Enigma Variations Part II: Reader Critiques our Latest Fr. Peter Scott Post as an Attempt to Reconcile the Irreconcilable.
In Part I of Enigma Variations we examined one side of Archbishop Lefebvre’s mind concerning his relations with the “Conciliar Church” a view that is best represented by Bishop Williamson and his loosely affiliated group known as the Resistance. But since Bishop Williamson and his friends prefer to ignore both the heretical acts of the last several papal occupants as well as the perennial teaching of the Roman Catholic Church whenever it contradicts their semi-traditional pre-Vatican II notions, Recognize & Ignore would be a more appropriate appellation. While the main body of the SSPX, which claims to represent the “true mind” of the Archbishop, has dropped the Resistance label long ago, and apparently accepting the modernist notion of constant change and shape-shifting, has mutated from Recognize & Negotiate into its most recent manifestation, Recognize & Reconcile.
The negotiation phase was blatant and need not detain us here, but the present reconciliation program has both obvious and more subtle aspects. The officiating of SSPX weddings by Novus Ordo presbyters being the obvious while Fr. Scott’s published lament concerning the proposal of the German Episcopal Conference to allow the Protestant spouses of German Roman Catholics to receive the Eucharist being the more subtle, and more dangerous to the average SSPX adherent because of its subtlety.
In his article Fr. Scott takes us on a dizzying journey through an agglomeration of Encyclicals, both traditional and modern, at least one Vatican II document, two different versions of Canon Law, several different Canons, and the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, while pointing out apparent contradictions between old and new. Seemingly distressed by these inconsistencies and aghast at obvious doctrinal discord within the new documents themselves, Fr. Scott appears to be unperplexed by the unconcealed perversion of the Church’s clearly defined and long established sacramental and canonical doctrine. Unfortunately, after this lengthy and ostensibly erudite analysis Fr. Scott, nimbly maneuvering through a minefield of inconvenient truth, arrives at the puzzling conclusion that these non-Catholic spouses should not be allowed to receive the Eucharist because “Protestants are all excommunicated from the Church” and adds that by proposing this deformation of Church doctrine, newly defined by Fr. Scott, the German Bishops are guilty of the “error” of indifferentism.
I commented on Fr. Scott’s newsletter in an earlier post and criticized his conclusions at that time. Some commentators found my criticisms too harsh but additional research has forced me to conclude that my original criticisms were far too mild. I made the mistake of scrutinizing only the sources that Fr. Scott cited in his articlebefore composing my response; looking beyond those sources I found Fr. Scott’s excommunication thesis totally without any canonical foundation; clearly written and readily available information from authoritative sources that raise serious doubts about the thrust and method of Fr. Scott’s analysis, and the pre-modern and post-modern canonical and doctrinal hopscotch he plays in order to reach an obviously pre-conceived conclusion.
In order to provide some context for my remarks it will be necessary to recapitulate Fr. Scott’s arguments and refer to the various Canons he used to support them; I offer my apologies in advance for burdening the reader with this material but it is necessary not only to clearly identify Fr. Scott’s errors but to raise the question of whether these errors were merely the result of sloppy scholarship or an intentional effort to divert attention away from the unavoidable conclusions implied by the grave doctrinal contradictions that he skims over in his newsletter.
Before examining Fr. Scott’s contention that all validly Baptized Protestants are excommunicated we must consider some basic facts about excommunication as explained by the Rev. H. A. Ayrinhac in his canonical commentary Penal Legislation In The New Code of Canon Law. According to Rev. Ayrinhac, an excommunication is a medicinal penalty whose primary purpose is the correction of the delinquent, the effects of which are to temporarily remove the spiritual and societal benefits of membership in Catholic society. Now as Manifest Heretics, Protestants are not members of the Church and as a result of their heresy do not enjoy these benefits. How individual Protestants can be excommunicated, denying them the spiritual and societal benefits of a society to which they have never belonged, I will leave to Fr. Scott to explain to the regular readers of his newsletter. But until he can square this theological circle I believe it safe to assume that a juridical act with no discernible purpose and no appreciable effect is a logical and juridical absurdity.
With reference to Fr. Scott’s contention that all Protestants are excommunicated under the provisions of Canon 2314 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Rev. H. A. Ayrinhac in the work cited above, Rev. Eric F. MacKenzie in his published work The Delict of Heresy, Rev. P. Charles Augustine professor of Canon Law and author of A Commentary on The New Code of Canon Law, and Rev. Stanislas Woywod in his A Practical Comnentary on the Code of Canon Law, most emphatically disagree.
