Michael Voris, RealCatholic TV, and canon law

Michael Voris, RealCatholic TV, and canon law January 4, 2012

Canon lawyer Ed Peters has weighed in on the problems between Michael Voris’ Real Catholic TV and the Archdiocese of Detroit:

The first thing to understand about the dispute between the Archdiocese of Detroit and Michael Voris and/or RealCatholicTV is that the dispute turns essentially on canon law. As a canonical dispute, it will not be decided by seeing who musters more or louder supporters in the blogosphere; it will be decided by recognizing what Church law says about such matters and then abiding by that finding.

With this being firmly understood, however, we may still use the dispute to set out some aspects of Church discipline for those wishing to understand such things better. I comment here not as an advisor to the AOD, but as an established observer on public canonical issues, and I reiterate what is noted to the right of every ITLOTL post, namely, that this blog represents my opinions only.

Canon 216 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law contains two sentences, the first of which is not at issue: “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.” As far as this part of c. 216 is concerned, Voris/RCTV may disseminate whatever they want, whenever they wish, about whatever they please. Whether Voris/RCTV speak correctly or mistakenly on a given matter, or whether they show appropriate prudence and charity in expressing their positions, is their responsibility. Catholics are free to reach differing opinions about those questions.

But sentence two of Canon 216 is another matter: “Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name ‘Catholic’ without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” The plain text of this canon 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). Voris/RCTV expressly (indeed, pervasively) use the word “Catholic” to name their undertakings. They repeatedly proclaim that theirs is “Real Catholic TV”, that theirs is a “Catholic Investigative Agency”, and that theirs is “The Catholic Critic”…

…the AOD does not have to prove that Voris does not have a degree in theology (in fact he does), and/or that Real Catholic TV, and/or the Catholic Investigative Agency, and/or The Catholic Critic, etc., is wrong about something they said (frankly, much of what they say is sound), and so on; instead, the AOD simply has to show that one or more Voris/RCTV undertakings claim the title “Catholic” without having secured canonical authorization to make that claim.

There’s much more.  Check it out. Also, Fr. Z has posted on this and there’s a lively discussion going on over at his blog.

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18 responses to “Michael Voris, RealCatholic TV, and canon law”

  1. When it is a matter of canon law then it is just like United States law, it must be decided by canon lawyers before a canonical court. Thank you for posting this, Deacon.

  2. So what’s the upshot if this guy sticks to his guns? Does he fall out of good standing with his bishop or get denied communion or excommunicated? Is it purely a Canon Law thing or some sort of a trademark as well?

    The reason I ask is because there’s quite a few organizations out there that use the word “Catholic” including a number of churches not in communion with Rome or outright heretical to RCC teachings, pro-choice Catholic groups, you name it. This is the first time I’ve heard of such public wrangling over the name use itself, and it seems odd that the dispute is between two sides which largely hold the same views. One would think the usual disclaimers :the views of this station do no represent those of the bishop etc” would suffice. If the station’s entire format is about Catholics and Catholic issues, how can they realistically avoid the use of the term in their organizational name?

  3. Re: Again, the Need for Courageous Bishops

    There are a number of transparencies problems here.

    1. Mr. Voris does not own Real Catholic TV.
    2. The owner of Real Catholic TV lives in a different Diocese
    3. The owner of Real Catholic TV has not received any communications, so far. from hos own Bishop on this matter.
    4. The owner of Real Catholic TV has already been in communication with the AOD. He also claims that he has received a letter from the AOD acknowledging that he is the owner of Real Catholic TV.
    5. After the alleged communication between the owner of Real Catholic TV and the AOD the AOD PR guy choose to announce to the public that Mr. Voris was not authorized by the AOD to use the name Catholic.
    6. Normally the Vatican does not have a problem with groups that use the word Catholic to “defend and promote the teaching of the Magisterium”. See Roke’s letter “LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE PASTORAL CARE OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS”
    The AOD could be a little more honest and straightforward here on this matter.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  4. Good post Richard.

    I think that this diocese has opened a real mess and I would bet they are trying to find a way to get the toothpaste back in the tube. With the notarity, Real Catholic TV viewership has more than doubled.

  5. THe claim that there is no problem because the owner of an operation tasking lace in Detroit happens to live in Fort Wayne-South Bend won’t fly. They need permission to call themselves Catholic before they begin to do so, and they are not claiming they got it from FW-SB either. So whichever bishop is the competent authority, they didn’t get the needed permission. They’re like a theology teacher without a mandatum. They’re not supposed to be calling themselves Catholic unless and until they have the approval of the appropriate bishop, whoever that is.

