Image result for michelangelo's last judgment

The Last Judgement by Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel


Three ways to not deal with Canon 915

by Edward Peters, J.D


January 24, 2017
[ Emphasis and {commentary} in red type by Abyssum ]

Any canonist citing canon law in defense of doctrine or discipline these days should expect to be compared to a Pharisee and tritely accused of ‘throwing the law at pastoral problems’. Antinomianism, {Antinomianism:  The doctrine that claims that a person’s faith in God and in the person of Christ frees him from the moral obligations of the law whether natural or positive, biblical or ecclesiastical.  It is a logical consequence of any theory that so stresses the work of the Holy Spirit as to exclude the need for co-operatio with divine grace.  The most authoritative condemnation Antinomianism was by the Council of Trent, which saw in the Reformation principle of faith without good works the source of Antinomian conclusions.  Hence among other anathemas of Trent was the censure of anyone who says that “God has given Jesus Christ to men as a redeemer in whom they are to trust but not as a lawgiver whom they are to obey.” – Father John Hardon, MODERN CATHOLIC DICTIONARY } you see, which has taken hold in many places, routinely regards the invocation of inconvenient laws as an act of moral violence and usually views lawyers as hypocrites suffering from psychological disorders. Oh well, let’s talk about a canonical issue with profound implications for the Church in our day, shall we?

Specifically in regard to the debate over admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion, a steady ‘dissing’ of canon law is crucial because canon lawand the centuries of accumulated pastoral wisdom and doctrinal clarity that it represents—lies directly athwart the campaign to admit Catholics to Eucharistic communion on their own terms instead of on Christ’s terms and the Church’s. Whatever damage to Catholic doctrine and discipline some might spy down the road—say, abandoning the indissolubility of Christian marriage, eliminating repentance as a condition for forgiveness of sin, absolutizing private conscience against public order, usurping the Church’s authority over the sacraments, and so on—it all begins by admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Eucharistic communion upon, in the final analysis, their own assessment of their ownconscience, chiefly by using Amoris laetitia as cover.

Canon 915, however, as has been explained many times, forbids the distribution of holy Communion to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” and, because ecclesiastical tradition is unanimous that divorced-and-remarried Catholics figure among those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” (CCC 2384), this law poses a major problem for the ‘pro-Amoris’ wing. To deal with that problem, three approaches to Canon 915 have, I think, emerged.

# 1. Ignore Canon 915. This is the approach followed in Amoris laetitia itself and by, say, the Buenos Aires plan. Passing over Canon 915 in silence offers two advantages: first, the Communion-admission debate can be steered almost exclusively toward prolix discussions of personal conscience (about which there is always one more thing to say); second, bishops and pastors who, faithful to the Catholic sacramental order, affirm that holy Communion must be withheld in these cases, can do so without directly running afoul of any clear assertion in Amoris. But see # 3 below.

# 2. Belittle Canon 915. This approach marks most essays by amateurs and appears variously as a patronizing tsk-tsking of any benighted enough to think that law has something to do with life, or nigh-on clueless comments about the canon, and occasionally old-fashioned ridicule of canon law. Belittling Canon 915 taps into the antinomianism now running through the Church and it appeals both to writers unequipped to discuss competently the complex matters at hand and to readers unequipped to recognize that emotion is being substituted for reason.

# 3. Violate Canon 915. This is the approach recently approved by the bishops of Malta in stating that holy Communion cannot be withheld in these cases but, as noted here, their action does not run directly afoul of Amoris for the simple reason that Amoris said nothing about Canon 915. Precisely in that both # 1 and # 3 can be sustained by appeals to Amoris leads me to agree with the Four Cardinals that, on this point anyway, the ambiguity in Amoris is irresolvable and thus the document urgently requires official clarification.

That all three approaches to Canon 915 are unacceptable seems self-evident to me but I cannot reinvent my arguments for so holding every time a new name wades into this fray. I trust my writings thus far can be located by those who wish to be better informed. Still I thought it useful to pause for a few minutes and to suggest that the ‘pro-Amoris’ wing really does know that Canon 915 summarizes what stands between them and their goals and that they have developed, therefore, three (albeit unacceptable) ways to not deal with that ancient rule.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. abyssum says:

    God bless you SanSan for your very courageous and helpful comment !!!

  2. SanSan says:

    49 yrs ago, my husband and I got pregnant out-of-wedlock. Our Catholic families were distressed and organized a judge to marry us in his home. We had no family in attendance. Two years later, with much resistance on my part, my mother-in-law moved to have our marriage “blessed” in the Church. I didn’t understand this. I believed in my heart that our marriage and baby girl was a gift from God. So as not to upset the in-laws, I went along and we had our marriage blessed.

    Bless my mother-in-law and her intersession! If we had not had our marriage blessed and received such grace(s) from it, I don’t think that I would still be married today.

    The vow, the sacredness, the complete unity of the Sacrament of Marriage is what has solidifyied our union.

    My mother-in-law in her wisdom, saw two very imature (18 and 21) individuals who didn’t have a clue what authentic love meant (giving oneself for the other).

    These past 49yrs have been difficult at times and great at other times. We grew at different times and in different ways. We made a zillion mistakes (some horrendous), and we did a zillion good things.

    Today, in the present, we live and love. We have an appreciation for the struggles we have survived and we have learned that forgiveness is the next right step forward.

    We have grown closer to Our Lord and Blessed Mother and now pray (in imitation) like my dear mother-in-law did for us. Many roseries, repentance and reparation…..for ourselves and for others.

    What would have happened to our souls, if we were told that we didn’t need to take our vows seriously and persevere? Why bother? No! The Sacrament of Marriage unites us into ONE FLESH, that cannot be separated. Unto death do us part.

    Thank you Jesus, thank you Blessed Mother and thank you to my dear departed mother-in-law Mary Agnes Dillon.

Comments are closed.