Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Liturgical law of the church

I have often been baffled by the seeming variations in the way the Holy Mass is celebrated in different churches and by different priests. Being a lawyer myself, I have wondered if Church Law did not regulate this very public and doubtless important ceremony. My legal mind tells me that in the same way that the State enforces certain procedures in the public domain—e.g., traffic rules, labor laws, industrial laws, banking laws—the Church as a community of believers must have laws regarding public worship and sacraments. Can you please explain this to me?

Sacred Liturgy and Liturgical Actions

Vatican II affirmed that it is through the liturgy or the public worship of the Church that “the work of our redemption is exercised” and that the liturgy is “the outstanding means by which the faithful can express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.2). Therefore, the Council concludes, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her powers flow” (SC, n.10).

What is liturgy? The Code of Canon Law gives the following definition:
Can. 834, §1. The Church fulfills its office of sanctifying in a special way in the sacred liturgy, which is indeed the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ; in it through sensible signs the sanctification of humankind is signified and effected in a manner proper to each of the signs and the whole of the public worship of God is carried on by the mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and the members.
§2. This worship takes place when it is carried out in the name of the Church by persons lawfully deputed and through acts approved by the authority of the Church.

From the above, the following essential elements of a liturgical action can be deduced, the last three of which can be classified as veritable canonical requirements:
1) An exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ—which is a fundamental element of the liturgy. Thus, when a priest consecrates the Eucharist, Christ is present in the person of the minister; when the confessor absolves, it is Christ who forgives sins; when a faithful baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes.
2) The use of sensible signs, which both signify and effect the sanctification of mankind. In this regard, it is important to comment that the liturgical sign should keep close relation with the sanctification that it signifies (to the exclusion of the vulgar and the inane).
3) The public worship of God is carried out by the whole Mystical Body—i.e., it is offered in the name of the Church. Thus, c.837, §1 states: Liturgical actions are not private actions but celebrations of the Church itself, which is “the sacrament of unity”…therefore liturgical actions pertain to the whole body of the Church and manifest and affect it….
4) The actions are approved by the authority of the Church. Thus, c.846 explicitly establishes: §1. The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore no one on personal authority may add, remove or change anything in them.
§2. The ministers are to celebrate the sacraments according to their own rite.
5) The actions are carried out by persons lawfully deputed—a deputation that is different, as previously mentioned, from that enjoyed by all the faithful by virtue of baptism, which is a sharing in the common priesthood mentioned in c.836 and described by Vatican II.

Canon Law and Sacred Liturgy

Is there a Place for Liturgical Norms in Canon Law?
The greater systematic autonomy given to liturgico-sacramental norms in the present Code shows, on the one hand, the deeper understanding of the munera Ecclesiae as a reflection and participation in the munera Christi. In effect, the munus docendi (teaching office of the Church) and the munus sanctificandi (sanctifying office of the Church) are the two great functions of the Church, at the service of which is the munus regendi (the governing office). In effect, such a systematic emphasis on the canonical discipline of sacred liturgy shows an acknowledgment of the insufficiency of the proclamation of the Word of God alone. The Church also has the fundamental mission of carrying out the salvation that it proclaims “through the sacrifice and the sacraments around which revolves the whole liturgical life” (SC, 6).

On the other hand, in contrast to the Code of 1917 which separated worship from sacramental activity, the present Code starts from the doctrinal principle that liturgy—at the center of which are the sacraments—is simultaneously an act of worship and an act of sanctification: through it “God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified” (SC, 7).

Finally, a recent Instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship points out that the finality of the liturgical norm is not only to avoid errors, but above all and precisely to unify efforts in the transmission of the truth.[1] In this regard, the liturgical norm finds its reason in the double quality of any liturgical act—i.e., they are public (of the community, of the Church), and they express the faith.

Is there a Liturgical Law?
We have to distinguish between two phenomena:
a) Ritual or Ceremonial Law (ius in re liturgica), which deals with properly liturgical norms—i.e., those whose object is the carrying out of what is signified by the liturgical acts and making them more dignified and fruitful. This includes everything relative to the rites and ceremonies with which the liturgy is celebrated, the contents of Ordos, Rituals and other liturgical books. The liturgy and the sacraments have always enjoyed a certain systematic normative autonomy at the margin of the CIC. Thus c.2 declares: For the most part the Code does not define the rites which are to be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. For this reason current liturgical norms retain their force unless a given liturgical norm is contrary to the canons of the Code.
b) Liturgical Law (ius de re liturgica), which deals with the validity of liturgical acts and the juridic capacity to act of the different subjects. In other words, it deals with the canonical discipline (i.e., contained in the CIC) insofar as it affects liturgical and sacramental acts and other acts of cult.

Summary of Liturgical Law

Liturgical actions are not private actions but are celebrations of the whole Church—i.e., the People of God united and ordered under the guidance of the bishops. This public character of liturgical actions, as well as their intimate connection with the principles of the Faith, constitute the ratio legis on which is based the exclusive competence of the ecclesiastical authority in the regulation of all matters regarding the liturgy. Thus, the whole of liturgical law can be summarized in the following principles:

1) Principle of Substantial Unity. This is premised on the distinction between changeable and unchangeable (immutable) elements of the liturgy: immutable elements are those which depend on the foundational will of Christ—e.g., the substance of the sacraments and whatever is more directly related to that substance; changeable elements are those which do not belong or are not directly related to the substance of the sacraments. The principle is enunciated as follows: “By virtue of it pastoral authority, [the Church] can ordain what may be useful for the good of the faithful, according to the circumstances, times and places. But it does not have any power to change what pertains to the will of Christ, which is what constitutes the immutable part of the Liturgy.” [2]

2) Principle of Centralization. This reinforces the previous principle, and is contained in c.838:
—§1. The supervision of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, which resides in the Apostolic See and, in accord with the law, the diocesan bishop (c.838, §1).
—§2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish the liturgical books, to review their translations into the vernacular languages and to see that liturgical ordinances are faithfully observed everywhere.

Thus, the following are reserved to the Holy See:
1º All that refers to the validity of the sacraments (c.841).
2º All that refers to the licitud of the sacraments the regulation of which the Holy See has not decentralized to the Episcopal Conferences and to the diocesan Bishops.
3º The edition of liturgical books (c.383, 2).
4º Recognition of versions of liturgical books in the vernacular (c.383, 2).
5º Vigilance over the fulfillment of the universal liturgical norms everywhere (c.383, 2).

3) Principle of Liturgical Elasticity: Inculturation. A complementary principle underlies the fact that the rituals in force do not impose uniformity, but rather permits the use of different forms for celebrating, which are expressions of the richness of the liturgy of the Church. They are at the service of the pastoral function of the liturgy of stimulating and increasing the sense of Christ among the faithful (cf. IGMR, n.313). A particular application of this principle is what has come to be known as inculturation—i.e., the incidence of the different cultures of peoples in whatever is fitting to better express the inexhaustible riches of Christ, provided that it is compatible with the Gospel and does not contradict ecclesial communion.

A different matter is the exaggerated adaptation of the liturgical norms to more specific and even simply personal circumstances—e.g., not to wear all the vestments for Mass on a warm day—under the guise of a misunderstood principle of contextualization. The Holy See has outlawed such “experimentation, unless it counts with the expressed authorization of the Holy See”.[3]

5) Principle of Decentralization. The ecclesiology of Vatican II, which re-emphasized the particular Churches and the dignity of the diocesan Bishops, opened a wide margin for Particular Law in the matter of liturgy. Thus, after establishing the aforementioned principles, the rest of c.838 enumerates the different competencies, corresponding to the need for a certain plurality of liturgical forms, in accordance with the different mentalities and traditions of different peoples (cf. SC, 37-39). This is channeled through:
a) Primarily the Episcopal Conferences: It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare translations of the liturgical books into the vernacular languages, with the appropriate adaptations within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves, and to publish them with the prior review by the Holy See (c.838, §3). The Instruction Varietates legitimae gave further indications on the ambit of this power of the Episcopal Conference and the procedure for its exercise (nn.55 & 66-67).
b) Secondarily the Diocesan Bishop: It pertains to the diocesan bishop in the church entrusted to him, within the limits of his competence, to issue liturgical norms by which all are bound.(c.838, §4).

6) Principle of Full and Active Participation of the Faithful. Of less juridic impact than the foregoing principles is one which is latent in the whole liturgical renewal ushered in by Vatican II, and that is the desire for the full and active participation of all the faithful in the liturgy, each one according to his state and condition.

