Saturday, 26 September 2015

Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried but not for those who refuse the Church tax?

Edward Pentin's "The Rigging of a Vatican Synod" (links below) is well worth reading. It is subtitled "An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family." One commentator suggested that Ignatius Press must have insisted on the question mark in the main title and the "alleged" in the subtitle. I'm not sure this is fair. Edward Pentin does present a studiously balanced account, giving quotations and arguments from both sides. The evidence that is presented is clear enough, but it is not forced on the reader.

We English are noted for understatement and it can be a powerful debating tool. Pentin genuinely leaves the reader free to make up his own mind, having taken the trouble to obtain replies from those who would take issue with the idea that the Synod was rigged. This results in the case being made more clearly and convincingly than it would be in a tendentious and one-sided account.

For anyone interested in the Synod, Edward Pentin's book is an essential contribution to the growing corpus of meta-studies on the proceedings. There are many nuggets of interest. One which jumped out of the (virtual) page was the comment of Professor Stephan Kampowski in relation to the Kirchensteuer, the German Church Tax. The Catholic Church in Germany receives about £5 billion each year give or take a few million. To stop paying the tax, you have to make an official declaration that you are leaving the Church.

I am not a moral theologian, but I guess that my colleagues in that discipline might be able to argue that there are grounds for making some sort of mental reservation on the grounds that you do not wish to actually renounce the faith, but wish to pay a little less in support of the Church according to your means. This would be difficult to justify, but plausible - as plausible, say, as arguing that your marriage is dead because you were both a bit young, or felt that you didn't take it all seriously and have now grown apart. However there are different approaches to the two cases.

Whereas many of the German bishops are in the vanguard of the campaign to admit the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, no such mercy is shown to those who refuse the Kirchensteuer.

In September 2012, the German Bishops issued a decree ruling that those who choose not to pay the Kirchensteuer. (Allgemeines Dekret der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zum Kirchenaustritt) Section II.1 of the decree states that a person who has made the declaration of withdrawal from the Church,
  • May not receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, confirmation or Anointing of the Sick - (except in danger of death)
  • May not hold any ecclesiastical offices or functions in the church
  • May not be godfather or godmotther
  • May not be a member of a parochial or diocesan councils
  • Loses active and passive voting rights in the Church
  • May not be a member of the public ecclesiastical associations
This inconsistency is not an original discovery. Sandro Magister and many others have drawn attention to it before, but it is the first time that it has really struck me and I thought it would be of interest to others. Some of those pushing hardest for the admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion are apparently content to deny Holy Communion and other aspects of participation in the life of the Church to those who do not pay a tax that has made the German Church extraordinarily wealthy.

"The Rigging of a Vatican Synod" is available only as an electronic book download. Here are the links:
Ignatius Press

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

St John Paul's invitation to women who have had an abortion

pope-john-paul II and the Divine MercyOne of the key differences between the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1983 Code is that in the 1983 Code, there are no longer any reserved sins, only reserved censures - and there are not many of those.

Nevertheless, both Misericodiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and the recent letter to Archbishop Fisichella, speak of permission being given to priests to absolve reserved sins. The letter to Archbishop Fisichella was widely misinterpreted in the press, but that is no surprise, since we have now had two massively important documents that themselves confuse the forgiveness of sins with the remission of canonical censures. Perhaps there might be someone in Rome much more learned than I am in the byways of canon law who could proof-read these things before they are published to the world.

As at least some people know, now that the dust has settled, many Conferences of Bishops have, for many decades, agreed that they will all give all their priests faculties to absolve from the censure attached to procured abortion. In fact, it is likely that many women who have had an abortion will not have incurred the censure because of fear, psychological coercion or ignorance of the gravity of the sin, but it is helpful for the priest to be able to take any doubt away by formally absolving from the censure.

(What is often forgotten is that the censure does not only apply to the mother, but also to the doctor and, in many cases the person(s) who organised or paid for the abortion - they have "procured" abortion, and usually they would not have the same excusing circumstances as the poor mother.)*

Generally, priests will have heard many confessions of abortion over the past decades, dealing compassionately with mothers who have bitterly repented this bad decision, developing pastoral praxis in the confessional - or to put it more simply, learning what are the most helpful considerations to put before their penitents to help in the process of healing and confidence in God's loving mercy. It is galling to have the chattering classes now publishing articles that assume that mercy towards women who have had abortions is a stunning new idea that has just been thought up to shake the nasty priests out of their misogynism.

The words of Pope Francis to women who have had an abortion are much to be commended and I pray that they bring hope and solace:
I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.
These words of Pope Francis reminded me of a passage that I have often quoted when speaking on pro-life topics. St John Paul, in his magnificent encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, also spoke in a personal and compassionate way to women who have had an abortion, emphasising the mercy of God. This was a theme dear to his heart as shown by his encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia, his devotion to St Faustina, and his promulgation of the feast of Divine Mercy. Here are his words on forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation for abortion:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.
St John Paul, however goes further than this in a striking, one might say daring way:
With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
St John Paul does not leave women in the position of being forgiven, of passively receiving mercy. He brings a note of positive confidence and encouragement to action and leadership.

Pro-life groups will affirm that some of their most generous supporters, and indeed sometimes some of their most powerful speakers, are women who have themselves had an abortion and have later experienced a conversion to the pro-life cause.

* In my canonico-legal naivety, I did not know that Ed Peters has made a canonical case arguing that no women have incurred the censure since the promulgation of the 1983 code because of the omission of the words matre non excepta. See this article which has a footnote referring to further articles.)

