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Canon lawyer criticizes UK cardinal for trying to silence priests defending Church teaching

Priests, and all the faithful, have a 'canonical right' to publicly express their opinion on matters of importance to the Church, says Dr. Edward Peters.
Fri Mar 27, 2015 - 1:17 pm EST
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Cardinal Vincent Nichols Catholic Church of England and Wales website

LONDON, March 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An influential American canon lawyer has expressed amazement and concern over Cardinal Vincent Nichols' criticism of almost 500 UK priests who signed a letter expressing concern about last October's Synod on the Family and confirming their faithful support of the Catholic teaching on marriage and family.

"There isn’t a word—not one single word—in the short, open letter signed by hundreds of British Catholic priests to the Catholic Herald (London) defending Church teaching on marriage and sacraments that any Catholic could not, and should not be proud to, personally profess and publically proclaim," Dr. Edward Peters, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote on his blog.

"The priests’ letter is a model of accuracy, balance, brevity, and pastoral respect for persons. It fortifies the soul to know it exists. It gladdens the heart to actually read it," Dr. Peters said.

In a statement to the Catholic Herald, which first ran the priests’ letter on March 24, a spokesman for Cardinal Nichols said the “dialogue” on the issues surrounding the Synod on the Family “is not best conducted through the press.”

In the priests’ letter, the signatories said that in light of the confusion arising from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome concerning Catholic moral teaching, "We wish, as Catholic priests, to re-state our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the Word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia."

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"Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony," they added.

Dr. Peters remarked that he is "at a loss … to understand why Vincent Cardinal Nichols seems to chastise priests who signed the letter for their allegedly 'conducting [a] dialogue, between a priest and his bishop … through the press'.”

"The priests’ letter is a statement of Catholic belief," Dr. Peters observed, "not an opening gambit in a negotiation; it is addressed to a journal editor, and through him to lay and clerical public, not to a particular prelate.”

He said the priests, and all the faithful, have a “canonical right” to publicly express their opinion on matters of importance to the Church, citing Canon 212 § 3 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

"The Cardinal, of course, need not have said anything about the letter," Dr. Peters reflected. "Frankly, his responding via the press is what might yet turn the event into a dialogue in the press. But, if a response was to be made, anything less than “I am delighted to know that so many priests love our Church, her teachings, and the people served by both” makes the direction of that dialogue suddenly worrisome."


  catholic, edward peters, synod on the family, vincent nichols

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