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Friday, March 11, 2011



"questions about individual reception of holy Communion are really matters of pastoral practice"

I don't know of anyone, and haven't read anyone, say this.

But what they have said, on this any many other areas, is that he presumes too much when he consistently and repeatedly attempts to place mere canon law above theology and doctrine.

I know that everyone likes to toot their own horn, but Ed Peters really is getting to be a bit too loud these days.

Mark Brumley

Dr. Peters simply nails it. Of course his exegesis on the Last Supper, Judas, Holy Communion, and canon law is right on target.

A Tale of Two Canons continues...

This pattern of apparently talking about the subject matter of canon 915--pastoral responsibility for denying Holy Communion for people who obstinately persistent in manifest grave sin--and getting arguments, observations, thoughts, and reflections that really apply to 916--which involves the subjective assessment of one's personal suitability to receive Holy Communion--is getting old.

Carl E. Olson

Bender: You make (or try to make) three points. You fail on each:

1. "I don't know of anyone, and haven't read anyone, say this." How about, for starters, this statement, from a certain bishop, made in response to Dr. Peters' initial remarks:

There are norms of the church governing the sacraments which Catholics are expected to observe.

However, it is unfair and imprudent to make a pastoral judgment about a particular situation without knowing all the facts.

As a matter of pastoral practice we would not comment publicly on anything which should be addressed privately, regardless if the person is a public figure or a private citizen.

2. "... he presumes too much when he consistently and repeatedly attempts to place mere canon law above theology and doctrine."

A false charge and contrary to everything I've ever read by Dr. Peters; in fact, his canon law class emphasizes the proper relationship of canon law to theology, doctrine, etc. As Dr. Peters writes, in the post above: "To be clear, I do not think that every pastoral question imaginable has a certain canonical answer. Nor, even in regard to those many pastoral questions that do have, at least in part, a canonical answer, do I think that those answers can be implemented overnight. Moreover, I recognize that bishops have the primary responsibility for governing the Churches entrusted to them (c. 381 et seq.). And I certainly recognize that canon lawyers have no more authority over the application of canon law in the Church than attorneys in a law firm or professors in a law school have authority over the enforcement of civil law. On all of these points, nothing I have ever written supposes otherwise." You might want to read this helpful article by Dr. Peters, in which he states:

Neither the Code nor the educational regime of canon lawyers authorizes a canonist, as a canonist, to pronounce on matters of Church doctrine. Canon lawyers are not theologians. moralists, psychologists, pastoral planners. They are lawyers. This is an important point, all the more so because canonists are sometimes apt to forget it themselves.

Lawyers, civil and canon, are trained to advise people about how to exercise their rights and to fulfill their obligations in accord with law. Ideally, lawyers help people avoid legal mistakes that could prevent them from accomplishing their goals. The job of a canon lawyer is to see that the carefully devised rules of Church order are properly understood and applied.

3. "I know that everyone likes to toot their own horn, but Ed Peters really is getting to be a bit too loud these days." So now we know that you don't know what you are talking about and you are being rude.


I think a criticism of Dr. Peters' approach is needed here. But first, let me just say a couple of things. One, no one should say that canon law and pastoral practice are two different things. They are the same thing. The existence of canon law demonstrates the Church's identity, an identity that must be clear and distinguishable from "the world's". Second, canons 915 and 916 should be applied. Every person who gives out the Eucharist should understand what they say. The bishop also has the obligation to follow them and apply them.

Having said all those things, I do think Michael Winter's claim that Dr. Peter's argument is bad theology has a lot of merits. I don't think, however, Winter has provided a reason why it is a bad theology. But what I would like to point out is how we must see canons 915 and 916, and how we should apply them. So although we should apply them, there is no one way or method of applying them.

First, every canon must be read within the Christian narrative and ontology. Simply repeating these canons, and saying things like, "Well, the Eucharist needs reverence and we need to protect it from any form of sacrilege" is not sufficient (necessary, yes). We need to understand that although public figures do commit manifest grave sin, the subject of the manifest grave sin is a person. Canon law is always "for" the human person; it adapts to him and his salvation. If this is the case, then we need to understand that every subject of the manifest grave sin has a complex history, and more importantly, a complex heart. Here we see how Christ always adapt God's plan and laws differently to each person. A woman who commits adultery is not stoned. But her sins are not neglected. Christ looks at her with mercy and corrects her. This means that each law must be placed within God's mercy, within Christ's gaze. A bishop must always have this gaze and ask for this grace. But what is Christ's gaze? His gaze is always intent on the person's vocation.

