Friday, January 27, 2017

The death of law in the Church

A general of the Vendee uprising against the French Revolution
On October 9, 1965, 450 conservative participants in the Second Vatican Council submitted written interventions for discussion, demanding the condemnation of Communism. Under the rules governing the Council, the interventions should have been debated, but they were not. At first, the excuse was made that they had not been submitted within the deadline. Then, when this proved to be untrue, Archbishop Garrone of Toulouse explained, on behalf of the Council's secretariat, that the interventions 'were not examined when they should have been, because unintentionally they had not been transmitted to the Commission members.' By then it was too late to do anything about it. So that's all right, then. (I take this summary of events from Michael Davies, Pope John's Council pp150-1.)

The recent events surrounding the Order of Malta have raised the question of the role of law in the Church, as, on the face of it, the admittedly unique and peculiar legal rights of the Order would seem to have been trampled underfoot. The problem of respect for law and legal procedure goes back further, however, as this anecdote from 1965 illustrates. Accounts of the Second Vatican Council are replete with stories of procedural shenanigans; this one was perhaps the most shameless. In the 1980s and 1990s some degree of stability was restored to the life of the Curia, perhaps, but around the world the Church's law had for many purposes simply died. Liturgical law, laws governing the training of seminarians, laws governing clerical discipline and the procedures for dealing with breaches of those laws, were only referred to, in many parts of the Church, in a purely opportunistic way to punish priests, nearly always the more conservative ones, who had annoyed their bishops or religious superiors.

Anyone during this period pointing out to priests and bishops the many laws of the Church -- whether of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, or of the Code of Canon Law -- which they routinely broke or ignored, was met with, at best, derision, and, at worst, anger and retribution. Inevitably this attitude to law carried over to issues of serious clerical wrongdoing, and also infected clerical attitudes to the law of the land, and lies behind the Church's response to clerical sex abuse cases.

The situation of lawlessness has been such that it is actually impossible for a conscientious priest or Catholic layman to keep the law even for himself. Priests who went through the liturgical rules laid out in the 2004 Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum and actually applied them in their parishes would be, in most dioceses, in deep trouble. Take the rule that Holy Communion should not be given in the hand if there was 'a risk of profanation' (section 92). Is there a priest in the developed world who would dare to apply this in the Ordinary Form?

I don't want to minimise the gravity of what is happening now, but to point out the well-laid foundations of it. Just as Traditional Catholics need to resist the temptation to think that everything before Vatican II was just fine, so conservative Catholics need to resist the temptation to think that everything before Amoris laetitia was other than catastrophically bad. Only from a catastrophically bad situation could the present hideous problems have arisen. Only after fifty years of the derision of law, and of the opportunistic, manipulative and oppressive use of law, could we have found ourselves reading about the de facto annexation of a sovereign entity by the Holy See, about priests found guilty of sexual crimes being let off if they have have friends in high places, and about a priest being suspended a divinis, by a formal decree of his bishop no less, for failing to get with the programme of Amoris laetitia: whatever that programme might be.

This last is perhaps worse than anything we have heard about in modern times: as appears from the bishop's own decree, this priest is quite literally being suspended for his adherence to central tenets of the Catholic Faith. But it is not entirely without precedent. Remember this case? Most things like that happen more quietly.

It is no secret, of course, that theological liberalism does not have a high regard for law. Conservatives are at a disadvantage, then, in allowing themselves to be limited by the law, in dealing with liberals who do not. Liberals feel exactly the same sort of justification in breaking laws for what they see as the greater good, that Fascists and Communists did in the revolutions and conflicts of the 20th century. Their actions have the same effect, creating a situation in which only brute force can get things done, and where disciplined gangs of thugs are best positioned to wield that brute force. What conservatives want is freedom under the law: a situation in which a stable and just (if imperfect) framework of rules prevents the systematic abuse of power. That isn't the situation in the Church today, and it hasn't been for a long time.

