Thursday, June 03, 2021

Intermission: Some Developments in the Catholic Church

Most people might not be aware that the Catholic Church has just updated its code of Canon Law. In itself it's not really a big deal but the reasons for doing so are very interesting. As I see it, it represents a  development in the thinking of some members of the hierarchy. Francis writes (via Google Translate):

In the past, the lack of perception of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the recourse - where circumstances and justice so require - to sanctioning discipline has caused much damage. [ED: Understatement of the year!] This way of thinking - experience teaches - risks leading to living with behaviors contrary to the discipline of morals, whose remedy is not only exhortations or suggestions. This situation often carries with it the danger that with the passage of time, such behaviors become consolidated to the point of making it more difficult to correct and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful. This is why the application of penalties becomes necessary on the part of Pastors and Superiors.The negligence of a Pastor in having recourse to the penal system makes it clear that he does not fulfill his function correctly and faithfully, as I have expressly warned in recent documents, including the Apostolic Letters given in the form of a "Motu Proprio" 

Executive Summary: The Church emphasised Mercy to the criminal at the expense of Justice to the victims, with the predictable, to anyone with half a brain, consequences. This is the "theology" behind the sexual abuse saga in the Church.

Some of the commentary about the changes is also interesting. As one of the Vatican spokesmen said with regard to previous version of the code:

In many places, punishments were mentioned only as a possibility, and the whole text gave the impression that it was almost merciless to apply punishments.
John Paul II used to talk about the "contraceptive mentality" when dealing with his opponents on matters of sexual morals but here we have a clear example of the "kenotic mentality" when being applied matters of Justice and Mercy.  While the new changes are a welcome development, the problem is that this mentality is still strongly entrenched throughout all layers of the Catholic hierarchy and it is part of the "operating culture" of the institution. Francis himself, while to be applauded for this move, has internalised much of the spirit, especially with his attempts at  delegitimising the death penalty.  It's also an attitude also prevails in many other Christian denominations.

Justice and Mercy are fundamentally opposed concepts because mercy means sparing the criminal some of his just deserts, and the victim something that is owed to him.  The Church seems to have forgotten that Justice is always obligatory, while Mercy, discretionary, and only to be applied in the context of a greater good. 

Now what needs to be understood is that what produced this change in the Church's hierarchy was not "deep reflection, prayer and spiritual retreats", but a hostile secular world exposing plain the hypocrisy between belief and practice in the clergy. i.e. the Clergy had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this realisation. 

5 comments:

John Rockwell said...

Paul was not afraid of the punishment of Death even if he is saved nor did he offer any objection to said Just Desert even when he is saved by faith.(Acts 25:11).

The saved is spared the Wrath of God in the afterlife. But the Magistrate still must administer the vengeance of God whether if the guilty is saved by faith or not(Romans 13).

And even the Cross requires that Mercy is only possible as a result of Justice.

For we died on the Cross with Christ, buried with him and raised from the dead through him(Romans 6:3-11).

The criminal to be executed is not exempt from execution by his faith. But he is spared the 2nd Death. In that way Justice and Mercy work together as to remove the sinner from further sin against anyone on earth and in ushering him to Paradise but deprived of the Rewards that come from a faithful life full of deeds pleasing in the sight of God although saved as through fire(1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

The Social Pathologist said...

@John

The criminal to be executed is not exempt from execution by his faith. But he is spared the 2nd Death. In that way Justice and Mercy work together as to remove the sinner from further sin against anyone on earth

I'd look at this from a different angle. Mercy is opposed to Justice and any act of Mercy is going to frustrate a just punishment. So the result of any action of mercy is an injustice. The only way that mercy is in any sense justified is some kind of overall greater good is achieved. Here we have to look at the overall situation, including that of the victim, to determine if it should be applied.

Justice in a sense is "autistic" in the sense that it sometimes does not take into account the frailties of the human condition. Sometimes the individual completely deserves the punishment meted to him but empathy, pity and hope need to be taken into account. But this needs to be rational and liberal. A mercy devoid of "rationality" will let injustice thrive and further evil.

The Social Pathologist said...

@MK Thanks.

and it has everything to do with modernity and liberalism.

I think it is only incidentally linked. What modernity has done is expose a pre-existing weakness in the Church. Modernity has pradoxically strengthened both the conservative "reactionary", and the "keanotic" elements in the Church. i.e those who want "order" and those who want "a sacrificial church".

The keanotic element has definitely sought to effect a transformation of masculinity, but it must also be remembered that it has also had its negative effects on femininity as well.

John Rockwell said...

@Social Pathologist

"I'd look at this from a different angle. Mercy is opposed to Justice and any act of Mercy is going to frustrate a just punishment. So the result of any action of mercy is an injustice. The only way that mercy is in any sense justified is some kind of overall greater good is achieved. Here we have to look at the overall situation, including that of the victim, to determine if it should be applied."

Exactly. That's why I said the Cross of Christ resolves the dilemma. For otherwise how can God do both Justice and Mercy except through the Cross in punishing our sin in Christ with both the 2nd and 1st Deaths.

The Social Pathologist said...

@JR

Sorry for the late reply JR but it's been a busy few days.

For otherwise how can God do both Justice and Mercy.

A lot of it really depends on the sinner/criminal. If there's no contrition then there's no possibility of Mercy.

See the other interesting line of reasoning here is, suppose a murderer "happily", and contritely, accepts the death penalty and is executed. How does God judge such a man. As I see it he doesn't need any Mercy, since he has fulfilled the requirements of Justice. (I'm not really sure of this, just musing on the subject.)