Ministry: June 2003 Archives

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican reaffirmed celibacy for priests Saturday, rejecting arguments that the Roman Catholic Church could resolve the "crisis" of decreasing numbers of clergy by opening the priesthood to married men.

Instead, the Vatican said, current priests should dedicate themselves to attracting more candidates by better explaining the priesthood to lay Catholics and encouraging families and children to consider religious vocations.

Mark Shea has posted a link to a piece written by Kevin Orlin Johnson for the Dallas Morning News called "Canon Lawyer: Publicity Alone Won't Remove Bishop Grahmann". Unfortunately, this piece is a prime example of what happens when Catholic writers play canonist in print. As many of you may remember, I had a similar run-in last fall with Bob Sungenis over the proper interpretation of canon 212. Anyway, I just fired off the following letter to Rod Dreher, who works for the Dallas Morning News and who I know had expressed similar concerns about the piece. I should probably point out that having worked with Rod in the past, I know he checks with canonical experts when wading into deep canonical territory.

To: Dallas Morning News
cc: Rod Dreher
Re: “Canon Lawyer: Publicity alone won't remove Bishop Grahmann”

Dear editor,

As a licensed canon lawyer, a layman and one of the Canon Law Society of America’s (CLSA) more outspoken and conservative active members, I have a number of concerns with your recent piece, “Canon Lawyer: Public alone won’t remove Bishop Grahmann”. Kevin Orlin Johnson, the author, quotes no canonist who was still living when Pope John Paul II promulgated the current Code of Canon Law, the title of this piece leaves the impression that Mr. Johnson is a canon lawyer.

Perhaps he is, however, he provides no credentials within his piece that would justify this conclusion. To begin, I checked my copy of the CLSA’s 2003 Membership Directory and Mr. Johnson does not list any canonical degree after his name. Additionally, a licensed canonist would normally join the CLSA as an active member. Mr. Johnson’s short bio at the end of his piece, on the other hand, states that he an associate member. According to the CLSA Constitution, “ASSOCIATE members are any others who wish to associate themselves with the purpose of the Society.” In other words, this class of membership is generally open to anybody.

Concerning the substance of Mr. Johnson’s piece, the removal of a bishop from office over a disciplinary issue would presumably take place through a penal process. Therefore, competency over the case does not fall within the normal tribunal system. As canon 1405, §1, 3̊ clearly states: “[...]the Roman Pontiff alone has the right to judge: Legates of the Holy See and, in penal cases, Bishops.”

Secondly, this past year has raised many reasons why the Roman Pontiff might consider removing a bishop from office. Sacrilegious desecration of the Blessed Sacrament (canon 1367), procuring an abortion (canon 1398), and clerical sexual misconduct against minors (canon 1395 §2) all come to mind as serious offences that should be brought to the attention of the Holy See.

By contrast, the misuse of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is rather innocuous. To draw a comparison to the civil law, most schools have enacted strong anti-drug laws to maintain discipline within our schools and to protect the well-being of our youth. Nevertheless, the violent gangster caught peddling cocaine on primary school property is not the same as the active high-school student who, shaking off a common cold, hides some over-the-counter cough medicine in his knapsack for his personal use because he does not wish to cut class. Common sense would tell you to treat these two scenarios differently, and canon 1317 reiterates the Church’s common sense approach as follows: “Penalties are to be established only in so far as they are really necessary for the better maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline.”

Most extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are lay volunteers who assist the clergy with the distribution of communion at Mass or who bring communion to the sick and the elderly afterward. The Code provides for their usage (canons 230, 910, 911), their usage is subject to a broad interpretation (canon 18) and to local custom (canons 23-28), and the diocesan bishop may dispense from the Church’s universal law governing their usage for a good pastoral reason (canon 87 §1).

Everyday the Holy Father faces serious issues like the clerical sexual misconduct crisis in North America and the violent persecution of Christians in China and the Middle East. With this in mind, I cannot see where he would find time to judge bishops who occasionally misuse extraordinary ministers of the Eucharistic, especially as the Code more or less leaves their usage to the discretion of the local bishop.


Pete Vere, JCL/M(Canon Law)
Nokomis, FL

Sympathy with the Pastor

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I really ought to have more understanding and sympathy for my pastor. He's an old military guy who would like to give his bones a rest, but instead has two city parishes to take care of.