At a certain point the remaining moral authority of deference, procedure, precedent, and rule will disappear for conservatives as it has long since disappeared for liberals. This is the moment of counter revolution: perhaps this is the moment that President Trump represents in American politics. It is dangerous because counter-revolutionaries do not always distinguish between the human laws which no longer command authority, and the Natural and Divine Laws which can never lose it. It is a phase of history for which we may need to be prepared in the Church.

Stained glass from Belmont Abbey in England.
The bishop in the middle is St John Fisher. The Beatus on the right is Adrian Fortescue,
who for reasons which are unclear was singled out for execution by Henry VIII: he was a knight of Malta
and an ancestor of Fra Matthew Festing. The Beatus on the left is Thomas Percy, who led an armed
uprising against Elizabethan Protestantism under the banner of the Five Wounds.
He was eventually arrested and executed.

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  1. As an ordinary Catholic layman, I am bemused, disturbed, even disgusted by the activities of this Pope. His action in demanding the resignation of an outstanding servant of the Church in Fra Festing is scandalous. What can we do? Apart from retreating into our shells and ignoring the words of the Pope, he answer is NOTHING.
    God help us.

  2. "What can we do? Apart from retreating into our shells and ignoring the words of the Pope, [T]he answer is NOTHING."

    -And that answer is WRONG.

    1. What then is the answer? If you say something is 'wrong' then you must say why it is wrong & explain what is right!!

    2. It is wrong to say, as was said above, that we can only retreat into our shells.

      Priests can be encouraged to remove themselves from the ambit of Bishops who defy Our Blessed Lord, especially those prelates threatening to punish those who protect Him in the Most Holy Eucharist, who ought not be obeyed in their defiance.

      Laity can receive them into their homes, locally, where the work of the Church can resume.

      Link provided has direct relevance:

    3. Dear Ben
      You say priests should remove themselves from the ambit of bishops; do you know of any priests who would do this? Surely they must continue to protect their flocks from such prelates by staying within the Church. They could also leave their present situation & join the FSSP or ICKSP or even the SSPX which appears close to being accepted by the Church.
      Going back to the laity; must they desert the churches where (at least) they have EF Mass regularly or must they too desert their priests who provide these Masses (often to the anger of their bishops) & leave those honest priests without aid?
      Come on Ben, give us some honest alternatives which do not leave our priests 'hung out to dry'!!!!!!

    4. David,

      You have expressed beautifully the dilemma I am facing.When I said, admittedly in a too brief comment, that there was nothing the layman could do, I was thinking along the lines which you have expressed. We, as laymen and laywomen, have a duty to support our orthodox and courageous priests. We owe them much.

    5. "Surely they must continue to protect their flocks from such prelates by staying within the Church."

      Faithless prelates ruthlessly control faithful priests.
      The flocks are already defenseless. When a prelate signals to his priests, as Cardinal Wuerl did yesterday, that the laity alone determines their own worthiness to receive Communion (where Canons 915 and 916 may apply), who is the priest to obey - the Church or the prelate? Is Cardinal Wuerl obedient to the Church when he punishes a priest for protecting the Eucharist from Sacrilege? When Father Guarnizo (the faithful priest in this case) was dismissed in 2014, how could he protect his flock from the prelate?

      "The SSPX which appears close to being accepted by the Church." - Do you deny that the SSPX is Catholic?

      "They could also leave their present situation & join the FSSP or ICKSP."
      -And this is NOT abandoning their flock at the local parish? Seriously?

      "Come on Ben, give us some honest alternatives which do not leave our priests 'hung out to dry'!!!!!!"

      If you do nothing to defend your priests from the coming doomsday scenario of forced Eucharistic Sacrilege, then you have already left your priest out to dry. Others, who refuse to stick their heads in the sand, will house, feed and support them as they continue to minister. Similarly, these others, who refuse to retreat so cowardly into their shells as 1569 Rising proposes, will act like men and defend their Mother and Her Priests.

      Sir, your comments are a tangled ball of contradictions, which unfortunately is very fitting for Catholics afflicted by the intellectual violence post-Conciliar Church.

