Pope Francis greets U.S. Vice President Joe Biden after both spoke at a conference on adult stem cell research at the Vatican April 29. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)
“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 agowhile 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.]