Show…Me…the Canons!

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:  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.

21 thoughts on “Show…Me…the Canons!

  1. Here is a conundrum for you. In order for me to receive Communion, I would have to ask forgiveness for doing IVF in order to have my children. Considering that they are miracles of birth, there is no way I can ask for forgiveness and actually mean it. For that reason, I no longer attend Mass because it would be a lie. On the other hand, I have a sister, who has a wonderful marriage with a divorced man, who happily receives Communion. She was not willing to ask him to negate his children in order to have a Catholic wedding, but she also thinks that this “rule” is ridiculous because it is so easy just to go to Confession and ask for forgiveness when you don’t actually mean it.


    1. Children are always a gift from God and the happenings surrounding their conception doesn’t negate that fact. Rape, incest, IVF, fornication, etc., etc., etc. don’t ever change the intrinsic value of each human life. That said, you’re using the “ends justifies the means” argument. It doesn’t fly. IVF is always against Church teaching because it goes against God’s Natural Law. I know you are aware that I’ve covered that in many a post so you’ll have to look those up.

      Now, you are totally right that you have to be contrite to go to confession to receive absolution. That said, our ability to receive Communion in Mass doesn’t not negate the obligation to attend. Remember, we don’t go to Mass to get something from it. We go to Mass to give obedience to God. So, you are being consistent to Catholic teaching not receive without contrition and absolution but not in not attending Mass. I know many a person who doesn’t not attend Communion but still attend Mass. In fact, most people I know, including myself, have skipped Communion when their soul was not properly disposed. You’ve got to remember TT, the Truths of the Church are there for your benefit (and the benefit of your family), not for your punishment.

      Now, as for your sister. I’m not sure how not receiving Communion would ever negate a child. That’s never been a Church teaching regarding annullments which is what I think your getting at. BTW, people can make bad confessions all the time but here’s the thing, and I’m not sure why your sister doesn’t understand, God knows all. Again, it’s ALL about eternal life. The Church wants that for you and the Church wants that for me despite our stupidity.


      1. Sorry, I won’t attend something where I am not welcome because I wanted to have children which is basically the whole point of marriage as you have so often put it. Just doesn’t work for me. Given that there are many religions and many beliefs, I will take my chances on not achieving life ever after. Also, how is it that God’s natural law allows for medications and procedures to prolong life when it doesn’t allow those same things to create life?


        1. Whole point? Care to find a quote on that? The whole point of this life, including your vocation, is to live everlasting life with God in heaven. Come on, girlfriend! You put limits on your children’s behavior for their safety. It’s the same for the Church. Everytime we go against God’s Natural Law it ends in death – spiritual, moral and physical and the Church knows this. How many children have been created and discarded? How many children have been separated from their biological parents? How many egg donating women have dreadful physical effects of fertility drugs? How many women are exploited for their eggs? Do the research: The Church knows this is always the outcome. You’ve nailed the problem on the head though. People think because they want something that it’s just peachy and there will be no lasting effects.

          BTW, there are no drugs that create life. The Church doesn’t have a problem with drugs that help the body work more efficiently. I, myself, took a fertility drug. (BTW, in my effort to treat infertility, I never did one thing to violate the Church’s teachings in the matter. We had planned to adopt if it had not worked because, well, immortal soul and all.) It does not going against Natural Law to cure a disease, illness, imbalances, etc. To dumb it a little further, in nature, the body will either heal or not heal. The body will never make a baby in a petri dish. Assisting the body in doing something natural is far different than completely changing the natural course of action. I’m sure some great theologian can word it better. In short, medicine that helps the body work as the human body work as it is designed to as a whole is not forbidden.

          Now where it gets really interesting (and I’m surprised you didn’t bring this way better debate item up) is when the same drug can be forbidden for one reason and accepted for another like the birth control pill. Then it comes down to intent on use. Are you trying to treat the diseased part of the body or are you trying to prevent children (interestingly enough, the pill has in large part been the reason for the serious increase in infertility again showing the Church knows best). There’s a lot of writings on that particular situation.


      1. I’ve had a few moments this morning to ponder this. I think TT just has trouble looking at things out of the personal context. If TT set rules for her sons like, say, no drinking and driving and they were found to do so, presumably there would be consequences like, maybe, losing the privilege of driving. Would this mean that TT doesn’t love her sons? Does this mean that TT doesn’t welcome her sons in their family? At family dinners? Etc.? Of course not.

        Now TT’s sons might say “Well fine! I’m outta here because you won’t let me do what I want to do and you’re telling me there are consequences to my actions! How dare you!” This is where I kind of feel like she’s at with the Church. Nobody likes to be called on their crap but somewhere you start to realize that those who do it might just love you enough to do it!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As Cardinal George Pell said three years ago: “As Christians, we follow Christ. Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn’t. And I’m sticking with him.”

    I would imagine that all of us think the Church should teach or do at least one thing differently, but if everyone got their “one thing,” the Church would cease to exist. We are not Congregationalists. To be in communion with the Church means accepting its teachings and acknowledging their validity.

