Ecumenism and Canon Law | R. Michael Dunnigan | CWR
Thoughts on Cardinal DiNardo's recent decision to allow the Methodist ordination of a woman in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, recently permitted the United Methodist Church to celebrate an ordination service at the Catholic Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. This event has set in motion a wave of criticism on orthodox Catholic blogs and websites. The criticism generally has focused on the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of Methodist ordinations, and the fact that the presiding Methodist bishop was a woman. The prevailing critiques also charge Cardinal Di Nardo with the sin of scandal. However, the commentary to date has included little discussion of the law of the Church.
A follower of the vigorous criticism directed against Cardinal DiNardo might be surprised to learn that the cardinal’s decision enjoys relatively strong support in canon law. I do not mean that the law commands the accommodation that Cardinal DiNardo made for the Methodists, but rather that it provides him with ample discretion to make such a decision. Although the primary purpose of churches and cathedrals is for Catholic worship, canon 1210 makes allowance for some other uses of sacred places as well.
What other uses are permissible? Such uses must be only occasional, and they must not be opposed to the holiness of the place (cf. can. 1210). An example of an activity that would be contrary to the holiness of a church would be a political rally. By contrast, a legitimate other activity that might occasionally be held in a church would be a historical lecture.
Does a Methodist liturgy qualify as a legitimate other use of the Catholic cathedral? Canon 1210 itself does not directly answer this question, but the breadth of its language seems to allow any occasional use that is not contrary to the sacredness of the place. Moreover, in the 1993 Ecumenical Directory, the Holy See says outright that it sometimes is permissible for a non-Catholic liturgy to take place in a Catholic church.
Many Catholics will be surprised to learn this.