As quoted by Fr. Scott, Canon 2314 seems clear enough; it does specifically state that “…each and every heretic” incurs by that fact (ipso facto) excommunication, but there are conditions that apply to all censures regarding imputability that Fr. Scott neglects to fully discuss. While all canonists agree that certain acts do furnish the ground for the judicial presumption of heresy, it is also a principle of canon law that no one is to be punished unless his guilt is certain. A late sententiae excommunication based on a violation of the law itself (ipso facto) is de jure but not considered de facto until the presumption of guilt on which the delict depends can be resolved. A legal presumption, however, must always yield to fact and imputability is a serious element of consideration in determining the gravity of any delict.
A delict, is “…an external, morally imputable act…which is the expression of a mind that is aware of, and a will that is freely committed to, a sinful act.” One of the elements of imputability to consider before an ipso facto excommunication can be considered de facto is ignorance…was the individual aware of the sinfulness of the act and therefore culpable:
“Outside the faithful, many have been so reared in anti-Catholic prejudice that no formulation of words really reaches their minds and impresses their intellects as possessed of any conclusive force or moral value….In such cases, since the person has not received a presentation of religious truth which is adequate for him, it seems entirely proper to hold that any erroneous doctrines which he might hold or utter would derive from inculpable ignorance.”
Ignorance would therefore excuse most if not all Protestants from sin and culpability which would be required for contumacy according to canon 2229. There are a number of other quotes explaining the canonical principles that address this issue which make Fr. Scott’s contention otiose, but the above citation should be sufficient to put to rest the notion that Protestants should be denied the Eucharist based solely on the false supposition that they are all excommunicated.
Additionally, what are we to conclude from reading Canon 855 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law? Is the Canon really as clear as Fr. Scott purports it to be; does it actually support the interpretation that he proposes? In order to determine the adequacy of Fr. Scott’s evaluation it will be necessary to compare Canon 855 with Canon 731 in the 1917 Code.
(2) It is forbidden that the Sacraments of the Church be ministered to heretics and schismatics, even if they ask for them and are in good faith, unless beforehand, rejecting their errors, they are reconciled with the Church.
(1) All those publicly unworthy are to be barred from the Eucharist, such as excommunicates, those interdicted, and those manifestly infamous, unless their penitence and emendation are shown and they have satisfied beforehand the public scandal [they caused].
It is not necessary to be a Canon Lawyer to be struck by the clarity of Canon 731; it refers to all heretics and schismatics without qualification. A close reading of the wording (e.g. penitence, emendation, and public scandal) should make it clear that Canon 855 is not referring either to manifest heretics or schismatics but to Members of the Church temporarily denied the Eucharist because of their current moral state, either due to notoriously sinful lives or being temporarily denied the sacrament as a result of some ecclesiastical penalty.
Recognizing the clear import of these two Canons on the authorized and legitimate reception of the Eucharist, we feel compelled to ask what would induce Fr. Scott, the former Rector of an SSPX seminary, to place a construction on Canon 855 that it so obviously cannot and clearly was not meant to bear while ignoring the straight forward and self-evident Canon 731?
Is this just an instance of shoddy scholarship or do these glaring errors suggest that Fr. Scott, by oscillating capriciously from the 1917 to 1983 codes, is desperately attempting to reconcile the unreconcilable? The stark and total contradiction between Canon 731 of the 1917 Code and the vague, indeterminate, ambiguously worded Canons 838 through 844 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law perfectly illustrate why Pope Benedict XVI could publicly and licitly (according to the new Canons he helped to contrive) administer the Eucharist to a notorious heretic shortly after his election to the Chair of Peter (an incident curiously not addressed by Fr. Scott) and why the Episcopal German Conference could feel comfortable and secure in making the recommendation that Fr. Scott so fecklessly opposes.
If poor scholarship is the excuse for Fr. Scott’s specious argument on the latae sententiae excommunication of Protestants, what could account for his failure to notice that indifferentism is not merely an error, like making a wrong turn on the highway or using the wrong fork at a formal dinner, but in reality a grave sin against the faith? Could the former Rector of an SSPX seminary not be familiar with the meaning and implications of Ecclesiam nulla salus, not cognizant of the condemnations of Pope Pius IX or is Fr. Scott, like his new modernist confreres, losing the very notion of sin itself in an effort to accommodate his views to the neo-SSPX and to the Conciliar Church that Archbishop Lefebvre so staunchly opposed?
It would appear that by misinterpreting and misrepresenting Canon Law, playing canonical hopscotch, and ignoring the gravely sinful nature of indifferentism and its total negation by the Vatican II policy of ecumenism, Fr. Scott is attempting to reconcile the many contradictions implicit in the documents and policies of the Vatican II Church and the Roman Catholic Church which preceded it, all the while covering himself in a cloak of Traditional Catholic outrage…an art perhaps subtle but an art no longer new.
J. E. Kozin