Sunday, 16 September 2012

The monuments of tradition: canon law

During this little octave around the fifth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, I thought it might also be useful to touch on some other aspects of the tradition of the Church.

Accordingly, today I just wanted to highlight some comments of Cardinal Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, at a recent Canon Law conference, reported on by Zenit.

Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord!

Mention of law of any kind in the Church these days frequently comes under attack as constituting the disease of the Pharisees.

Yet in fact canon law traces its origins back to the whole of Scripture, and its necessity in order to promote a well-functioning community is attested to especially in the lawmaking of the Council of Jerusalem, which resolved the dispute over which Jewish practices converts would be required to adopt (Acts 15).

As Cardinal Burke pointed out in his speech, the idea that canon law is at odds with pastoral needs, or truth at odds with love must be rejected.

It is not by accident that the longest psalm in the Bible, Psalm 118 (119) is a paean to the law!

Tradition and canon law

The development of the canon law owes much to that providential admixture of Roman culture to that of Jerusalem and Athens. Its content and institutions have developed in response to the human situations the Church has found a need to respond to.

Unsurprising then that like the other monument of tradition, it has become another victim of the hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity, or 'Spirit of Vatican IIism'.

Cardinal Burke argues that many of the horrors we see in the Church today are the result of ignorance of the law and the refusal to actually apply it.

One could add that the combination of this disregard for the value of the law with an ecclesiology that falsely privileged the local Church over the Universal has been particularly devastating: it has allowed bishops to think that they could do whatever they felt like regardless of Gospel norms and Church teaching, and get away with it.

The abuse scandals

In the case of the abuse scandals, for example, the Cardinal said:

"It is profoundly sad to note, for instance, how the failure of knowledge and application of the canon law, which was indeed still in force, contributed significantly to the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy in our some parts of the world.

Indeed, in the United States of America, my homeland, in which the scandal has been great, it is often asserted that it was caused by the absence of a proper discipline in the Church to deal justly with such abhorrent situations. In the typical approach of the hermeneutic of discontinuity, it is assumed that the Church lacked the proper canonical discipline with which to investigate such crimes and sanction them. The truth of the matter is that the Church had dealt with such crimes in the past, which should come as a surprise to no one, and that she had in place a carefully articulated process by which to investigate accusations, with full respect for the rights of all parties involved, including the protection of potential victims during the time of the investigation; to reach a just decision regarding their truth, and to apply the appropriate sanction. The discipline in place was not followed because it was not known and, in fact, was presumed not to exist."

Liturgical and other abuses

The Cardinal goes on:

"The years of a lack of knowledge of the Church’s discipline and even of a presumption that such discipline was no longer fitting to the nature of the Church indeed reaped gravely harmful fruits in the Church. For example, I think of the pervasive violation of the liturgical law of the Church, of the revolution in catechesis which often rendered the teaching of the faith vacuous and confused, if not erroneous; of the breakdown of the discipline of priestly formation and priestly life, of the abandonment of the essential elements of religious life and the devastating loss of fundamental direction in many congregations of religious Sisters, Brothers and priests; of the loss of the identity of charitable, educational and healthcare institutions bearing the name of Catholic; and the failure of respect for the nature of marriage and the time-proven process for judging claims of nullity of marriage in ecclesiastical tribunals."

The Cardinal makes the point that of all forms of the law, that relating to the liturgy is the most important:

"Finally, liturgical law must enjoy the primacy among canonical norms, for it safeguards the most sacred realities in the Church. It is interesting to note that in his first Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, Blessed Pope John Paul II confronted the abuse of general confession and general absolution, of the essentially personal encounter with Christ in the Sacrament of Penance, reminding us both of the right of the penitent to such an encounter and the right of Christ Himself,[xlvii] and that, in his last Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he urgently addressed abuses of the Church’s discipline regarding the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.[xlviii]..."

Protecting our rights

The Cardinal's focus was on the importance of the law in the context of the New Evangelization.

But the recovery of the sense of importance of the law is just as more important, I think, for traditionalists in the context of the rights and duties of Catholics - clerics, lay and religious - set out in the 1983 Code.

I'm talking about rights, here such as the right of the laity to be assisted by their pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church (Canon 213), and to worship according to the provisions of their own rite as it has been properly approved (Canon 214) for example.

The Code sets out what those rights are.  Attempting to enforce those rights and duties, however, has often turned out to be difficult, time-consuming and even fruitless in the face of a hostile attitude to the law and novus ordo neo-clericalism.

Cardinal Burke's efforts to turn this around should be something we all support.

1 comment:

Terry said...

What are the chances of Cardinal Burke becoming the next Pope? He seems to have a real understanding of all the problems in the Church.