[1] SCDW, Varietates legitimae (25.I.1994), n.2: in AAS, 87 (1995), 288-314; L’Osservatore Romano, 30.III.1994; Monitor Ecclesiasticus, 121 (1996), 141-158; Ecclesia, 54 (1994), 1056-1066; Notitiae, 30 (1994).
[2] SCDW, Instruction Varietates legitimae, 25.I.1994, n.26.
[3] SCDW, Instruction Varietates legitimae, 25.I.1994, n.66.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Obligation to do the Liturgy of the Hours

I am a secular priest and my ministry takes me to rural areas often. When I travel, I sometimes neglect the breviary due to the hectic and irregular schedules I am not in control of. When I am away and forced to squeeze in so much activity in so little a time, it’s impossible to stick to the prayer schedule I follow in the parish. I tried bringing along the slim “Christian Prayer” but even that would remain untouched during my rural sorties. During a retreat, the visiting retreat master “ dispensed” me from regularly praying the breviary when I am traveling. My fellow diocesan priests, however, are not of same mind on this. What does Canon Law really stipulate?

The Liturgy of the Hours or Breviary

The Code of Canon Law gives a concise theological description of the liturgy of the hours (commonly called The Divine Office or more briefly the breviary):
Can.1173 ¾ Fulfilling the priestly function of Christ, the Church celebrates the liturgy of the hours. In the liturgy of the hours, the Church, hearing God speaking to his people and recalling the mystery of salvation, praises him without ceasing by song and prayer and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.

The Second Vatican Council dedicated the whole Chapter IV of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (4.XII.1963) to The Divine Office, and the following quotations from the document provides us with a fuller theological understanding of the matter:
--The divine office, in keeping with ancient Christian tradition, is so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God (n.84).
--Hence all who take part in the divine office are not only performing a duty for the Church, they are also sharing in what is the greatest honor for Christ’s Bride; for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church, their Mother (n.85).
--The divine office, because it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of piety and a nourishment for personal prayer. For this reason, priests and others who take part in the divine office are earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it (n.90).
--Pastors of souls (i.e., parish priests and chaplains) should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity too are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually (n.100).
--In accordance with the age-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office. But in individual cases the Ordinary has the power to grant the use of a vernacular translation to those clerics for whom the use of Latin constitutes a grave obstacle to their praying the office properly (n.101, 1).

The Obligation to Recite the Liturgy of the Hours

The liturgy of the hours is the public prayer of the whole Church, and all the faithful are deputed to celebrate it. In other words, as Vatican II explained, when a Catholic faithful prays the breviary, he or she is doing so in the name of the whole Church, such that in all hours a clamor or prayer and praise rises up to the Heavenly Father from the Bride of Christ, which is the Church. However, the different ranks of the Catholic faithful are called to celebrate this liturgy in different degrees of obligatority, as expressed in c.1174 of the Code:
Can.1174, ¾ §1. Clerics are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours according to the norm of c.276, §2, n.3; members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, however, are bound according to the norm of their constitutions.
¾ §2. Other members of the Christian faithful, according to circumstances, are also earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church.

1) Those who have received Holy Orders (i.e., clerics or sacred ministers) ¾ are obliged according to c.276, §2, n.3:
--Priests as well as deacons aspiring to the priesthood are obliged to fulfill the liturgy of the hours daily in accordance with the proper and approved liturgical books;
--Permanent deacons, however, are to do the same to the extent it is determined by the Conference of Bishops.

2) Members of institutes of consecrated life (and by extension this applies, mutatis mutandis, to the so-called secular- or third-orders or tertiaries of such institutes) and societies of apostolic life (which Canon Law equiparates to institutes of consecrated life) ¾ are only bound according to the norm of their constitutions.

3) Other members of the Christian faithful (and this includes the laity) ¾ are only earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church.

What of our busy parish priest with rural pastoral work?

In the case of an ordained minister, the obligation to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours is laid down as a serious obligation, although the norm does not affect all the hours equally: it affects principally the Morning Prayer (lauds) and the Evening Prayer (vespers), which they should not omit except for a grave cause.

According to a 1987 rescript of the then Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, the individual cleric may resort to epieikeia in individual cases of real imposibility.[1] Among the possible exempting reasons is of course the legitimate dispensation by the competent ecclesiastical authority, since the obligation to celebrate the liturgy of the hours is not of divine law but rather of ecclesiastical law. In this case, the legitimate authority is the cleric’s proper Ordinary, not just any retreat master or confessor. Furthermore, there exists a possibility of substituting the liturgy of the hours with other prayers, according to what is expressly laid down by one’s proper Ordinary.

But more than what is laid down by strict juridic obligation, perhaps the busy and traveling cleric might do well to consider the very purpose of the liturgy of the hours and his own vocation to sanctify the temporal realities as a priest. In effect, might not such a hectic schedule¾which prevents him from even praying the major parts of the breviary¾be tantamount already to activism? Might it not be already yet another case of getting too busy in the vineyard of the Lord, and neglecting the more fundamental duty of loving and praising the Lord of the vineyard¾which is what the breviary is all about? In the end, when there is genuine love, such will be expressed in many ways other than the strict celebration of the liturgy of the hours¾and that is what the interior life is all about.

[1] Ref. Notitiae, 249 (1987), p.250.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alienation of Church Property

I am a member of the Knights of Columbus in a city in northern Mindanao. Back in the late 1950s, the diocese—through a verbal contract with the Bishop—ceded to the Knights of Columbus chapter of our city a small lot close to the parish church (now the Cathedral) on which to build our multi-purpose hall. The K of C immediately built a two-storey structure, housing our little office and meeting halls. This structure has served us well, and was even used as temporary classrooms by a catholic college which burnt down in the early 1960s. A few years ago, the bishop—now we have a new one—decided to sell the property for much-needed funds. While we understand the financial needs of the diocese, the K of C also thought we at least have the right of first refusal to the sale of that lot, at fair market value, considering all the years we had been on it and the improvements we had built on it. To our dismay, the sale was concluded even before we were informed. Perhaps it might be too late now to stop the sale, but for whatever it is worth to your readers, can the diocesan bishop really just sell Church properties?

The pertinent provisions of the Universal Law for the alienation of Church property are contained in cc.1291, 1292, §§1-2, 1293 of the Code; c.1296 contains the provision for redress of a possibly unlawful alienation.

Notion of Alienation of Ecclesiastical Property

Can.1291 establishes the general principle: The permission of the authority competent by law is required for the valid alienation of goods which, by lawful assignment, constitute the stable pat­rimony of a public juridic person, whenever their value exceeds the sum determined by law.

Alienation consists in transferring full ownership of goods to a third person by an act inter vivos—whether onerously (e.g., a sale) or gratu­itously (a donation). Therefore the following would be included in this concept: buying and selling, donations, exchanges, credit transfers, etc. We have to note that the stable patrimony of a public ju­ridic person (the only one whose goods are considered to be ecclesi­astical) cannot be confused or identified with immovable goods, although logically the latter is part of the former. Stable patrimony would rather include all goods required by the public juridic person to achieve its proper institutional purposes—i.e., it would also include the goods without which the public juridic person could not exist or adequately achieve the purpose for which it was created. In fact, moveable goods, equities, money in­vested in fixed assets, etc., could also be included in the concept, pro­vided that they were permanently allocated to provide for the needs and purposes of the juridic person in question.

This canon specifies that such goods must form the stable patrimony by lawful assignment—i.e., they must be goods whose stability or attachment to the stable pat­rimonial fund of the juridic person has been determined by its own stat­utes or by its competent bodies, or, if applicable, by lawful authority or by law.

Competent Authority for Granting Permission
to Alienate Ecclesiastical Goods.

The ecclesiastical authority competent to grant permission for the alienation of ecclesiastical property is a function of the value of the said property, as outlined in the first two sections of c.1292 as follows:

— §1. With due regard for the prescription of c.638, §3 (case for Institutes of Consecrated Life), when the value of the goods whose alienation is proposed is within the range of the minimum and maximum amounts which are determined by the Conference of Bishops for its region, the competent authority is determined in the group’s own statutes when it is a question of juridic persons who are not subject to the diocesan bishop; otherwise, the competent authority is the diocesan bishop with the consent of the finance council, the college of consultors and the parties concerned. The diocesan bishop also needs their consent to alienate the goods of the diocese.

— §2. The permission of the Holy See is also required for valid alienation when it is a case of goods whose value exceeds the maximum amount, goods donated to the Church through a vow, or goods which are especially valuable due to their artistic or historical value.

