who live more uxorio. He notes the following:

    “The principle ‘once infallible, always infallible’ also needs to be kept in mind… [I]t should be obvious that if the requirement of agreement among bishops came to be fulfilled at ANY PREVIOUS time in Church history, along with the other conditions for infallibility, the teaching in question then ‘passed the point of no return’; it became set in stone – infallible and irreformable – from that moment onward. Hence, any SUBSEQUENT loss of consensus among the bishops about that teaching will not cause it to revert to a ‘fallible’ uncertain status.”

    So is this withholding of the Eucharist to such divorced and remarried couples a matter of mere discipline, or does this teaching explicitly fall into the category of faith and morals? Fr. Harrison points out that it is the latter. Remember I mentioned that the Latin “mores” covers more than just “morals”? I’ll quote Fr. Harrison at length here:

    “[I]t is important to recall that the Church’s infallibility is not limited to its primary object, which is the deposit of faith — the body of truths revealed by God (dogmas). Both Vatican Councils have made it clear that the charism of infallibility extends also to whatever teaching is necessary for ‘devoutly guarding and faithfully expounding’ this revealed deposit. …

    “In dealing with this point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church [citing Lumen gentium 25 and Mysterium Ecclesiae] add[s] a further clarification in order to rebut those recent theologians who have claimed that in questions of morality there are so many ‘grey areas’, nuances, and exceptions to ‘rules’ that the Church’s infallibility does not extend to moral teachings:

    “‘The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed’ (CCC 2035).

    “This explicit mention of ‘morals’ is not of course an innovation on the part of the Catechism, since the scope of the Church’s infallibility has always been taught (as is seen in the solemn definition of Vatican I) to be ‘doctrine of faith and morals’ (fides et mores). Moreover, the Latin term ‘mores’ includes more than just ‘morality’. For us English-speakers, ‘morals’ and ‘morality’ refer to ethical norms, most of which are part of the natural moral law as well as being handed down in Scripture and/or Tradition. We find them expounded, for instance, in Part III of the Catechism and in courses of ‘moral theology’. But in the context of the term fides et mores, fides means ‘faith’ in the narrow sense of speculative (purely intellectual) beliefs such as those we profess in the Creeds, while mores, in contrast, covers all practical, behavioral norms and customs that Catholics are to observe; and the Church can discern some of these customs or practices to be immutably necessary for integral Catholic living and so teach this fact infallibly. Examples of such infallibly enjoined practices that are not also part of the natural moral law would be the observance of Sunday instead of Saturday under the New Covenant, and the need for infant baptism.”

    I would love to post or scan uploads of the entire essay here, but I don’t know if that would be approved of as the magazine is subscription based. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the essay anywhere on the Internet. However, I hope this snippet at least proves that there IS another avenue, besides canon 915, to defend the teaching of the Church that prevents the civilly divorced and remarried living more uxorio from receiving the Blessed Sacrament, which, in turn, also defends ministers of Holy Communion who rightfully and mercifully withhold the Eucharist to such divorced and remarried persons.

    I do encourage everyone to read this essay, as many references of the ordinary and universal magisterium teaching this infallibly proposed doctrine are cited within it.

  23. Orlando says:

    He is right of course but this battle has already been lost. We have all been to Mass and witnessed divorced and remarried friends, neighbors, family , strangers go up for communion. It happens every day. It doesn’t make it right and all will be called to account one day but unfortunately I don’t see how we turn this tide. I wonder how many people sitting in the pews on Sunday at a typical N.O. Mass actually believe in the real Presence? Sadly we’ve become Mass attending Protestants .

  24. JabbaPapa says:

    I find myself having to make the following point again, and again, and again …

    The Argentine Bishops in their document described the giving of the Sacraments to those divorced-remarried making no effort towards penitence as being particularly scandalous.

    That a partial English translation of their document omitting this point point was thereafter widely circulated by the Press, which instead claimed that the Argentine Bishops were overtly permitting that which they were overtly condemning, is something that has turned out to be as destructive as it is false — notwithstanding that one particular Argentine Bishop who went completely off the rails in providing Communion for Adulterers.

  25. JabbaPapa says:

    TonyO :

    Pope Paul could have settled the question simply by coming out with a new legislative mandate expressly saying “permission to say the old Mass is hereby abrogated”

    No Pope has the power to do so, given that Pope Saint Pius V declared, in the Bull Quo Primum promulgating that Mass :

    Furthermore, by these presents [this law], in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used. Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See, as well as any general or special constitutions or edicts of provincial or synodal councils, and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemorial prescription – except, however, if more than two hundred years’ standing.

  26. iPadre says:

    I just think of the Holy Thursday Mandatum. There was a law, and it is no more.