  6. Re: Of Scribes & Pharacies

    “The claim that there is no problem because the owner of an operation tasking lace in Detroit happens to live in Fort Wayne-South Bend won’t fly.”

    As always in these matters it is the actions (or inactions) of the Bishop, successor to the Apostles, which matters. The PR guy for the AOD announced that Mr. Voris was not authorized to use the word “Catholic”. This PR release was made after the AOD had allegedly acknowledged that Real Catholic TV was owned by a member of another Diocese. The 8th Commandment apples even to Diocesan PR guys.

    “They need permission to call themselves Catholic before they begin to do so”

    The Canon does not read so. Indeed the Canon has NEVER been interpreted in that manner by Rome.

    “They’re not supposed to be calling themselves Catholic unless and until they have the approval of the appropriate bishop”

    Any baptized and confirmed Catholic is obligated to so identify himself.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  7. Re: St John of the Cross

    Perhaps one of the most internally violent and fractious religious orders in the history of the Church is the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites make the Knights Templar look positively benign. The case of St. John of the cross is instructive here.

    St. John of the Cross (1542 – 1591) was appointed Chaplain by the Papal Delegate to St. Theresa’s Convent. This appointment was made against the wishes of St. John’s lawful Carmelite Superiors. After the Papal Delegate’s death St. John was ordered by his Carmelite Superiors to return to his monastery. He refused. St John’s Religious Superior then arrested and imprisoned St John in his Monastery where St John was flogged in front of the other Monks weekly. St John eventually broke out his Monastery and escaped. After his death the Carmelite Order fractured again and divided into two separate Orders.

    Now there are Canonized Saints on both sides of this issue the controversy of which stretched over several centuries. Clearly St. John did not think he was being disobedient; and that the authority of the Papal delegate trumped the authority of the Carmelite Superior General – even after the Delegate’s death. Obviously, as evidenced by the stripes on St John’s back, his Carmelite superiors disagreed with him.

    Christ did not call us to be Pharacies. These whitened seplacurs worshiped not God but man made law. At the same time God, in his wisdom, gave us the successors to Peter and the Apostles to teach and guide us. The only way for this matter to be resolved is for the Archbishop (or his PR guy) to act not like a Pharacie but as a Shepherd.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  8. Excellent point Richard. It seems at times they guide us by demonstrating what not to do.

  9. Mr. King:

    Another point if I may. The Canonist who authored the instant article (Edward Peters) is an employee of AOD. Essentially in his article the Canonist is defending the actions of another AOD employee (The PR guy) who announced that Mr. Voris is not authorized to use the word “Catholic”. There may be a slight conflict of interest here.

    At the same time other employees of the AOD are organized into a heterodox group titled the “Elephant in the living room” (See http://elephantsinthelivingroom.com/) which is not only allowed by the AOD to describe itself as Catholic but allowed to meet on Church property on which it promotes various evils such as sodomy.

    I suspect that the Voris kerfuffle is yet another dust up between church bureaucrats and an orthodox layman who will not play by their rules. It will be interesting to see what (if anything) the Archbishop will say on this matter in his own name.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  10. Re: Further Defense of AOD

    Canon lawyer Edward Peters is an employee of AOD. In his second article on the current Voris kerfuffle he essentially defended the previous action of the AOD PR guy. Lawyer Peters’ defense can be broken down into three parts:

    1. He writes in part: “Since when, I ask, does the AOD need ‘jurisdiction’ to reply to inquiries made to it by third-parties regarding Voris/RCTV”. Clearly AOD should reply to said inquiries. However an honest public reply should in justice include the fact that RCTV is owned by a member of another Diocese and that the RCTV presentations are either orthodox (or heterodox).

    2. He also writes in part regarding other groups that us the word “Catholic”: “An archdiocese, like any governing/serving organization, has limited resources (financial, personnel, etc.) with which to respond to a virtually unlimited number of situations, opportunities, and problems.” True. But for about a generation now an AOD auxiliary (Gumbleton) has been running around the world presenting himself as a Catholic Bishop; but preaching a heterodox verion of Catholicism. AOD has never addressed this issue. One would think that if the AOD PR guy found time to issue a statement regarding the orthodox layman Voris that, after 30-yeras or so, he could find time to also issue a statment regarding the heterodox Bishop Gumbleton.

