Fight the false history, people! Here’s a newsflash! People who commit mortal sins should not be receiving Communion! This applies to you. This applies to me. This also applies to people who find themselves in really sad and/or hard situations. This does not now, nor has it ever meant, that said sinners are necessarily excommunicated. That’s a whole separate issue.
Lately, I’ve seen many try to confuse the situation by suggesting that people who are not free to receive Communion are excommunicated. Seems to be the new liberal strategy of the day. The fact is, most people who may not receive Communion are simply in a state of mortal sin that doesn’t rise to the level of excommunication.
Now, some are creating imaginary canons and applying imaginary scenarios to them. Ed Peters clarifies that nicely. Might be nice if the Crux folks investigated a bit, but sadly, I think this is their chosen method of operation as of late. They seem to be running on a “Let’s just say that John Paul II did something and hope nobody actually verifies it”, adding a “He who frames the question…” flourish, concluded with a “Repeat the lie until everyone believes it” move.
Fr. James Keenan writing in Crux this week makes his own a question raised (last July, it seems) by Rocco Buttiglione in L’Osservatore Romano: “Is there any contradiction between the popes who excommunicated divorced and remarried persons and Saint John Paul II who lifted that excommunication?
That’s fake canon law. John Paul II never lifted any excommunication against divorced and remarried Catholics because, quite simply, there was no excommunication against divorced and remarried Catholics for him to lift. Shall we talk about it?
Let’s all watch Ed school those so desperate to admit all to Communion.
Buttiglione writes in the L’OR piece upon which Keenan draws: “Once upon a time, divorced and remarried persons were excommunicated and excluded from the life of the Church. That kind of excommunication disappears from the new Code of Canon Law and Familiaris Consortio, and divorced and remarried persons are now encouraged to participate in the life of the Church and to give their children a Christian upbringing. This was an extraordinarily courageous decision that broke from an age-old tradition. But Familiaris Consortio tells us that the divorced and remarried cannot receive the sacraments.
Gracious! However far back in Church history Buttiglione needs to search for an excommunication of divorced-and-remarried Catholics, he apparently thinks that the 1917 Code itself excommunicated divorced and remarried Catholics and that, only by making a “courageous decision that broke from an age-old tradition”, could John Paul II ‘disappear’ that “excommunication” from the new (1983) Code of Canon Law.
I’ve kind of learned along the way to ask for citations mainly because it’s fun to watch their heads explode when they don’t actually have one. So much “fake Catholicism” out there nowadays, I really don’t trust much.
There is just one problem with Buttiglione’s and Keenan’s canonical narrative of a pope kicking down a penal door locked against divorced-and-remarried Catholics—and thus with their broader ‘if-John-Paul-could-then-Francis-can’ claim, namely: the 1917 Code did not excommunicate divorced and remarried Catholics.
Oops is right, and it’s a biggie for Crux peeps!
Neither Buttiglione nor Keenan provide a citation for their claim about what canon law allegedly did up to the time of John Paul II (nor, come to think of it, did Abp. Scicluna who was, it now seems, uncritically repeating Buttiglione’s claim and extending it to embrace adulterers!), so one is left to guess at what they had in mind. But a couple of ideas occur to me, some of which I have addressed before.
Ed points out what I said earlier: the liberal spin doctors are in full swing with each repeating the error as truth and it won’t be long before they’re all parroting the same talking points. It spreads like a wildfire. The response we need to keep repeating in our best Jerry Maguire voice is “Show me the canons!” Heck, let’s even slow it down a bit for dramatic effect. “Show…me…the canons!”
Maybe Keenan and Buttiglione had in mind the Pio-Benedictine excommunication levied against Catholics who attempted marriage in violation of canonical form; problem is, this sanction was applicable to all Roman Catholics (not just to divorced-and-civilly-remarried ones) and, more importantly, it had already been abrogated by Paul VI in 1970, a dozen years before the 1983 Code went into force!
Or maybe Keenan the American (if not Buttiglione, an Italian) recalled when American Catholics who divorced and civilly remarried were indeed excommunicated for that offense; problem is, that rule was peculiar to American (not universal) canon law, it dated back only to 1884 (hardly ‘age-old’), and, most importantly, it too had already been abrogated in 1977—again by Paul VI, not John Paul II—several years before the 1983 Code was promulgated.
Cue Britney Spears, JCL: Oops, they did it again!
Or maybe by “new” Code of Canon Law, Buttiglione and Keenan meant the 1917 Code which, in its day, was certainly new; problem is, I can’t find an excommunication for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in the main, pre-Code, penal document of the 19th century, Pius IX’s Apostolicae Sedis moderatione (1869). Do Buttiglione and Keenan know of one? Of course, even if one were found lurking somewhere, it had obviously ‘disappeared’ from codified canon law some 65 years before John Paul II arrived on the scene.
So, in short, John Paul II had zippo to do with lifting excommunications on divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics. Is this just poor education on the part of Keenan, Buttiglione, Scicluna, and the growing number embracing this falsehood, or is it simply tactics on their part? Regardless, thanks to Ed Peters for showing us the error of their ways.
Or maybe Buttiglione and Keenan understand by the term “excommunication” a much older usage that sometimes blurred the distinctions between “excommunication” (as a canonical penalty, c. 1331) and “denial of holy Communion” (as a sacramental disciplinary norm, c. 915); problem is, their claim about what John Paul II supposedly did demands that they use canonical terms as he and the Church understand them today—and as Buttiglione himself recognizes when he notes above that, despite the (alleged) lifting of a (non-existent) excommunication, divorced-and-remarried Catholics are still prohibited the sacraments (a statement wrong in some respects, but right enough in this regard).
So what does this mean? So much confusion exists about “excommunication.” I often refer people to this and so I shall again: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05678a.htm Excommunication is FAR different from not being free to receive Communion. When you are excommunicated, you are barred from ALL of the Sacraments, public worship, and the Christian community in general. When you are in mortal sin, you are to refrain from Communion and encouraged to the hilt to cease sinning and get thyself to confession to rectify the mortal sin, but you are never to cease your Mass-going obligations. Big difference!
So much contextualizing and back-storying, just to address one more fake canon law claim. But at least such research allows one to argue better not ‘if-John-Paul-could-then-Francis-can’, but rather ‘John-Paul-didn’t-and-Francis-shouldn’t’.
Sadly, it is necessary, Ed, and we thank you for doing so. The question is, are people going to start doing their own homework or are they simply going to go with what’s most convenient for them to buy? Honestly, people! We’re talking about eternal life here! It’s worth putting in just a little effort to go beyond the comfortable. I mean, I’d love to believe that I no longer have to deal with hard situations in life and can just get to heaven because I mean well despite my sins, but I’m not so sure I’d be happy with the everlasting outcome of that stupid move. I’m a mom. The reality we employ around here is that the easy way, more often than not, is the wrong way, and at some point, the wrong way will bite us in the end.