Unholy Office

We think highly of our legal system. We may criticise the detail, and it continues to develop, but it never loses touch with the principles of Magna Carta. Justice is paramount and the rights of the accused are always respected. But in fact many of us are also under a rather different system. I am thinking of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Anyone who publishes work under Catholic auspices is likely (as happened to me on one occasion) to be subject to its authority.

We might ask why it matters so much? We are not speaking of the gallows but only of writings which we may be required to correct or withdraw. But for people of standing – whether theologians or holders of church offices – it can be serious indeed. Not only may it destroy reputations, but it may require removal from office. And, since the procedures can be endlessly lengthy it can in effect destroy lives or damage at the level of mental and physical health.

Here are some of the worrying elements.

The individual being considered it not allowed to meet or speak to his accusers;
The doctrinal office often acts as “investigator, accuser, judge and jury” and also imposes any penalties and hears any appeals;
The accused is often not in direct contact with the authorities — the doctrinal office works through the person’s religious superior or bishop.

As an example, I quote from an account I wrote sometime ago.

“A recent account of a number of individuals who have come up against the Church’s discipline suggests that its grasp of good employment practice, to say nothing of basic human rights, leaves a great deal to be desired. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought in discussing the case of Father Balasuriya describes the authorities’ response as showing an ‘extraordinary disregard for natural justice and due process of law.’ Michael Walsh reports himself as struck ‘by the plain and simple discourtesy displayed by the CDF. The books which are under censure are not properly read; letters go unanswered; those accused are rarely approached personally, but through their superiors. Balasuriya learned of his excommunication when he heard a BBC broadcast.’

For a Church which is centred on the message of love for God and man to have to look outside at secular practice to learn how to treat people with basic human decency seems , to say the least, odd. The lack of respect for the rights of individuals is a characteristic of an organization whose management has not learnt to respect its subordinates.”

My own case was much less dramatic – it cost me, at best, a few hundred pounds in royalties as my imprimatur was removed. (And never restored — despite modifications to the text agreed with an appointed suffragan bishop.) I was amused at my attackers who even went as far as inventing quotations from the book to make their case. And I was interested that the CDF took particular exception to one paragraph which had in fact been drafted for me by an archbishop, For obvious reasons I cannot tell you who.

Of course many senior people have asked for a complete revision of these methods which appear to descend from the Inquisition. And a current attempt is being made. When will the Church move forward from the 13th century?

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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49 Responses to Unholy Office

  1. galerimo says:

    Well said Quentin.

    Unholy indeed especially when individuals are given little recourse to natural justice by having the opportunity of dealing directly with their opponents.

    Losing a job or a position in an unfair process is bound to have consequences for the health of those involved. And no one should have the right to do that without being accountable.

    One way we have moved forward from the 13th century is our Social Media.

    Even if the process of silencing the author is unjust at least nowadays it does not stop the author from having their ideas widely publicised through the media.

    In some cases it might even provide a boost to readership because of the adverse reaction from officialdom!

  2. John Nolan says:

    The Catholic Church has a divine mandate to uphold revealed Truth and hand it down. Secular justice is not concerned with this; it judges an individual’s actions in the way they affect society as a whole (criminal law) or another individual (civil law). It is certainly concerned with establishing the truth, but in the limited sense of the facts of the case.

    The CDF or Holy Office is not concerned with establishing the truth, but in defending it against erroneous opinions and erroneous interpretations; this is its everyday role. Very occasionally these opinions may be disseminated by those who have a position of authority in the Church. The Congregation would be failing in its duty if it did not investigate and pronounce on such issues, as it is important that the faithful are not misled.

    This does not involve a public debate with the ‘accused’ playing the part of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms; nor is it an adversarial trial in the tradition of English and American jurisprudence. It is essentially an investigative and inquisitorial procedure carried out confidentially. It is not the individual who is on trial although he can always breach confidentiality and claim he is being victimized and his supporters can say and write what they like.

    And no-one can be ‘silenced’, social media or no social media.

    There have been previous threads on this topic, and I tend to get the impression from some of the commentators that their supposed concern with ‘natural justice’ is a smokescreen for an attack on Catholic doctrine in general and the fact that the CDF has the temerity to defend it. No doubt one of them is already hitting the keyboard and assembling his customary hyperlinks.