    3. “this matter turns essentially on canon law” I hope so. Rome has never excommunicated an orthodox group for using the word “Catholic” without permission.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  11. I’d like to know, dear canon lawyers, just when a diocese can be denied the right to call ITSELF Catholic? It seems that they can shuffle perverts from parish to parish (or diocese to diocese), wink at divorce, pass out annulments like chicklets, mention not a peep about the 96% artificial contraception rate among Catholics, are silent about premarital sex, and STILL retain both the label “Catholic” and retain the authority that comes with it.

    Let’s cut through all the legal garbage here and just say that this is an absolute farce. It’s simply ecclesiastical theatre meant to intimidate and bully laypeople who are steadfastly revealing the utter destruction that progressive bishops have visited upon the Church. When AOD pulls rank in this silly manner, I hope everyone just laughs at them and ignores them. They richly deserve it.

    [Comment edited to remove anti-homosexual slurs and rhetoric blaspheming the Eucharist. — Ed.]

  12. Sentence two of Canon 216: “Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name ‘Catholic’ without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”

    I believe the intent of that is to ensure that individuals or organizations do not use the name ‘Catholic’ in a way that may lead people to believe that it (the individual or organization) is speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church (i.e. it has authority regarding teaching matters). I think that even though ‘Catholic TV’ uses the word ‘Catholic’, most reasonable people recognize that they are giving their views on Catholic matters….and do not have teaching authority within the Church.

    How many books are there out there that have the word ‘Catholic’ in them? If I see a book with the word ‘Catholic’ in the title and it’s been written by a lay Catholic (or possibly even a non-Catholic) should I wonder as to whether it’s an official document of the Catholic Church? Most thinking people would recognize that it isn’t…even though the word ‘Catholic’ is in the title. If that has to be spelled out to someone, then…….. Likewise, with Catholic TV, what is their intent? Is it their intent to mislead people into believing that it is an authority on Church matters. Or (and I think that most thinking people will agree), is it a website owned and run by lay Catholics which provides their personal views on Church matters. Should I even be permitted to say ‘Catholic’ out loud or write the word ‘Catholic’ for fear of misleading people into believing that I have teaching authority within the church. As with all laws, they speak to intent. What is Catholic TV’s intent? I’m not confused about what it is.

  13. On the other hand…

    There is, of course, a “Catholic TV,” produced by the Archdiocese of Boston. Much of its work is simulcast online.

    I wonder if having a “Catholic TV” (produced with ecclesial approval) and “RealCatholicTV” (produced without it) is part of the problem here.

    Dcn. G.

  14. I’ve watched Real Catholic TV. It was obvious to me that Michael Voris was giving his personal views. I was never confused about whether or not I was listening to a lay Catholic who has a right to express his views or someone in the Church speaking and teaching from a position of authority.

    A lay Catholic dressed in priest’s (or deacon’s) garb is clearly trying to deceive. An internet show that has the word ‘Catholic’ in it’s title that is (to me anyway) merely stating it’s opinion about Catholic issues….is not trying to deceive anyone. If RealCatholicTV added a disclaimer on their website to the effect that “This webcast merely expresses the personal views of lay Catholics and does not purport to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church”, then what’s the complaint. I think this all goes back to Michael Voris’ criticism of the gutter-snipers out there who took delight in John Corapi’s (formerly Father John Corapi) problems.

    A legitimate application of Canon Law 216 would be ‘Catholic’ ceremony whereby women were ‘ordained’ as Catholic priests.

  15. There are many colleges and universities which used the name Catholic even before the dioceses were organized or re-organized. There are numerous uses of the name Catholic which are outright heretical, including an RCIA conference I attended three years ago and left, as the teaching included support of acting homosexuals and pro-women priests. Nothing as been done about pressing for John Paul II’s requirement of the oath of fidelity and promise of a Catholic lifestyle, which some of us teachers have done at good, real Catholic schools. http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfoath.htm

    This attempt to have RealCatholicTV drop the name must be introduced by a reason why “the diocese” wants the name dropped. If something was said heretical, tell the world. Clarity is needed here, or again, the organized Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit will lose credibility in this argument.

  16. It’s quite simple: Michael Voris has no authority to change the name RealCatholicTV.com because he does not own RCTV–he is an employee of this company that is owned by Marc Brammer, who lives in another diocese. It’s like telling a journalist who works for a newspaper to change the name of the newspaper he works for; the journalist has no authority to do that.

    The archdiocese clearly has no jurisdiction over Marc Brammer. Yet they are telling him to change the name of his company.

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