  27. TonyO says:

    We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See,

    JabbaPapa, I have seen this quote from Quo Primum put forward many times. It never has persuaded me, because of much more basic principle of Church governance: in matters of discipline, jurisdiction and practice, no pope can bind another pope. The reason is in fact straightforward: every pope has exactly the same sort of authority as every other pope. Every pope who has the freedom to command X or not does so by the authority which allows him to command X or not command it. Since every other pope also has the authority to command it or not, no pope can constrain a future pope as to his own choice to command X or to decline to command it. And the same goes for forbidding X, of course. This is a general principle of the Church’s constitution: no pope binds a future pope (on matters of governance). What one pope commands, another can reverse.

    (One may either suppose that Pius was directing this to all lower authorities than that of Peter, or that he was saying something almost as empty as Francis’ declaration that the process of the reform of the Mass is “magisterial” – though it is hard to get as empty as that Francis-ian statement.)

    It may be – and I would love for it to be true – that Pope Saint Pius V was onto something important, namely, that the Mass of Trent (and 1,000 years of prior history) was a permanent value to the Church and there could never be a future Church in which that Mass was not a good and worthy mass. And I would love for his Bull to represent a prophecy that the Church would never entirely abrogate it, because of that permanent worthiness. And I would love it if the Holy Spirit, in His infinite wisdom, had deigned to make it so that no pope ever would attempt to abrogate it. Or even want to.

    And even if (though I do not think the hypothesis is possible) Pope Paul or Pope John Paul II could have said “of course the old Mass has never been abrogated, Quo Primum says it cannot be abrogated”, they never did bother to say that. They could have clarified the whole mess with one sentence, and they declined. Even Benedict chose only to go about it implicitly, and not by implying that the old Mass could never be abrogated by any possible pope, but only by implying that it never HAD been abrogated in actual fact. If in fact JPII had commissioned a group of cardinals (including Ratzinger) to study the problem, that was an awful lot of firepower for such a simple matter (if Quo Primum binds all future popes), and seemingly they found it difficult to locate such a simple answer.

  28. TonyO says:

    And, in fact, popes following Pius did in fact make changes to the Mass, though relatively minor ones. It did not remain exactly in the form Pius promulgated it, word for word without any modification whatsoever. This is because later popes had the authority to change it.

  29. Sam Schmitt says:

    The translation of the Argentine bishops’ document I read (#8) spoke of reception of communion being “particularly scandalous” with regard to the “unresolved injustices” concerning abandoned spouses and children, not the fact that they are living in more uxorio. The document explicitly mentions that reception of communion with those who have not received a declaration of nullity (#6). So there’s no getting around that the document makes provision for the d/r to receive communion without the resolve to live as brother and sister, even if it does mention the possibility of scandal in passing.

  30. Aquinas Gal says:

    But Father! But Father! Who cares about the law anyway! Just those rigid Pharisees and promethean Pelagians (or whatever they’re called).

  31. jhayes says:

    IPadre, as the USCCB notice explained at the time, Pope Francis determined that the ceremony needed to be changed to “better reflect the gesture Jesus performed.” Certainly, it was within his authority to make that change.

    Until 2016, the relevant rubric in the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the Roman Missal indicated that “The men who have been chosen [viri selecti] are led by the ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place.” Henceforth that text will read “Those who are chosen from among the people of God are led by the ministers to seats prepared in a suitable place.” In the Ceremonial of Bishops, this same text is also modified, as well as a rubric describing the items necessary for the Holy Thursday Mass: “seats for the men chosen” is changed to “seats for those chosen.”

    Pope Francis explained in his decision that he had been reflecting on the foot-washing ritual for some time, and determined that it needed to better reflect “the significance of the gesture Jesus performed in the Upper Room, giving himself ‘to the very end’ for the salvation of the world, his boundless charity.” To that end, he ordered that the rubrics be modified to permit participants for the rite to be chosen “from among all members of the People of God,” and likewise insisted that those who are chosen receive an explanation of the meaning of the ceremony.


  32. acardnal says:

    “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. ” Seems clear to me.

  33. Suzanne says:

    @JabbaPapa, the problem with the statement on “scandalous behavior” is not the fault of the media. It’s the fault of the authors, and it is a scandal that this faulty teaching should be proposed as binding on the faithful. This is the part of the letter that addresses “scandalous” behavior:

    8. It is always important to guide people to stand before God with their conscience, and for this the “examination of conscience” proposed by Amoris laetitia 300 is very helpful, specifically in relation to “how did they act towards their children” or the abandoned partner. Where there are unresolved injustices, providing access to sacraments is particularly scandalous.