    Regarding Quentin’s personal experience, I have books by inter alia John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Uwe Michael Lang and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, none of which have an Imprimatur. Those that do are liturgical books e.g. Liber Usualis, Graduale Triplex, Missals (EF and OF), Rituale Romanum. Why would a journalist and a layman seek one when publishing a book about the Church?

    • Quentin says:

      John, thank you for explaining your view here. I will leave it to others to comment. With regard to your last paragraph, it was a longish time ago when Imprimaturs were more common than nowadays. The book was aimed at use in schools, and since it dealt with sexual matters and addressed teenagers at their own level the publishers realised that an Imprimatur would be necessary. Interestingly one of the (high ranking) authorities originally approving the book, claimed that his permission had been forged. Needless to say he had to withdraw that when he realised that the shadow of the law of libel was at his shoulder. I was not a journalist at the time so still quite respectable.

      • Brendan says:

        Quentin – Having no reason to doubt your veracity , and at risk of appearing ribald – it looks like you were well and truly ‘ cuckolded ‘ !

  3. Brendan says:

    John Nolan has it about right. As an ordinary lay-Catholic with no pretentions to literary/academic acclaim , I want to be sure of my footing with…..’ nihil obstat quominus imptimatur ‘….regarding Catholic belief. With freedom of the press – and with the information highway there is a lot of it out there – there is wheat , but also chaff….. and a lot of chaff , not the least of which is unashamedly ‘ heretical ‘. Church/public scrutiny is more needed now , possibly than ever before.
    Pope Benedict ‘s ” Jesus of Nazareth ” series was edifyingly soul-uplifting ; a delightful read for the ‘ ordinary ‘ lay-person confirming one in The Faith , with no imprimatur . Ratzinger made it clear that it was his own personal thoughts and one had the right to reject or accept any of its propositions.
    We have seen the undefying ‘ shenanigans ‘ that go on in the ‘ curia ‘ the ‘ college of cardinals ‘ etc. …. the disgraceful ‘hole-in-the-corner ‘ meetings prior to Church Synods ; cardinals ‘ briefing again’st ‘ each other on crucial theological issues. Do they ever stop to think of the confusing effect and sometimes distress this is having on the Catholic Faithful ?
    No, there is a lot at stake here , and not withstanding a loss of ‘reputation ‘ by the author ; I am of the school of thought that one stands and falls on what one has written/spoken and takes whatever comes ………. a bit like this ‘ blog ‘.
    I am currently reading Michael J. Walsh’s ” The Popes “. I like his ‘ no punches pulled ‘ style.

  4. Brendan says:

    Rights of Christian Faithful under Catholic Code Canon Law ; 208-223.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Reading through your post on Canon Law, although nothing with ref to Holy Communion for divorced and re-married couples, it just came to mind that a couple who were re-married could not receive The Blessed Sacrament because of committing adultery and causing scandal if they did, unless they lived as brother and sister;
      How would one know that they don’t? Also even if they did have a child wouldn’t that be what marriage is all about, even if they only committed the sin to become pregnant.
      I wonder would that be classed as doing evil so that good can come from it .
      I was trying to figure out if there was something in Canon Law with regards to that, reading between the lines. Do you think?

      • Brendan says:

        ‘ Time and Tide ‘ St.Joseph ! We live under a tyranny……… catch you latter.

      • Brendan says:

        My reply St.Joseph is what follows (not knowing full details ) in a persons/couples relationship ; is simply that the initial ‘ break with Gods covenant of marriage’ /sin , is not wiped away/negated by any successive action/intention however ‘ good ‘ in the eyes of a ‘ fallen ‘ world – ….(paraphrase) ” only God sees everything ” Hebrew 4:13.. – unless repented of first and rectified in the sight of God through His Church for serious sin.
        I may sin again and again , but ( simply on shear trust by myself ) His grace works unknowingly through me and hence the ‘world ‘ each time on repenting , to make good my situation and justify me in His sight. For that , I ‘ know ‘and ‘am’ a better person , simply with than without it (grace of forgiveness ). Christ gave this power of forgiveness to His Church…….but it is not unconditional.
        Every time one receives His Sacred Person in Eucharist ; it is beholden on the one who receives to give in return – and as far as is humanly possible/ knowledgeable – the best of oneself in purity of body mind and spirit when ‘receiving-Him-in-thanks.’

