From the Tragedy of the Past, Some Want to Make a Comedy of Errors

From the Tragedy of the Past, Some Want to Make a Comedy of Errors January 20, 2011

One of the greatest farces being explored on the internet right now is the claim that married deacons and married clergy should be told that they cannot have sexual relations with their spouses. The justification for this is from canon law. Despite the universalistic tones expressed about this, when pressed, those pushing for this admit this is only for the Latin Rite, but they do suggest, the East should consider following the example of the West: “I don’t know why so many people assume that, where East and West disagree, the East must have it right.“*** For this, they say, is important. How important? It is a “Josiah Moment” in Canon Law.

Say what? A Josiah Moment? This “discovery” in canon law is something so fundamental that it equals the finding of Deuteronomy?  It is expected to produce a reform within the Church, all because deacons and married clergy won’t be able to have sex if the law is pushed? What?

How can anyone take this seriously? On the one hand, it is true that disciplines about sexual relations between married clergy and their wives exist (such as various times in the year they were to abstain from sex), on the other hand, discipline serves a purpose, and when that purpose is no longer applicable, the discipline itself can be called into question and abandoned. What is the purpose of this demand? What lies behind all of this? I do not know, but I suspect a few things. I suspect a poor theological anthropology combined with a demand for legalism to try to create the human person in the form of a false ideology. This anthropology includes a rather dismal view of sexuality, an Augustinian kind which one can find in the history of the Church, but it is not the only view of sexuality found in the Church (for a different view, look at what St John Chrysostom says on marriage).

What we see here is an attempt to gain control. What is the purpose? Is it this farce? Probably not; it seems that the desire is to get other “reforms” passed, but to do so, this is the starting point.

This rigorist, legalistic understanding of canon law ignores what canon law is for – it is for us, to help us – we don’t need to wrestle with it the same way the Pharisees did with the Law of Moses. Certainly it can place demands on us, but the demands must be for our good. Canon law changes and develops; it is bad to reify it, to demand people to follow the letter of the law over the spirit of the law.

As an Eastern Catholic, I cannot but laugh and cry at the same time. When someone like myself confronts this new ideology, we are basically thrown to the side, shown once again how little the Eastern input is accepted in the West. Pope John Paul II pointed out that the Church needs both the West and the East. The input of the East with its historical experience is really necessary at this point. We have experienced many “canon lawyers” in the past reify odd things they find in canon law, turning them into huge theological issues that leave the Church wounded, such as the question over leavened bread, or whether or not priests should have beards,  and whether or not the filioque should be recited. Again, the spirit of the law, the point of the law, becomes ignored, when one tries to find a pedantic point they can use as their way to gain control over the lives of the people of the Church.

Why has this been brought up in the blogosphere, rather than in the courts of canon law? It seems the reason is two-fold. One, the blogosphere is about control, about control of the hearts of the people, the desire to convince people that a rather limited vision of the Church is all the Church is about. This limiting vision of the Church is slowly coming to roost with this kind of farcical discussion. The second is easy to see. No official would take this seriously if it was given to them as a question to examine. Many people have already discerned the problems of this analysis: interpretation of words, ignoring of other canons, and the overall failure to realize the Church can and has answered this question by her practice.

Sadly, by responding to this proposition, I am giving it a hearing. But I have found many people speaking of it, and I have already spoken of it in comments. It is already getting a hearing on the internet. It needs to be rejected in no uncertain terms. We do not need this failed ideology gaining control of the Church of the future. In the past, we have seen the tragedy which has resulted from it. Now, we don’t need to make the Church a laughing stock, by going to farcical lengths by trying to recreate the past. What we will get is not the past, but a comedy of errors.


*** I think the answer to this is two-fold: when it is an issue the East has a greater amount of tradition in dealing with a specific question, their tradition is more likely to have something to offer in a given question than a tradition struggling to even understand what the question is all about. The second is that what is often seen as a problem in the West is something the East has dealt with, and to get out of the problems the West now face, it needs to get out of the systems of thought which have led it to a dead end. The same, however, is true, for the East: it needs the West to help it get through some of its difficult issues. When it comes to the issue of married clergy, however, the East has this issue as one they have more to offer than the West. So, when people begin by making universal claims about “the Church” (ignoring the East), the East feels the snub. The second, when we see the East “isn’t always right” as a reason to excuse the snub, this recalls all the way we have been mistreated by the West in the past and told how our tradition doesn’t really matter. Yes, our tradition matters. Learn it. If our tradition counters your theological anthropology, then perhaps this is time for you to open up and listen!

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