Rorate Caeli

Editorial note: A matter of equity and justice

On the case of RealCatholicTV.

Code of Canon Law, Can. 216: "Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority."

Dr. E. Peters (via Fr. J. Zuhlsdorf) is right on the simplest interpretation of the Canon: "The plain text of this canon [Can. 216] unquestionably puts the burden on those behind an undertaking to secure consent from the competent ecclesiastical authority before claiming the name 'Catholic' for their project(s)."

However, even if one ignores the significant aspect of who has actual canonical competence in this case (or in any case involving online media based in several different canonical jurisdictions), he passes over one very, very relevant point, which is as important in Canon Law as in Common or Civil Law: Law and Justice must walk hand in hand. That is particularly relevant in Ecclesiastical Law since one expects a heightened sense of moral considerations in its application. Therefore, while it is true that the burden is on the side of "those behind an undertaking", there are burdens of justice on the side of the "competent ecclesiastical authority": if he wishes to proclaim loudly that A "cannot use the name Catholic", he must in justice do the same with every single enterprise within his jurisdiction, be it B or C or U, which must be under constant examination for whether they "deserve" to use or keep using the title "Catholic".

In this, as in most cases involving serious Catholics in the past decades, what irks people, even if they somehow do not know how to express it, is precisely this: the injustice in the application of the law by dioceses or even by Higher Authority. There is nothing in law more prone to abuse than an apparently "clear" or "plain" law, precisely because it demands great care in its application, that is not supposed to be simply uniform, but must be equitably just for all. Do all remember how the "clear" and "plain" "abrogation" of the Traditional Mass was defended by most Canonists for decades, and how abuses became norms in the Pauline Mass, while the Traditional Mass was persecuted with no quarter?...

Is stating that something that "claims the title 'Catholic' does not have canonical authorization to do so" a regular action of the Archdiocese of Detroit? Or does the Canon apply only to one particular enterprise? How about sending a "Defend the Catholic Name Inspection team" to every parish and "institution" in the diocese: we are absolutely convinced that a team composed of orthodox Catholics would be horrified at what is being said, done, and taught under the "Catholic" name from some pulpits and in classrooms. It is not even really hidden: for a very diminute example, the Catholic & Jesuit University of Detroit Mercy has never stopped linking to Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women in their website (and this is what is available in one single webpage, one shudders to think at what may take place in "Women and Gender's Studies" classes in the university.) Despite the appropriate behavior of the Archdiocese during the "American Catholic Council"/Call to Action conference last year (see 1, 2, 3), the canon on the prohibition of the word "Catholic" without "consent" was never invoked even then, when the actual integrity of Catholic doctrine was affected.

Let us be clear: the selective application and loud proclamation of this Canon for one case only, amidst the disastrous situation of the Church in general, looks ridiculous. It  does not make the Archdiocese look admirable and law-abiding, but petty and small. Finally, the fact that it is completely unenforceable in civil courts, since the Archdiocese does not have exclusive intellectual property rights over the name "Catholic", makes it look weak and toothless. "Dura lex sed lex" has always been a problematic brocard; it can also be dangerous when those guided by it are not informed by a keen sense of equity and justice.