Catholics in SPAAAAAAACE Open Thread

Catholics in SPAAAAAAACE Open Thread March 11, 2015

A reader asks:

Mark, supposing the Vatican has plans to colonize Alpha Centauri—which it most assuredly does—what all would need to go into the mission prep? How would the relationship between the Pope and bishops be handled in the absence of FTL communications?

I’m looking for an approach informed by canon law.

Of course, I totally know the answer to this.  Like, totally.  But since it’s so super-easy and my knowledge of canon law is so sophisticated, I’ve decided not to answer it and instead leave it for you, my readers, to discuss and answer. Knock yourselves out.

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  • Irksome1

    Why not look to history? How did the Church govern herself in the Americas when contact with the Holy See would’ve been delayed by weeks? Apparently, the Vatican archives make mention of a Bishop that was installed at the Viking colony of Newfoundland. That church would have been even more distant from the Vatican. It seems to me that the Church has already dealt with this issue. One just need to find out how she did it, rather than try to formulate a new interpretation of Canon Law because one imagines that science-fiction elements require it.

    • Andy

      Appealing to past practice that worked – where is the fun in that? Although I agree with you.

      • Mariana Baca

        I don’t know, I love using examples from the far past to resolve issues of the far future. It feels extremely Catholic. “Well, this is what we did in the 7th century, clearly it applies to space!”

        • Andy

          Space the final frontier just as once the Atlantic Ocean was the final frontier (no Spock though) – so since it worked before – I can see it know Jesuits in Space.

    • My understanding is that, prior to centralizing movements following the Protestant Reformation, and again following the Industrial Revolution (and especially the communications revolution we’re now in the midst of), bishops had a great deal more autonomy in their own sees. The Pope was a symbolic authority, but rarely resorted to unless bishops couldn’t manage things on their own, or there were clear and obvious abuses.

      I expect something similar would occur if we had interstellar colonies: those bishops, at least, would be relatively autonomous. There might be a Patriarch/Archbishop/Metropolitan – maybe call him a “Cosmopolitan”? or an “Astrobishop”? – for the star system to act as a local “highest authority.”

      • Mariana Baca

        Sui Juris Churches would have a much greater meaning here, since they are truly in a different jurisdiction.

  • I believe our first trip to the moon occasioned such discussions. Who would have the authority over the new colonies on the moon? Would they be directly responsible to the Holy See? I read on a very popular blog that the bishop of the place the rocket blasts off from is the also the bishop of new settlements, until such a time as the Holy See raises it to a diocese in it’s own right.

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz addresses this, actually. If I recall correctly, part of the concern was sending enough bishops to make new priests, and to also deal with the possibility of electing a Pope should — SPOILER! — Earth destroy itself.

    As an aside, I don’t normally like dystopian fiction, but I can’t recommend this book enough.

    • One of the best novels from the mid twentieth century. It is well worth the time spent reading. Walter Miller seemed quite up on Catholic practice and perspective in the novel.

  • the rein man

    Quantum communication will make the discussion moot. They will be able to Skype from Alpha Centauri.

    • D.T. McCameron

      The trick is getting there in an amount of time less than the sum total of the entirety of human history. Barring that, folks on the Earth end of things surviving long enough to chat with the travelers when they arrive.

  • ivan_the_mad

    This reminds me of a neat lecture by Br. Consolmango on mining asteroids and terraforming, in particular the legality and ethics thereof. Unfortunately, I cannot now find the lecture, only references to it … 🙁

  • Ben__Yachov

    Mark we have had our differences but as a gesture of peace during Lent (not that I am planning on posting here I just could not resist this awesome post) I am making a book recommendation for you on this very topic.

    Ad Limina: A novella of Catholics in space (servant of eternity Book 1)

    by Cyril Jones-Kellett.


    “War is in the air, and the first native bishop of Mars has been called to Rome. As he makes his way across fifty million miles of space, he encounters a society moving into every corner of the solar system and teeming with every kind of decadence. “We are filling the emptiness with our emptiness,” he thinks.

    A violent fascist opposition is rising, promising to restore humanity to glory.

    When the bishop gets a mysterious offer to leave the solar system, he is sorely tempted. But if he goes, he may be abandoning Earth to a brutal invasion only he can prevent.”

    You can get at Amazon or whatever.

    I really think you would like it.