Cutting through the legal jargon, what Canon Law establishes is that permission is required for the valid alienation of Church property if the value of such property falls below, within or above a certain range to be determined by the Episcopal Conference (and approved by the Holy See). For the Philippines, the CBCP has set the following norms:[1]

1) The permission of the diocesan bishop, acting with the consent of the finance council, the board of consultors and interested parties, is needed whenever the values of the goods to be alienated is between the minimum US $20,000 or its peso equivalent and the maximum US $100,000 or its peso equivalent.
2) If the value of the goods is between US $10,000 and US $20,000 or its peso equivalent, the diocesan bishop should hear the finance council and the board of consultors for a valid transaction.
3) The permission of the Apostolic See is required for validity:
a) whenever the value of the transaction exceeds the maxi­mum set by the episcopal conference for the region, i.e., US $100,000;
b) if it is a case of alienation of something given to the church by a reason of a vow, or objects which are precious by reason of their artistic or historical significance (c.1292, §1), regardless of their monetary value.

The norms set by the Episcopal Conference do not apply to alienation cases of religious institutes, for whom the maximum amount is fixed by the Apostolic See for each region. For the validity of an alienation which value is below the maximum set by the Apostolic See, the written permission of the competent superior is required, which can only be given with the consent of the respective council (c. 638,3).

Invalid Alienation and Possible Action

In all the above cases—i.e., when it is a case of alienating goods belonging to the stable patrimony of the public juridic person by lawful assign­ment, and when the value of the goods is greater than the lawfully estab­lished value, the permission to be granted by the competent authority is expressly required for the act of alienation to be valid. Therefore, if alien­ation were completed without permission, the transaction would be in­valid and null as a matter of law (c. 10).

In addition, c.1377 provides for imposing a just penalty upon any person responsible for alienation with­out the required permission. That person would normally be the Ad­ministrator, but in cases where the permission required exceeds the authority of the Local Ordinary—i.e., permission required is from the Holy See—it could happen that even the diocesan Bishop could be the one charged.

The Need to Update the Valuation Limits for the
Alienation of Ecclesiastical Property.

Since the above provisions were based on a Rescript from the Sacred Congregation of Bishops issued in 1984, and the value of the PHP vs. USD has changed since then, it has been asked whether the CBCP can suggest new valuation limits to the Holy See to amend the above provisions. Furthermore, it has also been asked if the adjustment could simply be made based on the inflation of the USD, or should it be based on the inflation of the PHP (and just translate to USD equivalent). I asked some economics experts at the University of Asia & the Pacific this question in 2006, and they came up with the following analysis:

Method 1: Get the 2006 values of the valuation limits originally given in 1984 USD based on inflation of the USD. Then translate to peso equivalent.

Method 2: Get the 1984 peso equivalent of the valuation limits originally given in 1984 USD, then get the 2006 value of that peso equivalent based on the inflation of the peso.

Conclusion: Both methods yielded similar results, and rounding upwards, the recommended valuation limits are as follows:

Valuation in 1984 Recommended Valuation in 2006
USD 10,000 PHP 1,000,000
USD 20,000 PHP 2,000,000
USD 100,000 PHP 10,000,000

[1] Ref. CBCP, Complementary Norms of the Code of Canon Law, given the RECOGNITIO by the Sacred Congregation for Bishops (Decretum, Prot. n.35/84, 27.IX.1985).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crime and Punishment in the Church

Every now and then, one hears or reads about abusive behavior on the part of ecclesiastics—from sexual misbehavior of sacred ministers or mishandling of parish funds to disobedience to lawful authority. Less frequently, one also hears of less-than-Christian actuations of the lay members of the Church—from intrigues in the parish pastoral council to outright mudslinging among factions in lay associations or movements. In all of these instances, one gets the impression that the Church authorities seem to be helpless to force people to toe the line.Is there such a thing as Penal Law in the Church?

Ecclesiastical Penal Law and the Mystery of the Church

In a perfect world, the ideal of the Church would imply that the faithful submit to ecclesiastical discipline, in order to attain freely and in an orderly manner the end of the Mystical Body. In that case, there would seem to be no need for a Penal Law in the Church. However, the reality of sin and man’s fallen nature makes it necessary to have some means of coercion, without which it would not be possible to maintain order within the ecclesial society. Hence, there exists a Penal Law, as part of Canon Law, whereby certain actions are typified as criminal and proportionate sanctions are likewise established.

The need and justification of punitive sanction are con­tained by direct implication in the correct concept of law it­self. A system of law lacking such sanction would prove ineffective in practice, defeating its own primary purpose of self-enforcement. Those in charge of the common good must be armed with coercive as well as legislative and judiciary powers, for they govern and direct free, rational agents, whose complex nature responds not only to the dictate of reason but also to threat and punishment.

Justification for the ius poenandi in the Church

Several theories have been proposed to justify the punitive right (ius poenandi) of Church authority:
1) Defense of the Juridic Order. The ultimate justifica­tion of penalty is the same as that of Law: The need to maintain the juridic order, without which society (civil or ecclesial) would be impossible. Traditionally, punishment had been justified by three purposes:
a) Retribution of the damaged juridic order. Punishment aims to redress the disorder introduced by the offense, by depriving the offender of a good of a proportionate degree to that which was suffered by the offended, or—in the ultimate analysis—by the society. Hence, the punishment must be commensurate to the gravity of the offense. In any case, retribution cannot be confused with revenge.
b) Reformation of the offender. Since society is for man (not vise-versa), when society inflicts punishment, it must redound to the good of individual man. Thus, punishment must contribute to the correction of the offender, giving him a chance to change for the better. The first two ends of punishment are succinctly summarized by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the following terms: Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorders introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (n.2266).
c) Deterrence for future offenses. Punishment must deter crime, and it does so to the extent that the severity of the punishment produces fear, which hinders one from committing a crime. Thus, a successful deterrent must be a psychologically effective threat.

2) Perfect-Society Ecclesiology. A perfect society needs a coercive power in order to protect its juridic order against those who may want to disturb or destroy it from within. Since the Church is a perfect society, it needs such power.

3) Magisterium of John Paul II. In an address to the Roman Rota (17.II.1979), John Paul II gave the ultimate justifica­tion for the ius poenandi in the Church: “In the image of a Church which safeguards the rights of every faithful, and which—even more—fosters and protects the common good as an indispensable condition for the integral development of the human and Christian person, penal law is positive­ly included. The penalty inflicted by the ecclesiastical authori­ty (which in reality only acknowledges the situation in which the subject has placed himself) should be recognized as an instrument of communion, i.e., as a means to recover those deficiencies of the individual good and of the common good arising from whatever anti-ecclesial, delictive and scandalous behavior of some members of the people of God.”

Legal Declaration of the Existence of a Ius poenandi in the Church

The Code of Canon Law limits itself to declaring firmly the existence of the ius poenandi in the Church, leaving the question of its justification to Canonical doctrine. In sum, we can quote the following legal texts:
1) The Preface of the Codex states: As an external, visible and independent society, the Church cannot renounce penal law.
2) Can.1311 further declares: The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faith­ful by means of penal sanctions.

From the above-mentioned legal texts, we can conclude the following characteristics of the ius poenandi in the Church:
1) Foundation. The foundation of the ius poenandi in the Church is the damage to the ecclesial public order inflicted by the delinquent action.
2) Finality. The primary end of penalty is the restoration of the perturbed order (common good) and the correction of the offender (particular good).
3) Measure. The measure of the ius poenandi is twofold:
(i) The salus animarum, which is the ultimate preten­sion of the whole canonical order (c.1752); and more specifi­cally the salus animae of the offender himself. This means that the degree and kind of punishment must look at the good of souls in general and even the good of the offender in particular.
(ii) The social harm caused by the delictive act, or equivalently the restoration of the public order which is the immanent common good of the ecclesial society.

Principles of Canonical Penal Law

The Preface of the Codex affirms: As an external, visible and independent society, the Church cannot renounce penal law. However, penalties are generally to be ferendae sententiae and are to be remitted only in the external forum. Latae sententiae penalties are to be reduced to a few cases, and are to be in­flicted only for the most serious offenses. From this, we can deduce the following principles regarding the Penal Law of the Church:

1) Principle of External Forum: The potestas poenandi arises in the Church in the external forum, distinguishing it from that other exercise of the power of the keys in the internal forum proper of the sacrament of Penance. This is a clear departure from the CIC 17, where the confes­sor played a significant penal role in certain theoretically extraordinary situations (cf. CIC 17, cc.2252-2254; 2290), which practically speaking became increasingly ordinary.

2) Principle of Legality: Simply stated, in general penalties should be imposed only after due process, implying previous typification of the delictive behavior by law. Even in the case of penalties latae sententiae (i.e., automatic penalties), such can only be inflicted only in few cases and only for the most serious offenses (again implying previous typification of such cases by law). Nulla poena sine lege—“No penalty without law”—is a modern principle, based on human dignity.

3) Principle of Discretionality: As a counterpoint to the previous principle, c.1399 maintains the principle enshrined in the former c.2222, which stated that the Superior could inflict a just penalty even in the case of violation of a law which does not carry a penal sanction, if such violation implies special seriousness or scandal. This was an old principle, based on the idea of power of legitimate authority.