    I have the advantage of joining at the age of 55. I studied, thought and prayed long and hard before committing to joining. RCIA wasn’t that difficult because I had already read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and understood that I had to submit to the Church’s teachings and change my behavior.

    I suspect that many of those who claim to stay away over the issue of divorce and remarriage would find something else to stay away if the Church changed its teaching on that issue. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI suggested some years ago, maybe a smaller Church wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if the members were more in communion with the Church’s teachings.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the clarification. In her case, she’s either an apostate or she’s a Catholic who blew it. Either way, I’d guess it would take more than a simple confession to put her in the disposition to receive Communion if that’s the question.


        1. Well, that is the interesting bit about resolution through the internal forum. As AL 301 points out, not everyone living in an irregular situation is in a state of mortal sin i.e. the irregular situation per se is not a sin but the actions therein as if it were a regular one.

          In her case, were she to desire to remain living with her husband in a conjugal way, then the resolution in the external forum would be receiving the blessing of the Church on their marriage. The resolution in the internal forum, however, would only require her to confess those sins related to breaking the marriage laws of the Church and does not require her to resolve things in the external forum in order to receive communion.

          You may wish to invoke Canon 915 at this point wherein I would counter that the only way that a priest could justly exercise his prerogative there is if he knew that the two were conjugal.


          1. Uh, yeah, that’s a complete misread on the internal forum and one that Cardinal Kasper would love! And now you see the need for the dubia.

            Internal Forum. Sometimes it is suggested to individuals or couples that they can resolve marital issues concerning a first marriage in the “internal forum.” This means essentially in the confessional or in the privacy of their conscience. Someone who is divorced and remarried will be told that they do not have to seek a Decree of Nullity to validate the present marriage, rather being convinced in their own conscience that their first marriage was invalid they can return to the sacraments. This is not, however, the case. Marriage is not a private affair but a social institution, one safeguarded by the Church according to the will of Christ. The Holy See has ruled out the internal forum solution as a valid way of resolving marital validity questions. Such issues must be submitted to the Church’s canonical processes (a marriage tribunal).

            Now as far as Canon 915 goes…you are trying to blend 915 and 916 together. You would be wrong to do so. There is a difference between a public, obstinate sinner and the guy next to you who may be in mortal sin but you wouldn’t have a clue. The big difference? The scandal it brings to the Eucharist. I’ve already covered this here:


          2. You misunderstand both my position and to a certain extent Cardinal Kasper’s. In short, being in an irregular marriage does not excommunicate you, especially in this case where the person’s culpability is dubious. An example eminent canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters uses is the fact that someone who is merely baptized into the Church is still bound by the laws of the Church even if they are not raised in it.

            The recourse to the internal forum here would be to resolve the immediate impediment to the sacraments i.e. the sin of breaking the marriage laws of the Church. This is where Kasper departs slightly from myself and the majority of the Church including His Holiness I imagine, but especially Cardinal Burke before he suddenly thought there were confusions in a document that had no confusions. But I digress. The decree of nullity is not an instrument of the internal forum but the external. All the internal forum resolves is the commission of any grave sins barring one from the sacraments. So you have set up a straw man of sorts here.

            I mention Canon 915 in conjunction with AL 301 since the simple fact that one is in an irregular union does not mean that they have treated it as a regular one. As Dr. Peters relates, “The phrase “living in a state of mortal sin” could also be taken as judging the state of another’s soul based on their living arrangement. Whether speaking from ill-will or from inaccurate catechesis, Catholics who describe others (let alone all others) living in irregular marriage situations as “living in a state of mortal sin”—meaning by that phrase that such persons have necessarily incurred the guilt of grave sin—should indeed cease thinking and speaking that way.”

            In the case I have presented, it would seem that the FLOTUS’s situation would not bar her from communion simply by being in an irregular marriage. As for the divorced and civilly remarried, I have made no comment on them.


          3. I can assure you I don’t misunderstand Cardinal Kasper’s position and you are defending an argument not made. I didn’t bring up excommunication. This really the be all and end all of why a person should not receive Communion but there are many reasons long before that where a person must not do so.

            The “internal forum” does not resolve anyone in the commission of grave sin. Only confession and absolution does that.

            You also must read a little more of Ed Peters. Again, you are confusing 915 and 916:

            Finally, however, let’s assume that, however he expressed himself, the pope somehow really believes that few Catholics, perhaps none, living in irregular marriages are subjectively culpable for their state. Even that conclusion on his part would have no bearing whatsoever on the operation of Canon 915 because, as noted above, Canon 915 does not (and cannot!) operate at the level of interior, subjective responsibility, but rather, it responds to externally cognizable facts concerning observable conduct.

            Yet a third possible rejoinder relies another eisegetical reading of Francis’ words.

