“I am not a Roman Catholic, let alone a canon lawyer,” writes First Things contributor Carl Trueman, “but I am reliably informed that the bishop of the diocese to which [Vice President Joseph Biden] belongs does have certain powers in regard [to Biden’s brazen officiating at a ‘same-sex wedding’].” Well, I am a Roman Catholic, and I am a canon lawyer, and I can reliably inform others that the bishops of the dioceses to which Biden belongs do indeed have certain powers in this regard. In my view, moreover, it’s time for bishops to use those powers. Gracious, even some Protestants think it’s time!
Yes, I cautioned here against a canonical over-reaction to Biden’s stunt (over-reactions always being more likely in the wake of decades of mostly inaction), and so I pointed not to excommunication but instead to the invocation of Canon 915, this, in response not so much to Biden’s one-off as a special officiant at a ‘same-sex wedding’, but in view of his long string of effective repudiations of fundamental Church teaching on the nature of marriage itself, the inviolability of innocent human life, and so on, such serial repudiations now being publicly crowned by his voluntary, formal cooperation with an objectively gravely evil act against marriage last week.
The wider Canon 915 story I have laid out many times in many fora and so won’t repeat it here. I raise but one caveat to Trueman’s honest call for acknowledging the great gulf that exists between public stands such as Biden’s (and Pelosi’s, to name another, and several others’) on the one hand, and settled Church teaching on certain fundamental issues on the other, namely, that the response to Biden-ites is not to preclude, or even to discourage, their Mass attendance, for all Catholics are required by divine and canon law to attend Mass on Sundays and certain holy days per c. 1247. Rather, the issue is whether they should take the Sacrament at Mass (per Canons 915 and 916). Still, as Trueman noted, he is not a Catholic and not a canonist, so he may be forgiven for conflating these two issues.
A few days ago, three notable bishops issued a statement critical of (obviously) Biden’s act. I readily grant, the statement was not “much”, but it was something, and it was a something that would not have been done at all even a few years ago—while there was still some hope that the US Supreme Court would, in the end, at least get the definition of marriage right. They did not get it right, of course, and, in so spectacularly not getting it right, the Court crossed a line that human nature itself says may not be crossed; thus, however small might have been the Kurtz-Malone-Wenski statement, it was not nothing.
Whether we are on the cusp of the long-awaited, major pushback by bishops in the social and political sphere (toward which approach Trueman seems inclined) or are approaching something more radical yet such as the so-called “[St.] Benedict Option” provocatively urged by Rod Dreher (who, I shall not tire of saying, needs to come back to the Catholic Church), I cannot tell. But something is going on. Something has to go on. We simply can’t keep going on as we have been going on up to this point.
We just can’t.
[This essay was originally posted on the “In the Light of the Law” blog and is reprinted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.]