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you for your reply.

      • John Nolan says:

        St Joseph

        One cannot do evil that good may result. The end does not justify the means.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Nolan.
        Yes that is what the Church teaches, however I was curious that falling pregnant was something evil! If one was married.

      • St.Joseph says:

        PS Or in any case!

      • tim says:

        St Joseph, one may not do evil that good may come. That is not the same as saying that good cannot come out of evil.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Yes I agree with what you say therefore in the case of an adulterous act is not as evil as a married catholic using abortifacients!

      • St.Joseph says:

        I know it has gone all around the houses to get to the point I am trying to make, however in case no one gets the point I was making, , it seems to me to be pretty simple!!
        Where is the justice or does justice come into it.
        What is good for the goose is good for the gander!

      • tyke says:

        @John Nolan
        “One cannot do evil that good may result. The end does not justify the means.”

        Unfortunately, more often the question isn’t good vs evil, but one evil vs another one, leading to the ethical dilemma of trying to identify the lesser of the two. Two different people in the same situation, both acting in good faith, may arrive at two different courses of action. Who can say which is right?

        Ethics can get horribly complex (as can relationships!).
        I suppose that raises the question: how far were the actors in Quentin’s case acting in good faith? What was the reasoning behind their actions? What did they see as the evils that they needed to decide between?
        Not that that excuses procedures which seem to be exacerbate difficulties rather than alleviating them.

  5. Nektarios says:

    Is this what the Church is? Is this Apostolic teaching concerning the Church and her members, who are all brothers and sisters, or sometimes referred to as saints?

    What does one expect of religious/secular institutions when it sets itself up in contrast with Apostolic teaching? Of course it will go down the road of tyranny, placing those in authority beyond reproach- of course, even if they are not.

    It is not only in the RCC that such bullying tyrannical behaviour exists, it is in all the denominations,
    and the format is the same.
    It is also in corrupt goverments around the world, coporerate business and so on.
    So what does that tell us? If it tells us anything, it is operating out of a human and sinful nature.
    As such, no matter what it says, if it so operates in such a way as Quentin describes, it is not of God. Is not Christian, but operates although God does not exist.

    Nothing is more dangererous that to go through this life without God, but so many religious do and behave just like that.

    It also seems to me, that you seem powerless to do anything about it.

    John Nolan’s view is not of a Christian Church, as such, but one that has forsaken the God they pofess, so their profession is but a sham. God help them.

    Even the Children of Israel had more sense, than they do today. You remember in Exodus whe they came to the Jordon and were about to enter into the land of Canaan. God said, Go up, Go up, I have delivered you from Egypt, fed you, parted the waters at the Red sea, Mose will lead so far, Go up into the land I have given you, flowing with mild and honey. I will send my angel before you
    to defeat all your enemies, Go up – but I am not going with you.

    And the people said no. What use is a land of milk and honey, we are not going up without you.

    Let me say this: What the people of Israel realised was unless God was in the midst, everything else has no real meaning.
    And, that is the essense of the spiritual life, – is God with us, is He in the camp? Need we apply all this to the Church today?

    Oh yes, we can have success you know, we can be delivered from our enemies, we can have angels and God’s leaders to do that – but is God in the midst? We can have our books printed, we can appear on the media and discussing all sort of problems in the Church and society at large in science and psychology and so on. But the question is, Is God in our midst? Does God go with us?
    Are we so unlike those Israelites of Old who who would not go up into the promised land unless God went with them.

    What of us? Is God in the midst. Are we travelling an almost solitary road, with other solitaries, going on alone without God who seems far away?
    In all this, all I am asking us is, Does God go with us, in our life, in our business, in our family,
    in our workplace, in Church? Does God go up with us? Is God with us in our life and personal relationships?