4) Principle of Subsidiarity: While certain universal norms are deemed necessary for a proper application of penal law throughout the Latin Church, the principle of subsidiarity calls for increased legislative competence for other Church authorities below the level of the Holy See. Thus, aside from the obvious possibility that the universal legislator always has to increase the number of offenses typified by law, Particular Law can also establish other types of crimes which may be necessary or advisable in a given place (c.1315,§3).

5) Preference for Judicial Procedure. Another noteworthy change in the revised law is its theoretical preference for judicial rather than administrative procedure in the infliction of penalties. Nevertheless, given the contemporary demands on church tribunals, because of the sharp increase in matrimonial cases, in practice penalties may continue to be imposed administratively except where judicial procedure is strictly required.

6) Reduction of Latae Sententiae Penalties. Closely relat­ed to the preference for the judicial procedure (over the admin­istrative one) is the concern to ensure the personal involvement of church authorities in dealing with potential offenses. Thus, there is a noteworthy emphasis on ferendae sententiae penalties as a general rule. Accordingly, in contrast to the large number of latae senten­tiae penalties in the CIC 17, the new Codex contains only 17 of them (four interdicts, six suspensions, and seven excommunica­tions), only five of which are reserved to the Holy See. These are incurred only for the most serious offenses.

7) Penalties as an Ultima Ratio. Finally, a renewed recog­nition of the salvific character of Church law and of the dignity of the human person leads to a stress on penalties as a last resort, after all other legal-pastoral measures have proven fruitless.


Answering the original question, then, yes there is Penal Law in the Church of Christ. Perhaps it has not been exercised sufficiently—especially with the so-called pastoral approach of the post-Vatican II era. Perhaps the spate of undesirable—for not to say scandalous—behavior outlined in the original question shows that such Penal Law needs to be applied more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Ministry of the Word

The last two decades have witnessed the proliferation of so-called evangelical groups in the Philippines. Many of these are well-meaning Christians who want to share the Gospel—the Word of God—with their listeners; a few are self-proclaimed prophets who use the Gospel to attack the Catholic Church or other Christian sects. While theology is quite clear as regards the authority to proclaim the Word of God being invested on the sacred ministers—especially the bishops—I was wondering whether juridically that same authority is protected. In other words, does Canon Law establish anything as regards the teaching authority of the Church?

The aim of the munus docendi, which is incumbent upon the whole People of God but each one according to his own state and charism, is to spread the Gospel truth. But this task cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of a body of truths, like an ossified deposit of faith, but should rather be a true education in the living faith of the Church.
A concrete form of doing this is the so-called ministerium verbi—i.e., a technical expression that basically includes preaching and catechesis, although it may also be used in a wider sense to include any type of Christian instruction.

The Ministry of the Divine Word

The ministry of the Word—as a technical expression—refers to the work that strives to interpret the present in the light of those salvific “words and deeds” contained in the Gospel. Its aim is to shed light and give meaning to all the situations and all the problems that a person meets with in his personal and family life, as well as in his environment, social, political and professional, in order that he may listen to, understand and live according to the teaching of Christ.
The ministry of the word can take many forms, according to the different conditions under which it is practiced and the ends that it strives to achieve. Nevertheless, the Code specifically deals with basically two forms of exercising the ministerium verbi: preaching (cc.762-772) and catechesis (cc.773-780).

The ministry of the word affects all the faithful—bishops, priests, religious and laymen—and all of them have the duty of spreading the good news of salvation. Thus, every member of the Church should employ all the means available to him to carry out this mission, according to the grace (charism) he has received, putting the latter at the service of the others.

Proper subjects of the Ministerium Verbi

The teaching office is exercised by those who are authorized by divine or ecclesiastical Law to publicly teach—with the potestas docendi—in the name of the Church. Both the function and the power of magisterium entailed would differ depending on the office and the act being exercised. Thus, the following are the proper subjects of the ministerium verbi:

1) Roman Pontiff and College of Bishops: As regards the universal Church the duty of proclaiming the gospel has been especially entrusted to the Roman Pontiff and to the college of bishops (c.756, §1).
Not only the existence but the primacy of this duty has deeply evangelical roots. Thus, faced with the temporal needs of the early Christian community, “the Twelve called together the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should forsake the Word of God and serve at tables […] we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Act 6, 2-4).

2) Local Ordinary—in whose case the following distinctions can be made:
a) Right-duty - As regards the particular church entrusted to them the individual bishops exercise this responsibility since within it they are the moderators of the entire ministry of the word; sometimes, several bishops simultaneously fulfill this office jointly for various churches at once in accord with the norm of law (c.756, §2; cf. c.763).
The local Ordinary is the proper teacher of his flock and the authoritative preaching of the Word constitutes his primordial function. Thus, it is neither valid nor licit for him to transfer this function and responsibility to another person or body (e.g., to the Episcopal Conference, to an episcopal or diocesan commission), beyond certain narrow limits established by the law.
b) Right - Furthermore, since every bishop—together with all bishops and in communion with the Pope—is co-responsible for the whole Church, he has the right to preach the word of God everywhere, including churches and oratories of religious institutes of pontifical right, unless the local bishop has expressly refused this in particular cases (c.763).

3) Presbyters: It is proper of presbyters who are co-workers with the bishops to proclaim the gospel of God (c.757, in principio). Nevertheless, we can make the following distinctions:
a) Right-duty for pastor of souls: Pastors and others entrusted with the care of souls are especially bound to this office as regards the people entrusted to them (c.757, in principio). They exercise their duty towards the ministerium verbi by being especially responsible in explaining the word of God in a public way to those faithful entrusted to them.
b) Faculty for all priests: Presbyters and deacons possess the faculty to preach everywhere, to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church, unless that faculty has been restricted or taken away by the competent ordinary or unless express permission is required by law (c.764).

4) Deacons: Deacons also are to serve the people of God in the ministry of the word in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate (c.757, in fine; cf. c.764). Together with ordinary presbyters (i.e. not pastor of souls), deacons possess the faculty to preach everywhere, subject to the same limitations as the former (cf. c.764 supra).

Cooperators in the ministerium verbi

1) Non-ordained can be invited (admitti possunt). Since this function is not inseparably united to Sacred Orders, in collaboration with the proper subjects of the office of magisterium the following can also exercise the ministerium verbi in a suppletory way:
a) Religious: In virtue of their consecration to God, members of institutes of consecrated life give testimony to the gospel in a special manner, and they are appropriately enlisted by the bishop to assist in proclaiming the gospel (c.758).
b) Lay persons: In virtue of their baptism and confirmation, lay members of the Christian faithful are witnesses to the gospel message by word and by example of a Christian life; they can be called upon to cooperate with the bishop and presbyters in the exercise of the ministry of the word (c.759).
An Instruction, co-authored by no less than eight dicasteries, explains this point: “The non-ordained faithful, according to their proper character, participate in the prophetic function of Christ, are constituted as his witnesses and afforded the sensus fidei and the grace of the Word…Therefore, the faithful, especially members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life can be invited to collaborate, in lawful ways, in the exercise of the ministry of the Word.”[1]

2) This is neither a right nor a faculty. It must be pointed out that religious and lay persons cannot be grouped with the previous proper subjects of the ministerium verbi, since even if they are exercising a public function, the relation of superior-subject and of teacher-disciple that characterizes the magisterium does not arise, among other things because they do not have the sacra potestas, the possession of which implies sacred ordination (except of course in the case of members of clerical institutes). In any case, it is up to the Episcopal Conference, with the recognitio of the Holy See, to provide for this possibility.[2]

[1] VV.Sacred Congregations, Instruction Ecclesia de Mysteriis (15.VIII.1997), Art.2, §2.
[2] Ibid., Art.2, §3; cf. c.766. For example, the bishops of the U.S. recently approved amendments to Canon Law —first proposed in 1999—outlining when laymen can preach in church. Obviously such revisions need the approval of the Holy See before they can be implemented.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Catechesis in our time

My grandmother used to tell us that when she was a child, their parish priest used to gather the children of their town on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to teach them the Catholic faith. It was from him—in those lively sessions—that she learned the Creed and the Ten Commandments, and got her first notions of the Sacraments. Nowadays, it seems, catechetical instruction is quite low in the priorities of the parish. In contrast, the Born-again Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other sects are quite aggressive in their proselytism—even conducting house-to-house visits. Does the law of the Church establish anything in this regard?

In the previous article, we talked about the ministerium verbi. Among the forms of exercising this ministerium verbi is also catechesis “which—in the words of Vatican Council II—is intended to make man’s faith become living, conscious and active through the light of instruct tion.”

