Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Duty to Observe the Authentic Magisterium

Time and again, I have been approached by concerned Catholic parents regarding the religious education of their children in Catholic schools and universities. Especially notorious were the cases of a number of theology professors in a Catholic University in Manila who openly declared that they were atheists, and of those professors in another Catholic University in Quezon City who were in open support of the Reproductive Rights Bill, which had been publicly denounced by the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines as patently opposed to the teachings of the Church on sexual morality. In both cases, the university authorities declared that the university had to respect the academic freedom of the professors. The question is: Doesn’t Canon Law provide for the protection of the integrity of Catholic Doctrine, as taught in officially Catholic educational institutions?

Canon Law indeed has enough provisions to protect the integrity of Catholic doctrine and identity of officially Catholic educational institutions. Among other means, anybody who teaches theology at the tertiary level is obligated by Canon Law to make a Profession of Faith and to take an Oath of Fidelity to teach in the name of the Church.

Three Categories of Truths

On 9.I.1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published new formulas for the Professio Fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis in suscipiendo officio nomine Ecclesiae exercendo (AAS 81[1989], 104 106), to replace the previous formula of 1967. These formulas were approved by the Roman Pontiff in a special Rescript dated, 19.IX.1989 (in AAS 81 [1989], 1169). An attentive reading of the pertinent paragraphs of the Profession Fidei shows that there are three categories of truths, enunciated as follows:

1st Category: “[E]verything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed." These are truths found immediately in Revelation, which the Church vouches for as contained in Revelation. This are supposed to be held “with firm faith”, because their certainty has a twofold basis: the authority of God Revealing (fides divina) and the infallible teaching authority of the Church (fides catholica). These are commonly referred to in Dogmatic Theology as De fide Divina et Catholica or simply dogmas. Examples of these truths are (1) the Three Persons in One God, (2) the two natures in the one Person of Jesus Christ, (3) the Immaculate Conception, (4) the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in body and soul to Heaven.

2nd Category: “[E]verything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.” These constitute what Dogmatic Theology has always referred to as Catholic truths or Church doctrines, which are to be accepted with a faith based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). Even if the Profession fidei did not expressly state it, these are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

3rd Category: “[T]he 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." These are the teachings for which the CIC stipulates “A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith” (c.752).

Source of Confusion

While the 1st and 3rd Categories of truth had their corresponding provisions in the Code of Canon Law, there was no expressed provision for the 2nd Category. Thus, cc.750 & 752 described the 1st and 3rd Categories respectively, and c.1371 provided for the penal sanction for their violation. This has given rise to not a few cases of open dissent, perhaps emboldened by a seeming lacuna in Canon Law, especially as regards the penal provisions.

A more attentive reading of the Profession fidei, however, coupled with a solid grounding in Dogmatic Theology, shows that there was really no lacuna. As a Ott would affirm, the 2nd Category are “as infallibly certain as dogmas proper”—i.e., the norm for the 1st Category should hole also for the 2nd. Hence, when the CIC expressly provided for the 1st and 3rd Categories, it tacitly provided also for the 2nd Category of truths.

Nevertheless, since abuses have arisen, and such may be legally defended against sanction with the principle of “nulla poena sine lege”, the Supreme Church Authority came up with new legislation in 1998 to fill up that seeming lacuna, in the following way: c.750 of the Code of Canon Law will now consist of two paragraphs; the first will present the text of the existing canon; the second will contain a new text. Thus c.750, in its complete form, will read:

Canon 750 − §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.
Canon 1371, n.1 of the Code of Canon Law, consequently, will receive an appropriate reference to c.750, §2, so that it will now read:
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;
2° a person who in any other way does not obey the lawful command or prohibition of the Apostolic See or the Ordinary or Superior and, after being warned, persists in disobedience.

Ordinary and Universal Magisterium

It is fitting to note also that almost all infallible teachings in the field of morality are contained not in solemn definitions (so called definitive acts or definitively proposed in the language of the Profession fidei and in the CIC), but precisely in the teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This has led some to think that there are no infallible teachings in the field of morality, inasmuch as, in fact, there are no texts in which such infallibility is explicitly claimed. This assertion fails to recognize, however, that the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which by nature does not adopt such solemn expressions, is precisely the normal way in which the infallibility of the Church is exercised.

As Pope John Paul II affirms, “The Magisterium (...) includes the charism of infallibility, which is present not only in the solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff and the Ecumenical Councils, but also in the ordinary and universal Magisterium, which can be considered the usual expression of the infallibility of the Church.”

Practically all concrete and absolute moral norms that are under debate today (e.g., abortion, contraception, homosexual acts, premarital relations, euthanasia, divorce, masturbation), have been taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium and are hence infallible.

Reach of “religious respect (obsequium) of intellect and will”
A final observation regarding the so-called religious submission of the intellect and will. This means more than the usual obedience required for the legitimate command of the hierarchical authority of the Church. Specifically, it means:
1) The ordinary response will be a sincere adherence not only of the will but also of the intelligence. In an exceptional case, a teaching might not be intellectually convincing. Then the first duty is to doubt oneself, giving credibility to the Magisterium. This does not mean that one must stop working on research and presenting the authorities—in a private way—one’s own reasons and the possible formulations that one might suggest as being better suited for expressing the truth.
2) In any case, religious submission implies the obligation to avoid every dissent; the only thing admissible is to suspend or withhold assent. If dissent is made publicly and obstinately, opportune sanctions would be in order (c.1371).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Towards Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans: The Question of a Married Clergy (Part I)

LAST 20 October 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the former dicastery of Pope Benedict XVI—surprised the world with an announcement of a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution that would pave the way for the establishment of personal ordinariates for groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world, who have expressed their wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church. The announcement went on to say that “the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application. It provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy.”

Suffice it to say that at the mention of the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy, the old question of priestly celibacy has again come into public scrutiny. In fact, some commentators have immediately interpreted this move as the beginning of what could be a relaxation of the Catholic Church’s unflinching tradition requiring celibacy for its clergy.

Hence, reserving for the succeeding issues of CBCP Monitor the other important aspects of this new ecclesiastical circumscription (i.e., personal ordinariates), let us first take care of the red herring that has been once more foisted in front of the unwary reader: the possibility of Catholic priests getting married.

The Rule on Priestly Celibacy dates to Apostolic Times

The reason for the repeated re-examination of the ecclesiastical rule on priestly celibacy stems in great part from a wrong notion that it is a human law of relatively recent origin. I distinctly remember having to firmly correct a well-known cleric who affirmed—during a TV discussion some years ago—that the canon law on priestly celibacy did not come into existence until the 11th Century.

In fact, the Church's solemn Magisterium has been constant in enforcing ecclesiastical celibacy from the start. The Synod of Elvira (ca.300-303) prescribed in canon 27: A bishop, like any other cleric, should have with him either only one sister or consecrated virgin; it is established that in no way should he have an extraneous woman; in canon 33 the Synod declared: The following overall prohibition for bishops, presbyters and deacons and for all clerics who exercise a ministry has been decided: they must abstain from relations with their wives and must not beget children; those who do are to be removed from the clerical state.

The First Lateran Ecumenical Council of 1123, states in its canon 3: We absolutely forbid priests, deacons or subdeacons to cohabit with concubines or wives and to cohabit with women other than those whom the Council of Nicea (325) permitted to live in the household.

The Council of Trent reasserted the absolute impossibility of contracting marriage for clerics bound by sacred orders or for male religious who had solemnly professed chastity and declared the nullity of marriage so contracted.

Priestly Celibacy was confirmed by Vatican II, the Code of Canon Law and the Recent Popes

In our era, Vatican Council II—in the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n.16—reaffirmed the close connection between celibacy and the Kingdom of God, seeing in the former a sign that radiantly proclaims the latter, the beginning of a new life to whose service the minister of the Church is consecrated.

Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus of 24.VI.1967, debunked the objections raised against the discipline of celibacy. By placing emphasis on its Christological foundation and appealing to history and to what we learn from the first-century documents about the origins of celibacy and continence, he fully confirmed its value.

The 1971 Synod of Bishops, both in the pre-synodal program Ministerium Presbyterorum" (15.II.1971) and in the final document Ultimis Temporibus (30.XI.1971), affirmed the need to preserve celibacy in the Latin Church, shedding light on its foundations, the convergence of motives and the conditions that encouraged it.

The new Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church of 1983 reasserted the age-old tradition in its canon 277, §1: Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind.

For his part, John Paul II—in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25.III. 1992), n.44—presented celibacy as a radical Gospel requirement that especially favors the style of spousal life and springs from the priest's configuration to Jesus Christ through the sacrament of orders.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church of 1992 reaffirms the same doctrine: All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate 'for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (n.1579).

Finally, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22.II.2007) categorically states: “I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church an for society itself (n.24).

The Possible Ordination of Married Former Anglican Clergy

The Vatican announcement states that the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides for the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy. What is the reach of such a provision, as far as the age-old Catholic discipline regarding priestly celibacy is concerned?