    • John Nolan says:

      Where do you find Apostolic teaching, if not in the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? By all means reject it and devise your own path to heaven (or hell) but don’t expect everyone to follow you.
      By the way, my view of what constitutes a Christian Church has no meaning or validity, not that I put forward one. Any more than yours does.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Nolan

        I was not giving a definition of any Church. It is clear today while paying lip service to Apostolic teaching many Churches follow their own path including what happens within the RCC as happened to Questin and worse for many others.
        For this reason, John, I don’t want people to following me, but only ask us all, is God in the midst?Does God go with us?
        Even the Apostle Paul did not sit back, hiding behind all his learning,that was greater than any Pope, Cardinal or Bishop or Priest or Pastor,or member of the Church no, but sets an example to us – he said, “that I might know Him…..” He was not interested in just blessings,
        He wanted God, He wanted Him and to know the power of His resurrection….”

        What Quentin has raised this week needs answering, but not by me as far as the RCC is concerned, but the question I posed will lead one to an answer, not a biased defensive one, but in truth – Is God in the midst, in Church, in life, in our relationships, workplace? Does He go up with us, or are we going on by ourselves or with others without Him?

    • pnyikos says:


      I think you are reading far too much into what John Nolan was writing. He was explaining the difference between a court of law, where long prison terms can be meted out, and procedures for ensuring that books with Imprimatur not lead others astray.

      Quentin was just too vague as to his own case for it to merit a condemnation of what the Church is doing. We were told only in the most general terms about the reason the imprimatur was withdrawn in his case. But there is a popular (and, in its heyday, very influential) book, Christ Among Us that I knew to be undeserving of the Imprimatur long before it was withdrawn. Here is one example of why, on page 89:

      … Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Pharisees, probably would have seen nothing had they been with the Apostles when Christ appeared after his resurrection. Others’ minds may be open but they lack the power of faith. (We shall consider this more fully in Chapter 14 when we discuss faith.)

      But the resurrection is not discussed in Chapter 14, and the above excerpt is in direct conflict with such Biblical testimony as Jesus’s assurance that the Apostles were not seeing a ghost, followed in due course by such actions eating fish, inviting Thomas to put his finger into the hole in his side, etc. There is even a Catholic theology of Jesus’s Resurrection Body, contrasting it with his finite earthly pre-resurrection body.

  6. Brendan says:

    My view is that The Church as the living ‘ mouthpiece ‘ of Christ as instituted for its members , must live by the Letter of the Law ; and at the same time in the Spirit of the Law must learn better ways to communicate to the faithful. It is of human experience that good frequent reasoned communication is more often than not a means to loyal acceptance.
    Our History of Salvation shows that to be true of Christs missionary work in ‘ ringing the changes ‘ from Old to New Covenant , otherwise we would not be here …. albeit by necessity , of tragic irony . But in the end even with that…… not all are here.

  7. Geordie says:

    Quentin, I find the responses to your post rather depressing. They are either missing the point completely or toeing the party line come what may. There is a real problem in the Catholic Church in the way the officials in the Vatican abuse their positions and expect us to believe that their pronouncements are the Word of God. Lazy and ill-informed conclusions, which may results in the excommunication of individuals, are unacceptable in any community; they are especially abhorrent when they claim to be speaking in God’s name. The process should be open to scrutiny and full explanations should be provided, so that everyone can see that Justice is being served.
    It is also depressing the way some Catholics defend these Vatican officials, irrespective of the injustices which arise from their decisions. This is how all the other abuses in the Church are allowed to continue unchecked. Any criticism is considered to be disloyal to the Church. Whistle-blowers are condemned or, in the worst cases, jailed.

  8. tim says:

    Some of us (me, for example) are always reluctant to criticise Church bodies. However, the Church on earth has not yet reached perfection (so pray harder!). Its judicial processes, in particular, need improvement. We are, as Britons, exceptionally lucky to have inherited a system which (even if expensive, often dilatory and sometimes unfair in outcome) upholds the most important principles of natural justice. Our system is definitely superior to that of continental Europe (which is one important reason why – I remark in passing – our countrymen voted 52-48% to leave the EU). The Vatican lacks this advantage.
    But one of the vital principles of justice is ‘Audi alteram partem’ (hear both sides!). So I’m glad that some readers have been inspired to come to the defence of the Church’s practice. Maybe more will be – or will offer pleas in mitigation. I take John Nolan’s point that, for the Church, combatting error takes precedence over justice to those involved. But the latter is not to be disregarded.

