Saturday, August 28, 2010

Collaboration of Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests

(Part I)

IN a recent Workshop of the Executive Committee of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines, a nagging question was again raised: What is the canonical status of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC)? The matter was raised by the canon lawyers from Mindanao (priests and a bishop), because of the growing frictions between the ecclesiastical organization and the so-called basic ecclesial communities. In the past, this question had always been sidelined by the lack of any clear theological notion of such communities; hence—the argument went—it was futile to attempt a canonical analysis of the problem.

This time, however, it was pointed out that even if it might be premature to attempt a definition of the canonical status of Basic Ecclesial Communities, some working guidelines might be in order, by way of delimiting the scope of pastoral action of such communities, in accordance with Church Law. In short, even if it might not be possible to categorically state what Canon Law states these communities are, it might be possible to draw from existing legislation what these communities are not. In more practical terms, perhaps we can glean from Canon Law what these communities may and may not do.

In fact, this is the task that the Canon Law Society of the Philippines proposed to tackle in its National Convention in May 2011. As a starting point for the canonical investigation, the CLSP Execom identified a little-known document of the Holy See, which was issued in 1997. To arouse interest in this topic, we shall revisit that document in this and the following issue of the CBCP Monitor.

The Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio

On 13 November 1997, the Pro Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, presented to the Press the Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio, On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests. The document reaffirmed the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (especially of Lumen Gentium, n.33 and Apostolicam Actuositatem, n.24). Its main purpose was to acknowledge and promote what is specific to the vocations of the lay faithful and of ordained ministers, with the goal of encouraging real communion in the Church.

In the decade prior to the document’s publication, Bishops, priests and lay people had been requesting authoritative directives on the identity of priests and lay people with regard to particular cases of pastoral activity improperly exercised by non ordained faithful. Thus, an Inter-dicasterial Commission was established for that purpose, coordinated by the Congregation for the Clergy and involving seven other dicasteries: the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

In a series of meetings, this Commission worked out a text which was sent to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences and to the individual Bishops of the dioceses where this issue was considered most urgent. About 92 percent of those questioned were in favor, but asked that ambiguous wording be avoided in the text, that the most authoritative legal form possible be used and, given the urgent need for clarification, that the document be published without delay. The Commission scrupulously followed these instructions.

On 15.V.1997 the text was discussed by the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia in the presence of the Holy Father. Special attention was paid in this last stage to critical observations until a clear convergence of views among the bishops concerned was reached. The result of this lengthy and thorough process is the Instruction we are now considering.

Preliminary hermeneutic clarifications

For a correct understanding of the document, we must first consider some of its formal aspects.

1. An Instruction is an administrative provision. As c.34, §1 states, instructions “clarify the prescriptions of laws and elaborate on and determine an approach to be followed in implementing them”. Thus, it does not create new law, but merely insists that the law currently in force be observed. The same c.34, §1 states that they “are given for the use of those persons whose concern it is to see that the laws are implemented and oblige such persons in the execution of the laws.” Thus, an instruction has also been characterized as an internal general disposition of the ecclesiastical organization, which is directed to the authority or titleholder of an office who is charged with the execution of the law.
2. An Instruction has immediate effectivity. The document was dated 15.VIII.1997 but was not published until 13.XI.1997. Somebody could object that it gave no indication of when it would go into force. That is basically unnecessary, since an Instruction merely reminds the recipients of an obligation already in force for some time. The months elapsed between the date of approval and the day of publication were probably needed for translating the text into the various languages.

3. Involvement of 8 Dicasteries. The fact that eight dicasteries were involved in drafting the Instruction is in itself very significant. On the one hand, it can be said that this procedure conformed with the legislative provisions of the Roman Curia, according to which, what falls within the competence of different offices should be treated by all, under the coordination of the office primarily concerned with the question. Nevertheless, it would have sufficed if the document had only been signed by the Congregation for the Clergy, while noting the preceding inter-dicasterial consultation. The fact that all the dicasteries involved signed with their respective heads and secretaries clearly expressed their co responsibility as well as the importance that the Curia attaches to this subject.

4. Very limited scope of the Instruction. The Instruction has a very limited purpose and its title should be carefully read with that in mind. The subject is not collaboration between priests and lay people, but the priestly ministry in so far as lay people can collaborate in it. The document is thus concerned with only a limited area of the laity's field of activity in the Church. It is important not to forget this fact, since the vast, ordinary field of activity for lay people in the Church and the world is intentionally not considered by the Instruction. It is only concerned with giving appropriate direction to the exercise of particular functions by particular lay people.