Even before the publication of the Constitution, we can already forestall useless speculations in the wrong direction with the following observations:
a. This is a concession to allow the ordination of married men. In fact, this is not the first time that such is allowed, even in the Catholic Church of Latin tradition. We have to remember that the Code of Canon Law allows the ordination of married men as permanent deacons—wherever the permanent diaconate has been established by the Holy See with prior petition of the Episcopal Conference—provided he has completed at least 35 years of age and has the consent of his wife (c.1031, §2). That this is a concession is clear from the very tenor of the canons, and by the fact that historical and ecumenical reasons preclude the ordination of married men as bishops—the fullness of the priesthood—in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
b. However, this does not imply the permission for ordained clerics to marry. The canonical impediment for marriage arises from the reception of Holy Orders. This is clearly stated in c.1087: Persons who are in holy orders invalidly attempt marriage. Thus, a person who is ordained—whether he is unmarried or married—is thereby canonically impeded from contracting any future marriage.

In the case of a married former Anglican cleric, his possible ordination as a Catholic priest would not nullify his existing marriage or bind him to renounce his wife. It would, nevertheless, impede him from getting married again in the future, should his present wife pass away.

Likewise, an unmarried former Anglican cleric, should he be ordained as a Catholic priest, would be impeded from getting married in the future. This is further stipulated by c.1037 which states—An unmarried candidate for the permanent diaconate and a candidate for the presbyterate is not to be allowed to the order of diaconate unless in a prescribed rite he has assumed publicly before God and the Church the obligation of celibacy.

In summary, we are dealing with a dispensation from the requirement of celibacy towards ordination as Catholic priests of those already-married Anglican clerics who wish to continue their ministry in the personal ordinariates which may be established to accommodate former Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. We are not dealing with a dispensation from those who are ordained as Catholic priests—whether unmarried or married—to subsequently marry after ordination.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Towards Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans: Looking at the Bigger Picture (Part II)

LAST 20 October 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the former dicastery of Pope Benedict XVI—surprised the world with an announcement of a forthcoming Apostolic Constitution that would pave the way for the establishment of Personal Ordinariates for groups of Anglican clergy and faithful in different parts of the world, who have expressed their wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church. The announcement went on to say that the forthcoming Apostolic Constitution provides a reasonable and even necessary response to a world-wide phenomenon, by offering a single canonical model for the universal Church which is adaptable to various local situations and equitable to former Anglicans in its universal application.
After forestalling useless speculations related to the ordination as Catholic priests of married former Anglican clergy—i.e., of concluding that perhaps soon Catholic priests will be allowed to get married too—let us now focus on the really important novelty of this forthcoming Constitution: the Personal Ordinariate as such.

What is a Personal Ordinariate?
Even if for the specific case of the Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans we have to wait for the forthcoming Apostolic Consititution, the reference made (in the Vatican announcement) to Military Ordinariates allows us to foresee some of its characteristics.
The figure of the Military Ordinariate was introduced into Church Law by the Apost. Constitution Spirituali Militum Curae, signed by John Paul II on 21.IV.1986. According to this document, Military Ordinariates, which may also be called Army Ordinariates, and are juridically comparable to dioceses, are special ecclesiastical circumscriptions, governed by proper statutes issued by the Apostolic See, in which will be determined in greater detail the prescriptions of the present Constitution.
It is therefore a form of what in Canon Law is known as a personal ecclesiastical circumscription, which has the following constitutive elements:
1) A group of faithful—a portion of the people of God, delineated not by the fact of their domicile or quasi-domicile (as in the territorial circumscriptions, like the diocese or territorial prelature), but by their having certain personal qualities.
In the case of the military Ordinariate, this delineating quality is their relationship with the armed forces, specifically (quoting from the aforementioned document):
— the faithful who are military persons, as well as those who are at the service of the armed forces provided that they are bound to this by civil law;
— all the members of their families, wives and children, even those who, though independent, live in the same house, as well as relatives and servants who also live with them in the same house;
— those who attend military training schools, or who live or work in military hospitals, hospices for the elderly, or similar institutions;
— all the faithful, both men and women, whether or not they are members of a religious institute, who carry out in a permanent way a task committed to them by the Military Ordinary, or with his consent.
2) An Ordinary—a proper pastor (a priest, but preferably a bishop because of his episcopal functions), with power of jurisdiction which is (again quoting from the aforementioned document):
— personal, in such manner that it can be exercised in regard to the persons who form part of the Ordinariate, even if at times they are beyond the national boundaries;
— ordinary, both in the internal and external forums—i.e., it is a power that comes with the office itself and not through a delegation by another (e.g., the Pope);
— proper—that is to say not vicariously, like what happens with the former military vicar (who acted in behalf of the Pope) or the actual apostolic vicars in the apostolic vicariates.
— cumulative with the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, because the persons belonging to the Ordinariate do not cease to be the faithful of that local Church of which they are members by reason of domicile or rite.
3) A Presbyterate—composed of priests who, endowed with the necessary gifts for carrying out fruitfully this special pastoral ministry, give service in the Personal Ordinariate. These can be of different categories:
— those who are formed in the seminary that the Ordinariate may erect with the approval of the Holy See, and promoted to Holy Orders and incardinated in the Ordinariate once they have completed the specific spiritual and pastoral formation;
— other members of the secular clergy who may be incardinated into the Ordinariate according to the norms of Canon Law;
— still other priests—both secular and religious—who, with the consent of their own Ordinary, serve in the Ordinariate (by adscription).

Relationship of the Faithful of the Personal Ordinariate with the Diocesan Bishop and the Local Parishes.
Some journalists have expressed fears of possible frictions between the projected Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans and the local Churches. If we recall, that same apprehension had been raised (and sadly still seems to be raised in certain quarters) in the case of another kind of personal ecclesiastical circumscription—i.e., the Personal Prelature.
This type of apprehension can arise if one forgets that personal ecclesiastical circumscriptions should be understood from the viewpoint of the ecclesiology of Vatican II. From this point of view, it becomes clear that among the Pastors of the Church, there is neither rivalry nor competition, but rather communion and collaboration. Thus, the provision of this type of personal circumscription is the result of the desire of providing help to the local Churches, through the creation of entities which are capable of carrying out a special pastoral activity that goes beyond the normal possibilities of the dioceses for their faithful. Thus, a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992—with the significant name of Communionis notio—had precisely pointed out how these entities created by the Holy See for peculiar pastoral tasks are harmoniously inserted in communion with the local Churches.
It could be expected, therefore, that the upcoming Apostolic Constitution—aside from the particular statutes of every Personal Ordinariate that shall be subsequently erected—will guarantee the rights of the Local Ordinaries and the way of harmonizing the activities of the priests of the Ordinariate with the authority of the local parishes, including norms regarding such matters as how a faithful becomes part of the Ordinariate, what registries are to be kept, etc.

Similarities and Differences with Personal Prelatures
The press has compared the upcoming Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans to Personal Prelatures, specifically with Opus Dei. A notable difference would be that the projected personal ordinariates for former Anglicans would depend on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instead of the Congregation for Bishops or the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as is provided for the erection of personal prelatures. Another difference would be the use of a particular liturgy in the case of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans, whereas the only existing Personal Prelature has no liturgy of its own and does not even print its own Ordo for daily Masses and Liturgy of the Hours.
Beyond the obvious differences, however, it is more interesting to note the elements common to all these personal jurisdictions. As an imminent canonist had recently pointed out, in reaction to the announced Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans, Personal Ordinariates, Military Ordinariates and Personal Prelatures constitute in each case that type of personal circumscripton expressly willed by Vatican Council II, which are superimposed with the local Church (insofar as their faithful also belong to the diocese), in order to carry out a specialized pastoral activity. Beyond the pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei, up till now the personal prelature—as typified in cc. 294-297 of the Code of Canon Law—has been mentioned as a possible solution to the pastoral needs arising from human mobility (e.g., care of migrants, refugees, seafarers and overseas workers). Now it has come to light that this type of personal circumscriptions might also be of great use in the area of ecumenism. (Cf. Eduardo Baura, Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross [Rome], in an interview published recently in www.zenit.org).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Towards Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans: The Final Picture (Part III)

LAST November 4, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus—ending short-lived speculations regarding the nature of the possible Personal Ordinariates for groups of Anglican, who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church. Subsequently, Complementary Norms for the apostolic constitution were issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To conclude this series of articles, let us briefly go over the more salient provisions of these documents.

Establishment of a Personal Ordinariate

The hierarchical nature of the personal Ordinariates is manifest in the way they are erected by and accountable to the Holy See, as seen in the following provisions:
1) Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church are erected by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith within the confines of the territorial boundaries of a particular Conference of Bishops in consultation with that same Conference (AC, Sect.I, §1). Within the territory of a particular Conference of Bishops, one or more Ordinariates may be erected as needed (AC, Sect.I, §2).

2) The Decree establishing an Ordinariate will determine the location of the See and, if appropriate, the principal church (AC, Sect.XIII).

