Back to the Future: Nemo iudex in propria causa

SynodI avoid Church politics whenever I can. But two sentences, written by Ross Douthat, offer too much insight for me to resist. Regarding the Synod on the Family, Douthat wrote:

The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future.

Regarding paragraphs 84-86 of the final Synod report, which outline the so-called “opening” to Holy Communion in second marriages: ambiguity does not help us very much, as the New York Times has somehow managed to point out clearly.

The “internal forum solution” first made an appearance when the “aging progressives” were young. The idea is:

I make a marriage vow. Time does not give it proof. I find myself married to someone else. I conclude in my heart of hearts that my first marriage vow never really bound me.

Instead of petitioning the Church for a declaration of nullity (a declaration based on objective evidence and the testimony of witnesses), I effectively grant myself an annulment internally, in the confessional, and the priest accepts my judgment.

marriage_sacramentI don’t mean to offend anyone by lampooning this. Many people have endured much pain, and no one should make light of it.

But the internal-forum approach smacks of danger: the danger of rationalization, in the service of self-justification.

In fact, the supreme authority of the Church has rejected the “internal-forum solution.” In 1994. (Re-iterated in 1998.)

And rejected not with simply an authoritarian ‘non placet.’ Rejected with what appear to me to be unassailable arguments:

1. Marriage is not a private business, but a public one.

2. The legal procedure for petitioning for an annulment provides the fair opportunity for expressing one’s conviction that a prior vow does not bind, according to objective criteria. Other parties to the matter get their chance to speak, too.

3. Nemo iudex in propria causa: No one can objectively judge his own case.

My question is: With clear guidance from the Apostolic See having already been given, what priest in good conscience could change anything at this point? Advise someone to approach Holy Communion, or even remain silent when the matter is laid before you, without first exhorting the penitent to avoid what is unlawful in the current relationship and practice chastity as friends in the Lord instead? Like the NYT says, ambiguity doesn’t really do anyone any good here.

Of course, we await any further guidance the chief shepherds decide to give. And, let’s remember, no one I know makes a habit of refusing Holy Communion to people who appear to know how to receive. In the end, this whole business really is a matter of conscience, since there are no Holy-Communion Police.

But I can’t see how a priest who tries to follow the rules could regard #Synod15 as a mandate to change anything.


4 thoughts on “Back to the Future: Nemo iudex in propria causa

  1. A few important things that made me feel love and respect for the Catholic Church are that, up front and outloud, she announces that marriage is for a man and a woman, and a baby is a human being filled with spirit from the very first second life begins.

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