5. Binding force of the document. The importance of the document is also underscored by the fact that the Pope approved the Instruction in forma specifica. This mode of approbation chosen by the Pope must be considered in the light of the fact that as stated in the Conclusion—by this administrative act “all particular laws, customs and faculties which are contrary to the foregoing norms, and were conceded ad experiment by the Holy See or other ecclesiastical authorities, are hereby revoked.” Thus we are spared the possible objection that an administrative act cannot derogate from the norms (laws or customs) currently in force; the intention to ensure coherent legislation in this entire matter is also apparent. Consequently any form of appeal against it is impossible.

On the other hand, we must not forget that a preponderant majority of the Bishops whose opinions were consulted for the draft had asked precisely that the most authoritative legal form possible be used.

Objectives of the Instruction

To conclude Part I of this article, let us summarize the basic objectives of the Instruction.

1. Encourage the ordained ministers and foster the ordained ministry. It seeks to encourage ordained ministers by forcefully reintroducing the subject of vocations to the priesthood, stressing that the Church's life depends on the sacrament of Holy Orders as a free, absolutely irreplaceable gift, because the ordained ministry (Bishops, priests, deacons) is part of the Church's very structure. Thus, the Instruction concludes by stating that “the solutions addressing the shortage of ordained ministers cannot be other than transitory and must be linked to a series of pastoral programs which give priority to the promotion of vocations to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

2. Remind the laity of their specific role. The Instruction also reminds us how the fundamental equality of Christians—based on Baptism—is compatible with an essential difference—based on Sacred Orders—and that lay Christians, precisely because of Baptism, are called to the consecratio mundi, which differs from the task of anyone who belongs, through the sacrament, to the ministerial ranks. Thus, by avoiding every form of clericalism, lay Christians are encouraged to be more aware of their identity and to give their witness in the world and in the Church without considering the exercise of ministerial duties which they may perform from time to time as a form of advancement but only as one of substitution.

3. Authentic promotion of the lay apostolate. The Instruction does not limit lay participation in the evangelical and ecclesial apostolate. On the contrary, this is encouraged in the right direction consistent with Catholic ecclesiology. “However—as Card. Ratzinger emphasized at the time—it intends to rebut and prevent the tendency towards a clericalization of the lay faithful, and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the sacrament of Orders.”

This affirmation of the future Pope Benedict XVI is of paramount importance in our proposed study of BECs.

4. Encourage terminological precision. In Article 1 of the practical provisions—¬entitled: “Need for an Appropriate Terminology”—the Instruction insists on the need for a suitable terminology, clarifying the confused use of the word ministry, which describes both the officia and the munera exercised by Pastors in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, and those exercised by the non ordained faithful.

5. Eliminate abuses. As Card. Ratzinger also affirmed at the time: “The timeliness and urgent need of this Instruction is explained in the light of the situation occurring in specific and widespread ecclesial circles, which demands, special insistence on the faithful application of the principles and norms contained in the teachings of the Magisterium and the Church's universal legislation in the concrete life of the particular Churches.”
(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Serious and More Serious Crimes in the Catholic Church

JUST when our readers might just have had enough of the Penal Law of the Church for the meantime─with a spate of articles in this column on Crime and Punishment in the Catholic Church (Parts I&II) and Canonical Process for Alleged Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clerics (Parts I&II))─the Holy See has recently come up with new documentation consolidating all the norms pertinent to the issues that we have recently tackled─i.e., relative to the serious crimes against the faith, and more serious crimes against the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Penance, and the sexual abuse of minors. To conclude this discussion, therefore, let us summarize the recent documentation.

Legislative Background

On 30.IV.2001, Pope John Paul II promulgated a very important document, the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, which gave the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) responsibility to deal with and judge a series of particularly serious crimes within the ambit of Church Law. The Motu Proprio was accompanied by a series of practical and procedural Norms, known as Normae de gravioribus delictis (“Norms on more serious crimes”).

At this point it is interesting to note that the serious crimes to which the regulations referred primarily concerned vital aspects of Church life as such: crimes against the faith (heresy, apostasy and schism) and crimes against the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Hence the title of the Motu Proprio. Only by extension, because of the vast public echo that it attracted in recent years, was the crime of sexual abuse committed by a priest against a minor under the age of eighteen included in the list of more serious crimes, which were reserved to the CDF. Hence the title of the Norms attached to the Motu Proprio.

Nine years after the promulgation of the Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, the CDF felt it necessary to propose certain changes to these norms, not modifying the text in its entirety, but rather only in a few areas, in an effort to improve the application of the law. After a serious and attentive study of the proposed changes, the Cardinals and Bishops Members of the CDF presented the results of their decisions to the Supreme Pontiff and, on 21 May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI gave his approval and ordered the promulgation of the revised text.

The text of the Norms on delicta graviora currently in force is the text approved by the Holy Father Benedict XVI on 21 May 2010, and published by the Vatican press office last 15 July 2010.