3) Each Ordinariate possesses public juridic personality by the law itself (ipso iure); it is juridically comparable to a diocese (AC, Sect.I, §3).

4) Each Ordinariate is subject to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It maintains close relations with the other Roman Dicasteries in accordance with their competence (CN, Art.1).

The Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate and his Power of Jurisdiction

1) A Personal Ordinariate is entrusted to the pastoral care of an Ordinary appointed by the Roman Pontiff (AC, Sect. IV).

2) A married former Anglican Bishop is eligible to be appointed Ordinary. In such a case he is to be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church and then exercises pastoral and sacramental ministry within the Ordinariate with full jurisdictional authority (CN, Art.11, §1).

3) The power (potestas) of the Ordinary is (AC, Sect. V):
a. ordinary: connected by the law itself to the office entrusted to him by the Roman Pontiff, for both the internal forum and external forum—i.e., not delegated;
b. vicarious: exercised in the name of the Roman Pontiff—i.e., not a proper power (as in the case of the Military Ordinariates or Personal Prelature);
c. personal: exercised over all who belong to the Ordinariate;
d) cumulative: This power is to be exercised jointly with that of the local Diocesan Bishop, in those cases provided for in the Complementary Norms—i.e., like the military ordinariates).

4) Every five years the Ordinary is required to come to Rome for an ad limina Apostolorum visit and present to the Roman Pontiff, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and in consultation with the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, a report on the status of the Ordinariate (AC, Sect.XI).

Communion of the Ordinary with other Bishops and the Episcopal Conference

The Complementary Norms specifies the relationship of the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate with other Diocesan Bishops and with the Episcopal Conferences:

1) The Ordinary, in the exercise of this office, must maintain close ties of communion with the Bishop of the Diocese in which the Ordinariate is present in order to coordinate its pastoral activity with the pastoral program of the Diocese (AC, Art 3).

2) The Ordinary is a member of the respective Episcopal Conference (CN, Art 2, §2). The Ordinary follows the directives of the national Episcopal Conference insofar as this is consistent with the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus (CN, Art 2, §1).

The Faithful of the Personal Ordinariate

1) The Ordinariate is composed of lay faithful, clerics and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, originally belonging to the Anglican Communion and now in full communion with the Catholic Church, or those who receive the Sacraments of Initiation within the jurisdiction of the Ordinariate (AC, I, §4).

2) As for the doctrinal requirement for ecclesial communion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the Ordinariate (AC, I, §5). Thus, only those members of the Anglican communion, who are willing to profess the faith of the Catholic Church as summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, can form part of the personal Ordinariate.

The Complementary Norms further specifies the process for entering into full communion with the Catholic Church:

3) The lay faithful originally of the Anglican tradition who wish to belong to the Ordinariate, after having made their Profession of Faith and received the Sacraments of Initiation, with due regard for Canon 845, are to be entered in the appropriate register of the Ordinariate. Those baptized previously as Catholics outside the Ordinariate are not ordinarily eligible for membership, unless they are members of a family belonging to the Ordinariate (CN, Art 5, §1).

4) Both the lay faithful as well as members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, originally part of the Anglican Communion, who wish to enter the Personal Ordinariate, must manifest this desire in writing (AC, IX).

Pastoral Care in the Personal Ordinariate

1) Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared (AC, III).

2) The Ordinary, according to the norm of law, after having heard the opinion of the Diocesan Bishop of the place, may erect, with the consent of the Holy See, personal parishes for the faithful who belong to the Ordinariate (AC,VIII, §1). These would be like the territorial parishes in an ordinary diocese, and would overlap with them territorially—i.e., the members of the personal parishes would still be members of the territorial parish by virtue of domicile or quasi-domicile.

3) Pastors (i.e., parish priests) of the Ordinariate enjoy all the rights and are held to all the obligations established in the Code of Canon Law and, in cases established by the Complementary Norms, such rights and obligations are to be exercised in mutual pastoral assistance together with the pastors of the local Diocese where the personal parish of the Ordinariate has been established (AC,VIII, §2).

4) Priests incardinated into an Ordinariate, who constitute the presbyterate of the Ordinariate, are also to cultivate bonds of unity with the presbyterate of the Diocese in which they exercise their ministry. They should promote common pastoral and charitable initiatives and activities, which can be the object of agreements between the Ordinary and the local Diocesan Bishop (AC, VI, §4).

Governance in the Personal Ordinariate

1) The Ordinary is aided in his governance by a Governing Council with its own statutes approved by the Ordinary and confirmed by the Holy See (AC, X, §1). The Governing Council, presided over by the Ordinary, is composed of at least six priests. It exercises the functions specified in the Code of Canon Law for the Presbyteral Council and the College of Consultors, as well as those areas specified in the Complementary Norms (AC,X, §2).

2) The Ordinary is to establish a Finance Council according to the norms established by the Code of Canon Law which will exercise the duties specified therein. (AC, Sect.X, §3]

3) In order to provide for the consultation of the faithful, a Pastoral Council is to be constituted in the Ordinariate (AC, X, §4).

The Clergy of the Personal Ordinariate: Celibacy applies.

1) Initially, the clergy of the personal Ordinariates will logically come from the ranks of former Anglican clergy:

— Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfill the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI "Sacerdotalis coelibatus", n. 42 and in the Statement in June are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1 (AC, VI, §1).

— The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See (AC, VI, §2).

— However, those who have been previously ordained in the Catholic Church and subsequently have become Anglicans, may not exercise sacred ministry in the Ordinariate. Furthermore, Anglican clergy who are in irregular marriage situations may not be accepted for Holy Orders in the Ordinariate (CN, Art 6, §2).

2) As regards their incardination and faculties:

— Incardination of clerics will be regulated according to the norms of canon law (AC, VI, §3). Priests incardinated into an Ordinariate (…) constitute the presbyterate of the Ordinariate (AC, VI, §4).

— Presbyters incardinated in the Ordinariate receive the necessary faculties from the Ordinary (CN, Art 6, §3).

3) The presbyterate of the Ordinariate is also inserted in the territorial diocesan pastoral structure:

— The presbyters, while constituting the presbyterate of the Ordinariate, are eligible for membership in the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese in which they exercise pastoral care of the faithful of the Ordinariate (CN, Art 8, §1; cf. CIC, can. 498, §2).

— Priests and Deacons incardinated in the Ordinariate may be members of the Pastoral Council of the Diocese in which they exercise their ministry, in accordance with the manner determined by the Diocesan Bishop (CN, Art 8, §2; cf. CIC, can. 512, §1).

— The clerics incardinated in the Ordinariate should be available to assist the Diocese in which they have a domicile or quasi-domicile, where it is deemed suitable for the pastoral care of the faithful. In such cases they are subject to the Diocesan Bishop in respect to that which pertains to the pastoral charge or office they receive (CN, Art 9, §1).

4) Finally, in the case of new vocations to the sacred ministry, the Apostolic Constitution stipulates that candidates for Holy Orders in an Ordinariate should be prepared alongside other seminarians, especially in the areas of doctrinal and pastoral formation. In order to address the particular needs of seminarians of the Ordinariate and formation in Anglican patrimony, the Ordinary may also establish seminary programs or houses of formation which would relate to existing Catholic faculties of theology (AC, VI, §5).


Just like the case of the Military Ordinariates, we are dealing with an atypical personal ecclesiastical circumscription (i.e., not typified in the Code of Canon Law). Unlike the former, however, the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans shall be vicariates—i.e., with vicarious instead of proper jurisdiction. In this respect, it is also different from that other model of personal jurisdiction which is the Personal Prelature.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Legates of the Roman Pontiff

I have often wondered just what the Papal Nuncio is and what the role of the Papal Nunciature is. I am even more confused when I read in the news that the Papal Nuncio would lead the traditional toast of the diplomatic corps, implying his position of honor among the different legates. Can you please clarify this matter to me?

A Brief History of the Institution

The practice of churches sending representatives to other communities or even to civil authorities can be traced to the earliest times of the Church. By the 5th Century, the Pope—who by that time had assumed responsibility both for the ecclesiastical and civil life of the city of Rome—began sending permanent representatives to the Imperial Court in Constantinople. This was the start of the current practice of nuncios who represent the Holy See both to local churches and to civil governments.

By the Middle Ages, the popes were granting certain residential bishops special powers over neighboring bishops, which went beyond the prerogatives of Metropolitans (e.g., Thessalonika in Illyricum, Arles in Gaul, Tarragona and Seville in Spain). They were called Apostolic Vicars, a title that by the 9th Century had gradually evolved to legatus natus—i.e., legates with the innate appointment to those particular sees. Eventually the persons occupying such positions became known as primates.

In contrast, a person sent on a more transitory mission was known as legatus missus—i.e., a legate sent for a specific purpose. When a cardinal was sent on such a mission, he was known as a legatus a latere—i.e., sent from beside the Pope. Better equipped for their tasks—and more closely allied to the Popes—legates of this type gradually took on more stable functions in the places where they were sent. At the same time, the legati nati slowly lost their significance, such that by the CIC 17, they lost their special rights as such.

