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Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s blow upon a bruise

The Church’s arguably two highest-ranking cardinals in the areas of canonical interpretation and the protection of doctrine and morals are in public, plain, and diametric opposition with each other concerning a crucial canonico-sacramental practice.

Left: Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, in aSept. 8, 2015, file photo. Right: Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is pictured in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Nov. 19, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Evelyn Waugh’s character Charles Ryder described his friend Sebastian’s protracted acts of self-destruction as “a blow, expected, repeated, falling upon a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne” (Brideshead Revisited, 1945) . I thought of Waugh’s words as I read, in the wake of the Maltese Disaster and the German bishops’ slightly more nuanced program to the same effect, some excerpts translated from Francesco Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s new, short book on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia.

If the excerpts I read are accurate, the President of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts (the body charged with issuing binding interpretations of ecclesiastical legal texts, notably the Code of Canon Law), comes down squarely on the side of the Maltese and Germans in holding that Catholics living in open contradiction to Church teaching on the permanence of marriage and in disregard of Church teaching that marriage is the only proper setting for sexual intercourse, may and should, after “an appropriate period of discernment”, be admitted to the sacraments of Reconciliation and holy Communion.

Per Rorate Caeli, Coccopalmerio holds: “The divorced and remarried, de facto couples, those cohabiting, are certainly not models of unions in sync with Catholic Doctrine, but the Church cannot look the other way. Therefore, the sacraments of Reconciliation and of Communion must be given even to those so-called wounded families and to however many who, despite living in situations not in line with traditional matrimonial canons, express the sincere desire to approach the sacraments after an appropriate period of discernment . . . Yes, therefore, to admission to the sacraments for those who, despite living in irregular situations, sincerely ask for admission into the fullness of ecclesial life, it is a gesture of openness and profound mercy on the part of Mother Church, who does not leave behind any of her children, aware that absolute perfection is a precious gift, but one which cannot be reached by everyone.” Fr. Z’s red-line translation reads similarly.

These words, assuming they accurately reflect the cardinal’s position, are more blows upon a swollen bruise.

It is important to recall that, despite being published by the Vatican’s publishing house and to be rolled out in a Vatican press conference {which it seems the cardinal suddenly backed-out of attending this morning}, Coccopalmerio’s book does not suffice as a vehicle for “authentic interpretation” of canon law itself, let alone is it a response by the Holy See to the Four Cardinals’ dubia—important, I say, because Coccoplamerio apparently stakes out, along with the Maltese and the Germans, an extreme position on reception of sacraments by divorced-and-remarried Catholics—a position not actually taken, whatever might be his personal predelictions, by Pope Francis in Amoris—one that effectively endorses the absolution of those who do not, at the time of their Confession, intend to amend their conduct (contrary to the canonical and ecclesial values behind Canons 959 and 980) and which places confessors in proximate danger of committing the crime of solicitation in Confession. Further, by urging ministers of holy Communion to distribute the sacrament to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” (contrary to the canonical and ecclesial values behind Canon 915), Coccopalmerio’s advice not only facilitates the irreverent reception of holy Communion, it tends toward giving what the Church has always recognized as classical scandal. Of course, those undeterred by my arguments offered on these points elsewhere are unlikely to be persuaded by my repeating them here, so I simply note them and move on, except to make one observation.

A few weeks ago, Cdl Muller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave an interview that upheld the traditional practice of withholding holy Communion from divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Now, Cdl Coccopalmeria has published a booklet in which he apparently says that, subject only to the toothless requirement of ‘discerning their situation’, such Catholics may and should be admitted to holy Communion. In other words, the Church’s arguably two highest-ranking cardinals in the areas of canonical interpretation and the protection of doctrine and morals are in public, plain, and diametric opposition with each other concerning a crucial canonico-sacramental practice.

This division cannot stand.

About Edward N. Peters 89 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.

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