Notion and Content of Catechesis

Catechesis is the teaching of Christian doctrine generally given in an organic and systematic manner, directed towards initiation into the Catholic faith and the growth and fullness of Christian life. Its function is to develop in men a living, explicit and active faith, enlightened by doctrine. It is therefore a process during which one discovers his initial conversion and educates it towards maturity. We shall consider the aspects of catechesis with greater juridic relevance—i.e., content, subjects and catechetical materials.
The Church has always considered it a sacred right and duty to transmit the teachings of Christ and not just the doctrine of any teacher. Thus, it is never licit for anyone, on his own initiative, to make a selection of the deposit of the faith for catechetical instruction; rather, everyone must faithfully follow the directives of the Magisterium of the Church, whether solemn or ordinary.
In general, the following have constituted the central topics for catechetical instruction since the first centuries of Christianity: the Creed, the Decalogue, the Sacraments and the Lord’s Prayer. Specifically, c.777 of the Code establishes that: In accord with the norms established by the diocesan bishop, the pastor is to make particular provision:
1° that suitable catechesis is given for the celebration of the sacraments;
2° that children are properly prepared for the first reception of the sacraments of penance and Most Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of confirmation by means of a catechetical formation given over an appropriate period of time;
3° that children are more fruitfully and deeply instructed through catechetical formation after the reception of First Communion;
5° that the faith of young people and adults be fortified, enlightened and developed through various means and endeavors.

Subjects of Catechetical Instruction

The most precious gift that the Church can offer to the confused and restless world of today is to form convinced Christians through an organic program of thorough catechesis. As John Paul II affirms: “To evangelize is the proper grace and vocation of the Church, its most profound identity. The Church exists for evangelizing, which means preaching and teaching”. And this is a service rendered not only to the Christian community, but to the entire society.
However, the diversity of participants leads to catecheses of different natures and different levels of authority. While all catechesis is an ecclesiastical action and consequently will always depend on the pastors to some extent, it is no less clear that all the faithful have the right to catechize. Thus, before anything else, it is important to make the following fundamental distinction.

1) Official vs. Unofficial Catechesis
a) Official catechesis—is that which depends on and receives public recognition from the authorities who direct it. It has an institutional character, and the pastors are
publicly responsible for its organization and adequate provision. Such Catechesis is intimately bound with the pastoral life and functions of the Church. The reason for this is because not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catecheses. As such, catechesis is bound to the other pastoral functions while not losing its specific character.
b) Unofficial catechesis—is that which does not have an institutional character, but rather depend on the free action of the faithful and which is only under the general supervision of the pastors. It arises because the faithful do not require any mandate or any authorization from the hierarchy to catechize. No less than John Paul II had pointed out the danger of parochial catechesis tending to “monopolize” and “homogenize” the multi-faceted catechetical task.

2) Active Subjects of Catechesis. Under the supervision of legitimate ecclesiastical authority, this concern for catechesis pertains to all the members of the Church in proportion to each one’s role (c.774, §1). In the words of the 1977 Synod of Bishops, catechesis is a shared responsibility that rests on the shoulders of all the members of the Church. Everyone must therefore shoulder this commitment according to one’s possibilities and the particular gifts or charisms one has received. Nevertheless, the Code makes specific mention of the following subjects:
1° Parents: Parents above others are obliged to form their children in the faith and practice of the Christian life by word and example (c.774, §2). This is a primary right-duty of parents, for which they may count on the help of the catechesis organized by the pastors but only as a subsidiary measure. On the other hand, the Code itself establishes that the pastor is to promote and foster the role of parents in the family catechesis (c.776, in fine).
2° Godparents and Guardians: Godparents and those who take the place of parents are bound by an equivalent obligation (c.774, §2). Thus, this is also a right-duty.
3° Pastors of souls (i.e., parish priests and chaplains): There is a proper and serious duty, especially on the part of pastors of souls, to provide for the catechesis of the Christian people so that the faith of the faithful becomes living, explicit and productive through formation in doctrine and the experience of Christian living (c.773).
4° Religious superiors: Superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life are to see to it that catechetical formation is diligently imparted in their churches, schools and in other works entrusted to them in any manner (c.778).
5° Local Ordinary: It is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop to issue norms concerning catechetics and to make provisions that suitable instruments for catechetics are fostering and coordinating catechetical endeavors (c.775, §1).

3) Catechetical Materials. The catechism is a synthesis of all the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, expressed in an elementary, organic and systematic way, with specific and unequivocal formulas. Canon Law regulates catechisms and catechetical texts in the following terms:
1° Universal level (e.g. text of the catechism for universal use): Norms depend on the Holy See.[1]
2° National level: National catechisms should be approved by the pertinent Episcopal Conference, not just by an organism dependent on it (even if the Episcopal Conference may make use of such organism for the preparation of the catechism). The reason for this is that such organisms do not have any normative capacity, and the normative capacity of the Episcopal Conference in this matter cannot be delegated. In any case, these catechisms need approval (recognitio) of the Holy See.
3° Particular level: The diocesan bishop can approve and establish catechisms for use in the catechesis officially carried out in his jurisdiction, even if a duly approved national catechism exists.
4° Non-official level: The Catholic faithful, in the free exercise of their right-duty to do catechetical work, can seek approval for the use of other catechism and catechetical texts. In this case, the ecclesiastical authority is truly obliged to give approval if the contents of such materials are in accord with Catholic faith and morals and the universal catechetical norms.


To end, perhaps we can just say that catechesis has not lost its importance, neither in the Law of the Church nor in its pastoral programs. It cannot be otherwise, since it comes ahead in Christ’s mandate to the Apostles just before his glorious Ascension to Heaven: Go and preach to all nations…!

[1] Aside from the Code, of primordial importance are: John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae, 16.X.1979; General Catechetical Directory, 11.IV.1971; SCDF, Response regarding approval of catechisms, 7.VII.1983.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Canonical Safeguards for the Doctrine of the Faith

My nephew graduated from a prestigious Catholic university. Some years ago, when he was still in that institution, he cheerily announced over breakfast that his theology professor openly confessed in class that he was an atheist. His mother—my sister— promptly took it up with the school authorities, and she was told that indeed a good number of the professors of the Theology Department of that university were avowed atheists, but that it was part of academic freedom to respect their views on that subject. My sister was dumbfounded, since she had precisely put her son in a Catholic university to avoid such erroneous ideas. I had forgotten this incident but a more recent episode—this time involving a niece in a Catholic school for girls—has moved me to seek clarification. From what I gathered from my sister, the religion teacher in that school told my niece’s class that the CBCP’s position against contraception is just one position, and there are other Catholic positions on the matter. Does Canon Law not safeguard the teaching of
sound doctrine in Catholic institutions?

The Canonical Safeguarding of the Doctrine of the Faith

“Guarding the deposit of the faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to his Church, and which she fulfills in every age.”[1] This is part of the teaching office of the Church. However, the munus docendi—as the above-recounted incidents would illustrate—would be seriously hampered were the juridical system to lack the mechanisms to enforce the propagation of the correct doctrine and to proscribe erroneous ones. Thus Canon Law indeed contains the adequate juridic safeguards for the authenticity of the Gospel message and its propagation. This safeguarding is anchored on three institutions, which have enjoyed re-formulation in recent years.

a. The Professio fidei

Historically, the requisite of a public profession of faith in specific circumstances finds its origin in the first centuries of the Christian era—e.g., for the catechumens before baptism, and for priests and bishops before their ordination. This public profession of faith implied a formal manifestation of the Christian faith before the ecclesiastical authority and according to the dispositions of Canon Law.

The present Code of Canon Law stipulates that the following persons are obliged to make a profession of faith personally in accord with the formula approved by the Apostolic See (c.833):
1º all persons who take part with either a deliberative or consultative vote in an ecumenical or particular council, in a synod of bishops, or in a diocesan synod;
2º those promoted to the sacred college of cardinals;
3º all persons promoted to the episcopacy and those equivalent to a diocesan bishop;
4º the diocesan consultor;
5º vicars general, episcopal vicars and vicars judicial;
6º pastors, the rector of the seminary, the professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries, those to be promoted to the order of deacons;
7º the rector of an ecclesiastical or Catholic university at the beginning of his term of office, and teachers in any university who teach disciplines which deal with faith or morals (italics added for emphasis);
8º the superiors in clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, in accord with the norms of the constitutions.

The Code was of course alluding to the Professio Fidei extant at that time—promulgated by the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1967.

b. Canonical Definition of Assent and Penalization of Unlawful Dissent.

On 9 January 1989, the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith published new formulas for the Professio Fidei and the Iusiurandum fidelitatis in suscipiendo officio nomine Ecclesiae exercendo, which were approved by the Roman Pontiff in a special Rescript dated 19 September of that same year. The Professio Fidei enumerates three specific kinds of propositions that the Magisterium teaches and to which the believer is obliged to adhere.