    6. Ben
      Are you deliberately misreading my comments?
      Whilst we must continue to support our priests we cannot do this ad infinitum. The time may come when some bishops may endevour to silence faithful priests regardless of Summorum Pontificum. When or if that happens our faithful priests must join orders or societies which, at present, are not threatened. Ask Cardinal Wuerl's priests where they stand!
      I have NEVER denied that the SSPX is not Catholic. What I did say is that it presently outside of the Church - that you cannot deny.
      Priests moving to the FSSP, ICKSP or (indeed) SSPX (when it is in communion with the Church) would not be abandoning their flock, they are simply giving them the alternative of moving to where the EF Mass is available - as we do now. SERIOUSLY!!
      As to 'hanging our priests out to dry'; if they have alternatives I fail to see how you say we are treating them so.
      As to my comments being 'a tangled ball of contradiction'; might I suggest that maybe your intellectual prowess is not up to understanding pure logic. Nor (IMHO) have you given any positive answers!!

  3. One of your most incisive essays, Dr. Shaw - especially for reminding us how (and why) the lawlessness has been with us for five decades and more. It's only a little more naked now.

    Eventually, however, with every law knocked down...a certain scene in A Man for All Seasons comes to mind. But even if supernatural consequences do not intimidate these prelates, the material ones you hint about in the conclusion should: it undermines their own authority, inch by inch, foot by foot, day by day, year by year. It will cause some simply to leave; but the foes who remain will fight back all the more ferociously.

  4. They interpret the law for their friends and apply it to their enemies.

  5. Don't forget the failure to hold permanent deacons accountable to the law of perfect and perpetual clerical continence, and the hideous and inexcusable mental acrobatics concocted to justify their excusal from that state.

  6. A number of years ago my then bishop suggested (as I was a widower) that I should consider the diaconate. Before discussing age I raised the question of remarriage. His explanation was that permanent deacons could not marry but that deacons already married were allowed to continue their married life unchanged. I was too old!! But I did remarry!!!!!!

  7. Bergoglio may try to change unchangeable teaching; the rock of that teaching stands beyond him.

    He may try to deface the Sacred Liturgy; its lost beauty will for stand for ever as a reproach to him.

    He may whistle his dogs to attack faithful priests and bishops; their suffering will be recorded in heaven and held in our hearts.

    He may try to take away all that is most dear to me; it will live yet in my remembrance.

    He may pour scorn on me and deride my belief; I shall neither curse him nor wish him ill.

  8. What form do you suspect this 'counter-reformation' might take? Another SSPX-style 'resistance' or something more undisciplined and bullish?

    1. I had in mind something which included bishops.

  9. We need a coordinated effort to oppose Bergoglio. He is the sort of man who cannot cope with being opposed because he is an egoist. His egoist is his weakness. It is that which motivates everything even his Faith. If he is ignored he will implode.

  10. Very perceptive observations. The conclusions to the report on the Irish abuse scandal would support your views. The investigators were very clear that most of the problems could have been avoided or dealt with quickly if the Irish bishops had just bothered to apply the Church's own Canon Law. It was to their eternal shame that they did not. Again, the post-conciliar environment of antinomianism has wreaked havoc with the lives and souls of countless victims.

  11. This scandal imposed by Bergoglio upon the Knights of Malta is merely the latest outrage perpetrated by a dishonest, unscrupulous and manipulative megalomaniac addicted to narcissistic self promotion. He must be resisted.

    1. How soon before he attempts the same tactic with the FSSP & ICKSP? Although not an attendee at SSPX Masses I can foresee them to be the only hope for the Faithful.

    2. The SSPX seem to be on the point of diving back into the cesspit. What if he attampts the same tactic with them once they are regularized?

  12. They won't take that kind of crap. They'll just back out and keep on the way they've been.

  13. Anyone who, as David O'Neill does above, considers the SSPX to be outside the Church because they lack the canonical standing is mired in the very legalism that the Modernists have for over half a century used to crush orthodoxy and those who uphold it. In times of crisis to put canonical propriety before the Faith and the worthy worship of Almighty God is woefully myopic. The SSPX and its courageous founder have never been outside the Church; it is the Modernists and their clericalist enablers who are outside the Church while remaining inside her structures.