Gregory XIII reorganized the system of legates in the 16th Century and established permanent nunciatures, originally with the principal task of implementing the Tridentine Reform. This system received further international recognition in the Congress of Vienna (1815), which gave special prerogatives to papal nuncios in consideration of their spiritual mission. In more recent times, the Vienna Convention (1961) modified such special status, but retained recognition of the right of the Holy See to send representatives under international law.

In the light of the Vatican II provision that the office of legates be more precisely defined (CD, 9), Paul VI issued the Motu Proprio Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum (24.VI.1969). Although this is the major source of the canons regulating papal legates in the present Code, the brevity with which the material is treated in the Code—coupled with the fact that the Code has not reordered the material ex integro (cf. c.6)— makes it still the main source of particular law for the institution (cf. c.20).

Justification of Papal Legates

Can.362 — The Roman Pontiff possesses the innate and independent right to appoint, send, transfer and recall his own legates to particular Churches in various nations or regions, to states and to public authorities; the norms of international law are to be observed concerning the sending and the recalling of legate appointed to states.

Before anything else, the legislator proclaims the right of legation of the Roman Pontiff as innate—i.e., not stemming from anything outside the juridic order of the Church, but rather arising from the very perfection of that order itself. The corollary claim of its being independent is just a consequence. What is noteworthy in the present canon is the apparent lack of justification of such a right of legation, which on the other hand we find in the ecclesiology of Vatican II and in the commentaries that have been written regarding this material since the publication of Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum.

1) Legation ad intra. This refers to the sending of legates to particular Churches, and finds its primary justification in the right-duty of the Roman Pontiff to nourish ecclesial communion through instruments that manifest his solicitude towards the particular Churches and all the faithful. On the other hand, the reference to various nations or regions allude to the advisability—in certain cases—that the Holy See not follow the geo-political division of a given territory. For example, given a low Catholic population, only one legate may be sent to take care of the particular Churches comprising several countries, with the seat of the legation in the country that offers more security for the same.

2) Legation ad extra. This refers to the sending of legates to states and to public authorities, which finds its constitutional foundation in the religious mission of the Church (cf. GS, n.42), understood as a duty “to be present in the community of peoples ... by means of its official channels” (GS, n.89).

It is noteworthy that in the present Code, the legislator has gone beyond the previous formula that limited such legation to States, to now include other public authorities—a formula more open to further development of political communities and the international community. It is also interesting to note at this point that the title by which papal legates to States are accredited is that of the Holy See—not Vatican City—underlining the unique identity of the Church in the international community.

Kinds of Papal Legates

Can.363 — §1. To legates of the Roman Pontiff is entrusted the responsibility of representing him in a stable manner to particular Churches and also to states and public authorities to which they are sent.

§2. They also represent the Apostolic See who are appointed to a pontifical mission as delegates or observers at International Councils or at conferences and meetings.

According to this canon, there are three basic types of legates, the first two mentioned in §1 and the third type mentioned in §2 of the present canon:

1) Apostolic Delegates—are the legates who represent the Pope to the particular Churches but not to the civil government.

2) Legates to both Particular Churches and Civil Governments — can in turn be of various types and dignities:

a) Nuncio—is a legate who holds the rank of ambassador and enjoys the privilege of being automatically the dean of the diplomatic corps in the capital where he serves.
b) Pro-Nuncio—is also an ambassador but without the special privilege of being automatically the dean of the diplomatic corp.
c) Inter-Nuncio—is an extraordinary envoy and minister plenipotentiary: a rank used in diplomatic norms when relations have not yet consolidated to the ambassadorial level.
d) Regents and Chargés d’affairs with Special Instructions—can also serve as permanent legates below ambassador level under certain circumstances.

Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum limits the aforementioned offices to ecclesiastical men—i.e., clerics—many of whom are bishops (actually archbishops in many cases).

3) Legates to International Organizations, Various Conferences or Meetings—which the aforementioned motu proprio allows to be laymen as well as clerics. They are of two kinds:

a) Delegates—are those with voting status.
b) Observers—are those without voting status. The Holy See maintains such legations at the United Nations, in various UN-related organizations, at the Organization of American States, etc.

Ecclesial Functions

The importance and priority of the ad intra—over the ad extra—functions of Papal Legates is acknowledged by the legislator not only by explicitly stating they constitute a principal duty, but by giving them a separate and prior treatment in the Code. Again reserving the matter of the ad extra functions for a later Lesson, we concentrate at the moment on c.364.

Can.364 — The principal duty of a pontifical legate is to work so that day by day the bonds of unity, which exist between the Apostolic See and the particular Churches, become stronger and more efficacious. Therefore, it belongs to the pontifical legate for his area:

1º to send information to the Apostolic See on the conditions of the particular Churches and all that touches the life of the Church and the good of souls;
2º to assist the bishops by action and counsel, while leaving intact the exercise of the bishops’ legitimate power;
3º to foster close relations with the Conference of Bishops, by offering it assistance in every way’
4º to transmit or propose the names of candidates to the Apostolic See in reference to the naming of bishops and to instruct the informative process concerning those to be promoted in accord with the norms given by the Apostolic See;
5º to strive for the promotion of matters which concern peace, progress and the cooperative efforts of peoples;
6º to cooperate with the bishops in fostering suitable relationships between the Catholic Church and other churches or ecclesial communities and non-Christian religions also;
7º in concerted action with the bishops to protect what pertains to the mission of the Church and the Apostolic See in relations with the leaders of the state;
8º to exercise the faculties and fulfill the other mandates committed to him by the Apostolic See.

As the opening line of the canon affirms, the principal ecclesial duty of the legates is to promote the unity of the Church, in keeping with the key role of the Petrine ministry in the Church as a service to unity. This principle, as it where, is the hermeneutic key to the proper interpretation of the provisions of this canon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Presumption of Validity of Marriage

I am a Parish Priest and I am sometimes presented with problems of couples—claiming irreconcilable difference—who “in conscience” think that their marriage was invalid from the start. At times their recounting of the circumstances are so compelling, that even I am tempted to agree with them, more so if either spouse has already moved on to a new union, which has subsequently born fruit in the form of a new and happy family. How do I resolve this dilemma?

A. Notion and point of controversy

Your dilemma in fact illustrates one of the hottest issues in Matrimonial Law Canon in the last two decades of the 20th Century, so brilliantly resolved by John Paul II in his annual address to the Roman Rota on 29.I. 2004.

Can. 1060 of the Code of Canon Law states: 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. Though the canon clearly establishes the presumption of validity of a canonically celebrated marriage, the continued applica¬bility of such a juridic presumption has been contested.

The problem stems in part from the very redaction of c.1060, in which the causal particle “consequently” (quare in the original Latin) seems to suggests that the reason for the presumption of validity of a marriage (duly celebrated or peacefully accepted and consequently placed in doubt) is the favor iuris (presumption of law) enjoyed by mar¬riage. Thus, this doctrine has been attacked from the point of view of the validity of the favor matrimonii, i.e., the favor iuris enjoyed by marriage itself.

B. clarifying Can. 1060: Removing the Red Herring.

Before addressing the attacks against the favor matrimonii itself, it is good to remove the red herring, by making the conceptual distinction between the two parts of c.1060:

1st Part: Marriage enjoys the favor of the law. This is the canonical declaration of the favor matrimonii.

2nd Part: When doubt exists, the validity of a marriage is to be upheld until the contrary is proven. This actually constitutes the canonical declaration of the presumption of validity of a marriage duly celebrated canonically or hitherto peacefully accepted.

It is important to realize that the foundation of the presumption of validity of a duly celebrated canonical marriage is not the favor matrimonii. Rather, it is simply an application to the case of canonical marriage of a general presumption that constitutes a principle in all juridic systems: The presumption of validity of a juridic act whose external (juridically relevant) elements have been verified correct, as expressed in c.124, §2: A juridic act correctly placed with respect to its external elements is presumed to be valid.

This is what is know in Law as a juridic presumption—i.e., a link established by law between a certain fact (the external elements of given juridic reality), which is called the factical index or basis of the presumption, and that juridic reality, which is called the presumed fact.

On the other hand, as John Paul IIin the aforementioned address to the Roman Rota on 29.I.2004points out “this presumption cannot be interpreted as the mere protection of appearances or of the status quo as such, since the possibility of contesting the act is also provided for, within reasonable limits. Rather, what appears outwardly to be correctly placed, to the extent that it is lawful, deserves initially to be considered valid and, consequently, to be upheld by law since this external reference point is the only one which the legal system realistically provides to discern situations which must be safeguarded. To hypothesize the opposite, that is, the obligation to provide positive proof of the validity of the respective acts, would mean exposing the subjects to a demand that would be almost impossible to achieve.”