1st Category of truths: De fide credenda. The formula states: With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgment of by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed. These are truths definitively proposed by the Universal Magisterium (either solemn or ordinary) to be believed as formally revealed—i.e., contained in the sources of Revelation. The faithful are duty-bound to adhere to them with an act of faith in Revelation itself. This paragraph appropriately confirms and is provided for in c.750 of the present Code of Canon Law.

2nd Category of truths: De fide tenenda. The formula further states: I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals. This refers to teachings also definitively proposed by the Magisterium, but not as formally revealed—i.e., not as specifically contained in the sources of Revelation. The faithful are obliged to give accept and hold these truths—not insofar as these belong to Revelation, but insofar as they are being definitively proposed by the Church. It was for the safeguarding of this category of truths that a §2 was added to c.750 of the CIC 83 through the Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam of 1998. Thus, c.750 of the Code of Canon Law now consists of two paragraphs: [2]
§1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ's faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.
§2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held, namely those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

3rd Category of truths: Finally, the formula states: Moreover I adhere with submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act. This paragraph has its corresponding legislative expression in c.752 of the Code of Canon Law: A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.
Since these teachings are not proposed definitively, they do not enjoy the note of infallibility. It is this datum that has caused a number of misconceptions, which we should clarify with the following observations:
a) “Not infallible” is not equivalent to “fallible”. The note of infallibility is a precise phenomenon—juridically determined—which has to do with the manner in which a teaching is proposed, and not directly about the intrinsic truthfulness or certainty of the teaching.
b) “Not infallible” is not equivalent to “questionable”. Faced with a teaching that does not enjoy the note of infallibility, there is no reason for a Catholic to adopt a posture of doubt or criticism, but rather one of positive acceptance, with the assurance that in this way he is serving the Church.
c) The contrary behavior is typified as a delict—as pointed out earlier (cf. c.1371, 1º). Aside from an intellectual assent to the doctrine, an assent of the will is required, manifested by an external actuation in accord with it.
d) The distinction between “infallible” and “simply authentic” Magisterium should not be confused with the distinction between solemn (extraordinary) and ordinary Magisterium. This is the kind of formalistic error that tends to reduce infallibility to formal solemnity without regard to the more important (substantial) note of definitiveness.


From the foregoing discussion, it is quite clear that the theology professors in the Catholic university and the religion teacher in the Catholic school for girls are in clear violation of Canon Law. The aggrieved parties—in this case any student, their parents or guardians—can bring the matter to the attention of the competent ecclesiastical authority, which in this case would be the Local Ordinary (or bishop of the diocese). Failing in that, they can raise the matter to the Holy See through the Papal Nuncio.

[1] John Paul II, Apost. Const. Fidei Depositum (11.X.1992).
[2] The typification of the corresponding delict was also made by making the corresponding modifications in c.1371, 1º to refer to the new c.750,§2:
Canon 1371 — The following are to be punished with a just penalty:
1° a person who, apart from the case mentioned in c.1364, §1, teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff, or by an Ecumenical Council, or obstinately rejects the teachings mentioned in c.750, §2 or in c.752 and, when warned by the Apostolic See or by the Ordinary, does not retract.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Position Paper on Fremasonry [1]

It is not the purpose of this paper to go into the theologico-historical discussion of Freemasonry.[2] It is rather the purpose of this paper to help the CBCP formulate a canonical stance regarding Catholics who join or foster (i.e., take positions of government and direction therein) freemasonry.

1. The legal iter of this matter can be summarized as follows: [3]

a) CIC 17, c.2335 - specifically mentioned masonry and specified excommunication latae sententiae.
b) CIC 83, c. 1374 now states: “One who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or moderates such an association, however, is to be punished with an interdict.”
c) S.C. pro Doctrina Fidei, Decl. Quesitium est: de associationibus massonicis, 26.XI.1983: Asked whether the judgment of the Church regarding freemasonry had changed due to the new Codex not expressly mentioning it, as in the previous Code, the S.C.D.F. replies in the following terms:
1) Such non-mention of freemasonry is due to a criterion of redaction followed also as regards other associations equally not mentioned insofar as they are included in a wider category.
2) The negative judgment of the Church regarding Masonic associations remains unchanged, because their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church.
3) Therefore inscription in them remains prohibited, and the faithful who belong to a Masonic association are in a state of serious sin and cannot be admitted to Holy Communion.
4) It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authority to pronounce regarding the nature of a Masonic association in terms which go against the aforementioned criteria.

2. To understand this, one has to go to the history of c.1374, which I outline in brief:

a) In the years of redaction of the CIC 83, two schools of thought emerged regarding the matter:
1st: Appreciate the reality that the nature of freemasonry is different in different countries—so that it is not possible to lump them all under the category of "an association which plots against the Church". According to this school, it should be up to the episcopal conference to determine in each country whether masonry falls under that category. This became the position of the coetus in charge of this canon, which besides supported the thesis of E.Gomez O.P. (a well-known canonist) that the penalty should not be latae sententiae (following one of the principles of the codification, to reduce latae sententiae penalties to a minimum, since it goes against juridic stability and security, because of its automaticity and self-infliction due to lack of sentence), and definitely not excommunication (since this was reserved for the gravest of crimes only—again one of the principles of the codification process).
2nd: The position of the German Episcopal Conference—which had carried out a lengthy study between 1974-1980, in the form of a series of official dialogues between the Catholic Church and the Freemasons—which concluded that membership in freemasonry was inherently incompatible with the Church. Therefore, a return to the text of CIC 17, c.2335.
b) Subjected to a vote of the Plenum—actually two votations on succesive days—the 1st position won, albeit by a small margin.
c) In the same month of full effectivity of the new Code (after the 6-month vacatio legis after its promulgation), the SCDF came up with the Declaration of 26.XI.1983, which clarifies that freemasonry is not mentioned specifically in c.1374, because of a criterion of redaction which includes it in a wider category.

3. The CBCP Guidelines on Membership in Free Massonic Associations (14.III.1990)

1) It precisely belongs to particular legislation (if the episcopal conference wants a uniform treatment for the whole country) to specify freemasonry as one of those associations typified in c.1374 (the wider category) and include a just penalty for it—but not excommunication, and not latae sententiae to follow the mens legislatoris in this regard.

2) On the other hand, it is not the competence of particular legislation to give a judgment regarding Masonic associations contrary to the criteria contained above (i.e., the CBCP cannot not say that such associations are not inherently incompatible with the Catholic faith and that those who enlist in them are in a state of grave sin). This is the tenor of the SCDF Declaration (26.XI.1983), par. 4.

3) The CBCP Guidelines of 14.III.1990 are in accord with Quaesitum est in stipulating that any Catholic who is publicly known as a mason—i.e., whose membership in any Masonic Association can be proven in the external forum—“may not receive Holy Communion.” However, the tenor of the CBCP disposition—“may not receive…” needs to be modified to be in accord with the quite definitive tenor of the SCDF Declaration: “They cannot receive…” [4]

4) The CBCP Guidelines of 14.III.1990 also need to be modified to be more in accordance with c.1374, which makes a distinction between:
a) “One who joins an association which plots against the Church (who) is to be punished with a just penalty” — i.e., a preceptive ferendae sententiae penalty, with due attention to the general norms regarding penalties (cc. 1344, 1347, 1349, 1350). [5]
b) “One who promotes or moderates such an association (who) is to be punished with an interdict” — i.e., a preceptive ferendae sententiae penalty of interdict, again with due attention to the general norms regarding penalties.[6]

3. Conclusions/Recommendations

1) The aforementioned criteria can best be served by retaining the present CBCP Guidelines from the beginning up to n.1, but introducing modifications thereafter.

2) N.2 of the CBCP Guidelines can be split and rephrased as follows:

2. Therefore, any Catholic whose membership in any Masonic Association can be proven in the external forum and who refuses to renounce such membership after repeated canonical warnings, is not to be admitted to Holy Communion.[7]
3. Furthermore, any Catholic who promotes or moderates such an association and refuses to amend his ways despite repeated canonical warnings:
a) is not to be allowed to act as sponsor in Baptism, Confirmation and Marriage;
b) is not to be admitted as members of parish or diocesan structures or any other religious organizations;
c) is to be denied funeral rites, unless some signs of repentance before death has been shown (cf. c.1184, §1); where such rites have been allowed by the Ordinary, no Masonic services shall be allowed in the Church or cemetery immediately before or after the Church rites in order to avoid any public scandal (cf. cc.1184, §1 and 1374).[8]

3) Despite the seeming harshness of the above dispositions, one must bear in mind that the CBCP cannot really pretend to issue Guidelines which in the end have no “teeth” anyway. In any case, such Guidelines must reflect the reality that Freemasonry needs to be stamped out as an evil. The catechesis—and repeated warnings in this regard—coupled with the fact that each case must be taken separately (hence the ferendae sententiae penalty) means that in those cases when such a penalty really has to be imposed, it would be a case of proven contumacy—hardly compatible with the oft-cited general case of a mason who is “a good Catholic”. If a mason cannot renounce his freemasonry despite repeated warning from the Bishop, he is not a good Catholic.