This leads us to this: the bishop has the responsibility to educate. This is not transmitting information, as if quoting the magisterium is enough. The bishop has the responsibility of transmitting the story of Christ (which is never separated from the Church), and ontology. This means that each person must see the world differently (as created and redeemed), must think differently, and must feel differently towards the world. To put it in another way, a bishop must make the person aware that his freedom has been claimed by God and his freedom, by the act of existing and having been baptized, must be a response to God's mercy. Education is not simply saying: Abortion is murder, murder is wrong, therefore abortion is wrong.

Third: the bishop has the responsibility for the obedience of his "subjects" to his vocation. That is, he must bear the faults of others, and be faithful to others. This requires that the bishop (and priests) must be aware that the person is never limited to his faults, is never reducible to what he does. His main responsibility is that the person respond to his vocation in a proper way.

So these canons, 915 and 916, is always connected to the Christian narrative and ontology, which is what I summarized above. It is never sufficient, therefore, that we just apply these canons without understanding the complexities of the human person. There is no one method, therefore, of applying these canons. So it seems that there is nothing wrong with the response of the diocese on this issue. They have the obligation to know canons 915 and 916, but it must be read within the Christian context of life. This is because Canon Law, although it manifests the Church's identity, does not constitute it.

Finally, this would lead me to what Dr. Peters' statement: "Canon lawyers are not theologians. moralists, psychologists, pastoral planners. They are lawyers. This is an important point, all the more so because canonists are sometimes apt to forget it themselves." Well, there is actually a theory that says Canon Law is a theology (a lot of canonists here in Rome say that), but I would leave that aside. Canon lawyers have the same obligation as a Christian: to transmit the faith and to speak within the Christian narrative and ontology. A canon lawyer, although he is not a theologian, must know theology. Otherwise he would just be repeating canons without knowing the place of canon law in the Church's complex life. Canon law without theology is destructive and there is a risk of moralism, of using canon law as a penal instrument. Being a Christian means being obligated to think about life and death in a certain way, to use money in a certain way, to think about war in a certain way, and so on. Christian thinking is Christian minimalism, where we just adhere to dogmas and laws of the Church. Rather, Christian thinking means adhering to the depth of what those things express, it means to have the sentiments of Christ. It means looking at persons in a certain way. And if one simply looks at a person within 915 and 916 without any understanding of Christianity, then it can just destroy the other person rather than leading him to his salvation. The response to a human person is always love, and love is patient. Canons 915 and 916 must be read within a patient love.

I think what I said above fills up what was lacking in Winter's criticism while at the same time not neglecting or weighing down 915 and 916.

Ed Peters

I’m not “into” debating anonymous critics, and there is little new in “Ap’s” post anyway. Basically, canons either mean what they say, or they don’t. Explaining what they mean is my job, applying them is someone else’s.

I will, though, for the benefit of third-parties, comment on the canon law qua theology school, of which discussion I am well aware. I disagree with the school that sees canon law as subset of theology.

Canon law is no more “theology” than Church history is “theology”, or sacred architecture is “theology” or sacred music is “theology”. The respective disciplines are law, history, architecture, and musicology in the service of theology and eventually of the Church. To ignore the basic sciences of related disciplines is to undermine their very nature, and ultimately to damage their usefulness to the Church. The papal helicopter (I’m assuming there is such a thing) flies because it follows the laws of physics, not because it works in service to the pope and theology. Canon law works when it is treated first as a legal system, one which of course derives its values and goals from theology (actually, from doctrine), but which works as a legal system first.

But this is a much, much large concept than can be treated here.


People fighting against canon law are the people who contest breathalyzers and urine tests. Obstinacy and a guilty conscience, hand in glove. Verbose, convoluted protestations.


You do a great job of explaining the Bishop's pastoral responsibilities in the context of the gospel. But to my mind you skirt the only real issue at hand.

Of course our presumption must be that the application of Canons 915 and 916 by the Bishops are carried out with all the pastoral considerations you have delineated.

But we must ask the very basic question, why do canons 915 and 916 exist at all in Canon Law?

All of the factors that you mention that go into the Bishop's approach to any given individual are really matters of assessing conscience, just as a priest in a confessional will often ask questions to explore the conscience of the penitent.

However, ultimately, canon law is not the catechism. 915 and 916 inform the Bishop as well as the laity, certainly, but they are laws precisely because of intransigence and scandal. The Bishop has to decide when the scandal and intransigence of the individual outweigh the other considerations applicable to the pastoral care of the individual, for the sake of the spiritual welfare of the rest of the people of God.