C. Arguments against the Favor Matrimonii

John Paul II, in the aforementioned address, outlined the attacks against the principles enunciated by c.1060 as follows:

1. Skepticism vs. Validity of Consent at Present Times. To some people, [the favor matrimonii] seems to be anchored in social and cultural situations of the past, in which the request to marry in accordance with canon law had normally implied that those engaged to be married understood and accepted the true nature of marriage. In the crisis that marks the institution of marriage todaythose people holdthe very validity of the consent may often be jeopard¬ized, due to various forms of incapacity or to the absence of the essential properties. Thus, these critics wonder if it might not be correct to presume the invalidity of the marriage contracted rather than its validity. In this perspective, the favor matrimonii, they say, should give way to the favor personae [favoring whatever is good for the spouses], the favor veritatis subiecti [favoring whatever is subjectively good for the spouses] or the favor libertatis [respecting the freedom of the spouses to opt out of a marriage bond].

2. Skepticism vs. Process of Ascertaining the Validity of a Marriage. Often the real problem is not so much the presumption in words as the overall vision of a marriage itself; hence, the process to ascertain the validity of its celebration is put in doubt. In this regard, a more or less open scepticism has been inferred as to the human ability to recognize the truth about the validity of a marriage. In this area too, a renewed confidence in human reason is necessary with regard both to the essential aspects of marriage and to the specific circumstances of each union.

3. Failure of Marriage Argument. Finally is the argument which holds that the failure of conjugal life implies the invalidity of the marriage. Unfortunately, this erroneous assertion is sometimes so forceful as to become a generalized prejudice that leads people to seek grounds for nullity as a merely formal justification of a pronouncement that is actually based on the empirical factor of matrimonial failure. This unjust formalism of those who are opposed to the traditional favor matrimonii can lead them to forget that, in accordance with human experience marked by sin, even a valid marriage can fail because of the spouses' own misuse of freedom.

D. logical and conceptual flaws of the arguments against the Favor Matrimonii

After clarifying the real basis of the presumptio iuris for the validity of a duly-celebrated canonical marriage, we can reduce the objections to the favor matrimonii to two:

1. Favor matrimonii vs. favor personae seu favor veritatis subiecti. The confrontation that some authors make between the favor matrimonii and the so-called favor personae or favor veritatis subiecti belies a reductive vision of the favor matrimonii, understood almost exclusively in its abstract or institutional sense, disconnected from any concrete marriage, which is always founded on the truth of an authentic marital consent legitimately manifested between two capable persons. We have to recall that the favor matrimonii is simply the juridical protection of a very personal rightthe ius connubii of the spousesand the truth of a very real and concrete marriage.

At the same time, such objection often belies an equally narrow view of the so-called favor personae or favor veritatis subiecti which often refers only to the person of the spouse or spouses who are pretending the declaration of nullity of a marriage, disregarding those who hold its validity or who may be interested in its eventual convalidation.

2. Favor matrimonii vs. favor libertatis. More absurd still is the contraposition made by other authors between the favor iuris enjoyed by marriage and an erroneous application of the general principle in dubio pro libertate, according to which one must not burden anyone with an obligation unless such obligation is certain. However, such objectors forget that the principle in dubio pro libertate operates only when there is no opposing presumption based on a certain fact, such as the common good which is the case in the favor matrimonii.

On the other hand, what they claim as the right to freedom of the spouses almost always refers to the futurei.e., a liberation from past commitmentsdisregarding the obvious fact that such commitments were made in the exercise of their own freedom in the first place. It is interesting to understand favor matrimonii precisely from the point of view of the freedom of the spousesi.e., the protection of their ius connubii which had already been exercised (and exhausted) when they validly contracted marriage.


In the end we have to conclude with John Paul II that “the problem concerns the concept of marriage seen in a global vision of reality. The essential dimension of the justness of marriage, which is based on an intrinsically juridical reality, is replaced by empirical viewpoints of a sociological, psychological, etc. kind, as well as by various forms of juridical positivism. Without in any way belittling the valid contributions of sociology, psychology or psychiatry, it cannot be forgotten that an authentically juridical consideration of marriage requires a metaphysical vision of the human person and of the conjugal relationship. Without this ontological foundation the institution of marriage becomes merely an extrinsic superstructure, the result of the Law and of social conditioning, which limits the freedom of the person to fulfill him or herself.

It is necessary instead to rediscover the truth, goodness and beauty of the marriage institution. Since it is the work of God himself, through human nature and the freedom of consent of the engaged couple, marriage remains an indissoluble personal reality, a bond of justice and love, linked from eternity to the plan of salvation and raised in the fullness of time to the dignity of a Christian sacrament. It is this reality that the Church and the world must encourage! This is the true favor matrimonii!”

Finally, as to the concrete problem at hand, we have to remind everyone that nobody can decide unilaterally—neither can a couple agree on their own—that a marriage contracted canonically suffers invalidity on whatever ground. It is for the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, after all the parties have been listened to, to judge the case and declare the validity or invalidity of the marriage.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Supreme Authority in the Church (Part I)

At times, the question has been asked in what consists the authority of the Pope, the Bishops and—for that matter—the Episcopal Conference. I shall attempt to clarify this matter in a series of articles, since the whole matter of ecclesiastical authority is too broad a topic to tackle in one article.

BY supreme authority in the Church we mean that ecclesiastical power that is not subordinated to any other, and on which all other powers in the Church depend. Thus, the following discussion presupposes the previous consideration of the reality of the sacra potestas and its relation with the power of Orders and the power of jurisdiction (already tackled in an earlier issue of CBCP Monitor). Here we shall deal with the question of who is/are the subject/subjects of the supreme power in the Church. It has been noted that while Lumen Gentium had made major strides in placing the role and exercise of the supreme power in the Church in a larger perspective, it has not resolved this critical issue.

The classical and current answer can be summarized in three theses, each one with different nuances that can even give rise to further subdivisions of varying worth.

1st The Roman Pontiff as the Subject of the Supreme Authority in the Church

This is a classic position, defended in the Modern Era by authors like Cajetan and other Post-Tridentine theologians and canonists, and by a minority during Vatican Council II. It focuses solely on the Pope. According to this thesis, all the power of jurisdiction in the Church descends vertically from the Roman Pontiff via a predominantly juridical path—the missio canonica—, such that the sacramental origin of such power is relegated to a secondary plane, if at all admitted.

In this conception, the episcopal power of jurisdiction—even if its divine origin is admitted—is transmitted immediately by the Roman Pontiff through the canonical mission, and only in a mediate way by divine institution. Thus, the defenders of this thesis hold that only resident Bishops enjoy the power of jurisdiction—since only they receive a missio canonica from the Pope—and only they have the right to participate in an Ecumenical Council.

After Vatican II and at present, it has become very difficult to defend this position. According to the Council, both the Pope, as well as the Episcopal College under him, are subjects of the supreme and full power over the Church. But the defenders of this thesis have tried to keep its viability by affirming that the subject of the supreme power in the Church—at least in an absolute and proper sense, or in a principal and original sense—can only be one and that is the Roman Pontiff. According to them, the College of Bishops only is subject of such supreme power when the Pope communicates it to them and makes them participate in it—i.e., only in a relative and participative sense, and thus secondary, accessory and contingent.

2nd The College of Bishops as Subject of the Supreme Power in the Church

Putting aside the Conciliarist formulations that this thesis had in the Pre-Tridentine era, this position had been defended in more recent times by some authors trying to make it compatible with the doctrine of Vatican II. Presently it is mostly defended by dogmatic theologians and by a few canonists. They would want to take the doctrine of episcopal collegiality to its ultimate consequences, while trying to respect the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff.

According to this thesis, the sole subject of the supreme power in the Church is the Episcopal College—always with the Pope and under him. This power is, however, exercised in two ways:

1) Personally—by the Pope, by virtue of his office as Head of the College. In this case, the exercise of the power is totally concentrated in the Head of the College. Thus, the Pope acts as Head of the College and even as representative of the College, but not in a delegated sense (since his power does not come from the other members of the College) but rather in a corporate sense (as really standing for the whole College). In other words, the Pope functions authentically not as an independent agent but as successor of Peter—i.e., head of the college.

2) Collegially—by the whole body of the bishops, together with and under its Head. It has also been pointed out that since the Episcopal College always exists and is an essential element of the divine constitution of the Church, different modes of collegial action—aside from those commonly known and mentioned in the CIC, e.g. Ecumenical Councils and Synods—can take place, which the Head of the College should foster.

Aside from the previously mentioned reason of defending episcopal collegiality, the defenders of this thesis also adduce reasons of ecumenism, insofar as this conception—to their mind—could make the Petrine ministry more acceptable to some separated Churches.

3rd Two Inadequately Distinct Subjects of Supreme Power: the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopal College

This thesis had been defended already during the deliberations of Vatican Council I, re-proposed during Vatican II and continues to be defended at present. In effect, Vatican II had affirmed that the Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, had full, supreme and universal power over the Church, and later adds that the College of Bishops, together with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, is also subject—“subiectum quoque”— of the supreme and full power over the universal Church (LG, n.22). Nevertheless, the position needs to be defended from the juridic-doctrinal point of view.

For its defenders, two apparently contradictory factors needed to be reconciled. On the one hand, the principle that in a society there can only be one supreme power, since were there to be several, one of them would limit the others that would then cease to be supreme. On the other hand, there are texts of the Magisterium—among them that of Lumen Gentium—that affirm the existence of two subjects of the supreme power: the Roman Pontiff and also the College of Bishops. According to these authors, in order to harmonize these two seemingly opposing factors, we have to affirm the existence of two subjects of supreme power in the Church, but at the same time establish an inadequate distinction between them—since the Roman Pontiff is present in both, either as the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church or as the Head of the Episcopal College. As the Council itself would explain, “it is not a distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken together, but between the Roman Pontiff by himself and the Roman Pontiff along with the bishops.” Neither should we forget that, as the Council itself clearly affirms, the Roman Pontiff always enjoys freedom of action in the exercise of this supreme power—either alone or with the College.


Each one of the aforementioned theses attempts to explain, in the theoretical and speculative plane, the question of the subject of the supreme power in the Church. Each one attempts to emphasize particular aspects of the constitution and government of the Church. Thus, while the first thesis maximally defends and guarantees the institution and rights of the Primacy, the second thesis in contrast attempts to strengthen the nature and power of episcopal collegiality with and under the Pope; while the third thesis tries to find an equilibrium between the two positions.

In conclusion we can say that insofar as each one of the aforementioned theses respects the data of Revelation and the Magisterium, it can be accepted to explain juridic realities that—being rooted in the mystery of the Church—are not easily reducible to facile simplifications or neat systematizations.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Supreme Authority of the Church (Part II)

In the previous issue, we had an overview of the nature of the supreme authority of the Church, personified in the Petrine Office. Not in vain did our Lord pronounce those solemn words to Peter in Caesarea Philippi, after the latter had made his equally solemn profession of faith: “Thou art Peter (Rock) and upon this rock I shall build my Church…Whatever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever though shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” In this issue we will tackle the more practical questions of the acquisition, exercise and loss of such power.

a. Acquisition and Loss of Papal Power

1) Acquisition — The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by means of legitimate election accepted by him together with episcopal consecration (c.332, §1 in principio). Thus, two elements must concur for the full constitution of papal power:

a) Legitimate election followed by acceptance by him. Because there is no one superior to the Pope who could confer the office or confirm his election to it, he takes office canonically by accepting legitimate election during the so-called conclave by the Cardinal electors of the Catholic Church.

b) Episcopal consecration of the elected pope; therefore, one who is already a bishop obtains this same power from the moment he accepts his election to the pontificate, but if the one elected lacks episcopal character, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately (c.332, §1 in fine). In other words, the Law provides for the possibility of a non-bishop being elected to the papacy (historically this indeed had happened), although with the present system of the Cardinal electors choosing from among their ranks, this provision finds very little applicability.

2) Loss of Papal Power. The papal office, in principle, is for life; thus it can be lost only in two ways:

a) Death—This is the most common and is so obvious that the CIC does not even mention it.

b) Resignation — This is the only case considered by c.332, §2, for which the following are the requirements for validity:
1º that he makes the resignation freely — Therefore, like any juridic act, the resignation must be free and not have any of the defects that invalidate such act (cf. cc.124-128; 187-189).
2º that it be duly manifested — For the necessary juridic certainty, the Code requires that the will to resign be formally manifested. However, the resignation need not be accepted by anyone, a consequence of the principle that Romanus Pontifex a nemine iudicatur.

b. The Juridical Government of the universal Church during a sede vacante or sede prorsus impedita

What happens when the Roman Pontiff dies or legitimately resigns? The Code is taxative:
Can.335 — When the Roman See is vacant or entirely impeded nothing is to be innovated in the governance of the universal Church; however, special laws enacted for these circumstances are to be observed.
In the first place, c.335 lays down the general principle: Sede vacante nihil innovetur—which is applicable also to the dioceses and particular Churches (c.428, §1). In the second place, it remits to special laws the regulation of the juridical government of the universal Church during the two situations mentioned:

1) Sede vacante — This is the situation that results when papal power is lost either by death or valid and legitimate resignation of the Roman Pontiff as previously described. The special law for this situation is the Apost. Const. Romano Pontifici eligendo (RPE), promulgated by Paul VI in 1.X.1975. The juridical government of the universal Church during this period, regulated in the five chapters comprising the first part of this document, can be summarized as follows:

a) The government of the universal Church is entrusted to the College of Cardinals, but only for ordinary and urgent matters, while preparing what is necessary for the election of a new Pope.
b) The key administrator for the day-to-day affairs of the universal Church is the
Camerlengo or Chamberlain, assisted by three other cardinals; while the administration of the diocese of Rome falls on the Vicar for the Diocese of Rome.
c) Specific applications of the general principle: sede vacante nihil innovetur.

2) Entirely impeded —No canonical characterization is given separately for the Roman See, but the norm given for all episcopal see in general can be applied servatis de iure servandis:

c.412—An episcopal see is understood to be impeded if by reason of captivity, banishment, exile or incapacity, the diocesan bishop is wholly prevented from fulfilling his pastoral function in the diocese, and cannot communicate with the people of his diocese even by letter.
No special provision for the juridical government of the universal Church in this situation exists either; hence, what is laid down by the RPE for the case of sede vacante can be applied, servatis de iure servandis.

c. Extension and Limits of Papal Power

To speak of extension and limitation of the exercise of papal power is tantamount to speaking about primacy and hierarchical communion, and these notions are regulated in c.333, §§1 and 2 respectively.

1) The Primacy — This term refers to a complex relationship that exists between the Petrine Office, Pastor of the universal Church, and the individual Bishops who are also Pastors of the particular Churches.
Can.333, §1 — The Roman Pontiff, by virtue of his office, not only has power in the universal Church but also possesses a primacy of ordinary power over all particular Churches and groupings of churches by which the proper, ordinary and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care is both strengthened and safeguarded.

This paragraph of c.333 establishes the two important aspects regarding the extension of papal power:

a) The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff extends not only over the universal Church in its totality, but also to each and every one of the particular Churches and groupings thereof. This is really nothing else but a manifestation of the immediate character of the power that corresponds to the Pope by virtue of his office.
b) Such Primacy does not undermine the equally ordinary, proper and immediate power of the Bishops in their respective particular Churches (c.381, §1). On the contrary, the latter is both strengthened and safeguarded (c.333, §1; cf. LG, n.27).

2) Hierarchical Communion — If the extension of the papal power is best expressed by the notion of papal primacy (in the context of the communio ecclesiarum), the limits of the exercise of such power is best expressed by the notion of communio hierarchica, as laid down in the next paragraph of c.333.

Can.333, §2 — The Roman Pontiff, in fulfilling the office of the supreme pastor of the Church, is always united in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church; however, he has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner, either personal or collegial, of exercising this function.

What this paragraph establishes is that the exercise of the primacy of power is not exempted from the communion in the Church, and that the Pope—as Head of the Church—cannot separate himself from the body of the Bishops or from the body of the universal Church.

d. Assistance in Exercising the Papal Primacy

Can.334 — In exercising his office the Roman Pontiff is assisted by the bishops who aid him in various ways and among these is the synod of bishops; moreover the cardinals assist him as do other persons and other institutes according to the needs of the times; all these persons and institutes, in his name and by his authority, carry out the task committed to them for the good of all the churches, according to the norms defined by law.

1) Nature of the Assistance. Before going deeper into the specific institutions that help the Roman Pontiff, it is important to make some clarifications.

a) Personal exercise of Primacy. During the redaction of the canon, it was made clear that the canon was dealing with the personal—not collegial—exercise of the supreme power. Thus, here we are dealing with collaborators of the Pope in his own government of the universal Church.

b) Wide latitude of possibilities. Aside from the synod of Bishops, which is mentioned specifically, the canon does not concretize the way this collaboration is to be made, giving the Pope a wide latitude of possibilities as far as calling to his assistance other persons and other institutes according to the needs of the times.

3) Vicariate power of jurisdiction. The canon states that all these persons and institutes carry out the task committed to them by the Pope in his name and by his authority (...) according to the norms defined by law. Thus we are dealing with vicariate (in the strict sense) power of jurisdiction.

b. Specific Forms of Collaboration

Even if c.334 does not mention any specific forms of collaboration, aside from the synod of bishops, the following Chapters of the same Section I (Supreme Church Authority) deal with specific institutions:

1) The Synod of Bishops — dealt with in Chapter II (cc.342-348).
2) The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church — dealt with in Chapter III (cc.349-359).
3) The Roman Curia — dealt with in Chapter IV (cc.360-361).
4) The Legates of the Roman Pontiff — dealt with in Chapter V (cc.362-367).

