In Defense of CatholicEclipsed

A very well-informed and good-willed Catholic just trying to get to the grave with his soul intact no doubt, emailed me with some arguably well-founded criticisms regarding the things I have published here on CatholicEclipsed; the most important perhaps being an accusation of hypocrisy. I reproduce his remarks in pertinent part now: 

“You and others publish material regarding religion. Such publications require jurisdiction and are also in violation of Church law (C. 1385). Nevertheless, you seem to hold yourselves dispensed from these requirements while at the same time you hold others strictly to them, e.g., the papal mandate. It comes across as being duplicitous and a classic case of “laws are for thee, not for me.” This strikes me as a contradiction, which if you could clarify, I would appreciate.”

The cited law here runs: 

Canon 1385: On the Previous Censorship of Books

§ 1. Unless ecclesiastical censorship has preceded, there shall not be published, even by laity:

1.° Books of sacred Scripture or annotations on them or commentaries;

2.° Books that look to divine Scriptures, sacred theology, ecclesiastical history, canon law, natural theology, and ethics and other religious and moral disciplines of this sort; books and booklets of prayers, devotions, and teaching or religious instruction on morals, ascetics, mysticism and other [topics] of this sort, even though they seem conducive to fostering piety; and generally those writings in which there is something of special import to religion and right living;

3.° Sacred images no matter how printed, whether they are published with prayers added or without them.

§ 2. Permission for publishing books and images mentioned in § 1 can be given by the Ordinary of the place of their author, or by the Ordinary of the place in which the books or images are going to be published, or by the Ordinary of the place in which they are printed, although if one of the Ordinaries denied permission, the author cannot petition another unless he makes him aware of the denial of permission from the other.

In a nutshell, the law forbids the publication of religious books or even images without the express permission of the local bishop. It would seem, therefore that I, the author of CatholicEclipsed, would stand guilty of violating this canon, because I have not received any such permission to publish articles and images and videos on my blog. I say would seem, because the word book is mentioned in this canon alone five times! Could it be that this particular canon is confining itself to the printing of books, and not to any publication? 

Hold that thought for a moment, first, is it even lawful for a layman to interpret privately the law himself? Teresa Benns of BetrayedCatholics—which has been recently renovated (the website, not the woman) and looking spiffy—wrote me the other day with this insight: 

Rev. Matthew Ramstein, S.T. Mag, J.U.D., OFM (“A Manual of Canon Law,” 1947, above) states: “In the absence of an authentic declaration concerning the meaning of the law, ANYONE may interpret the law for himself, provided he observe the rules set down by the lawgiver in Canons 18-21.” This is confirmed by the following canonists. Speaking of Pope Benedict XV’s Motu Proprio promulgating Canon Law, Monsignor Amleto Cicognani writes: “There is no prohibition in the Motu-proprio of private interpretation, which may be doctrinal or usual…It is said to be doctrinal when it is given by those skilled in canon law; customary (also called usual) when it is derived from unwritten practice, that is custom…General rules for the right interpretation of the Code are given in Canons 17 ff, besides those of Canons 5 and 6, (“Canon Law,” 1935, pgs. 434, 598-9). As Rev. Nicholas Neuberger explains in his dissertation, “Canon 6,” (Catholic University of America, 1927), “Of old the jurists distinguished between a mere declaration of and the interpretation of the law. The declaration today is called comprehensive interpretation. Its scope is not to change the law but determines the sense of the law comprehended therein from the beginning. Therefore, it adds or subtracts nothing from the original meaning…The comprehensive interpretation adds nothing anew but explains more and more the significance attached to the words …Ordinarily, every private individual may interpret laws according to the rules of jurisprudence, unless a special prohibition has been madeThe code, in Canon 6 §2 bids us have recourse to the doctrine of the approved authors. The authentic, however, always remains the guide for the doctrinal.”

For those interested in reading the law in English, here is a link to an online version of the 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law , which I find most convenient when I am too lazy to retrieve my hardcopy from the schoolroom. 

Now we know that in the absence of an authoritative interpretation of the law, a private person—even a layman—may interpret the law himself, if the rules of interpretation are followed. One such rule we ought to have recourse to when interpreting the law is the following: 

Canon 18

Ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the meaning of their own words considered in their text and context; as for those things that remain unclear or in doubt, reference should be made to parallel provisions in the Code, if there are any, to the purposes and circumstances of the law and to the mind of the legislator.

Here’s another law which is important for interpreting:

Canon 19

Laws that establish a penalty, or that restrict the free exercise of a right, or that contain an exception to the law, are subject to strict interpretation.