[1] Originally submitted to the ECCL-CLSP workshop of 23.IV.2002, at the CBCP Secretariat in Intramuros, Manila.
[2] For a more in-depth investigation of the historical aspects of freemasonry, cf. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals: Humanum Genus, 20.IV.1884, which provides a definitive statement on Freemasonry, its opposition to the Church, and the response of Catholics; Custodi Di Quella Fede, 8.XII.1892; Inimica Vis, 8.XII.1892; Dall'alto Dell'apostolico Seggio, 15.X.1890.
[3] Cf. AA.VV., Comentario Exegetico al Codigo de Derecho Canonico (2nd ed.), vol. IV/1, EUNSA (1997), pp.512-517; Z. Suchecki, La Massonería, pp.61-115.

[4] It is important to attend to the original Latin of the SCDF Declaration of 26.XI.1983, the dispositive part of which reads:
Christifideles qui associationibus massonicis nomen dant in peccato gravi versantur et ad sacram communionem accedere non possunt. (N.B. The mood is declarative/indicative, not subjunctive.)

[5] The Latin of c.1374 reads iusta poena puniatur—i.e., making the imposition of such a just punishment preceptive.
[6] The Latin canon reads: interdicito puniatur—making the imposition of such an interdict preceptive for the Superior.
[7] It is important to attend to the original Latin of the SCDF Declaration of 26.XI.1983, the dispositive part of which reads:
Christifideles qui associationibus massonicis nomen dant in peccato gravi versantur et ad sacram communionem accedere non possunt. (N.B. The mood is declarative/indicative, not subjunctive.)
[8] This is a specification of the interdict stipulated in c.1374.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Priestly Attire & Women’s Dealing with Priests

I am a career woman in my late twenties. After attending a spiritual retreat a year ago, I have been trying to frequent the sacraments—specifically going to Mass several times during the week and trying to go to Sacramental Confession more often. With this increased exposure to the Church, I have become more aware of the priests and my own reactions to them. Two things stand out in my experience: First, I seem to be drawn more towards those priests who dress properly and I get put off by the sight of jeans and T-shirt under the loosely fitting garb that the celebrant puts on for Mass, and instinctively recoil from going to Confession to a priest who I can see is not dressed properly; Second, I am confused by the different ways priests dress. Is there a prescribed uniform for priests? They used to wear cassocks: do these have a practical purpose or are they merely symbolic? Finally, just how should I deal with priests?

The Proper Attire for Priests

The Code of Canon Law prescribed in c.284: Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb in accord with the norms issued by the conference of bishops an in accord with legitimate local custom.
In attention to c.284 of the Universal Law of the Church, the CBCP subsequently legislated that the proper clerical attires in the Philippines are as follows:
1) Cassock or religious habit;
2) Clergyman’s suit;
3) Trousers of dark one-tone color or white, and shirt of one-tone color with a clerical collar. The shirt may also be either polo-barong or barong tagalog, with a distinctive cross.
As can be seen, the cassock (or for the members of the institutes of consecrated life, their proper religious habit) is actually the primary form of priestly or ecclesiastical garb in the Philippines. The so-called clergyman’s suit—which is an ordinary black suit worn with a black or white shirt with a clerical (also called Roman) collar—is the alternative.
Finally—obviously as an adaptation of the more Western clergyman’s suit to the local Philippine situation—two other alternatives are given for the Philippine clergy:
1st: Single-toned dark or white pants and single-toned shirt with clerical collar;
2nd: The same pants but with a polo-barong or barong tagalog with either a clerical collar or a distinctive cross.
In all these cases, as is obvious, the clear pretension of the norm on clerical attire is to make the cleric look different—such that even if the suit or the shirts or polo-barong or barong tagalog may be of the usual cut, they are still made different by the clerical (or Roman collar) or at the very least the presence of a distinctive cross.

Rationale for a Distinctive Clerical Attire.

Why a clerical attire? Firstly, to set the priest apart, since—as St Paul says in his Letter to the Hebrews—the priest “taken from among men is appointed for men in the things pertaining to God” (Heb 5,1). In other words, the priest, while remaining among men and indeed serving them, must be clearly identifiable from them since he stands in persona Christi capitis, that is “in the person of Christ the head” of the Mystical Body which is the Church. From a practical viewpoint, it seems logical and even just that the ordinary faithful be able to identify the priest, not only to emulate but—above all—so that he may call on his ministry. On more than one occasion, I have been approached by a complete stranger in the most unusual places—once stepping out of a National Bookstore, another time in Mega Mall—obviously moved by the presence of a priest in cassock, to ask me to hear his confession.
On the other hand, all this talk about making the priest look more like the laymen, in order for them to be more present in society, leads nowhere. Rather than a priestly presence, what is achieved by such non-wearing of an exclusively priestly garb is a priestly absence. In effect, the priest in ordinary garb disappears in the mass of the laity in similar attire. As the Second Vatican Council pointed out, the external appearance of the cleric should be a sign that can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfillment of the duties of their Christian vocation. Of course, when circumstances so require, it is always possible for priests to wear secular attire—e.g., times of recreation and sports, or manual and messy work.
Finally, let me mention yet another function of the priestly garb. The priestly attire, especially the cassock, is the priest’s first line of defense for modesty in public—both on his part and on the part of others towards him. A virile looking priest—which is the way a priest should be, in the first place, since he is supposed to be another Christ, and Christ is perfect God and perfect man (and I emphasize man)—will surely encourage proper decorum towards him, especially on the part of women, if he were more visibly a priest, in priestly garb.

The Question of Priestly Presence.

Some people (including priests) say that wearing a cassock puts some kind of distance between priests and ordinary people, that instead of feeling at ease, ordinary people feel uncomfortable.
I’ve been a priest for almost 25 years now, and I’ve always—as in 99% of the time—worn a cassock when I’m with people, and I still have to meet anybody who feels uncomfortable because of what I’m wearing. On the contrary, I have been told time and again­—especially by women and girls—that they feel uncomfortable, especially going to confession, with a priest who is dressed like an ordinary worker.
There has to be a certain distance—one owed by reverence because of his priestly character—between the priest and the ordinary faithful. Otherwise, he may be confused as an ordinary lay faithful, rather than a consecrated minister. Being close to the ordinary faithful is not a question of the priest becoming like them, but of his knowing how to understand, love and sacrifice himself for them. What makes the priest close to the faithful is the genuineness of his life, not the hipness of his clothes.
It’s the lack of clear identification of roles that makes people uncomfortable with priests. A self-respecting woman might feel uncomfortable baring her soul to somebody who is not clearly a sacred minister, but who looks, acts and feels like just another man.


To conclude, how should women deal with priests? I think the proper way for women to deal with priests would have three characteristics:

1) Reverence—since he is a sacred minister, Christ amongst us. This precludes any frivolity or familiarity. He is not just another man, but a man of God.
2) Filial affection—since he is her spiritual father. This precludes any thoughtlessness, aloofness, or insensitivity to his needs. He needs prayers, understanding, and also material support.
3) Naturalness—not forgetting that he is a man, with a fallen nature. This precludes silly situations which a woman of her stature wouldn’t tolerate with another man.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Legitimate Custodians of the Body of a Deceased bigamist

We are grown up children of a father who abandoned us years ago and started another family. Now our father is sickly and often says his end is near but remains with his second family because (we suppose) the children are much younger there and therefore need a father more than we do. Which family has a right to claim his body when he dies? Is this the decision of those left behind or the deceased’s, assuming that he has expressed his desire on the matter in a last will and testament? Not that we want him to die so soon, but we believe it is wise to foresee and to prevent an embarrassing situation should he die with the second family.
Earlier, our mother had offered to file for annulment but our father refused, so what are they now when he is with another woman? Are the children of the second union legitimate by Church standards?
Sorry we ask so many questions, but we would like to be guided on what is proper to do. Please interpret the Canon Law for us; we are not very familiar with terms and we find the Code of Canon Law hard to read. Thank you, Father.

Civil Law Prevails

Here we have another case of Civil Law prevailing over Canon Law, since the disposition of the body of a deceased is a matter of the temporal order and temporal common good. Without detriment to a different judgment by the competent civil authority or a different disposition by Civil Law, the normal thing would be that the disposition of the body of a deceased person follows what that person had laid down in his Last Will and Testament. In any case, this is a matter best consulted with a civil lawyer.
Nevertheless, in what is relevant to Canon Law in the present case and consultation, the following can be said.

