Any canonist citing canon law in defense of doctrine or discipline these days should expect to be compared to a Pharisee and tritely accused of ‘throwing the law at pastoral problems’. Antinomianism, you see, which has taken hold in many places, routinely regards the invocation of inconvenient laws as an act of moral violence and usually views lawyers as hypocrites suffering from psychological disorders. Oh well, let’s talk about a canonical issue with profound implications for the Church in our day, shall we?
Specifically in regard to the debate over admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to holy Communion, a steady ‘dissing’ of canon law is crucial because canon law—and the centuries of accumulated pastoral wisdom and doctrinal clarity that it represents—lies directly athwart the campaign to admit Catholics to Eucharistic communion on their own terms instead of on Christ’s terms and the Church’s. Whatever damage to Catholic doctrine and discipline some might spy down the road—say, abandoning the indissolubility of Christian marriage, eliminating repentance as a condition for forgiveness of sin, absolutizing private conscience against public order, usurping the Church’s authority over the sacraments, and so on—it all begins by admitting divorced-and-remarried Catholics to Eucharistic communion upon, in the final analysis, their own assessment of their ownconscience, chiefly by using Amoris laetitia as cover.
Canon 915, however, as has been explained many times, forbids the distribution of holy Communion to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” and, because ecclesiastical tradition is unanimous that divorced-and-remarried Catholics figure among those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” (CCC 2384), this law poses a major problem for the ‘pro-Amoris’ wing. To deal with that problem, three approaches to Canon 915 have, I think, emerged.
# 1. Ignore Canon 915. This is the approach followed in Amoris laetitia itself and by, say, the Buenos Aires plan. Passing over Canon 915 in silence offers two advantages: first, the Communion-admission debate can be steered almost exclusively toward prolix discussions of personal conscience (about which there is always one more thing to say); second, bishops and pastors who, faithful to the Catholic sacramental order, affirm that holy Communion must be withheld in these cases, can do so without directly running afoul of any clear assertion in Amoris. But see # 3 below.
# 2. Belittle Canon 915. This approach marks most essays by amateurs and appears variously as a patronizing tsk-tsking of any benighted enough to think that law has something to do with life, ornigh-on clueless comments about the canon, and occasionally old-fashioned ridicule of canon law. Belittling Canon 915 taps into the antinomianism now running through the Church and it appeals both to writers unequipped to discuss competently the complex matters at hand and to readers unequipped to recognize that emotion is being substituted for reason.
# 3. Violate Canon 915. This is the approach recently approved by the bishops of Malta in stating that holy Communion cannot be withheld in these cases but, as noted here, their action does not run directly afoul of Amoris for the simple reason that Amoris said nothing about Canon 915. Precisely in that both # 1 and # 3 can be sustained by appeals to Amoris leads me to agree with the Four Cardinals that, on this point anyway, the ambiguity in Amoris is irresolvable and thus the document urgently requires official clarification.
That all three approaches to Canon 915 are unacceptable seems self-evident to me but I cannot reinvent my arguments for so holding every time a new name wades into this fray. I trust my writings thus far can be located by those who wish to be better informed. Still I thought it useful to pause for a few minutes and to suggest that the ‘pro-Amoris’ wing really does know that Canon 915 summarizes what stands between them and their goals and that they have developed, therefore, three (albeit unacceptable) ways to not deal with that ancient rule.