Wednesday, October 14, 2015

On Archbishop Myers and Reductio ad Absurdum

As many of you might have read by now, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers recently instructed via official memorandum the Catholics of his diocese to refrain from seeking Communion if they publicly reject Church teaching and from attending events or supporting individuals in opposition to the same. The letter, distributed to priests last Friday, reads as follows:

Archbishop John J. Myers
Principles to Aid in Preserving and Protecting the Catholic Faith in the Midst of an Increasingly Secular Culture

I. The Church will continue to cherish and welcome her members and invite them to participate in her life to the degree that their personal situation permits them honestly to do so. Catholics must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments. Non-Catholics and any Catholics who publicly reject Church teaching or discipline, either by public statements or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the Sacraments. They are asked to be honest to themselves and to the Church community.

II. Parishes and other institutions of the Archdiocese should allow use of facilities only to persons and organizations which agree with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and its canonical legislation or, at least, not oppose them.

III. Catholics, especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at public religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.

September 22, 2015

+Most Reverend John J. Myers
Metropolitan Archbishop of Newark

You can view a copy of the original document here.

Now, much ink is waiting to spilled over this letter - and spilled it will be, rest assured - but I shall leave this to actual journalists better equipped at dealing with the matter in a more fitting and erudite manner. I wish here only to focus on one reaction I ran across while browsing the interwebs: that of Charles Reid, Professor of Canon Law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. In a North Jersey newsletter, he is reported to have said:
If Catholics followed the new document to the letter, even a football coach who loudly swears after a close loss or a parent who attends their gay son's wedding would be barred from seeking Communion. And the faithful would have to steer clear of rallies for presidential candidates who disagree with Catholic social doctrine - which includes many Demo­crats, who support abortion rights, and some Republicans, including Governor Christie, a Catholic who supports the death penalty and use of contraception.
In case you missed it, gentle reader, this is supposed to be an example of what's called a reductio ad absurdum or "reduction to absurdity," which is usually accomplished by demonstrating that adopting a given premise would lead - ceteris paribus - to patently absurd results.

Now, if you're like me - and I like to think that you are - chances are good that you find absolutely nothing absurd in the results mentioned by Professor Reid. In fact, they seem like good sense - if not common, then at least possessed of a healthy sensus Catholicus. If you commit a sin, you go to Confession to receive absolution before you go up for Holy Communion. My 8-year-old has this down pat.

The only absurd thing here - besides the fact that Professor Reid has the faculties to teach canon law at a Catholic university bearing the name of St. Thomas Aquinas - is that the good professor finds the idea of barring Catholics, including those who promote contraception and support abortion legislation, from the reception of Holy Communion unthinkable. So unthinkable that he actually uses it do demonstrate a reductio ad absurdum.

Let's review the teaching of the Council of Trent on the subject of receiving Holy Communion worthily:
If any one saith, that faith alone is a sufficient preparation for receiving the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist; let him be anathema. And for fear lest so great a Sacrament may be received unworthily, and so unto death and condemnation, this holy Synod ordains and declares, that sacramental confession, when a confessor may be had, is of necessity to be made beforehand, by those whose conscience is burdened with mortal sin, how contrite even soever they may think themselves. But if any one shall presume to teach, preach, or obstinately to assert, or even in public disputation to defend the contrary, he shall be thereupon excommunicated. (Council of Trent, Session 13, Canon 11)
Ouch! A professor of canon law one minute, an excommunicated heretic the next. That's gotta hurt.

Of course, I jest. I don't have the power to declare anyone excommunicated, nor to I wish to see the good professor's immortal soul put into such a deplorable state. But it did get me to thinking....

Perhaps one reason why the progressives always seem to have the upper hand is that the Hegelian dialectic is set up to grind conservative resistance into dust. If the only directional force being exerted is leftward, why be surprised at the continual leftward drift? So, what would happen if we changed things up by proposing something radically conservative - restorationist, even? For example, what would happen if a Cardinal or Bishop at the Synod started proposing that we require penitents to declare their mortal sins publicly before the entire congregation, kneel in the back during the Mass of the Catechumens, and then leave the Church before the start of the Mass of the Faithful? This was a common practice during the early medieval period, after all. If it was good enough for St. Theophilus, it's good enough for us, right? Maybe then the Church's present practice would reveal it's true character: as merciful as possible without overtly condoning sin. Or, conversely, maybe the cilice would make a comeback....


  1. Thanks for the picture of the calice. I always wondered what one looked like. This professor made himself sound quite foolish, eh? We can only be thankful he doesn't teach philosophy!

    I'm actually starting to lose interest in this Synod. What's the point in the day-to-day angst when the result will be worse than we fear, or better than we suspect. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Pray that we are ABLE to go to the sacrament of reconciliation in the future, as they have been throwing the idea up at the SYNOD FOR THE FAMILY that it may be a good idea to go back to only 'General Confessions'. It is very possible in the future to have to hunt and peck for a priest to actually HEAR confessions.


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