            3. Some think that AL fn. 351 and its accompanying text authorize holy Communion for Catholics in irregular marriages. I would ask, recalling that a matter of law is at issue, where does Francis do this? The pope says that Catholics in irregular unions need the help of the sacraments (which of course they do), but he does not say ALL of the sacraments, and especially, not sacraments for which they are ineligible. He says that the confessional is not a ‘torture chamber’ (a trite remark but not an erroneous one). And he observes that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect (thank God), but a powerful spiritual medicine, which it is—unless it is taken unworthily or in violation of law, a caveat one may assume all Catholics, and certainly popes, know without having to say it.

            Bottom line: sacramental rules are made of words, not surmises. Those who think Amoris has cleared a path to the Communion rail for Catholics in irregular marriages are hearing words that the pope (whatever might be his personal inclinations) simply did not say.

            * Example: One who was baptized Catholic but raised without knowledge of that fact, is (incredibly) bound by canonical form and thus, if married outside of form, he or she would be, by definition, living in an irregular union. It would be ludicrous to refer to such a person as “living in sin”. I can offer a dozen more fact patterns that would duplicate this point.

            [This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” blog and is reposted on The Dispatch by kind permission of Dr. Peters.]

            I have already said, Melania’s situation is above my pay grade for judgment. I mean, we’re not even sure if she’s Catholic AND/or, as far as I know, she has never presented herself or expressed and interest in presenting herself for Communion. She had a rosary blessed. That’s kind of where the straw argument is.

            I can say this, simply marrying a non-Catholic is not a reason a person may not receive Communion. My feeling there is a reason we haven’t seen her kicking up a fuss about not receiving Communion. GREAT for her! Whatever her situation, I pray she be free from an impediments which would bar her from Communion. That would be awesome! At this point, I don’t see anyone, including the Holy Father, saying “Come on down!” when it comes to Communion and I don’t see her pressing that issue – again, to her credit.


          4. “I didn’t bring up excommunication.” No, but Kasper has. Again, one of the problems he raises is a valid one i.e. that those in irregular unions are de facto excommunicated when they are not de jure excommunicated.

            “The “internal forum” does not resolve anyone in the commission of grave sin. Only confession and absolution does that.” Confession is part of the internal forum as the forum is divided into the penitentiary and the sacramental.

            As I pointed out before, if a person resolves the spiritual impediment to their receiving communion i.e. any mortal sins are forgiven, then you cannot then argue that the fact they are in an irregular union is an impediment to communion.

            Take Melania again. Suppose she goes to confession and receives absolution according to the necessary qualification esp. resolution to not sin again. She would still be in an irregular union, but that union per se is not an impediment to her receiving communion.

            To sum up, being in an invalid marriage is not per se an impediment to communion. The union is not resolved but the grave sin which prevents one from receiving is forgiven.


          5. Probably because Cardinal Kasper doesn’t understand excommunication. First of all, the excommunicated are deprived of all sacramenents and life in the Church. Divorced and civilly remarried people are not. You don’t resolve a the spiritual impediment by simply saying “You know, life is hard and I don’t think I’m sinning.” This is a misunderstanding of the internal forum and one that Cardinal Kasper perpetuates.

            The example you give regarding Melania is not disputed by anyone I know including the popes. I know a few people in “irregular marriages” who are living as brother and sister as they ought and continuing to raise their children in a stable environment. They are living chastely for everyone involved and making a great sacrifice to do so. The the Catholic partners in the relationship do receive the sacrements. They have confessed, received absolution and are living a life of chastity. I’m not sure you’ll find a document in the last 50 years that says anything to the contrary. In fact, Kasper missed that entirely while flapping his gums on Familaris Consortio #84:

            “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.’” See also the Apostolic Letter of Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, n. 29.

            And your final paragraph? Another argument not made. First of all, there really is no such thing as an invalid marriage. There’s no marriage at all if it’s invalid. And what the heck is “The union is not resolved but the grave sin which prevents one from receiving is forgiven.” mean? And on whose authority did that come from?

            Your spending a whole lot of time creating scenarios in which this might work and, guess what? The Church already has those rarities covered.


        1. CCC 2089 defines apostasy as “the total repudiation of the Christian faith.”

          Since the Episcopal church she was married in and the Presbyterian church her and her husband belong are at least nominally a part of, retain valid baptisms, they are still considered of the Christian faith with regards to the sin of apostasy. If they were Mormon, that would be different.

          In this case, there does not seem to be much evidence of even heresy, let alone apostasy. Rather, it seems an instance of simply ignoring the marriage laws of the Church which, since she grew up in a communist country where instruction in such matters would have been impracticable, it is more likely that she did not have even the knowledge of these precepts.


          1. Awwww…Come on, Stephen, I even put links. I was talking renouncing the Faith (aka, the Catholic Church) as found here. In short, I was using the Webster definition, not the CCC version.

            If, indeed a baptized Catholic, I would think Melania would be more a lapsed than an apostate but I really don’t have the knowledge. Like I said, the whole point is rather moot since nobody has said she can or cannot receive Communion nor has she tried.


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