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When a bishop, not only his subjects, is subject to law.

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Like it or not, he has a point.

Some years ago Pope Francis said to dissenters agitating to ordain women, that he is “a son of the Church”, and that he cannot change her doctrines to suit himself or others.

Nowadays, the condition of mind among western Catholics especially being clouded — even eclipsed — by what might be called ‘legalism’, it is useful to distinguish the kind of laws, in general, at work in a given situation, and no less in the current trial by COVID-19.

Nowadays, indeed, one has the impression that the sole law at work or to be conferred in order to answer the myriad of questions swirling about in reference to the pandemic is merely canonical: that is, a presumption that canon law can or should answer (all or most) of our questions.

But what about the law of the Gospel? Or the law of the Church? — by which I mean, the mystical life of Christians: in which all the baptised participate, not exclusively the relatively few mystics who are given visions or ecstacies and the like. Or, the law of doctrine and dogma? And the moral law, and the natural law? Or, the law of the sacred Liturgy?

Don’t all those laws precede the law of (given by) churchmen? I mean, canon law? Are those laws not higher on the metaphysical ladder than canon law? And, does not canon law presuppose the other laws?

In fact, it seems that the canon law, being the lowest of all those mentioned (and more akin to civil law than to the other laws) is also the least of those laws, and the weakest: meaning in present circumstances, that it is least able to cope with — to stretch to correspond to or to make sense of –the exceptional conditions brought on by nearly universal hysteria in the West over the pandemic.

Are not bishops subjects of those laws — of the Gospel, of dogma, of liturgy? And do they not limit and even greatly determine a bishop’s moral and ecclesial, and canonical authority over the faithful — including in the current circumstances? In another post we’ll try to offer a little guidance to those reasoning about just these sorts of questions.


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