  9. John Nolan says:

    Back in 1979 The Times published a letter signed by a number of prominent academics in defence of two Catholic theologians, Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeecksx whose writings were being investigated by the CDF, at that time led by Cardinal Franjo Seper. The issue (brave dissent crushed by rigid orthodoxy) invited comparison with what was happening in the Soviet Union.
    Surprisingly, a few days later some of the signatories wrote another letter, regretting their subscription to the first one and conceding that it was not their business to lecture the Catholic Church on its internal affairs.

    As it turned out, Küng had his ‘missio canonici’ withdrawn which did not affect his career one whit; he was not excommunicated and remains to this day a priest in good standing. Schillebeecksx faced no ecclesiastical censure at all and carried on writing until his death in 2009 at the age of 95.

    If one looks at the details of cases involving the CDF in the last thirty years or so, including Boff, Gramick and Nugent, and Balasuriya, and have some understanding of how the CDF goes about its business, a more nuanced perspective is possible. It is clear that the CDF tends to get involved only late in the proceedings. Balasuriya published his offending book ‘Mary and Human Liberation’ in 1990. It was condemned as heterodox by the Sri Lankan bishops in 1994 but Balasuriya showed no inclination to listen either to them or to his Superiors in the OMI. When the CDF finally intervened he could have avoided excommunication by making a Profession of Faith. He agreed on the condition that he could use that of Paul VI, and the Congregation accepted this. He then insisted on appending a caveat of his own, and at this point Ratzinger demurred. The story that he learned of his latae sententiae excommunication from the BBC whilst eating his cornflakes is picaresque but his reaction was to capitalize on the sentence by trying to get the book reprinted and threatening to sue the Sri Lankan bishops for defamation. In the event he signed the Profession and the excommunication was lifted.

    In the case of Sr Gramick and Fr Nugent they had been at loggerheads with the US hierarchy for twenty years before the CDF became involved and the issue was their refusal to accept the Church’s clear and constant teaching regarding homosexual acts. Finally the Congregation ruled that their ministry to homosexuals must cease. Nugent, to his credit accepted this; not so Gramick who remained defiant.

    The so-called victims of an unjust process frequently come across as arrogant, obdurate and even contumacious, and the engine of oppression often shows considerable forbearance. Of course procedures can be improved and communications handled better, but this of course won’t appease the CDF’s critics, since it is the DF rather than the C that they want to see changed.

  10. St.Joseph says:

    John Nolan.
    Where was the CDF’s voice heard in the 70’s onwards, when Vat 2 was confusing Catholics.why was it so silent?
    We seem to hear the voice more clearly spoken now since Pope Francis was elected.!

    • John Nolan says:

      St Joseph

      After Vatican II Paul VI overhauled the Curia, and the Holy Office, now called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had its role redefined. At the risk of over-simplifying things, whereas before it had carefully scrutinized everything and come down hard on any deviance from a quite rigid theological interpretation which by the 1950s was generally seen as intellectually stifling, henceforth it was to act as a backstop, allowing theologians freedom to develop their ideas and only intervening if the Church’s teaching was being seriously contradicted.

      In the 1940s and 1950s theologians who would now be considered orthodox frequently found themselves under suspicion. The authorities were keen to ferret out anything that might even hint at Modernism and yet were taken unawares when actual Modernism came up and bit them in the 1960s.

      • St.Joseph says:

        John Nolan.
        You are so right-we have been through that and can see the consequences.!
        Hopefully we will see the youth come back-or maybe it is too late. We have lost so many
        There is a lot to be answered for!

      • tyke says:

        Just a thought.
        A golden period of theology was in the 4th – 6th centuries when the Church Fathers were busy arguing christian doctrine. Many fell into some sort of heresy at some point, some more serious than others. Plenty of mutual excommunications. Quite a bit of violence too.

        Yet it was through that argument and counter-argument that our faith was progressively refined. Had there been no heresy, the definition of our faith would remain unclear. Or to put it another way, while there is a lack of clarity, deviations will appear and it’s only by answering them that the clarity can be achieved.

