Truth of the Law

In the article A New Impediment (2/27), Msgr. Thomas D. Candreva writes concerning The Instruction on the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies: This document, if I am not mistaken, establishes a new impediment to ordination.... Further: The document does not use the word impediment,’ but it seems to be the proper category under which this prohibition must be considered. Then he proposes an interpretation as if a legal impediment had indeed been established.

For the sake of the truth of the law, I submit that Monsignor Candreva’s interpretation is incorrect and misleading. First, no Roman congregation has the legislative power to establish a new impediment; second, an instruction can never be equivalent to the enactment of a law.


To the first: only the pope has the power to add anything to the Code of Canon Law.

To the second: an instruction is always meant to facilitate the application of an existing law. See Canon 34: Instructions clarify the prescripts of the laws and elaborate on and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them. Also, the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law stated as a guiding principle, No law can be enacted in the form of instruction (Communicationes, 1982, p. 136).

It follows, on two counts, that the instruction is not and cannot be a piece of legislation. Consequently it does not establish a new irregularity or impediment to ordination, as they are defined and listed (following an old tradition) in Canons 1041 and 1042 of thecode.

The instruction has the authority of a prudential directive (nothing more and nothing less), strictly within the framework of the existing laws, as to how the general criteria for admission to seminaries should be applied. It leaves, however, the final concrete judgment about the suitability of a given candidate to the discretion of the person authorized to admit him. Interestingly, the congregation is putting more trust in the judgment of a living person who meets the candidate than in an abstract, general and impersonal legal normas an impediment would be. This makes a world of difference in theory and in practice, in approaching the problem and in dealing with human beings. Verbum sap sat: let the wise understand it.

Ladislas Orsy, S.J.
Washington, D.C.

For the Present

The Culture Clash (2/27) editorial on recent insensitive cartoons offers much to consider. I would propose that the issues involved might profitably be framed in a slightly different paradigm: not rights versus values but rights and courtesy.

The ability to criticize freely another group’s values is a great American tradition. Our maturity as a people enables us to enjoy such syndicated cartoons as Doonesbury and The Boondocks. Even when we disagree with the views they present, we are sufficiently secure that we can enjoy their sometimes outrageous humor, and exult in their right to insult us.

Of course, such a right can be taken too far. Most of us no longer feel the need to resort to dueling when our honor is slighted. The possibility of litigation for libel is arguably a more effective restraint than the threat of violence. A variety of organizations protest affronts to their constituent interests, most effectively done with civility rather than with strident rhetoric or provocative response.

And, of course, the right to free expression is not absolute. It must be balanced not only by other rights, but also by respect, prudence and, above all, courtesy. Courtesy is a virtue, a gift of the Spirit and an acquired taste, both in its demonstration and in its reception. Courteous treatment is not one of our inalienable rights, nor is it constitutionally guaranteed. It is part of our heritage of maturity as a people, a heritage that needs to be nurtured constantly and advanced.

Lest we forget, our Gospels paint a disparaging cartoon caricature of Pharisaic Judaism; the Evangelists had no opportunity to read Nostra Aetate or to foresee the millennia of unfortunate consequences of unnuanced publication. We need to learn from the past, and from the present.

Robert V. Levine
Collegeville, Pa.

Pivotal Role

John A. Worthley’s excellent article China’s New Role (2/20) has kept us abreast of the latest China/Vatican dialogue. Continue to keep us posted. Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, in recent years, has played a pivotal and controversial role in the history of the Chinese Catholic Church. Your acknowledgment by his photo on the cover is significant.

William F. Petrie, SS.CC.
Fairhaven, Mass.

Relate to Our Lives

You express relief that the church has been playing a role in this crucial effort of convincing our government to refrain from using or condoning torture (Of Many Things, 3/6). You note that many Catholics are unaware of our bishops’ stand on the issue. If the editor of America feels reassured that the church has been on the correct side of this, it’s likely that average Catholics in the pew would be amazed. My guess is that most Catholics have no idea what the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Policyor any other committeeis doing, because their priests and bishops avoid discussion of practically all issues related to our government’s immoral behavior. Could avoidance of these topics be due to fear of controversy? Due to misunderstanding of the church’s role with regard to the state?

I believe that many Catholics long to see their leaders take a stand on all matters of morality, not just those relating to reproduction. I would like to hear bishops at the local level speak out strongly against the war, torture and killing. In some places they seem to be stuck with the just war paradigm and are focusing on protecting marriage by constitutional amendment, as if that is what any marriage really needs. One bishop recently made headlines by denying Communion to an autistic child.

Before we all go to the polls again, it would be great if the bishops could agree on how Christian values relate to our lives and how not to confuse the faithful through acts of commission or omission, such as denying the sacraments or failing to lead on matters that affect all.

Ruth Zemek
Phoenix, Ariz.

More Catholic

Getting Catholic Schools Off the Dole, by Vincent Gragnani, (2/13) is not a principle of Catholic social teaching, but making an option for urban schools is a Catholic principle. Since when is Catholic charity for children understood as being on the dole? Just as Mother Teresa did not see her work as social work, neither is Catholic education social work; it is a vocation. And I should think that the dioceses around the nation should view Catholic education as a whole, but most especially, Catholic urban education, as their vocation.

I teach in an urban Catholic high school that the archdiocese is trying to get off the dole. Since I have been at the school, the archdiocesan contribution has been cut in half. What is the result? Our tuition is rising, yet again, to over $8,000, and we are being forced to make bad educational choices in favor of balancing the budget. Please do not think that we are lazy about raising money. Don’t cast on us the same stereotypes that the secular American culture tosses at welfare mothers and the poor, because they are lies. We raise more money in tuition assistance than other schools in the area. The only difference is that the vast majority of our students need assistance (70 percent), and we just cannot bridge the giant wealth gap.

The deceased archbishop of Washington, Cardinal James Hickey, used to say in reference to urban Catholic schools like mine that we have Catholic schools not because they are affordable or because the students are Catholic; we support urban Catholic schools because we are Catholic. Rather than getting Catholic schools off the dole, we should sacrifice to support more urban Catholic schools for the poor. By doing so, we would become more Catholic.

Katherine Murphy
Takoma Park, Md.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years 10 months ago
Re: Will Seminaries Measure Up?

My ministry has nothing to do with seminaries but I know this: seminaries do not make priests. Bishops make priests.

The number I would like to see is the percentage of men ordained by bishops over the objection of their seminary formators.

Is that question in the IL?

Please withhold my name from publication.

12 years 10 months ago
Re: Will Seminaries Measure Up?

My ministry has nothing to do with seminaries but I know this: seminaries do not make priests. Bishops make priests.

The number I would like to see is the percentage of men ordained by bishops over the objection of their seminary formators.

Is that question in the IL?

Please withhold my name from publication.


The latest from america

I have found that praying 15 minutes every day is an important form of self-care.
Michael R. Lovell January 16, 2019
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Washington's retired archbishop, apologized Jan. 15 for what he called a "lapse of memory," clarifying that he knew of at least one abuse allegation against former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, but he had "forgotten" about it.
Pope Francis meets with the leadership of the Chilean bishops' conference at the Vatican on Jan. 14 to talk about the sex abuse crisis affecting the church in Chile. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
The pope wants the February summit “to be an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference—a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering.”
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 16, 2019
This week on “Inside the Vatican,” we explore the topic of women deacons.
Colleen DulleJanuary 16, 2019