Serious Crimes (Art.2, §1)

The new document starts by establishing the serious crimes against the faith as heresy, apostasy and schism, as defined in c.751 and penalized with an automatic excommunication by c.1364, §1 of the Code of Canon Law. It further establishes that “it pertains to the Ordinary or Hierarch to remit, by norm of law if such be the case, the latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication and likewise to undertake a juridicial trial in the first instance or issue an extrajudicial decree, with due regard for the right of appeal to the CDF” (Art.2, §2). These cases therefore are not reserved to the CDF, at least not in the First Instance.

More Serious Crimes

The document proceeds to enumerate the more serious crimes, which are strictly reserved to the CDF. It is important to note that most of these crimes already carry an automatic (latae sententiae) censure, such that what is reserved to the CDF is not so much the imposition of the penalty, but rather its remission or possible declaration (ferendae sententiae), if that were necessary.

1. Crimes against the Holy Eucharist (Art.3)

§ 1. The more grave delicts against the sanctity of the most Holy Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for judgment are:

1° the taking or retaining for a sacrilegious purpose or the throwing away of the consecrated species (with automatic excommunication according to c.1367);
2° attempting the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, without having been promoted to the priestly order (with automatic interdict or suspension according to c.1378, §2, 1º);
3° the simulation of the administration of Holy Eucharist (with a just penalty according to c.1379);
4° the concelebration of the Eucharistic with ministers of ecclesial communities which do not have apostolic succession and do not acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination (with a just penalty according to cc.908 & 1365)

§ 2. Also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the delict which consists in the consecration for a sacrilegious purpose of one matter without the other or even of both, either within or outside of the eucharistic celebration. One who has perpetrated this delict is to be punished according to the gravity of the crime, not excluding dismissal or deposition.

2. Crimes against the Sacrament of Penance (Art.4)

§ 1. The more grave delicts against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are:

1° the absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (with automatic excommunication according to c.1378, §1);
2° attempted sacramental absolution or the prohibited hearing of confession by a person who cannot validly give sacramental absolution (with automatic interdict or suspension according to c.1378, §2, 2°);
3° simulated sacramental absolution (with a just penalty according to c.1379);
4° the solicitation to a sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession (with suspension, prohibitions or deprivation, or dismissal from clerical state as mentioned in c.1387);
5° the direct and indirect violation of the sacramental seal by a confessor (with automatic excommunication according to c.1388, §1);
§ 2. Also reserved to the CDF is the more grave delict which consists in the recording, by whatever technical means, or in the malicious diffusion through communications media, of what is said in sacramental confession, whether true or false, by the confessor or the penitent. Anyone who commits such a delict is to be punished according to the gravity of the crime, not excluding, if he be a cleric, dismissal or deposition.

3. Crimes against Holy Orders (Art.5)

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is also reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See (1º); If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition (3º)

4. Crimes against Catholic Morals (Art.6)

§1. The more grave delicts against morals which are reserved to the CDF are:

1° the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years; in this case, a person who habitually lacks the use of reason is to be considered equivalent to a minor.
2° the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology;

§2. A cleric who commits the delicts mentioned above in §1 is to be punished according to the gravity of his crime, not excluding dismissal or deposition.

Procedural Norms

The procedural norms to be followed in these cases are as follows:

• Whenever an Ordinary or Hierarch had at least probable knowledge (notitiam saltem verisimilem habeat) of the commission of one of the reserved grave delicts, after having carried out the preliminary investigation, he is to inform the CDF which, unless it calls the case to itself because of special circumstances, will indicate to the Ordinary or Hierarch how to proceed. The right of appeal against a sentence of the first instance is to be exercised only before the Supreme Tribunal of the Congregation.
• Criminal action in the cases reserved to the CDF─hitherto extinguished by a prescription of ten years after the 18th birthday of the victim─henceforth prescribes only after 20 years, subject to even a longer period if the CDF deems necessary.
• In tribunals established by Ordinaries of Hierarchs, for the cases of the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative─hitherto validly performed only by priests─henceforth can be fulfilled by anyone with required knowledge of Church Law.
• Regulations concerning the secrecy of trials are maintained, in order to safeguard the dignity of all the people involved.

A Final Word on Judicial Discretion (vs. Secrecy)

A point that remains untouched, though it has often been the subject of discussion in recent times, concerns the Church’s collaboration with the civil authorities. We need to point out that the Norms under discussion form part of the Penal Law of the Church, which is autonomous and distinct from the Civil Law.
On this subject, however, it is important to take note of the Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations, as published on the Holy See website (cf. In that Guide, the phrase "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed" is contained in the section dedicated to "Preliminary Procedures". This means that in the praxis suggested by the CDF, it is necessary to comply with the requirements of law in the various countries, and to do so in good time, not during or subsequent to the canonical trial.