    It’s also short since it’s a Novella.

    Rosemarie sends her regards.


    • ImTim

      It’s a great “airport novel.” Interesting, quirky read.

  • Mariana Baca

    Jimmy Akin had a good article about this a while back.
    I think the major issues are:
    1) how does the liturgical calendar work in the absence of days, years, and weeks?
    2) notifying bishops about papal changes, depending on communications speed

    If >3 bishops get sent, they can easily make more bishops. I think even with 1 bishop they could get dispensation for consecrations. Just sending priests would be foolish.

    In space stations, I believe custom is to use time at point of departure.

    Another issue is whether we would farm wheat and grapes.

    • All good issues.

      Japan, in its isolationist period, had small communities of Catholics who kept the faith for generations in the absence even of priests. Obviously, they had no sacraments other than baptism and marriage; but I can imagine such a situation obtaining while the colony is being established.

      I think priests were on the original Portuguese, Spanish, and French expeditions to the Americas. I don’t know at what point bishops were sent over. But that might be another good historical situation to look at.

      Maybe one priest on the original colonization team. I would be surprised if a bishop was sent before the colony was well established, including sufficient terraforming and/or contained agriculture to insure sure wheat and grapes and olives are available to administer all the sacraments.

      Honestly, despite its historical importance, my guess is that the liturgical calendar would be a minor issue. It would probably vary from one diocese to another for a while, till everyone agrees on a way of celebrating it. My guess is, there would be significant adaptation to the natural rotation and orbit of wherever the colony is established. On board ships, I presume they would maintain 24-hour days and a calendar based on Earth’s year.

      • Mariana Baca

        Liturgical calendar might be of less importance, but it would still be important to have calendar days and Sundays.

        Colonial period would be a good measure, but it is important to realize that the colonies were a few weeks if not a few months away, not potentially years or generations away like a space colony. Maronite Churches in the Middle East during the Crusades were apparently cut off from Rome for a long time — that might be another model to follow.

        Similar (or very differently, if you view it by intention instead of circumstance), Koreans discovered Christianity from texts imported from China before the arrival of a significant number of priests, and thus could administer baptism but were eagerly awaiting the arrival of missionaries in order to continue the faith.

        • Yes, it’s clear that communications would take a very long time, and any practical enforcement from Rome would take years at best. When you think about it, establishing a diocese on an interstellar colony would be a tremendous act of faith in the unity of the Church. It would probably have huge ramifications for the relationship between the Pope and his brother bishops here on Earth.

          • Mariana Baca

            A sui juris Church might need to be established since they might have their own calendar, they own liturgical requirements (for church buildings, vestments, sacramentals based on local requirements) as well as it would be good to have a local prelate/patriach to make such decisions autonomously, as well as havethe power to appoint bishops. But yes, it would be a tremendous act of faith.

      • Alma Peregrina

        “On board ships, I presume they would maintain 24-hour days and a calendar based on Earth’s year.”

        Ahem… theory of relativity? Warp speeds?

        • 24 hours of ship time, 365.24-day years, etc. Of course they’d adjust to local time when they reach their destination, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t keep to a simulation of Earth time on board ship.

    • wlinden

      “If >3 bishops get sent, they can easily make more bishops”


      • Mariana Baca

        Will need to read that book. Have had real life people and several people in this thread recommend it.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “1) how does the liturgical calendar work in the absence of days, years, and weeks?”

      More importantly, how does the liturgical calendar work when you achieve interstellar speeds that distort the space-time continuum?

    • Smithgift

      I literally asked a priest about the calendar issue on Thursday. He said (if I’m remembering/understanding correctly) it would be the calendar you would use if you had never left Earth, regardless of what the time at Jerusalem is “now.” (because simultaneity is a meaningless concept outside of light cones.)

      Also, calculating the date of Easter is a horrifyingly convoluted process, which is why the Vatican Observatory was formed.

  • wlinden

    Jews and Moslems would have greater problems. What is Sabbath in orbit? Which way to face for prayer?

    “… but Mecca was probably in a ridiculous direction.” — Poul Anderson, “Elementary Mistake”

    • Mariana Baca

      There are answers for such questions! Also for polar explorers, who might not see “stars” for determining night for months, and for worldwide moslems whether to use great circles or rhumb lines for directions to Mecca.

  • Cmcv

    “Is the Space Pope Reptilian?”