Discussing law with people who don’t know what it actually says

Austen Ivereigh’s misrepresentation of the law illustrates why the "Amoris" debate is becoming, to use Ivereigh’s term, so infuriating for defenders of ecclesiastical tradition.

Austen Ivereigh, in a Crux essay that adds little of substance to what has been said over and over again in regard to Amoris laetitia,fatally misquotes the central canon at issue in the Amoris debate. His misrepresentation of the law illustrates better than anything I could say here about why the Amoris debate is becoming, to use Ivereigh’s term, so infuriating for defenders of ecclesiastical tradition. The ‘pro-Amoris’ wing simply does not know, or care, what the law in question actually says.

Ivereigh writes:

“Amoris never questions either Canon 915, which demands that Communion be withheld from those who “obstinately persevere in grave sin,” nor the following canon, that people conscious of grave sin should not present themselves to receive Communion… But while Amoris is very clear about not wanting to create new norms or laws, it is also very clear about fostering a new attitude.”

First Amoris never “questions” Canon 915 because it never mentions Canon 915!, but much more importantly—and crucially for his essay—Ivereigh misquotes the text of Canon 915 in regard to the central issue here. Canon 915 does NOT say that holy Communion must be withheld from those who “obstinately persevere in grave sin”, it says that holy Communion must be withheld from those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin”.

The difference, as has been explained copiously, is night and day.

Canon 915, controlling a minister’s decision to give holy Communion to a would-be communicant, is not, not, not, about reading communicants’ personal consciences (as if ministers could do that anyway), it is about assessing a would-be communicants’ public behavior (such as their having entered civil marriage subsequent to divorce). Thus, virtually all of the Amoris discussions about individual assessments of conscience or, as the Maltese bishops put it, about “being at peace with God” (points that might figure in the application of Canon 916), is irrelevant to the operation of Canon 915, the modern canon resting on ancient roots that prevents ministers from giving holy Communion to Catholics in these circumstances. But it’s impossible to discuss the implications of the legal qualifier “manifest” in Canon 915 if public figures such as Ivereigh don’t even admit the word is there.

Misrepresenting the plain text of canon law on the central point at issue in the Amoris debate is not, I suggest, how should one go “about fostering a new attitude” toward law.

About Edward N. Peters 60 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.