        Unfortunately, for this to work well, the actors need to have an enormous dose of discernment and humility: qualities that were as rare then as they are today :-(.

  11. John Nolan says:

    Before, like ‘tim’, we start boasting of the superiority of the English justice system to what obtains on the Continent, consider the following imaginary scenario. I have got it into my head that my parish priest is a heretic and denounce him to the CDF. I produce no evidence to corroborate my accusation but immediately the priest’s name is made public whereas I am guaranteed lifelong anonymity. The Congregation asks the priest to defend himself and arrives at a judgement based on which of us it considers the more plausible witness. Impossible? Of course it is.

    But this is what happens under English law when a man is accused of rape. At least in Scotland (whose legal system, like the Continental one, is based on Roman law) corroborative evidence is required.

  12. St.Joseph says:

    LifeSite News today ‘The first step needed to get the Church out of the currant crisis.
    An interesting read!

  13. Brendan says:

    Very interesting so far. Thanks to John Nolans ‘ broad brush of history on these matters , I hope it has struck home , that fundamentally we are dealing with flawed human beings ( mystique or no mystique ) at higher/lower levels in the Church…………just like ourselves.

  14. Brendan says:

    In answer to points raised by St.Joseph , Tim and Tyke , I ponder on the Apostle Paul’s critically important Romans Chapter 5 – in particular 12-21.
    We live in a patently disobedient age ( when has it ever been otherwise ?). Contrary to this secular state of affairs The Law handed down to us as given to Moses , intercedes in the affairs of the ‘ world ‘ – the governing factor then – crucial to the understanding of our Salvation ; where before , sin ( and therefore natural death with no certainty of eternal life ) ” abounded ” from Adam’s ‘ misdeed ‘, in absence of Law.
    As St. Paul states ; our salvation is through Jesus Christ by His once and for all propitiatory sacrifice in this ‘ fallen ‘ state of affairs …..or hence ” When law [ The Law ] came on the scene it was to multiply [ expose to scrutiny ] the offences. But however much sin increased [ because the Law was now known and effected ] , grace was always greater ; so as sin’s reign brought death , so grace was to rule through saving justice that leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord .”(NJB)20-21
    All that God made before and after Adam remains good : pregnancy , action for the sake of good , even good things resulting from ‘ bad ‘ actions …and so on . What we have today results then from /with preconceived Gods will ( Natural Law ) . It is the world ( fallen humanity ) that has corrupted this natural state ( the Kingdom of God ) pre-Fall.
    So , no real case can be be made in my opinion for dissent ( ‘ loyal ‘ or not ) in face of the ‘ Law ‘ as proposed to by His Church . Catholic Doctrine is clear as promulgated through the developed/developing ‘ office of Peter ‘ ( The Magisterium ) coming from Christ Himself. The byzantine workings of flawed human nature ( including hierarchy ) may say otherwise. To eradicate this ‘effect ‘ the Church continually calls her children to The Truth embodied in Christs Church through the merits (saving grace) won for us by a ‘ Second Adam ‘ /Jesus Christ .

    • tyke says:

      I think that the situation is more complex.

      (1) At any time that we are told to _blindly_ obey any authority, then we’re in trouble. Because even if the authority is the enlightened and just institution that we’d all like the church to be, when we start acting without needing to think, then we’re certain to get it wrong sooner or later. I suppose that it’s the difference between obeying the spirit of the law rather than the letter.

      (2) As I tried to say in a previous comment, often the decision isn’t between obedience and disobedience but between two situations in which there is no clear way to fully obey the law.
      Let me give an example, (made up but probably all too current):
      A woman suffers abuse in her marriage and divorces. But she is lonely, and enters into a relationship with someone else, and they have a child.
      I’m not arguing whether it was or wasn’t sinful to enter into a new relationship after a divorce. My question is what she should do now.
      Church law says she should leave her new partner. But can she deprive her child of a father?
      Or she could stay with her new partner in a chaste relationship, that means that the partner must agree. If not then the partner will leave her (and her child) or will seek ‘solace’ elsewhere – so she is driving him to sin.
      Or she could return to her first husband. But can she bring a child into an abusive situation?
      I don’t know the answer, but even if I did, I can’t tell her what to do: she must decide for herself.

