It is a common experience I have, on those not infrequent occasions when I happen to consult the Code of Canon Law
. That is, the emotion of being shocked into a renewed awareness of reality, which brings with it a vivifying sense of faith and anticipatory joy, which after a moment dips into confusion and then distaste.
It might seem odd that a massive and ancient tome which details the Catholic Church's intricate legal code can inspire such a complex of emotion. The reason is simple. The laws of the Church, in short, seem to have little connection with reality.
I say this not as a criticism of the laws, but as a criticism of the reality. The laws of the Church lay out a vision of the Church and her members which is disciplined, well-ordered, ambitious, and efficient. Roles are assigned, duties are carried out, the disorderly are chastened, the sacraments are offered, the Gospel is preached, and the faithful grow in holiness and charity. Now, I'm hardly a doom-and-gloom type with regard to the state of the American church, but one has to wonder about the gaping chasm between Church law and Church life.
We will, of course, hear protests from some that Church law was never meant to reflect the reality, but is proposed as some sort of ideal to be lived up to. As if the legislators of the Church, first and foremost the Holy Father, had promulgated a Code of Canonical Ideals rather than a Code of Canon Law. Isn't the very point of laws that they should be implemented, carried out, and enforced? There's little reason to place blame on one institution or another within the Church. Blame should rather be placed on a widespread and epidemic 'culture of low expectation': The faithful see the laws of the Church as unattainable ideals, and the pastors of the Church are afraid to enforce them for fear of the appearance of tyranny.
What would be the effect, say, if even a few of these canons were actually taken seriously? I highlight only disciplinary codes because these seem the most neglected. All emphases are added.
Can. 678.2 In the exercise of an apostolate towards persons outside the institute, religious are also subject to their own Superiors and must remain faithful to the discipline of the institute. If the need arises, Bishops themselves are not to fail to insist on this obligation.
Can. 806.1 The diocesan Bishop has the right to watch over and inspect the catholic schools situated in his territory, even those established or directed by members of religious institutes. He has also the right to issue directives concerning the general regulation of catholic schools these directives apply also to schools conducted by members of a religious institute, although they retain their autonomy in the internal management of their schools.
Can. 810.1 In catholic universities it is the duty of the competent statutory authority to ensure that there be appointed teachers who are not only qualified in scientific and pedagogical expertise, but are also outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and uprightness of life
. If theserequirements are found to be lacking, it is also that authority's duty
to see to it that these teachers are removed from office, in accordance with the procedure determined in the statutes.
Can. 810.2 The Episcopal Conference and the diocesan Bishops concerned have the duty and the right of seeing to it that, in these universities, the principles of catholic doctrine are faithfully observed.
Can. 1372 A person who appeals from an act of the Roman Pontiff to an Ecumenical Council or to the College of Bishops, is to be punished with a censure.
Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites his or her subjects to hatred or animosity against the Apostolic See or the Ordinary because of some act of ecclesiastical authority or ministry, or who provokes the subjects to disobedience against them, is to be punished by interdict or other just
If these canons were even paid the slightest heed, what radical and earth-shaking changes would take place in our schools, or religious communities, our parishes and chanceries, our lay institutions and theological journals and periodicals? And any pastor who would dare to impose these canons would be seen, not as an arbitrary despot seeking to impose his own will on the faithful, but as an obedient son of the Church carrying out his morally and juridical duty. This, you see, is why I go through such emotional undulations whenever I dust off my Code.