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Canon lawyer compares prohibition of public Masses to interdicts in history

Interdicts are prohibitions 'whereby Church authority could shut down access to sacraments for the innocent as well as the guilty.'
Wed Apr 1, 2020 - 10:58 am EST
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DETROIT, Michigan, April 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A canon lawyer has compared the current prohibition of public Masses to territorial interdicts in the past. Edward Peters, who teaches canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, argued that today, “what amounts to territorial interdicts are being imposed (rightly or wrongly, in terms of medical advice) as a way to protect the innocent.”

An interdict is an ecclesiastical censure “whereby Church authority could shut down access to sacraments for the innocent as well as the guilty in whole countries,” Peters explained.

According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, an interdict “is a censure, or prohibition, excluding the faithful from participation in certain holy things.” These holy things include the liturgy, the sacraments, “excepting private administrations of those that are of necessity,” and “ecclesiastical burial, including all funeral services.”

“There were, of course, efforts over the centuries to mitigate the impact of territorial interdicts on the innocent,” Peters said, “but, in its heyday, though criticized on prudential grounds, interdicts were not attacked as illegal in themselves nor as somehow outside of the Church’s authority to implement.”

With that in mind, he cautioned Catholics against “concluding that a given...local Church policy is canonically illegal and can therefore simply be disregarded.” While such policies might be “wrong-headed (as some seem to me) that does not necessarily mean they are canonically illegal.”

The remarks made by Edward Peters are in contrast to the assessment by Bishop Athanasius Schneider.

The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mary Most Holy in Astana, Kazakhstan, had stated that a priest, using discretion and following the necessary health precautions “has not to obey the directives of his bishop or the government to suspend Mass for the faithful.”

Directives canceling all public Masses “are a pure human law; however, the supreme law in the Church is the salvation of souls,” the bishop said.

“Priests in such a situation have to be extremely creative in order to provide for the faithful, even for a small group, the celebration of Holy Mass and the reception of the sacraments. Such was the pastoral behavior of all confessor and martyr priests in the time of persecution,” he added.

As many bishops have canceled not only public Masses, but also all baptisms, Peters criticized the delay of infant baptisms.

According to current canon law, published in 1983, infants are to be baptized “in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.”

Peters said, “I agree with the Exegetical Commentary which states that Canon 867 ‘protected the fundamental right of the parents to baptize their children within the first few weeks. This right shall not be limited or restricted by a particular law, at least not by a norm of lower rank than the [1983 Code] itself.’”

“Commentaries on the old law warned against parents trying more than a month to secure the service of a priest before acting on their own,” he added.

Peters pointed out that parents who baptize their own child because they were unable to get a priest to do so, “should simply report such baptisms to the pastor of the parish.”

“I suggest an audio-visual recording of the event, should the pastor later have any questions about matter, form, and so on,” he emphasized.

Baptisms of adults usually take place during the celebration of the Easter Vigil, in combination with Confirmation and first Holy Communion. Peters called for providing these sacraments in a timely manner.

“Consider, some bishops are allowing up to ten ‘technical assistants’ to help priests broadcast their Masses on-line. Well, if ten tech aids can gather to hold lights and point cameras, surely a half dozen candidates and catechumens can kneel before their priest and be baptized, confirmed, and communicated.”

Regarding marriages, Peters pointed out that canonical form “need not be observed, even by two Roman Catholics, if it is foreseen that an official witness (typically, a priest) cannot be present for at least thirty days.” In other words, the priest would not be absolutely necessary, if no priest can be found. Two other witnesses, however, still need to be there.


  canon law, catholic, coronavirus, ed peters, interdict

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