Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, delivers a homily during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in this Jan. 22, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, recently permitted the
United Methodist Church to celebrate an ordination service at the Catholic
Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. This event has set in motion a
wave of criticism on orthodox Catholic blogs and websites. The criticism
generally has focused on the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognize
the validity of Methodist ordinations, and the fact that the presiding
Methodist bishop was a woman. The prevailing critiques also charge Cardinal Di
Nardo with the sin of scandal. However, the commentary to date has included
little discussion of the law of the Church.
follower of the vigorous criticism directed against Cardinal DiNardo might be
surprised to learn that the cardinal’s decision enjoys relatively strong
support in canon law. I do not mean that the law commands the accommodation that Cardinal DiNardo made for the
Methodists, but rather that it provides him with ample discretion to make such a decision. Although the primary
purpose of churches and cathedrals is for Catholic worship, canon 1210 makes
allowance for some other uses of sacred
places as well.
other uses are permissible? Such uses must
be only occasional, and they must not be opposed to the holiness of the place
(cf. can. 1210). An example of an activity that would be contrary to the holiness
of a church would be a political rally. By contrast, a legitimate other
activity that might occasionally be held in
a church would be a historical lecture.
a Methodist liturgy qualify as a legitimate other use of the Catholic cathedral? Canon 1210 itself does
not directly answer this question, but the breadth of its language seems to allow
any occasional use that is not contrary to the sacredness of the place.
Moreover, in the 1993 Ecumenical Directory, the Holy See says outright that it sometimes is permissible for a
non-Catholic liturgy to take place in a Catholic church.
Catholics will be surprised to learn this. However, the Holy See has permitted
such use of Catholic churches since its issuance of the first Ecumenical
Directory in 1967. Both the original
directory and the current one were approved by the then-reigning popes. In fact,
the pope who approved the current directory, John Paul II, was the same one who
promulgated the current Code of Canon Law in 1983.
of Cardinal DiNardo’s critics say or imply that a Methodist ceremony in a
Catholic church always is inappropriate because the Church does not recognize
Methodist ministers as validly ordained. However, it simply is not the case
that this fact disqualifies Methodists from ever using Catholic churches. Since
1967 the Holy See has allowed for the possibility of the “separated brethren”
using Catholic Churches in some situations, and it never has distinguished such
communities on the basis of the validity of their ministers’ ordination.
are the circumstances in which it might be permissible for a Protestant
community to use a Catholic church? The current Ecumenical Directory (1993) provides that, although Catholic churches
generally are reserved for Catholic worship, a diocesan bishop may make a
church available for the ceremonies of a non-Catholic ecclesial community that
lacks an adequate facility of its own (cf. ED, §137). Thus, a light cause is not sufficient to
allow a Protestant community to use a Catholic church, but rather there must be
some showing of need.
this case, the reason for the Methodists’ request to use the Catholic
co-cathedral appears to have been that they were holding their annual
conference in Houston and lacked a Methodist church large enough to accommodate
all of the attendees. If this was indeed the reason for the request, then I
believe that it would satisfy the showing of need that the Ecumenical Directory requires. This situation would permit, but not
require, the diocesan bishop to make a Catholic church available to the
that the law of the Church seems to allow Cardinal DiNardo to make a Catholic
church or cathedral available to the visiting Methodists, should he have done so?
discussed above, I believe that the cardinal’s decision was lawful. In
addition, I believe that there has been some excess in the critiques charging
the cardinal with the sin of scandal. In everyday English usage, scandal can refer broadly to almost any offensive action
that has become a matter of public knowledge. In the ecclesiastical context,
however, scandal is a narrower concept that refers specifically to conduct that
leads another person into sin (cf. CCC, §2284). Although some fear that the cardinal’s accommodation of the
Methodists might lead Catholics to endorse the ordination of women, the general
thrust of the commentary suggests that the critics have been more offended by the cardinal’s decision than truly scandalized by it.
being said, however, I nonetheless believe that the faithful legitimately may
disagree with the cardinal’s decision, provided that they do so respectfully and
responsibly (cf. can. 212 §§2&3). My own opinion is that, under current
law, there is no difficulty in making a church available to visiting Methodists
for a regular Sunday or weekday service (cf. can. 1210; ED, §137). In this case, however, the ceremony at issue
was an ordination, which was
celebrated by a female Methodist bishop and which included women among those to
be ordained. That is, the ceremony itself implicated the ordination of women to the priesthood and the
episcopacy. As a result of this circumstance and as a result of the fact that
many of the Catholic faithful continue to have difficulty accepting the
Church’s teaching on this very point (the reservation of the priesthood to men),
my opinion is that the better course would have been to decline permission to
hold this particular ceremony in the Catholic cathedral.
Church has two codes of canon law, one for Roman Catholics and another for
members of the Eastern Catholic Churches. The code for the Roman or Western
Church took effect in 1983, and the Eastern in 1990. The Eastern Code, because
it came later, contains some improvements over the Western Code. In particular,
although both impose upon bishops a duty to work for Christian unity (cf. can.
755 §2; Eastern Code, cann. 902-908), the Eastern Code also includes an
injunction to avoid the dangers of false irenicism, immoderate zeal, and
indifferentism in ecumenical efforts (cf. Eastern Code, can. 905). The Houston
matter suggests that the law of the Western Church on ecumenism may be too open-ended
and unstructured to provide much practical guidance to diocesan bishops in
concrete cases. As a result, pastors in the West might well look to the Eastern
Code for an example of a system that seriously promotes Christian unity, but
that also recognizes the dangers into which ecumenical efforts sometimes may