Skip to comments.No, Canon 212 Does Not Grant An Imprimatur To Publish Irresponsible Opinions [TCR response to CAI]
Posted on 09/13/2002 9:49:20 AM PDT by Polycarp
No, Canon 212 Does Not Grant An Imprimatur
To Publish Irresponsible Opinions
By Pete Vere, JCL
When it comes to expressing irresponsible opinions concerning Church matters, there is no lack of willing candidates. When confronted, these individuals will often argue canon 212 in their defense. Basically, this is the canon that governs the right of Catholic faithful to freely speak out on matters of concern to them. Unfortunately, this canon is not well understood by the non-canonist who invokes it.
In their reading of the canon, such individuals are prone to latch on to the right afforded by the canon, while completely ignoring the responsibility that goes with it. This often becomes the source of a grave misinterpretation of canon 212. For in simply citing a right, while ignoring the responsibility contained within the same canon, one neglects to interpret it in accordance with a basic canonical principle. This principle, contained within canon 17, states:Ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context.
Therefore, a short explanation of canon 212, as understood in its proper context, is in order.
The first paragraph of canon 212 states:Christs faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.
Notice that the canon begins not with a right, but with a responsibility. Catholics have a responsibility to show their pastors Christian obedience. Our pastors represent Christ, and they both teach and rule in His name. Thus all subsequent rights bestowed by paragraphs two and three of canon 212 must be understood within this context, namely, our responsibility to obey our pastors in matters of teaching and governance. So if our pastors instruct us, in accordance with the Churchs teaching, to be charitable to Jews, we do not have a right to manifest anti-semitic opinions. For manifesting such viewpoints would contradict our responsibility under canon 212 to obey our pastors.
Now the second paragraph of canon 212 states:Christs faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.
First of all, this is a freedom, not an obligation. As a freedom, one is not obliged to exercise it. Moreover, in keeping with the general canonical principle of canon 17, when exercising this freedom one must remain the limitations imposed by the first paragraph of canon 212. Moreover, the exercise of this freedom is directed towards the Churchs lawfully appointed pastors. Therefore, if for example one felt that there was a spiritual need within the diocese to request a clarification of a certain episcopal document pertaining Catholic-Jewish ecumenism, this need ought to be personally addressed to ones parish priest or to ones diocesan Bishop. One does not begin by publicly manifesting this need to average laymen who frequently visit ones website.
Next we come to the third paragraph of canon 212. This paragraph states:[Christs faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christs faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.
Again, we notice that this paragraph of the canon bestows a right, however, we are obliged at times to exercise this right. Nevertheless, this right and occasional obligation must be understood within the proper context. The proper context is the various limitations imposed within the text of canon 212. In examining the text of canon 212s first paragraph, we have already discussed our responsibility to show Christian obedience to our lawful pastors in matters of teaching and governance. This remains the principle context under which the third paragraph of canon 212 is to be interpreted.
Now in exercising ones right contained in the third paragraph of canon 212, one must also observe the various limitations contained within the paragraph itself. The first of these is that the right, and occasionally the obligation, to express oneself must be in keeping with ones knowledge, competence and position. For example, as a canonist I am competent in canon law. I also hold an ecclesiastical office with various Catholic marriage tribunals. Within these tribunals, I am competent to express to the Judicial Vicar my concerns regarding how the canonical process is followed in the annulment process. In fact, I am obliged to do so when the good of the Church is at stake. Nevertheless, this obligation applies within the dioceses where I hold office. It does not extend to the next diocese over.
Secondly, this obligation applies to my relationship with my diocesan bishop and Judicial Vicar, to whom I am to address my concerns, and not to my dealings with every friend or acquaintance I encounter in cyber-space.
Thirdly, this right applies within the context of knowledge. My right to strongly express myself in matters of canon law, a subject in which the Church has licensed me, does not extend to a right to express myself as strongly in matters of Biblical interpretation, of which my knowledge is merely general.
Similarly, just because someone possesses a strong background in Biblical interpretation, it does not follow that they are competent to properly interpret the Talmud. Therefore, the right of a Biblical scholar to express himself does not apply to the same degree concerning the subject of the Talmud as it does if the issue concerns Biblical exigesis.
Moving on to the second sentence of canon 212s third paragraph, we read: [Christs faithful] have the right also to make their views known to others of Christs faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals. In short, as Catholics we have the right to make known our views to other Catholics, however, in so doing we must observe all of the limitations previously mentioned. Namely, we must not do so in disobedience to our pastors, and when doing so we must also keep in mind our knowledge, competence and position. Moreover, we must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, and we must also show due reverence to our pastors.
For example, expressing a position that denounces ones pastors in public as liberal heretics does not show due reverence for pastors particularly when the pastors denounced are the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger. Furthermore, one must take into account the common good, namely the good of other souls to whom one expresses ones position. Finally, one must take into account the dignity of the individual. For example, one never has the right to spread anti-semitism, because such views would deny Jews their dignity as individuals.
In fact, this last limitation is consistent with the prescription contained in the first paragraph of canon 223, which governs the exercise of each and every right one possesses under canon law. In exercising their rights, the first paragraph of canon 223 instructs, Christs faithful, both individually and in associations, must take account of the common good of the Church, as well as the rights of others and their own duties to others. In short, the exercise of ones canonical rights, including those listed under canon 212, take place within the context of the common good of the Church, observance of the rights of others, and ones duties toward others.
Furthermore, the second paragraph of canon 223 continues with the following prescription:Ecclesiastical authority is entitled to regulate, in view of the common good, the exercise of rights which are proper to Christs faithful.
In short, where the common good is at stake, ones legitimate ecclesiastical authority may lawfully regulate and restrict the exercise of ones rights. One particular example of such contained within the Code of Canon Law is the following under canon 216:No initiative [of Christs faithful], however, can lay claim to the title catholic without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.
For instance, let us suppose one wished to found a local association of Catholic apologists the Diocese of St. Blog. Because the right to use the title Catholic is limited under canon law, one could not name this ministry Catholic Apologists of St. Blogs without first obtaining the permission of the Bishop of St. Blog in accordance with canons 300 and 312. Again, this is because in keeping with the second paragraph of canon 223, legitimate ecclesiastical authority, in view of the common good, is entitled to regulate the exercise of ones canonical rights.
In conclusion, canon 212 provides Christs faithful with a certain amount of freedom to express oneself, either individually or as a group. Nevertheless, when understood within its proper canonical context, this right is not absolute. Rather, it must be exercised in view of the common good, and while observing ones responsibility to obey ones legitimate pastors concerning the teaching and governance of the Church. In such a way, canon 212 is not a license to publicly promote irresponsible opinions concerning the Church.
Catholic Reflections & Reports (c)
This is worth looking at.