WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK ABOUT CANON LAW? MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT DO THE BISHOPS THINK ABOUT CANON LAW?

WE ARE A PEOPLE SUPPOSEDLY RULED BY LAW

President Barack Hussein Obama has famously said that the Constitution of the United States is a “flawed document.”  True to his opinion of the document which is the foundation of our democratic Republic, his actions with regard to proposed and enacted legislation as well as his appointment of czars to positions of administrative importance in his government appear to be simply unconstitutional.  Yet, the American people seem to not care.

Reflecting on that situation, I have come to the conclusion that the rule of law has lost some its importance to the American people, and, sad to say, to American Catholics as well.  The average Catholic probably does not know that the life of the Church is supposed to be regulated by the Code of Canon Law.  The Code of Canon Law is not some medieval document, it was completely revised in the light of the Second Vatican Council and was promulgated by Pope John Paul the Great.  Now I would like to propose for further reflection that there is a relation between the respect, or lack thereof, for the Code of Canon Law and the present crisis in the Church in the United States.

I have put a number of posts on this Blog dealing with the subject of sensus fidelium because the sensus fidelium is vitally important to the Church. At various times in the Church’s  history it has saved the bishops of the Church from error.  In the Fourth Century, according to John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Servant of God, in his important work Historical Tracts, it saved the Church from the error of Arianism and Semi-Arianism.

In our own time perhaps it will save the Church from the timidity of bishops who are content only to preach the word and to celebrate the Liturgy.  The three-fold munus or office, of the bishop involves teaching, sanctifying and ruling. The idea of ruling seems to be poison to modern liberal thought.  Ruling in the Catholic Church suggests to liberals history’s prince-bishops, prelates who all too eagerly took on some of the responsiblities of ruling the state, men such as Cardinal Wolsey, Cardinal Richelieu and many others.

But ruling as the term is used in conjuction with the munus or office of a bishop does not mean that kind of exercise of power, it means rather the administration and regulating of the life of Catholics in the bishop’s diocese in accordance with Canon Law. Ah! There’s the rub!  Canon Law!  Canon Law has fallen in to a situation of benign (?) neglect in the Church, especially the Church in the United States.

In the twenty-five years I participated in General Meetings of the NCCB/USCC and the USCCB I do not believe that I ever heard Canon Law cited in the debates that annually take place in the those general meetings.   One has the impression that many bishops have not looked at the Code of Canon Law since their days in the seminary when they studied Canon Law and that they go through their entire tenure as Ordinary of a diocese without every referring to the Penal Code section of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

And that seems to be a big part of the problem with regard to the scourge of abortion-on-demand in the United States and the seeming eagerness with which Catholic politicians flaunt their dissent from the teaching of the Church; dissent primarily with regard to the sanctity of human life.  By now it should be clear to everyone that it is not enough only to proclaim the teaching of the Church.  The scandal of public dissent from that teaching by Catholic politicians must be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of Canon Law.

The failure of bishops to enforce the provision of Canon 915 (which is not even a penal canon, it is a canon regulating liturgical practice) which forbids the distribution of Holy Communion to those who obstinately cling to public sin has been a big part of the problem. Now, the recent ‘canonization’ or ‘apotheosis’ of Ted Kennedy through the elaborate secular celebration with obliterated the true liturgical significance of his funeral Mass has probably sent a clear message to pro-abortion Catholic politicians that they not only do not have to fear the imposition of canonical penalties for their public dissent, they can look forward to being similarly ‘canonized’ by the Church when they die.

In the penal section of the Code of Canon Law there are canons which provide for sanctions which can and should be taken against Catholics who become notorious public sinners by dissenting from one or more of the de fide teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Ruling a diocese involves much more than the financial management of the diocese, the creation and suppression of parishes, the creation and closing of schools, etc.  Ruling involves above all else exercising supervision of the life of the clergy, religious and laity and applying the provisions of Canon Law wherever necessary.

The great scandal of pedophilia which has so damaged the Church was largely the result of the failure of bishops to apply the provisions of the appropriate canons to the misconduct of clergy.  The great scandal of Catholic laity engaged in the business of running or working in abortuaries with impunity was the result of the failure of bishops to apply the provisions of the appropriate canons to lay misconduct.  And the great scandal of practically all the Catholic members of Congress voting consistently for pro-abortion legislation was clearly the result of the failure of bishops to apply the provisions of the appropriate canons to their misconduct.

The munus or office of a bishop consists in his threefold exercise of his sacramental power: to teach, to sanctify and TO RULE. Please God, let there be a change for the better in the way bishops rule their dioceses in the United States. I see no hope for stopping the futher decline of Catholocism in America and turning it around for spiritual growth without the bishops of the United States, individually and as a body, exercising in a bold and courageous fashion the fullness of the power given to them by ordination/consecration.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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