Presumption of Validity of a Marriage Duly Celebrated

Can. 1060 — Marriage enjoys the favor of the law; consequently, when a doubt exists the validity of a marriage is to be upheld until the contrary is proven.

Unless the invalidity of the first and original marriage in the present case is definitively declared by competent ecclesiastical tribunals after due process—i.e., after concurring sentences by the tribunal of the first and second instances—the original couple remain husband and wife in the eyes of God and of the Church.
Thus, any posterior marriage would be invalid by reason of the impediment of an existing marriage bond (c.1085). In other words, in the present case, a second canonical marriage could not have been validly celebrated (although presumably a civil marriage could have been, subsequent to a civil declaration of marriage nullity or civil annulment of the first and original marriage). This is clearly laid down by the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1085 — §1. A person who is held to the bond of a prior marriage, even if it has not been consummated, invalidly attempts (a posterior) marriage.
§2. Even if the prior marriage is invalid or dissolved for any reason whatsoever, it is not on that account permitted to contract another before the nullity or the dissolution of the prior marriage has been legitimately and certainly established.

What this means is that only after the first and original marriage has been duly declared invalid by the competent ecclesiastical tribunals—i.e., by concurring sentences of a Tribunal of First Instance and an Appellate Tribunal—can a subsequent canonical marriage take place validly.

Conclusion: Illegitimacy of the Children of the Second Union

Since there would have been no valid canonical marriage to speak of in the second union, the children born therefrom would be absolutely illegitimate by Church standards, being children born out of wedlock.
As a final word, however, it would be good to keep in mind that the children of the second union—though illegitimate—have rights, both as persons and as natural children of their father: rights however that cannot be equiparated with the rights of the legitimate children, without detriment to the reality and sanctity of canonical marriage itself.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Right to the Sacraments

Two recent incidents in my family have provoked this letter. The first had to do with our handyman, who has been living-in with his girlfriend for more than a year. When I finally convinced him to get married in Church, he came back to me with a problem: His parish has a fee of P4,000 for the cheapest wedding! He couldn’t afford it yet and will have to save till next year. The second incident had to do with my cousin, who wanted to get married, but couldn’t attend the pre-Cana seminars since they were spread out to two Saturday mornings, and both he and his fiancée had work on Saturdays. Despite their pleadings, they were not given any considerations, so in a huff they got “married” in an Aglipayan church. In contrast, I also know that in my parish, even if there is a requirement for parents from other parishes to attend a seminar for the baptism of their baby, the parish waives the requirement when the parents can produce proof of an equivalent catechetical instruction or formation received elsewhere.
What does Canon Law really establish for these cases?

There are several issues at stake in these incidents, and we have to tackle them separately. From the most general (and fundamental) to the most specific (and accidental), we can enumerate them as follows: 1) The fundamental right of the Catholic faithful to the sacraments; 2) the consequent optional nature of pastoral programs for their reception—e.g., the Pre-Cana seminar and the pre-baptismal seminar; 3) the absolute injustice of charging a fee for the administration of any sacrament.

The Fundamental Right of the Faithful to the Sacraments.

At first glance, no man should have a right to the channels of grace—which are what the sacraments really are—since nobody has a right to grace itself, which is freely given by God. Nevertheless, God has wanted to redeem mankind by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who instituted the Catholic Church as his continuing presence—Sacramentum magnum—in human history, giving her the mandate to preach the Good News of salvation to all men, to baptize them and to lead them towards the fullness of Christian life. Concretely, Christ instituted the sacraments of the New Law as means of salvation for men (sacramenta propter homines), in order to enable each of them to participate in the fruits of the Redemption. Thus, through baptism, the faithful acquire the right—indeed not towards God but towards the Hierarchical Church—to have access to all the means of salvation. This fundamental right is enunciated by the Code of Canon Law in the following terms:
Can. 213 — The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.

This juridic principle is complemented by another one, which stems from the need to safeguard the sanctity of the sacraments and the fact that their celebration always constitutes an act of public cult of the whole Church. This is enunciated by the Code in the following terms:
Can. 843 — §1. The sacred ministers can not refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.
§2. Pastors of souls and the rest of the Christian faithful, according to their ecclesial function, have the duty to see that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by the necessary evangelization and catechetical formation, taking into account the norms published by the competent authority.

Can.843, §1 makes it clear that the right of the faithful to the sacraments—which are the means of salvation and sanctification—is limited only by three factors: 1) appropriateness of time, 2) proper disposition of the passive subject, and 3) absence of a prohibition by law.
Furthermore, the second paragraph, far from adding another factor that may bar the faithful from receiving the sacraments—i.e., their possible lack of preparation—in fact only strengthens their right to them by precisely declaring the duty of the pastors of souls and the rest of the Christian faithful to make sure that those who seek the sacraments are adequately prepared to receive them—i.e., through the necessary evangelization and catechetical formation.

The Optional Nature of Pastoral Programs
for the Proper Reception of the Sacraments.

Because of the above, whatever pastoral programs or requisites may be formulated by the pastors of souls to assure the proper disposition of the faithful cannot be converted into sine qua non conditions for their access to the sacraments. The only exception would be if such indispensable condition is expressly stated by the Local Ordinary, subject to the approval of the Supreme Authority in the Church who is the only one competent to regulate the sacraments. This is stipulated by the Code:

Can. 841 — Since the sacraments are the same for the universal Church and pertain to the divine deposit, it is for the supreme authority of the Church alone to approve or define those things which are required for their validity; it is for the same supreme authority of the Church or other competent authority in accord with the norm of c.838, §§3 and 4 to determine what pertains to their lawful celebration, administration and reception and also the order to be observed in their celebration.

This acquires special importance for some sacraments, to wit:

1) The so-called Pre-Cana Seminar. The ius connubi—the right to marry, which is a consequence of marriage being a natural institution—is limited only by the so-called impediments. As we had previous seen, only the supreme authority of the Church can fix such impediments. Making attendance in the so-called Pre-Cana Seminar an indispensable requirement for marriage would be tantamount to adding a new impediment to marriage—that of non-attendance to the seminar—something which nobody save the supreme authority in the Church is competent to do.
2) The seminars for parents and godparents (or sponsors). Can. 851, 2º provides that the parents of an infant and likewise those who are to undertake the office of sponsor are to be properly instructed in the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations which are attached to it; personally or through others the pastor is to see to it that the parents are properly formed by pastoral directions and by common prayer, gathering several families together and where possible visiting them.
While such seminars are indeed desirable, it is clear from the tenor of the canon that the obligation is laid on the pastor to facilitate such instruction; but in no way does it say that he is to deny administering the sacrament if such previous instruction somehow were not feasible.

The Sacraments cannot be conditioned by a Fee.

A consequence of the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments is the absolute prohibition of conditioning their administration to the payment of some fee or some other temporal good—which is tantamount to simony: the buying and selling of spiritual goods or realities attached to such goods.
The Code is quite explicit on this point, typifying simony even as a crime in c.1380: A person, who through simony celebrates or receives a sacrament, is to be punished with an interdict or suspension. So strong is this prohibition against simony, that even the semblance of it is proscribed—e.g., c.947: Even the semblance of trafficking or trading is to be entirely excluded from Mass offerings.
A different matter are the alms (stipends) which the faithful voluntarily give—even based on a fixed suggested rate—on the occasion of the celebration of some sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., Mass stipends, baptisms, weddings, funerals). This is what happens in the Philippines, where the bishops have adopted the so-called Arancel System, which lists fixed amounts for stipends to be offered to the Pastor on the occasion of every celebration of the sacraments, with an additional clause that free administration should be extended to the poor. Such stipends are not a payments or fees for the administration of the sacraments, but rather a practical way of quantifying another right-duty of the faithful—stipulated by c.222,§1 of the Code of Canon Law—namely that of supporting the ministers in particular and the whole evangelizing work of the Church in general.


1) It is licit for a parish to have a fixed amount for the celebration of marriage—as decided by the Archdiocese and approved by the Holy See. It is even understandable for the parish to stipulate an additional amount to defray the cost of utilities and décor that may go into more elaborate weddings. A tiered system of contributions can also be established, whereby those who can afford subsidize those who can’t. However, nothing stands in the way of celebrating it (and any sacrament for that matter) without such costs, and thus without any stipend, for indigent parties.
2) The Pre-Cana Seminar should never be made an indispensable requirement for marriage. The same can be said of what somebody has called Pre-Jordan Seminar—i.e., the seminar for parents (desiring to have their infant child baptized). They should be waived, when there is proof of a similar preparation acquired another way, thereby reasonably combining the pastoral aim of assuring proper reception of the sacrament with the right of the faithful to receive the means of salvation.