And that is why they are laws, not merely pastoral directives, so that ultimately, where necessary, a legal course can be publicly taken to address the scandal, for the sake of the people of God, and for the sake of the soul of that intransigent individual.

Dan Deeny

Very interesting and very helpful. I didn't know that Dr. Peters had accused Bishop Hubbard of failing in his pastoral duties.
So what should Bishop Hubbard do now?
I predict that Gov. Cuomo will return to his Italian-American roots and come out against the abortion business. Then he will have his first marriage annulled, marry in the Church his current sweetheart, properly educate his daughters, became a happy grandfather, and live happily ever after. But before all of that can happen, he must actively begin opposing the abortion business. The abortion business is the key to all of this, and he knows it.


I like your optimism Dan! Let's pray there will be good foundation for it. That is one lesson I learned from my Baptist father that I hold on to; Any reconciliation with God is cause for rejoicing, be it the governor of New York or a homeless man in Central Park.

Mark Brumley

"Ap", I think that canon law is an aspect of the Church's pastoral ministry. That does not seem to change its nature as law.

This means that each law must be placed within God's mercy, within Christ's gaze.

This is such a broad statement that it is hard to agree or disagree with it. One can agree to "place" canon 915 "within God's mercy", without that implying that one is free to enforce it or not as a matter of one's personal discretion. What does it mean to "place" it "within God's mercy"? Cannot one view the law itself as merciful--as an express of God's love in response to sin?

One may think it merciful to allow someone to receive Holy Communion who obstinately persists in manifest grave. Is it? Who says? And even if it is merciful to the recipient in a particular case, what about those misled or confused by the recipient's reception of Holy Communion and the apparent acceptance of his objectively gravely sinful behavior as consistent with it? Where is mercy to those weak in faith--the little ones--apt to be misled by such an example?

As for whether canon law is theology, well, it is hard to see how it is. It seems obvious that it is founded on Church doctrine and that it exists to further ecclesial ends. But none of that makes it primarily theology, even if it could be called "theological". If by calling it theology one means only that it is a set of laws that rest, at least in part, on theological foundations and that it exists to further ecclesial ends, then fine. But that seems to confuse things more than clarify them.

One might say that there are certain assumptions that should govern the application of canon law and that these assumptions are theological in nature. Fine. But either canon law involves laws or it doesn't. If it involves norms of behavior proulgated by someone responsible for a community and with the common good of that community in view, then we're talking about laws. Laws may reflect well the end of the common good they are framed to foster. Or they may not. But they are laws. Or if not, they are not because they fall short of what laws are, not because they are "theology".


The notion that canon law is theological is put forth by the Laguna school, mainly the saintly Eugenio Corecco, who, with Cardinal Scola, founded the journal Communio in Italy, and was also the spiritual father of Fr. Lepori, who wrote one of the most beautiful meditations on St. Peter. Peters' analogy of a papal helicopter, sacred architecture, etc., does not do justice to the issue at hand and is too simplistic. The fact is that canon law is constituted by the communion between God and man, in the Church, and must be interpreted within the hermeneutic of faith. The analogy with Scripture is relevant here: exegesis must be done within the eyes of faith, or else it will be reduced to some kind of specialized form of study that is irrelevant to life. Even if we do not think that canon law is theology, it must be intrinsically connected to it. It is the same with sacred achitecture and sacred music. Without theology, we have ugly churches and ugly music.

This brings me up to LJ's comments and yours on why 915 and 916 exist in the first place. First, canon laws are laws, are normative, becauses they are founded by revelation. These canons in particular are there to preserve communion within the Church. They are therefore read within the hermeneutic of faith, which involves a certain narrative and ontology. It is wrong, therefore, to say, as Peters does: "Basically, canons either mean what they say, or they don’t. Explaining what they mean is my job, applying them is someone else’s." The problem is that the meaning of the canons is not simply what they say (it includes that, but it's not sufficient). Treating the canons as a "legal system first," as Peters suggest, will reduce them into some kind norm of behavior, to some kind of moralism (the Pope's meditation of law and being, of martyrdom and grace, in his new book explains this well). It would be wrong to apply 915 and 916 because 915 and 916 says so. The application of 915 and 916 presupposes a certain ontology and narrative, placing the subject of the manifest sin and his complex history, within that narrative. What I intend, then, is not to weigh down 915 and 916, but to prevent it from a positivistic reading.