    It’s hard to know where to begin with this recommendation. A person who abandons his spouse and does not reunite with that spouse is guilty of a grave unresolved injustice to his spouse and children. The abandonment is exactly what the injustice is. Yet these guidelines, and the Pope’s apparent intentions, are to allow the person guilty of that injustice to receive Holy Communion while the injustice remains unresolved. These bishops are not condemning this behavior. They are saying that we will all pretend the injustice just disappeared, or maybe they think that if we call it an injustice, we have thereby resolved it. There is no logic whatsoever in this whole mess.

  34. JabbaPapa says:

    TonyO :

    JabbaPapa, I have seen this quote from Quo Primum put forward many times. It never has persuaded me, because of much more basic principle of Church governance: in matters of discipline, jurisdiction and practice, no pope can bind another pope

    This is untrue.

    Quite apart from which, the promulgation of a Rite of the Holy Mass is NOT just a matter of “discipline, jurisdiction and practice”.

  35. JabbaPapa says:

    Sam Schmitt :

    The translation of the Argentine bishops’ document I read (#8) spoke of reception of communion being “particularly scandalous” with regard to the “unresolved injustices” concerning abandoned spouses and children, not the fact that they are living in more uxorio.

    I have yet to see a decent translation of that document.


    5) Cuando las circunstancias concretas de una pareja lo hagan factible, especialmente cuando ambos sean cristianos con un camino de fe, se puede proponer el empeño de vivir en continencia. Amoris laetitia no ignora las dificultades de esta opción (cf. nota 329) y deja abierta la posibilidad de acceder al sacramento de la Reconciliación cuando se falle en ese propósito

    So the divorced & remarried are to be asked to live in continence, and might be able to go to Confession if they should fail to live up to that engagement

    6) En otras circunstancias más complejas, y cuando no se pudo obtener una declaración de nulidad

    This is code-language for certain very difficult circumstances where a person, initially divorced against his or her will, cannot obtain an annulment for pure reasons of hostility by the spouse, and who has nevertheless rebuilt his or her own life around a second more solid marriage. And others similarly difficult, where an adulterous situation may not be the sole fault of the person.

    Here, there’s certainly a shift towards the Eastern Orthodox position on these questions, but it still does not constitute a eucharistic free-for-all.

    And indeed : 7) Pero hay que evitar entender esta posibilidad como un acceso irrestricto a los sacramentos, o como si cualquier situación lo justificara.

    As for : 8) Siempre es importante orientar a las personas a ponerse con su conciencia ante Dios, y para ello es útil el “examen de conciencia” que propone Amoris laetitia 300, especialmente en lo que se refiere a “cómo se han comportado con sus hijos” o con el cónyuge abandonado. Cuando hubo injusticias no resueltas, el acceso a los sacramentos es particularmente escandaloso.

    Sorry, but I think you’re misreading it.

    That questions of a penitent’s attitudes towards any children and towards the former spouse should form an important part of the “examen de conciencia” in such cases is indubitable, but “Cuando hubo injusticias no resueltas, el acceso a los sacramentos es particularmente escandaloso.” is a separate sentence, and the state of being in a situation of permanent adultery towards one’s legal Catholic spouse in any case most certainly constitutes an “unresolved injustice”.

    But think about what the sentence means on its own — it means that all situations of unresolved injustice are particularly scandalous if they should be associated with the reception of the Sacraments. Therefore, situations of permanent adultery wherein adulterers receive the Sacraments are particularly scandalous.

    It clearly means that Reception of the Sacraments is dependent on the absence of injustice, and not just in relation to the two examples of injustice provided.

  36. JabbaPapa says:

    TonyO :

    no pope can bind another pope

    The actual canonical discipline is that no Pope is bound by the decrees of his future successors, and that it is unlawful for Catholics to presume that any of the present Canon Laws can be ignored because of a conviction that a future Pope will revoke them.

    Popes in the past, then, do not retroactively become lawbreakers if a Pope in the present might declare that some Acts that they may have engaged in are contrary to the Law.

    As for the subjection of the individual monarchs in a Monarchy to the Authority of The Monarch (including the subjection of Jorge Bergoglio as an individual to the Pontifical Authority of Pope Francis), there are subtleties to this question frequently misunderstood by those never having lived under the Rulership of a Monarch.

  37. JabbaPapa says:

    TonyO :

    And, in fact, popes following Pius did in fact make changes to the Mass, though relatively minor ones. It did not remain exactly in the form Pius promulgated it, word for word without any modification whatsoever. This is because later popes had the authority to change it.

    Quo Primum states that Quo Primum cannot be revoked, and since Quo Primum promulgates a Rite of the Mass, that promulgation therefore cannot be revoked.

    As for subsequent changes to that Rite of the Mass, the Council of Trent specifically and overtly declared this possibility as a power of the Roman Pontiff.

  38. Ave Crux says:

    Here is a very helpful article on the error of legal positivism in this matter and within the Church, especially during this time of crisis:


  39. JabbaPapa says:

    Thank you, Ave Crux.

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