Without getting into the details, suffice it to say at this point that all these forms of collaboration—e.g., the Vatican dicasteries or congregations, the papal nuncios—act in the name and authority of the Pope. Of special mention are the congregations of the Holy See, which—in most cases—issue documents (e.g., instructions and decrees) which have the full force of something issued by the Pope himself.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Canonical Process (Part I)

AT times, I have been approached by Catholic faithful citing some grievances against fellow Catholics—fellow laypersons, or religious, or at times even clerics. What brings them to consult a priest is oftentimes their desire to resolve the matter amicably—intra Ecclesia—rather than suing in a civil court. What they don’t know is that even within the Church, the canonical mechanism exists for legitimate redress.

After exhausting the extra-judicial means to resolve a con¬flict, the faithful—or canonical juridic person—who esteems that a legit¬imate interest has not been satisfied, can exercise his right to action by presenting his cause before a judicial tribunal. What follows is a series of acts aimed at obtaining a reso¬lutory decision from the tribunal. This is the judicial pro¬cess.

1. The Canonical Judicial Process (Processus)

In Canon Law—similar to civil law—a process is a series or succes¬sion of formal juridic acts, carried out before a tribunal of justice, by virtue of a pretension—understood as a claim, formu¬lated according to form and with fumus boni iuris—by a subject confronted by another, aimed at obtaining in a binding way the declaration or acknowledgment, juridical constitution, or the im¬position of a conduct, in relation to persons and matters subject to the jurisdictional power of the Church. This exhaustive definition attempts to capture the following essential elements of the process.

a) Procedural: The process entails a established way of proceeding (modus procedendi), wherein the series of juridic acts follow each other in an ordered way—i.e., some are necessary an¬tecedents, while others are obligatory consequences.
b) Processal: These acts are processal inasmuch as they are celebrated before a tribunal of justice and proceed in a con¬tentious manner.
c) Fumus boni iuris (an apparent legal sense): This series of acts starts with one inchoative act of formal claim—commonly called the libellus or charge—among the requisites for which is that it have founda¬tion in law (cc.1504, 1° and 1505, §2, 4°).
d) Confrontational: The process is always confrontational—i.e., it is between parts (also called parties) who do not have to be actually against each other, but are formally positioned confrontationally with respect to each other. This contradictorium is at the core of the process and its presence in each stage of the process is the theoretical basis for its claim to the truth—i.e., such contradictorium is what enables the court, fallible as it may be, to arrive at the moral certainly of having reached the truth of the matter by the time of sentencing, since both parts would have exerted everything possible to demonstrate the two sides of the contention.
e) Aimed at getting a judgment: The series of acts which constitute a process pretend to obtain from the judicial tribunal a decision which binds the opposed parties, and—in some cases and in an indirect and conditional manner—even third parties.
f) The content of the decision can be of different sorts, con¬gruent with the content of the original claim of the actor or plaintiff in his charge or libellum. Thus the decision can be:
(i) Declarative—merely declaring juridic facts or rights pre-existent to the process (c.1400, §1, 1°).
(ii) Constitutive—constituting new rights or juridic situations, by creating, modifying or extinguishing pre-existing juridical phenomena.
(iii) Condemnatory—imposing certain conducts or duties (c.1400, §1, 2°), e.g., penalties.
g) Limited Scope: On the one hand the canonical process is limited to persons and things subject to the jurisdictional power of the Church (cc.1400-1401). On the other hand, it is also limited in scope to that aspect of juridical reality which is defined in the dubium or litiscontestatio. In other words, the process will focus only on what the Tribunal has established, early on in the proceedings, to be the bone of contention, avoiding other issues—or even the introduction of certain evidences—as irrelevant to the particular case.

2. The Basic Elements of the Process

In a schematic way, we can consider five basic ele¬ments of the process, which comprise the subject matter of Part I of Book VII (on Procedural Law) of the Code of Canon Law:
1) Material Object: The matters that can, in general, be addressed by a tribunal (c.1400).
2) Active Subject: The judge or tribunal before whom the case is presented. Can.1401 states the general princi¬ple that the Catholic Church does indeed have the right to hear certain cases; and cc.1404-1475 (Titles I-III) treat this matter more in detail.
3) Form: The procedure or solemnities that are followed in the adjudication of certain matters. Can.1402 states the general rule.
4) Passive Subject: The petitioner or respondent whose case is being heard. This matter, along with the procurators and advocates for the parties, is treated in cc.1476-1490 (Title IV).
5) Formal Object: The precise claim or counter-claim made by the parties in a particular process. This matter is treated in cc.1491-1500 (Title V).

3. Processal Principles in General

As a specific instrument for the establishment of justice in any juridic order, we can speak of the process being informed by the following principles.
a. Oral vs. Written System
1) Written Process. This arose in Europe from the common law (ius commune)—based on Roman Law—moved by the desire to foster impartiality on the part of the judge: to minimize direct contact between the judge and the parts.
2) Oral Process. This was the opposite tendency, moved by reasons of expeditiousness, which became the ordinary way.
3) Conjugation of both principles in the modern process. The modern process gives preference to one and the other princi¬ple depending on its aptness for the specific phase of the pro¬cess:
a) There is a preference for the written mode in the more complicated phases requiring accuracy of documentation:
(i) Petition—since it is usually complicated.
(ii) Testimonies—are taken down in writing, since the sentence (and possible appeal) has to be based on them.
b) On the other hand, there is a preference for the oral mode where immediacy bet¬ween the judge and the parts or witnesses is desirable—i.e., for agility and judicial accuracy:
(i) Interrogation (examination and cross-examina¬tion) of witnesses.
(ii) Presentation of proofs.

b. Principles Relative to the Processal Initiative. We can distinguish three levels:
1) Opening of the Process. The instance of the part in¬choates the process; the opening of the process ex officio does not happen in Canon Law (c.1501).
2) Impulse of the Process. The impulse or propelling of the pro¬cess through its different stages belongs, in principle, to the parts, who should be the ones to propel the process (c.1452, §1). However, in cases that affect the public good, the judge ex officio should propel the process so that it does not lapse.
3) Presentation of Proofs. In principle, the parts should present the proofs. However, the judge should make up for any negligence of the parts, both in the presentation of proofs and in the interposi¬tion of exceptions.

c. Principles of Preclusion and Concentration

1) Principle of Preclusion. This refers to the extinction of a facultative right (faculty) to carry out a processal act once the time limit or period for it has lapsed, and the process has moved on to the next phase. A part who does not make use of a faculty within its time limit looses the right to exercise it.
2) Principle of Concentration. This refers to the tendency to con¬centrate all the processal acts in one audience (so as to coun¬teract the principle of preclusion).

d. Principle of Publicity and Secrecy

1) Principle of Secrecy. The subjects and the acts in the trial are bound by secrecy with respect to third parties who have no legitimate interest in the cause (c.1455).
2) Principle of Publicity. An ecclesiastical trial is much more private regarding third parties than are most civil trials—to which private citizens and the press, and sometimes even tele¬vision cameras, have access (c.1470). For the most part, ecclesiastical trials are held in closed chambers, with just the judge (or tribunal) and a notary present, while the parts and witnesses make their deposition one by one.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Canonical Process (Part II)

At times, I have been approached by Catholic faithful citing some grievances against fellow Catholics—fellow laypersons, or religious, or at times even clerics. What brings them to consult a priest is oftentimes their desire to resolve the matter amicably—intra Ecclesia—rather than suing in a civil court. What they don’t know is that even within the Church, the canonical mechanism exists for legitimate redress.

After exhausting the extra-judicial means to resolve a con¬flict, the faithful—or canonical juridic person—who esteems that a legit¬imate interest has not been satisfied, can exercise his right to action by presenting his cause before a judicial tribunal. What follows is a series of acts aimed at obtaining a reso¬lutory decision from the tribunal. This is the judicial pro¬cess.

4. Kinds of Processes

a. Ordinary Processes

There are two types of ordinary processes contemplated in the CIC, conceived in their regulation with reference only to formal categories and independently of the juridic matter, which have to be submitted to them. Thus, both types of processes can be used for all types of objects of litigation.

1) Written Contentious Process, which has the following characteristics:
a) Written, as the name implies, which means that all the elements of the process are in written form.
b) Divided into preclusive periods, each with a time limit. Certain processal acts can only be carried out within a given period, since the subsequent period offers other processal possibilities (cc.1501-1655).

2) Oral Contentious Process, which is characterized by the following:
a) Predominantly oral, although there are some conces¬sions to writing, especially in the introduction of the cause (c.1658).
b) Concentration of the processal confrontation in one session—or in a few if one is not enough—in the presence of a tribunal as designated by cc.1661 and 1662. This session is called an audience, and is regulated by the cc.1656-1670 (aside from many canons in the regulation of the written process, which are also applicable to the oral one).
c) More agile and rapid process, and therefore more economical.
d) Less thorough than the written process. Hence, the CIC excludes from this type of process the causes of matrimonial nullity (c.1690).
e) Always celebrated with a single judge in the first instance (c.1657). Thus, causes that need to be heard by a col¬legiate tribunal—like the cause of matrimonial nullity—are ex¬cluded from the oral contentious process.

b. Special Processes

Part III of Book VII of the CIC designates with the term special processes those types of processes that receive special regulation by virtue of the matter, which constitute the object of such processes. The special regulation aims at offering the peculiar mat¬ter in each case a specific and suitable treatment to facilitate a more rigid and correct resolution. Examples of special processes are:

a) Matrimonial cases (cc.1671-1707).
b) Nullity of sacred ordination (cc.1708-1712).
c) Penal processes (cc.1717-1728).
d) Reclamation of damages (cc.1729-1730).