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Some meek thoughts on Mitis Iudex


Frequently during my priestly life, I have given heartfelt thanks to God that I am not a canon lawyer. Most of my canonist priest friends spend a great deal of their time on cases alleging nullity of marriage and I am glad not to be involved too much in that. As a parish priest I do necessarily become part of the process from time to time. This usually begins at the baptism of a child, when it turns out that the parents are not married, or are married outside the Church. If, after gently enquiring about the circumstances, it turns out that things could be put right by a declaration of nullity of a previous marriage, and a person wants to go ahead with petitioning for nullity, I do everything I can to help them.

This involves some careful explanation of the process, helping them to fill in the forms, and assisting them with writing the initial statement. My personal view of the nullity process does not come into it - I am bound to offer the best help that I can for the person to benefit from the Church's law as it stands.

I will continue to do my best to help people who come to me, now that a change in the law has been decreed by the Holy Father. My view of the law is of no account. I thank God even more heartily for the protest that I can make when people think I am a canon lawyer: "No! I am not a canonist, I am a dogmatist."

Along with everyone else, I went to the ever excellent Ed Peters for an initial summary of Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus. If you are interested, there are two articles to date: A first look at Mitis Iudex and A second look at Mitis, especially at the new fast-track annulment process. Notoriously in both civil and canon law, a small change can have wide and unexpected ramifications. From my non-lawyer perspective, this seems to be especially true of tax law and marriage law. The reforms which have just been introduced do seem to be major and I fear for the consequences.

There is no such thing as free beer. Nor in fact is there any such thing as a free nullity process. In the paragraph asking Bishops to make the process free, the caution is issued "salva iusta et honesta tribunalium operatorum mercede" (always providing for the just and honest wage of the workers of the tribunal.) People who work on a tribunal cannot go into the supermarket, take things off the shelves, walk out of the shop without paying for them, and say to the security guard "It's OK, I work for a marriage tribunal." So perhaps the idea is that all the faithful pay for the nullity processes by having yet another second collection - there might be envelopes, leaflets, posters and some special activities for the Children's Liturgy group for Nullity Sunday. At the rate we are going, we will have to introduce third collections, perhaps during the Responsorial Psalm or something, since we will soon run out of Sundays.

The question of where the money comes from is something we can joke about. But there is also no such thing as a consequence-free marriage breakdown and this is where it gets more serious. It might happen - I don't say that it will necessarily, but I think we have to admit the possibility - it might happen that the new process means that there are more declarations of nullity. That could simply be down to the number of genuinely invalid marriages that can now be declared null because of a shorter and simpler process. That might be the case.

What worries me is that it might happen that the indissolubility of marriage could be compromised by making it simply too easy to obtain a declaration of nullity. We should be crystal clear about the fact that this would not be merciful. It might seem lovely to just bend the law a bit and make nullity a rubber stamp process, but it would not be kind or loving, and it would definitely not be what Jesus would do.

Church tribunals are not adversarial in the way that English courts are. They are of the nature of an inquisition, though nobody calls them that any more. As such, they seek to establish the truth and to make a judgement based on the truth. That is also the case with the final judgement before Christ, except that He will not need to establish the truth because He will know it already. We all do well to keep this in mind every day.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lego Mass sets

Father Z today has an article about Lego Mass set bricks from Domestic Church Supply. Here is the picture of the Church with the priest celebrating Mass:

I could not help thinking back to A lego Church that is better than quite a lot of real ones about which I posted last year. As you can see, it has some more traditional elements (see the post for other photos):


There is a transatlantic difference here as well - in England we play with Lego, not Legos. Can you really have lots of Legos? Or a single Lego? Discuss venomously on Twitter, imputing nefarious motives to either myself or Fr Z, and dragging in various tangentially related issues.

Top marks to Thuan, who features at the end of Fr Z's post. At the age of 4 has mastered the concept of "Say the Black, Do the Red." after watching daily Mass on EWTN.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Year in Margate


On Tuesday the second of September last year, I trundled down to Margate followed by a van full of boxes, most of which were filled with books, most of which have now been put onto shelves. I loved Margate from the day I moved in, and still love it. At lunchtime today I wandered down to the harbour, had a sandwich in Cafe G, a hot chocolate in Bernie's Chocolate bar, and checked out the superb Pararphernalia antique shop, noting a couple of things that might be useful for the sacristy and making a mental note to bring a tape-measure next time.

In the parish, we are planning for the autumn Quiz Night, pre-Christmas fair, and yes, the Christmas schedule, at least in terms of dates. We have a new organist for the 9.30am sung English Mass on Sunday, and the beginnings of a new choir. The 11.30am traditional Latin Mass is going well, with good numbers and again a few more volunteers for the schola. There is a healthy attendance at weekday Mass and it is great to have extras like the Rosary on Wednesdays and Benediction after Mass on Friday evening.

Getting to grips with administering a new parish takes time, even when it has been left in excellent shape as was the case when I came to Margate. I sometimes think that one measure of good pastoral balance is not to spend too much time in front of a computer. In fact some of the time can be well-spent if it means setting things up so that the computer does some of the work in the future. So I have devised databases that I always meant to set up and never got round to and they are beginning to pay off.

Unfortunately, the blog has suffered from the busyness of the first year in a new parish, but I hope that I can get going with it a bit more now - a friend commented the other day that it seemed to be creaking, puffing and emitting odd bursts of steam over the past few weeks.

A bonus of living in the original seaside town is that people do come down to visit. It reminds me a bit of my time in Rome when we often heard more about events all over England than did the people living there. I have had the pleasure of catching up with many people over the summer and, thank God, most of them have experienced Margate at its most attractive, with glorious sunshine, as well as getting to see our lovely Church of St Austin and St Gregory.

Tomorrow in the modern calendar it is the feast of St Gregory, and so our weekday Mass will be a sung Mass with sermon. We will also celebrate it as an external solemnity on Sunday in both forms. Please remember the parish and myself in your prayers.
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