Somebody mentioned after Mass on Sunday that a certain parishioner had sent a letter to him -- make that another letter -- saying there's too much noise in church, and that he should do something about the women who don't wear veils (!)

The pastor walked by him and said, "I got your very nice letter -- and, no, I didn't throw it out!"

Response to Fr. Rob -- NFP

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As Sal notes below, Fr. Rob has a happening thread on the topic of co-habitation before marriage the negative effects it bears. Yet because so many couples are doing it, what's a pastor to do? Unfortunately, since Catholics have a right to the sacraments, and because only the Holy See can establish impediments to marriage, a pastor can delay marriage, but he cannot stop it. This means that if the parties are free to marry, then sooner or later the pastor must proceed with the wedding.

However, not all is lost. As damaging as pre-marital sex is to marriage, in my personal opinion it is still second to the damage caused by contraception. Thus the idea of sending couples to NFP counseling is a good one, since from my experience in marriage ministry, the practice of NFP within marriage reverses much of the damage of pre-marital sex. NFP goes a long way in helping couples to become self-giving in the marriage, so that they give themself over to the other spouse completely - spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Thus the couple sbed the selfish approach to sexual relations that they first learn through pre-marital relations. In fact, I've seen numerous marriages healed through NFP that had been damaged through pre-marital sexual activity and contraception earlier during the marriage.

For an excellent (and true) story about how NFP healed an adulterous marriage on the verge of divorce that had begun through premarital co-habitation and contraception, call 1-800-55-ENVOY and order a copy of Surprised by Truth 3. This volume, which also includes my own reversion experience from the SSPX, features the story of Greg and Julie Alexander who, through NFP, found God's grace to save their marriage after already having decided to divorce.

Fr. Rob posted yesterday about the challenge of preparing couples for marriage that won’t abide by Church teachings on pre-marital sexual relations. I don’t have any of my own wisdom to impart, but rather the wisdom of a couple of priests I know who speak about this pastoral predicament as Fr. Rob does.

It might be true that every Catholic has a right to be married in the Church. They don’t have a right to a fantasy bridezilla and frankengroom wedding. Couples get caught up in the worldly specialness of that special day. But what makes it a “special day” anyhow? It’s not the flowers, the accoutrement, the photos, the cake, the patriarch of the family singing “My Way” during the Preparation of the Gifts, the bride being showered with attention, or the bridal party getting hammered at the reception. It’s the Sacrament. A couple must understand the grace of the Sacrament in order to avail themselves of it. I’d think that being in a state of mortal sin would be a terrible impediment to this. Matrimony, like the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, confers God’s grace in a manner that is accepted by the recipient at once but discovered anew in the challenges of Christian living. As Pete Vere and Fr. Rob have stated, pre-marital sexual relations are a factor in most, if not all, annulment cases. Fr. Rob is right, this isn’t a coincidence, this is a case where the couples where not open to the grace of the Sacrament.

Not only must the couple be open to the grace, they must understand what marriage is. It’s a covenant, not a contract or a convenience. I realize the alliteration is making me sound like a Catholic Jesse Jackson, but you faithful members of tribus noster know what I’m talking about. A covenant establishes a life-long relationship, not a civil arrangement. To quote Scot Hahn, “Contractual relations usually exchange property, exchange goods and services, whereas covenants exchange persons. So when people enter into a covenant, they say, ‘I am yours and you are mine.’ So God uses the covenant to enter into a relationship with those whom he created in his own image: humanity and all human persons…” and “Based on the scholarship of countless scholars over the decades, covenant can be properly understood . . . to be a sacred family bond.”

Back to my first point - being married in the Church doesn’t mean that a couple is entitled to their own Big Fat Greek Wedding. I know one priest who has told couples that if they insist on creating scandal for themselves by living together before the wedding, that he will not allow them to create scandal for the Church by performing the wedding in front of a large assembly of friends and family. He tells them they will be married in the chapel or the Sacristy in front of two witnesses and that is all he can do under the circumstances. Does this approach really change the minds and hearts of couples in marriage prep? I don’t know. I’ll ask him what the couples’ reactions have been to this. I think the biggest hurdle here is that they might not understand or accept what the source of the scandal is.

First US Vietnamese bishop

Thanks be to God: Fr. Dominic Luong, born in North Vietnam but now of New Orleans was consecrated a bishop this week. He will be serving as an auxiliary in Orange, CA.
Update: I've corrected the name of the diocese.