      I suppose that that is what worries me in your comment. You don’t seem to have left a place for conscience. But conscience, when it is mature and formed in accordance with the law, must be obeyed even over the law itself. Because conscience should be a window on the spirit of law.
      At the risk of being trite, I could recall the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery. He didn’t deny the woman’s sin. But neither did he apply the prescriptions of the Jewish law.

      • Brendan says:

        Tyke – thank you for making your thoughts clear on these difficult issues. Firstly, I feel I can present my opinion more clearly in light of Church doctrine because at present ( and please God always ) I have no ‘irregularities’ in my living status contrary to Church Law. I’ll try and refrain from quotations (biblical etc.) , that might add further obfuscation to , as you say the ‘ complex ‘ human states contrived/foisted upon one….God help me!
        In the fictitious example ( a possibility in real life ) you’ve described I’ll take it a step at a time. No one ( as far as I am away ) is right under Church Law to insist – under penalty or not – that anyone should remain/put-up with the kind of behaviour in marriage you describe. Firstly, one wonders why a ‘separation’ was not tried ( or even an avenue leading to annulment ) even to the point that a legal order to prevent the abusive spouse from making contact could be enforced. She could have still practiced her Faith fully ( receiving Holy Communion ). She would not be culpable therefore for any sin/fault in her action and remains ( therefore in conscience ) fully in union/justified before God and His Church.
        Seemingly the person offended , acted no doubt in fear and panic ” without needing to think.” Sadly – as is often the case – it may be that the family ,friends , ‘ church’ Christians may not have had any influence/support in her life – even if she had any contact with her local ‘ Church group’.
        Next phase as you describe , is when she takes up the human need for a new/replacement association and has a child of that union.
        If she turns to the Church for a ‘ decision ‘ in her life now as described , she has a choice to make ; either to make a search of her soul through The Sacrament of Reconciliation ( with no reflection on the present child born out of wedlock ) and , whether co-habiting or not , conducting a relationship as ‘ brother and sister ‘ with the child’s father ; or while still remaining Catholic , she by her own condition cannot receive The Blessed Sacrament in full practice of her Faith while not agreeing with the above conditions. She does not in fact ” deprive her child of a father ” by accepting the first , but in accordance with good conscience would give the father every opportunity to avail himself of contact with his child .Her can decide in conscience what to do with hi own life. One would hope in the spirit of practical Christianity that the Church Community would support her and her child whatever her decision. That’s enough for now.
        Finally, I hold different Catholic ‘world view ‘ to the one you set out at the beginning of your piece. Conscience must be paramount ; but to decide on ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ I am guided and informed by church precepts which I know to be true because they come from God. No amount of
        worldly ‘ cleverness’ can substitute – just for even the confusing contradictory amount of ‘ cleverness’ there is on offer – for The Truth that comes through he precepts of Christs Church.Gods’ ordained make mistakes, give inaccurate advise …. like the Pharisees of Christs time lay impossible ” burdens ” on peoples shoulders. In the end I cannot judge, but while God judges each one of us , His Church is where we find and live …..in The Truth.
        To that I do not see that the Church i leading me ‘ blindly’ or I am being’ told ‘ what to do in any forcible sense. On the contrary I believe I am led to the Light of Truth on the ” narrow ” pathway provided by God through his Church . It is only in ” confused thinking ” brought on by my own fault ( or even beyond my control ) when in prayerful trust God always return me to the Path of Truth.

      • tyke says:

        With regards to the example that I gave, the only point that I was trying to make is that there is no simple answer. The alternative courses of action which you discuss just underline the complexity. Whatever course of action the woman chooses, _from her point of view_ she will be disobeying a law of God, whether it is an offence against the sanctity of marriage or against the well-being of another person, or her own. Both you and I may have a different solutions, but we don’t see the case through her eyes.