5. The Pastoral Character of the Judicial Function in the Church

The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium n.27, at the same time that it teaches that Bishops have the sacred right before men, and duty before God, to judge within their respective competencies, also declares that to them is entrusted fully the pastoral function—i.e., the habitual and daily care of their flock. No ecclesial function is excluded from this principle of power-service which belongs to the Hier¬archy. This includes the judicial function.

At first glance, there seems to be two divergent principles bearing on the processal activity in the Church:

1st, The Institutional Finality of the Judicial Process—which is directed always to ascertain the truth and to apply justice, regardless of its consequences (cf. the classic personification of judicial justice as a blindfolded woman).

Certainly, the ecclesiastical judge or tribunal cannot violate justice on the grounds of pastoral concern. Thus, for example, he cannot decree the nullity of a prior marriage where there is validity—even for the sake of regularizing an existing union—since that would be to falsify reality. Neither can he disregard procedural norms, since these guarantee the protection of the equality of the parts and the processal options they enjoy.

2nd, Canonical Equity and Salus animarum. The Code, in its last canon—which is at the same time the last canon of the Book De Processibus—clearly declares the paradigm for the conduct of the ecclesiastical judge: with due regard for canonical equity and having before one’s eyes the salvation of souls, which is al¬ways the supreme law of the Church.

Despite the seeming divergence between the strict pretension of the processal activity and the pastoral care of souls, such pastoral concern is shown by the ecclesiastical judge or tribunal in the following:

1) Expeditious Processing—The effort to expedite matters, avoiding that processes take longer than one year in the first instance, or six months in the second instance (c.1453).

2) Flexibility in Processing—The authority given to the Judge to do away with procedural norms which do not affect the validity of acts in the oral contentious process (c.1670).

3) Effort to find a pacific solution—arrived at through consensus preferably before the start of the process or in any moment afterwards but before the sentence is dictated.

4) Care for procedural correctness—of all processal activi¬ty, thereby avoiding falling into procedural nullities.

5) Caution in the investigation prior to penal cases, to protect the good name of the accused (c.1717).

With all the foregoing discussion, it should become obvious to the ordinary faithful that Canon Law indeed has the necessary institutions and mechanisms for the protection of the rights of all the faithful, whether they are laypersons, members of institutes of consecrated life or clerics. What is important at the present time is a greater education on the rights and duties of all the faithful, so that all might indeed work together in harmony, for the upbuilding of the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


MY attention was again caught by a recent communiqué from the Vatican Press Office reiterating that the priests and bishops of the Society of St.Pius X—founded by the former French Abp.Marcel Lefebvre—“do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.” The clarification came “in response to the frequent questions that have been raised over recent days concerning the priestly ordinations…scheduled to take place at the end of June.” As reported by Zenit, Lefebvrite Bishop Alfonse de Galaretta—whose excommunication by John Paul II due to his Episcopal ordination without Papal mandate was recently lifted by Pope Benedict XVI—is scheduled to ordain three priests and three deacons in the society’s Zaitskofen seminary in Bavaria (Germany) on June 27, 2009.

The question in the mind of many Catholics is: If the excommunications of the four bishops ordained by Lefebvre have been lifted, what is the significance of the Vatican statement, which quoted the Pope’s letter sent to bishops in March, concerning his remission of the excommunication of the four bishops concerned. In that letter, Benedict XVI had clearly declared: "As long as the Society (of St. Pius X) does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. ... Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers ... do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church."

Hierarchical Communion

The Church was founded on the pillars of the Apostles who, by the foundational will of Jesus Christ, were constituted into a College. The reason and foundation of such a collegiate body was Peter (Petra = “the rock”): “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt.16, 18). It was on this College that Christ gave the sacred power to teach, sanctify and govern his flock which was going to be the Church—first giving Peter “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 16, 19); and later extending to all the Apostles the power to teach and govern in His name and the power to forgive sins (Jn 20, 23). It was on this Apostolic College of the Twelve—Judas Iscariot having been replaced by Matthias (Acts 1, 15-26)—that the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, appearing as tongues of fire on their heads (Acts 2, 1-13). Finally, it was by this Apostolic College of the Twelve Apostles that “about three thousand souls” were baptized, after hearing Peter’s discourse that very day of Pentecost (Acts 2, 14-41).

The exercise of the sacred ministry by the ordained ministers—bishops, priests and deacons—is the exercise of that sacred power that Christ invested on the Apostles by the infusion of the Holy Spirit on that first Easter and Pentecost. By the unbroken line connecting every bishop with an Apostle, the former shares in that sacred power invested on the latter, such that—in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head)—he can teach, sanctify and govern Christ’s faithful. In fact, the development and auto-organization of the Church is really the result of the interplay of the ministerial priesthood (of the bishops and, in union and communion with them, the priests and deacons) delivering the sources of salvation (the Word of God and the Sacraments) to the community of believers. In other words, the Church grows as a development of the interplay of the ministerial priesthood and the royal priesthood, such that the one Church of Christ is like a living body where all the cells (Christ’s faithful) are nourished and innervated by the nervous and circulatory systems (the Hierarchy).

The Missio canonica: juridic expression of Hierarchical Communion

Without the hierarchical communion—of each priest with his Bishop, and every Bishop (a successor of the Apostles) with the Pope (the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ)—there can be no genuine pastoral care in the Church. Theologically this is a doctrine replete with meaning and even imagery: “I am the vine, you are the branches…without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15, 5); or “I am the door of the sheep. All whoever have come are thieves and robbers; but the sheep have not heard them…The thief comes only to steal, and slay, and destroy” (Jn 10, 7/9). The one Catholic Church of Christ exists wherever there is a Pastor (a successor of the Apostles), helped by priests and deacons united to him, effectively ministers to a body of believers. There is effective pastoral care whenever a line can be established between each faithful, passing through an ordained minister (priest or deacon), to a proper Pastor—either a bishop (as in a diocese) or even a priest endowed with Episcopal functions (as in a personal prelature or an Apostolic Administrator).

The theological reality of hierarchical communion is expressed juridically in the institution of the so-called missio canonica, through which a sacred minister—who is ontologically capacitated, by the reception of Holy Orders, to carry out a function in persona Christi capitis—is effectively endowed by the Episcopal College (the successor of the Apostolic College), either as such or by its visible head who is the Pope, with a specific participation in that sacred power invested on it by Christ, to be exercised over a specific flock of Christ’s faithful. Thus, the sacred minister is effectively constituted into a pastor of souls.

Conversely, without the missio canonica, even an ordained person—who by that fact is ontologically capacitated to share in the threefold ministry of Christ of teaching, sanctifying and leading the faithful—would lack the authority to fulfill a pastoral role in the Church of Christ.

The Case of the Society of St.Pius X

With the foregoing discussion, it is easier to understand the full import of the above-mentioned Vatican statement: As long as the Society (of St. Pius X) does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.

The four bishops ordained by Abp. Marcel Lefebvre were all validly ordained. Their automatic excommunication (subsequently declared by the Holy See), due to their having been ordained against the expressed prohibition of the Holy See, has even been lifted by the Holy Father early this year. But they lack hierarchical communion.

Because of their illegitimate consecration to the episcopate, the four Lefebvrite bishops never received a missio canonica from the Holy See. They never formed part of the Catholic Hierarchy and were never given a specific flock to shepherd, and thus never received the authority to effectively carry out that function.

Moreover, the continued rejection by the Society of St. Pius X of the validity and authority of the Second Vatican Council remains a stumbling block to their being given such canonical mission. This is the reason for the above-mentioned continuation of the Vatican Statement: Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers ... do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.

Reasons for hope.

Despite all the foregoing discussion, there are reasons for hope in a full reconciliation of the schism brought about by Abp. Lefebvre. In effect, the aforementioned Vatican communiqué also confirmed that the restructuring of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei should come about soon. That commission was established by Pope John Paul II to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of those people linked in various ways to the fraternity founded by Lefebvre who desire to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church.

In his March letter, Benedict XVI announced his intention to change the status of the commission and make it part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the dicastery the Holy Father led before his election to the See of Peter. As the Vatican communiqué announced: This constitutes a premise for launching dialogue with the leaders of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, with a view to clarifying the doctrinal questions, and consequently the disciplinary questions, which remain unresolved.

In other words, by putting the Pontifical Commission in charge of re-establishing communion with the Society of St. Pius X under the dicastery (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) competent to study doctrinal matters, the Holy See hopes to facilitate ironing out the doctrinal questions that stand in the way of full communion. As we start the Year for the Priests, we can only redouble our prayers that such work of doctrinal clarification indeed bears fruit soon.