Tuesday 24 January 2012

Canon Law and Justice

The Holy Father arrives to address
members of the Roman Rota on Saturday

(Photo from L'Osservatore Romano)

Mention Canon Law in many circles of the Church today and you get a wrinkled nose and a turning away of the head that suggests there is a slightly unpleasant odour in the room. The implication is that you are a legalist, uncaring and unpastoral. That Canon Law has no real place in the modern Church and that much of it it is probably in direct opposition to the Gospel teachings of Our Lord. Well, at least that's often been my experience whenever I mention it!

The fact is that Canon Law is there to protect - laity, clergy and bishops. The trouble is that when you want to call upon it you have to go all the way to Rome. Most laity don't know how, most priests wouldn't risk the wrath of their bishop. What the Law says is good but if it's being ignored at a local level it's a very arduous process to appeal to Rome. I suppose it is true that access to the law is as important as the law itself.

However, the Holy Father has some excellent things to say in his annual address to the Roman Rota: "Christian Maturity Leads One to an Ever Greater Love of the Law."

You can read it on Zenit and at Vatican News but here is a précis of some interesting bits.

In recent times some currents of thought have warned against excessive attachment to the Church's laws, regarding it as a manifestation of legalism. Consequently, there have been proposals for approaches that are more in keeping with theological and pastoral intentions, leading to juridical creativity in which the individual situation becomes the decisive factor. It is worth noting immediately that this position does not overcome the positivism that it denounces, limiting itself to replacing the one positivism with another in which the human interpretive work comes to prominence in determining what is lawful. There is a lack of a sense of an objective law to be discovered since it is subjected to considerations that pretend to be theological and pastoral, but that are, in the end, exposed to the danger of arbitrariness. Thus legal hermeneutics is rendered vacuous: it can then be adapted to any situation, even one opposed to the law's letter.

There is another route, one in which the adequate understanding of canon law opens the way to an interpretive effort that inserts itself into the pursuit of the truth about law and justice in the Church. True law is inseparable from justice.

Something occurs that is similar to what I have said about the interior process of St. Augustine in biblical hermeneutics: "transcending the letter made the letter itself credible." Thus we confirm that even in legal hermeneutics the juridical truth can be loved, sought and served and provide an authentic horizon.

The dictum "sentire cum Ecclesiae" (thinking or feeling with the Church) is also relevant to disciplinary matters by reason of the doctrinal foundations that are always present and at work in the Church's legal norms. In this way, there must also be applied to canon law that hermeneutic of renewal in continuity, of which I spoke in reference to Vatican II, which is so closely connected to current canonical legislation. Christian maturity leads one to an ever greater love of the law and a desire that it be faithfully applied.


Hickory said...

There was once a man who invented fire. He visited all the towns and villages near to where he lived and brought them fire. He was a great man who didnt want any reward and after bringing the fire, he left for somewhere else. He became very popular and the local political and religious leaders became jealous and fearful of him, so they decided to kill him. The population were enraged, so the local powers decided to build churches and put up statues and have holy days in his honour. And the people were grateful for this and became so engrossed in ceremony and protocol, everyone forgot about the fire. Be careful you dont go down the same route and forget about the fire.

Hunted Priest said...

Dear Hickory,
Father was clear & correct in saying that the Law exists to protect everyone.

Here is Robert Bolt's dialogue between Thomas More & his family on this subject:

Wife: Arrest him!
More: For what?
Wife: He's dangerous!
Roper: For all we know he's a spy!
Daughter: Father, that man's bad!
More: There's no law against that!
Roper: There is, God's law!
More: Then let God arrest him!
Wife: While you talk he's gone!
More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?
This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down (and you're just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
To continue your analogy, Hickory, without the Law we would all burn!

Young Catholic in London said...

Hickory, your comments are meaningless claptrap (sorry if this seems too strong and 'unchristian'). Surely, as the Holy Father has pointed out, Canon Law is there to defend and is inextricably linked to Justice. Never forget that the
Catholic Church offers, as a basic principle, a pathway to Salvation. The Law is not there to admonish and attack, rather it is to guide and deepen our relationship with God.

Genty said...

Ignoring Canon Law may well stoke the fire, but beware it is not the fire of Hell, as in the paedophile scandal which could have been snuffed out had there been more attention to Canon Law.