        “No amount of worldly ‘cleverness’ can substitute – just for even the confusing contradictory amount of ‘cleverness’ there is on offer – for The Truth that comes through the precepts of Christ’s Church.”
        I’m not sure that I understand what you mean here by ‘cleverness’. However it does recall the story of the atheist lawyer who, on his death bed, called for a bible. “You don’t mean to say that you want to convert?” “Non, no”, he answered, “I’m just looking for a loophole”.
        I don’t deny that God’s law must be obeyed. I do contest the attitude that God’s law be obeyed without understanding it to the utmost of our capacity. Not to find ‘loopholes’, but to be able to apply it more justly. The Church, as the body of Christ, is the principal agent for interpreting and teaching that law, because of the Holy Spirit which guides it. But the Church does this through the intervention of human beings who have a fallible understanding of God’s law, as indeed do I (putting aside the question of papal infallibility for the moment). My responsibility is to understand what they are saying, and use that to form my own conscience. But there may be moments when I feel that such and such a church pronouncement contradicts another law. Sometimes my understanding needs to change and deepen (actually that’s usually the case), but sometimes there is a need for debate to resolve the contradiction.

        I’m reassured by the insight that God’s law is an expression of God’s love for us. By looking how that love touches is most profoundly, is often the best way of understanding (and following) that law.

        [Enough of my pontificating, and apologies for imposing it on you]

      • St.Joseph says:

        Tyke. I understand what you are saying
        Unless marriage is invalid or say an impediment as we have spoken about this till is was exhausted, an annulment (as Brendan mentioned) is not an easy road to go along mentally.
        I agree with Pope Francis that ‘that the road is expensive and heart breaking etc, not his words however I understand what he means.
        I believe he can see the lack of the Churches responsibilities in the past being the cause of marriage breakdowns through either insecurity, innocence, lack of faith, white dress,
        Church (romantic ideas) pressure to be married instead if living in sin, parents using contraception, or no parents at all, so the female maybe seeking some kind of loving security, fear of being alone,. I am speaking now about perhaps also non practicing young Catholics who haven’t a clue. I have met many through teaching NFP however not enough , and if I had then perhaps their would not be so many divorced.
        We will never put old heads on young shoulders unless there is a definite ‘Catholic Sacramental Marriage plan’.
        If a non-Catholic sins all their life and then converts they will be welcomed with open arms in the Church, but the Catholic lost sheep are excluded , whilst their young children ask ‘Mummy or Daddy why do you not receive Jesus, Do you not love each other?
        Maybe a bit far fetched however as I see it.

  15. Brendan says:

    Apropos the thread running through this weeks’ ‘blog’ ( from last Sundays gospel ) …..” When someone is given a great deal , a great deal will be demanded of that person ; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected .” Luke 12:48 (NJB).

  16. Brendan says:

    Tyke – I apologise for leaving the ‘ blog’ – but I am going off to ‘ receive ‘ a dead relative into the Church ; and as her funeral is tomorrow morning I may not return here until the evening….if then.
    We have a few days anyway.

  17. John Nolan says:

    One result of the episcopal cover-up of clerical sex abuse was the reservation of such cases to the CDF. Delicts relating to the Sixth Commandment against minors (those under 18 years of age) are considered ‘delicta graviora’, along with serious abuses of the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Penance. The norms were laid down in the Motu Proprio ‘Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela’ of John Paul II (April 2001). Between 2004 and 2013 the Congregation heard around 3000 cases and 848 priests were dismissed from the clerical state. Pope Francis has since streamlined the appeals procedure. It should be remembered that the CDF is the Supreme Apostolic Tribunal and so there is no higher court of appeal.

    As far as I know no-one has suggested that any of the clergy laicized for this ‘delictum gravius contra mores’ were denied natural justice. But there were howls of liberal anguish when the American Fr Roy Bourgeois, a prominent advocate of women’s ordination, was laicized for a serious delict against the Holy Eucharist, despite the fact that far from denying the charge, he exulted in it. The double standard here is breathtaking.

  18. Brendan says:

    Thank you for your interest and prayerful comments . This lady , Patricia ( my late mothers first cousin ) was a granddaughter of James O’Dea ( my maternal great-grandfather ) . He was of late Irish-diaspora who migrated to Wales from County Limerick , mid-1870’s. He and his wife Mary Sullivan ( Cork ) produced twelve children. As a family history researcher it is of particular regret that due to life’s unpredictability, Patricia is the ‘ last of the line ‘ to the to bear the O’Dea name. RIP.
    Nevertheless, the bloodline continues matrilineally.

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