So this leads us to the scandal part. Certainly the bishop has the responsibility that scandals do not happen. But this must be read within his responsibility of educating the faithful: of opening them to their vocation. A bishop has the responsibility of educating the faithful of their vocation. The obedience to our vocation, therefore, has the primacy over any other law. Laws exist so that we can follow them better, but because vocations are unique, they cannot be applied in the same way. The fact that 915 speaks of manifest sin actually supports this view; there are some who are in a position, who have the vocation that are by nature public.

Does allowing a politician who commit manifest grave sin to receive communion a scandal? Yes. But the response to this must not simply be the application of laws and knowing what they say. The first response is the education of his vocation. This is why when we see Jesus speaking to public sinners, his first priority was the vocation of others. This means rebuking others publicly, but it also meant, in some cases, not applying some laws. Sometimes he had to shout at Peter, and sometimes he just had to be silent. And yes, in front of his disciples, who were also "weak in faith" as we read in the Gospels. Christ did speak of being a shepherd who would run after the lost sheep, leaving the 99 behind, which means they could be lost too. But these things should not take away the weight of canons 915 or 916, but rather, should be interpreted in a non-moralistic way.

So I find, for example, the diocese' response to Peters' claim a sufficient way of handling the situation, and Peters' response to the diocese as a bad way of seeing the story. Certainly the diocese has the obligation to apply 915 and 916, and they should be known about this, but this just means a long process of education.

Ed Peters

Folks, there is, I assure you, an inexhaustible supply of anonymous critics who think they have corrected the few of us who sign our names to controverted positions. I have read HUNDREDS of them over the last fortnight. I cannot begin to respond to them, and if others want to conclude that that is because I have nothing to say against them, well, okay, that’s their call. For my part, I simply invite interested readers to examine my writings, here, and determine for themselves whether I disagree with anything that some critics might have right, and whether I even hold the positions that they think I must have wrong, let alone whether I am wrong in holding them.


Folks, I assure you, that there are people who do not want to weigh down canons 915 and 916, but see Peters' approach as moralistic or positivistic. If a bunch of people with rainbow sash come up to me for communion, I will deny them communion. Yes, some things are that clear, but some are not.

The problem is that we see Catholicism in America as fragmented, architecture here, canon law there, music there, and so on. Rather, there are critics who see that they must be intrinsically united, that see that canon law does not work as a legal system first, that architecture does not work as simply creating buildings first, that sacred music is not simply providing what can instill emotions, etc. What comes first is faith, and that already includes certain practices within a narrative, and with a certain ontology. This is lacking in Catholicism in America today, where we have reduced Catholicism to ethical practices, and reactions to the pro-death culture. The problem is that although we can deny communion to people who should not receive communion, the Church in America has not created a culture. It is filled with moralistic people. And that is why some people, like Michael Sean Winters', are irritated by the approach of Peters, and justly so, I would say. But there are also those who, like me, although they see this approach as bad theology, would not have the same conclusions as liberal Catholics. There are those who just say: what don't we try go deeper into what Pope Benedict and Cardinal George are teaching us.

Mark Brumley


Respectfully, I have to admit I'm having trouble following the thread of your argument. For that reason, I am not sure what I can agree or disagree with in it.

If you're making the claim that the norms of canon law are laws but because canon law is theology those laws need not be executed as written or intended, then I don't see why the conclusion follows from the premises, whatever I think of the premise that canon law is theology. If you mean that the theological origin and theological purpose of canon law governs how we understand the meaning of its laws as written and what they intened, and therefore how they ought to be implemented, I don't think that view is controversial or contrary to the general thrust of Ed Peters' argument.

I am aware that there is a debate about the nature of canon law. Some of that debate seems to me to be about differences of emphasis. Some of it seems to involve a defective philosophy of law. I certainly concur that canon law is an aspect of the pastoral mission of the Church. It is not (primarily) an aspect of the Church's teaching or sanctifying missions, even though the teaching mission is ordered to faith and canon law can foster faith, and the sanctifying mission seeks santification, and canon law tries to establish an order in which sanctification can occur or more readily occur, and even though everything in the Church, in one way or another, involves fostering faith and holiness. I would not go as far as you, Ap, in equating canon law and pastoral practice, but it seems obvious where canon law is situated as far as the threefold mission is concerned.

