Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Brief commentary on the document...

Having read the Italian version and the pretty decent English translation on Rocco's blog (by Robert Mickens of the Tablet) I note the following:
A Caution
Firstly, this is not yet the official document - it's not unknown for false information to be circulated to some curial officials to identify the source of leaks. Is it genuine? The content and format ring true... however, the leaked Italian version mis-spells the Cardinal Prefect's name!
I note too the form of approval given by the Holy Father:
Il Sommo Pontefice Benedetto XVI, in data 31 agosto 2005, ha approvato la presente Istruzione e ne ha ordinato la pubblicazione.
In forma specifica?
Now, I note that the Pope hasn't conceded approval 'in forma specifica' according to this pdf on an Italian magazine's website. That means that whilst approving it, canonically speaking he hasn't thrown the weight of his legislative authority behind it (and there's nothing unsusual about that for an Instruction issued by a Congregation) and so the document only has the administrative authority of the Congregation for Catholic Education behind it. In short, in so far as this document might conflict with provisions of the Code of Canon Law or other legislative acts of the Pope, it cannot over-ride them.
I note too that the wording of the approval is slightly strange - normally for these documents mention is made of the specific meeting of a congregation or audience with the prefect at which the Pope approves them. I don't recall ever seeing any document approved in quite this form before. (Canonists, I'm wide open to correction on these points...)
So, in terms of content it's plausible... but are those anomalies above sufficent to cast doubts on its authenticity?
The Content
It begins in an interestng key, putting the problem in terms of the 'affective maturity' needed for the 'Spiritual Paternity' a priest needs to give to the community (men and women, the document pointedly notes) as a result of his conformation to Christ.
Regarding homosexuality itself, the document (unsurprisingly) reaffirms the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts - or more precisely, their grave sinfulness as testified to by Holy Scripture and the tradition's having constantly considered them as 'intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law'.
As for homosexual tendancies, they are disordered and constitute a trial for people who have them. The document makes clear that the people themselves need to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Any trace of unjust discrimination is to be avoided and the people in question are called to fulfil the will of God by uniting their difficulties to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross.
The Key Point
Following from all the above, the document makes clear that the Church cannot admit to seminary or Holy Orders those who (1) practice homosexuality, (2) present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or (3) support the so-called gay culture. (In Italian cultura gay)
Readers will note that there's no specific 'decontamination period' of chastity for admitting formerly practicing homosexuals into seminary as some commentators speculated. There is, however, a requirement that homosexual tendencies which arise as a result of a 'transitory problem' such as delayed adolescence should be overcome at least 3 years before ordination to the diaconate.
On Discerning Fitness for Ordination
The document continues with some boilerplate about the formation of priests. It puts stress on the personal responsability of bishops and religious superiors regarding the quality of the candidates called to orders and the grave task of seminary rectors and other seminary formators in determining the qualities of candidates for ordination.
Spiritual directors have an important role in the internal (or private) forum to disuade candidates with deeply rooted homosexual tendancies or who practice homosexual acts from applying for orders. The same applies to confessors.
Ultimately, the document explains, it is the candidate himself who has the primary responsability for his formation - the candidate entrusts himself to the discernment of the Church, the bishop and the seminary. Concealing one's homosexuality from them in order to reach ordination betrays an inauthenticity inconsistent with the priestly vocation. [This section rings particularly true in terms of its consistency with previous documents referring to the responsability of the candidate for his formation and the trust he must place in the judgement of the Church and the formators.]

No great surprises, methinks. The usual suspects will begin allegations of a witchhunt. A lot will depend on how exactly the document is to be implemented - the question of whether the document is approved 'in forma specifica' or not, could prove important in terms of the weight given to it. Expect much canonists' ink to be spilled.

Thanks to Tim Ferguson who fills some canonical lacunae in my comment box. What he says is worth reproducing in full:
On Bishops and the Implementation of Instructions
Individual bishops do not have the authority to decide which Instructions to implement, but they do have the discretion of how to implement them. An Instruction, of it's nature, is an executory decree issued ad intra - to those who possess executive authority (cf. canon 34).
Unless the Instruction is contrary to a law - even a particular (diocesan or national) law, the Instruction must be utilized.
On the standing of Instructions
Zadok - you're exactly right - I've scanned a number of curial instructions, and the formulary normally used is something like "In an audience given on such-and-such-a-date to the Prefect of the aforesaid dicastery, the Holy Father approved the present Instruction and ordered it to be published."

Another fine point - you state that the Instruction, as an administrative (or executive) decree cannot override the provisions of the Code or legislative acts of the Pope. You're correct, but incomplete - an Instruction (that's not approved in forma specifica) cannot overturn or derogate (go against) particular law either - those capable of introducing particular law are: The diocesan bishop, the Bishops' Conference, a plenary council or a provincial council (and a local community, through custom - cf. cc 23-28.

Mr Ferguson, thank you! Serves me right for posting canonical stuff without checking the code.
Now, it's late here and I'm going to bed - I don't even want to hear about any typos in this post... I'm tired. ;)

Readers, feel free to post comments, but I'd rather not have to wake up to a raging argument in the comments box.

No comments: