Kath.net interview with canon lawyer Fr. Gero Weishaupt. By Michael Koder [Translated for CWR by Michael J. Miller and published by CWR with kind permission of Kath.net.]
Cologne (kath.net, May 3, 2021) The rebellious reactions of bishops and other Church officials in German-speaking regions to the responsum (decision) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against blessing homosexual partnerships raise many questions: What can happen to a bishop who publicly calls for disobedience to Rome or tolerates it? Can a Catholic who feels that he is no longer represented by his own bishop in this matter have recourse directly to Rome? Fr. Gero Weishaupt, a canon lawyer and a tribunal judge of the Diocese of Cologne, answered these and other questions in an interview with kath.net.
Kath.net: Fr. Weishaupt, what can happen canonically to a bishop who, contrary to the Responsum, personally performs blessings of same-sex couples, calls for them or explicitly encourages them in his diocese, or knowingly tolerates such blessings?
Fr. Gero Weishaupt: If despite the responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—which was published by order of Pope Francis, who thus made it clear that he claims it as his own—a bishop causes such blessings to be performed in his diocese, encourages them, or even merely tolerates such blessings, then that is plainly an act of the bishop’s disobedience to the Pope, whose Curial officials acted in his name in matters of faith and morals. The disobedience therefore concerns the Pope directly, and the CDF indirectly.
With this disobedience the bishop breaks the oath of fidelity that he swore when he took office. Besides this promise of fidelity to the Pope, the bishop promises thereby to protect the unity of the Universal Church and hence to make every effort “to preserve pure and unchanged the faith that has been handed down by the Apostles”. Therefore he is “obliged to promote the common order of the whole Church and therefore to insist that all ecclesiastical laws be obeyed.”
The disobedience manifested by the refusal to carry out the papal responsum therefore disrupts unity with the Pope. It is a schismatic act, of course with an underlying heresy, inasmuch as the blessing of homosexual relationships expresses at the very least the view that besides marriage between a man and a woman there can be other relationships ordered to sexual union. This blatantly contradicts the revealed truth about marriage (Gen 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”) and the essential nature of human beings, from which the natural moral law is derived by human reason.
Moreover the blessing of homosexual couples is an abuse of a blessing, which is a sacramental. Such a blessing is a violation of the liturgical order. Since according to the ecclesiastical order currently in force only the Apostolic See can institute new sacramentals, and abolish or modify existing ones, a ceremony blessing same-sex partnerships would be, strictly speaking, the simulation of a (nonexistent) sacramental, in other words a simulated blessing.
And now as for the canonical consequences: A bishop who ignores the papal prohibition of blessings for same-sex couples and acts contrary to it incurs excommunication automatically, as a latae sententiae penalty, i.e. it occurs as soon as a bishop publicly supports the blessing of homosexual unions, by that very fact. Such a latae sententiae penalty would have to be declared by the Pope through a decree, after an admonition, so that it could take effect canonically in the external forum.
If the wrongdoer shows remorse and desists from the offense and attempts to make reparation, he has a right to have the excommunication lifted. However, if he does not correct his conduct, the Apostolic See can punish the bishop in additional ways, too; deposition (removal from office) is among the possibilities.
kath.net: What is the difference between the excommunication itself and the external declaration of it, for example by a papal decree?
Weishaupt: As long as an automatic excommunication is not declared by a decree or imposed by a punitive judgment, it remains in the so-called inner forum and obliges only the party immediately concerned, the excommunicated person, but it cannot be put into effect. An excommunicated person is forbidden to carry out a ministry in a liturgical celebration, to administer sacraments or sacramentals and to receive sacraments (he may receive sacramentals), to exercise ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or duties, or to perform administrative acts. Those acts are invalid, for example the appointment of pastors and the erection of parishes by a bishop, but not until the external declaration of the excommunication. Only then would a lay person, too, for example, have to be kept away from all liturgical ministries, and he could not assume any additional offices, for example in the parish council or as a baptismal sponsor.
kath.net: What can happen to a priest or other pastoral worker (“pastoral assistant”) who performs such blessings?
Weishaupt: This question is answered along with the first. He too is automatically excommunicated. In this case, of course, the local bishop would then be the one responsible for declaring the excommunication of the priest in question or of another pastoral worker. If the bishop himself ignores the responsum, he will probably not sanction a priest or pastoral worker in those circumstances. In this case, though, the lay faithful can turn to the Apostolic Nuncio or directly to the Pope or a Roman dicastery (CDF, Congregation for Bishops, Congregation for the Clergy and, because the blessing is a liturgical abuse, even to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). Canonically, the lay faithful have “the right and sometimes even the duty to make their opinion known to the spiritual shepherds in matters concerning the welfare of the Church.” For example, I know that the Apostolic Nuntio [in Germany] forwards complaints from the faithful to Rome and that Rome reacts, too.
kath.net: Does it make sense for a Catholic to turn directly to the Pope or to a Roman dicastery?
Weishaupt: By all means. Every Catholic can have recourse directly to Rome in German [or in English]. Moreover there is the possibility of a legal procedure: Every Catholic can bring to the bishop’s attention a punishable offense or another violation of Church discipline. If there is suspicion of a punishable offense, the bishop has to initiate a preliminary investigation, at the end of which there may be an administrative or a punitive procedure against the pastoral worker in question. Proceedings can be instituted against a bishop, too. Then, however, the competent authority is not his own ecclesiastical tribunal, but the Pope himself.
kath.net: Does a disobedient priest or bishop in this situation still administer the sacraments validly?
Weishaupt: Here, as was already explained, we must distinguish between on the one hand the latae sententiae excommunication, which happens automatically when the punishable act is performed, and on the other hand the official occurrence of the excommunication, which is declared by a decree. As long as the latter has not taken place, the sacraments are still administered validly. Of course when a decree from an ecclesiastical authority declaring excommunication is present, then the sacraments of Reconciliation—except in danger of death—Confirmation and Marriage are no longer administered validly. All other sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick) continue to be administered validly, but still illicitly, if the excommunication has been declared.
kath.net: Is the display of rainbow banners in parish buildings or depictions of them on the websites of parishes or Catholic associations—as we have seen in abundance in recent weeks—already an act of disobedience to the responsum that a Catholic can report to Rome?
Weishaupt: Whether a schismatic act is present depends on the intention of the person who caused the display. Depending on the circumstances, he is excommunicated de jure [i.e. by law]. That would have external canonical consequences only if the latae sententiae penalty had been declared by a decree, as stated above.
Fr. Gero P. Weishaupt is a priest and canonist. From 2008-2013 he was Judicial Vicar/Official of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), since 2012 Judge of the Interdiocesan Tribunal of the Netherlands Ecclesiastical Province, since 2013 chief diocesan judge at the Archdiocesan Chancery of the Archdiocese of Cologne, since 2015 instructor for canon law and Church documents at the Theological Institute of the Diocese of Roermond, with other guest teaching positions, e.g. at the Pope Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological University in Heiligenkreuz near Vienna. He has published several books and scholarly articles on canon law and has his own German-language website.
Editor’s note: A Catholic from the Diocese of Münster lodged a complaint directly with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about his parish and his local bishop, requesting canonical consequences. The diocesan spokesperson had declared that there would be “no consequences or sanctions” if priests bless same-sex unions. [kath.net reported on the story and posted the entire letter.]
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