My critic interpreted Canon 1385 incorrectly, because CatholicEclipsed does not print books. Rather it is the equivalent to an online newspaper column. The wording is precise and emphatic: the canon concerns itself with the printing of books and not with the publication of newspaper articles. Canon 19 tells us, further, that, because Canon 1385 restricts the free exercise of a right (printing books), the canon is subject to strict interpretation.   

And speaking of newspaper articles, it is interesting to note that the very next canon does concern itself with newspaper articles. What does it say? 

Canon 1386

§ 2. Neither shall laity, unless persuaded by just and reasonable cause approved by the local Ordinary, write for newspapers, pamphlets, or periodical literature that is accustomed to attacking the Catholic religion or good morals.

The wording of Canon 1386 is negative, and it would seem to be restrictive of the free exercise of a right, but the meaning contained in the canon, that is, that one may write for an anti-Catholic publication provided there is just and reasonable cause, is not restrictive but permissive, which suggests that it should be interpreted broadly instead of strictly.

So, here we have a canon which permits a Catholic to write for an anti-Catholic publication, provided it is done for a just and reasonable cause, but my critic believes that I cannot write for a Catholic publication at all, even if I do have a just and reasonable cause—the fact that I cannot solicit approval from my local ordinary being a moot point, because there is no local ordinary. So, do I have a just and reasonable cause to write about religion? What does the Church teach regarding this?

No one, however, must entertain the notion that private individuals are prevented from taking some active part in this duty of teaching, especially those on whom God has bestowed gifts of mind with the strong wish of rendering themselves useful. These, so often as circumstances demand, may take upon themselves, not, indeed, the office of the pastor, but the task of communicating to others what they have themselves received, becoming, as it were, living echoes of their masters in the faith. Such co-operation on the part of the laity has seemed to the Fathers of the Vatican Council so opportune and fruitful of good that they thought well to invite it. “All faithful Christians, but those chiefly who are in a prominent position, or engaged in teaching, we entreat, by the compassion of Jesus Christ, and enjoin by the authority of the same God and Saviour, that they bring aid to ward off and eliminate these errors from holy Church, and contribute their zealous help in spreading abroad the light of undefiled faith.” Let each one, therefore, bear in mind that he both can and should, so far as may be, preach the Catholic faith by the authority of his example, and by open and constant profession of the obligations it imposes. In respect, consequently, to the duties that bind us to God and the Church, it should be borne earnestly in mind that in propagating Christian truth and warding off errors the zeal of the laity should, as far as possible, be brought actively into play, (Pope Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae, 16). 

There was much more I wanted to include from Pope Leo XIII’s beautiful encyclical letter. I encourage you all to read more here. All I am is a small voice crying out in the wilderness, echoing my masters in the faith. Our Holy Father encourages those with gifts of mind to communicate the truths of the faith they have received. I don’t know what gifts of mind I may possess, being myself the poorest judge of myself, but I can say objectively that I have special training in the United States Navy as a Mass Communication Specialist. My skill sets are aptly fitted to communicating the Catholic Faith, which (I hope) is evidenced by my website design and delivery of content. As for the task of warding off errors, having received degrees in philosophy—the science, really, of identifying errors, I am again apparently aptly fitted to the task. As for zeal for the Catholic Faith, I was blessed from my baptism to be animated by an enthusiasm and passionate love of the Faith many may vouch for—just ask my former shipmates, who I would oftentimes entertain by preaching about morals during a Cleaning Stations session or sermonize on the Smoke Deck in the evenings. 

But even before the university and the Navy, I became a Catholic, not because of any Novus Ordo pastor, but because of a 300 pound, dead journalist, G.K. Chesterton. Reading his books, many of which were compilations of the 13,000 articles he wrote for almost forty years for Illustrated London News and Daily News, in weekly newspaper columns, I became convinced and was gifted with understanding and faith that the Catholic religion was true, and nothing else was. Chesterton brought actively into play his powers for writing simply but profoundly, which spoke to the masses of men without a university education. He was for everyman, because he was a man of genius. I am rather a simpleton by comparison, but I aspire to be like Chesterton in what he was able to do for whole generations of Catholics, in his own day and afterward: to make the Faith real and vivid to the imagination as well as to the intellect, to infuse into people’s souls a Christian humor that giggles as well as laments, to break through the barriers of ignorance and fear with a bulldozer or baseball bat (whatever works), and to free my fellow sheep from the inevitable death that awaits them following a wolf in a sheep or shepherd’s cloth.    

Hopefully this will silence my well-intentioned critic who says I ought not to be running a Catholic website and writing articles, so I can get back to my just and reasonable cause of defending the truth of the Faith against the heathen, heretic, schismatic and apostate. The Apocalypse sure does keep one busy, since it seems a Catholic does have–under certain conditions–freedom of the press!