Pre-Marital Annulments


First off, my sincere apologies to Kevin Miller and our readers from HMS Weblog who came over to hear my thoughts about North American tribunals and annulments. Unfortunately, we had a disk error on our new server, which we have now fixed, but in so doing had to revert to a back-up copy of the blog from Sunday.

That being said, here's some thoughts on the annulment issue from the recent CUF-Tucson conference.

Additionally, here's some thoughts from an editorial I wrote for The Wanderer last year:

“What is the main cause of so many annulments?” As both a canon lawyer and a married layman, this is the question I most often encounter when conversing with other Catholics. Now the Code of Canon Law lists many grounds upon which the Church may declare a marriage invalid. The more commonly used grounds concern the psychological maturity of the spouses at the time of the wedding, or else their intention going into the marriage. Nevertheless, rather than bore you with technical canonical jargon, let me identify one of two issues which, in my opinion, lay at the root of most annulments.

This issue is pre-marital sex. (The other, which I will save for another editorial, is contraception.) Although this is something society has come to expect of young couples today, given that pornography is currently the wallpaper of our culture, we cannot begin to measure the toll this takes on modern marriages. This is why when interviewing someone seeking to have their marriage declared invalid by the Church, I ask questions concerning pre-martial relations. This is because most problems that lead to the breakdown of a marriage are already noticeable during the courtship. Yet when the couple engage in pre-marital relations, these problems are usually overlooked during the courtship, and unresolved going into the marriage. “I knew this was a problem,” many women tell me, “but I overlooked it because I had already invested so much into our relationship.” Similarly, I often hear the following from guys: “I had my doubts because our disagreements, but I felt obliged to marry her because we were sleeping together.”

And this leads me to a second problem caused by pre-marital relations: In creating a false intimacy within an insecure relationship, the couple who engage in it often feel compelled to marry. This compulsion comes not out of love or a desire to spend the rest of one’s life with the another, but rather out of a sense of obligation to correct a morally sinful situation. Hence the romance deteriorates within the relationship before the vows are even exchanged. In fact, I quite often discover from friends and family members within their witness testimony that the couple never displayed simple acts of affection during their marriage such as holding hands and addressing one another by pet names.

Yet how does this affect the validity of marriage? Numerous scenarios are possible. A couple hesitantly approaching the altar, because their relationship lacks love, will often not want to bring children into a marriage unless it proves stable over time. Canonists call this partial-simulation, due to the fact the couple display an intention against children at the time they exchange their wedding vows, as well as an intention against permanence in that the couple hold divorce as an option if the marriage does not work out. From my Tribunal experience, a lot of partial-simulation is rooted in pre-marital sex.

Therefore, in reflecting upon what leads to the break down of so many marriages, we draw a simple conclusion: ignoring chastity during the courtship prevents love from blossoming into a marriage.

A visit to the North American

A friend forwarded this the other day. CNS columnist Fr. Eugene Hemrick salutes the seminarians of the North American College:

I came to Rome for spiritual renewal, rest and quiet; not to be with the seminarians or faculty of NAC; not to study the college or analyze its student body. However, when you experience wholesome goodness as I did, you cant keep it to yourself. I hope the following column does justice to you, the college and especially the wonderful men I met.

Gene Hemrick

A View of Tomorrow's Priests
By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

This column is part of the CNS columns package.

Sociological studies I have conducted and the scuttlebutt among older priests have been highly critical of today's seminarians. Many are considered rigid, pietistic, out of touch and clerical. Some label them a generation that "doesn't wash windows" or "pick up pennies."

Recently I had the opportunity to go beyond our sociological studies and live an entire month with our seminarians at the North American College in Rome. What I experienced were seminarians who were kind, talented, prayerful and down to earth.

Fr. Angelo D'Agostino, SJ, a doctor and missionary working in Kenya, visited our parish this weekend. He spoke about the orphanage he runs and how the AIDS epidemic will cause 40 million children to be orphaned in the next decade. The magnitude of this crisis is something the world has never seen. What can be done? Fr. D'Agostino asked first and foremost for our prayers. He was grateful for the generosity the parish showed the last time he visited, and greatly encouraged by the bill recently signed into law by President Bush.

You know what God might ask us when we get to Heaven?

"What about those orphans? What did you do for them?"

"They weren't my kids," someone might say.

"No, they were mine. What did you do?"

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries in the Ministry category from June 2003.

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