I'll try to post something later in more detail about the "hermeneutic of faith". However, there is an important difference between interpreting canon law and interpreting Scripture. Scripture is divinely inspired, canon law is not. That distinction has relevance when it comes to talking about interpreting canon law according to a hermenteutic of faith. The meaning of that expression must differ as applied to canon law, because we have no ground for supposing deeper levels of meaning intended by the divine author but unperceived or only vaguely perceived by the human authors. We can, for instance, suppose there is more at work in the laws of Leviticus than the human author supposed, because God is the ultimate author of Leviticus, and he can "mean" more than the human author intends. That sort of statement cannot be made about canon law, except in the same sense any document can, providentially, wind up "saying" more than the human author intends. But that's another matter.

But that's all I have time for.

Dan Deeny

Ed Peters,
So what should Bishop Hubbard do now?

Ed Peters

Hi Dan. The question is not "what should Bp. H do?" it is more narrow: what should Bp. H NOT do? As I have argued several different ways, in my opinion, no minister of holy Communion should give the august Sacrament to Cuomo as long as the facts of this case remain unchanged.



I would just recommend Corecco's works. Some of them are translated in english.

Pretty much, what I was against was a moralistic approach to canon law, which is what I see whenever people quote canons 915 and 916. The response to this moralistic approach is not negating them, but seeing the intrinsic unity between pastoral practice and theology. I did not equate pastoral activity and canon law, but said that there is an intrinsic unity between them. The problem is that canon law just becomes norms of right behavior unless it is interpreted within the faith.

As for the hermeneutic of faith, I used Scripture as an analogy, but it was just that, an analogy: although there are similarities between them, there is a greater disimilarity. The nature of canon law is not the nature of scripture. But both must be interpreted within the eyes of faith. Canon law was born within the Church, that is, within the faith (as fides qua and fides quae). To treat canon law as a "legal system first," as Peters suggested, reduces it to moralism.

Anyway, email me if you wish to continue this.

Dan Deeny

Ed Peters,
Thank you for your response. Now, are there canonical directions for a priest or bishop who does give communion in such a case? For instance, does the priest or bishop excommunicate himself?

Ed Peters

Hi Dan. Re excommunication, No. The rest of the question is a different essay, better in another forum. Okay? Best, edp.

Nancy D.

Not to mention Ad Tuendam Fidem.

Mark Brumley

Ap, I am not sure where Dr. Peters treats canon law as a "legal system first". Certainly, he would not regard himself as doing that.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you say that both canon law and scripture "must be interpreted within the eyes of faith". If you mean, for canon law to make sense to a would-be interpreter he must understand some theology, ok. If you mean for canon law rationally to justify itself as a juridical system to a reasonable man one must accept premises that rest on faith, ok. If you mean that faith provides access to a meaning of the law that reason apart from faith, in principle, could not apprehend, I suppose I would ask for an example. Note I say "in principle".

Thanks for the offer but I have little time and not much interest in an email exchange. I am happy to discuss these issues here, as time permits, because I see a value in the public conversation about them. Obviously, comboxes don't afford the space for lengthy and subtle discussion. But it seems to me the broad issues can certainly be considered here. Even so, I understand if you don't want to continue to talk about the matter here.



Ed Peters, on this combox said: "Canon law works when it is treated first as a legal system, one which of course derives its values and goals from theology (actually, from doctrine), but which works as a legal system first."

I would say, on the contrary, because it is derived from faith (again, as fides qua and fides quae, which therefore presuppose an ontology and narrative), it must be interpreted within the eyes of faith. And yes, I would say that faith provides access to a meaning of law that reason, apart from faith, could not apprehend (this does not mean it excludes reason, of course). Canon law is not human law, but born of faith. As for an example, I would give the whole debate on the status of secular institutes and the society of apostolic life. Are they consecrated? Incardinated to what? And so on. Okay, this might be a "cheap" answer since it is heavily debated, but one cannot understand this unless we look at it from the Christian narrative. So how do we understand incardination and consecration? Without faith, we cannot apprehend them.

The thing is, canon law are laws about a particular society, a society that is both heavenly and earthly (union without confusion). So it must be interpreted within faith.



I would also add this. Even when it comes to a human science, I do think that a Christian must read it within the eyes of faith, allowing it to flourish more. This is what Pope Benedict talks about when he speaks of broadening reason. Take the example of economics. What kind of science is it? Well, certainly we can speak of it as a human science, but it must be illumined by faith. A Christian always start with faith; or else God became man, died, and rose again for nothing. If we read Caritas in Veritate, what we are taught is that Christianity provides an ontology: that of gift. So we cannot understand "the economy of gift" unless we start first with faith. Otherwise we will reduce economics to monetary exchange. I think this is one of the great contribution of Pope Benedict. He has criticized modernity theologically, and as we can see from his latest book, without destroying modernity's merits.

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