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The rescript, Lent, and prayers for Bishop O'Connell

Good morning everybody,

Today is Shrove Tuesday, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

Before you do anything else, do me a favor. Stop for a minute, and pray for the soul of Bishop David O’Connell, the Los Angeles auxiliary bishop who was killed on Saturday. I’ll tell you more about what happened in just a moment.

But for now, stop for a minute and pray for him. I mean it. I’ll wait for you.

May perpetual light shine upon the bishop.

And now, here’s the news.

The news

As you know, because you just prayed for him, auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell was killed on Saturday. The bishop, who died at home after a single gunshot wound, was 69 years old. He was ordained a priest in 1979, and a bishop in 2015.

On Monday, a man named Carlos Medina was arrested in connection with O’Connell’s killing, after a long standoff with police at his home in Torrance, California.

Before the press conference announcing Medina’s arrest, The Pillar was the first news outlet in the world to report that the man who had been arrested - whose name had not yet been released - was the husband of Bishop O’Connell’s housekeeper.

The date for a funeral has not been announced, and the investigation is ongoing. We’ll continue to cover this story, because a lot of questions remain unanswered — and a lot is expected to come to light in the days to come.

For now, here are the stories we’ve published to date:

LA aux O'Connell dead; cause of death unconfirmed

LA Bishop O'Connell died by 'murder,' sheriff says

'Person of interest' arrested in LA Bishop O'Connell homicide
Bishop O'Connell homicide suspect is housekeeper's husband

We’ll keep you posted, and we’ll keep digging in. God rest Bishop O’Connell.


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While many parts of the world are not so fortunate, here in the U.S. it is very rare for a bishop to be killed by homicide.

In fact, as far as we can tell, before O’Connell there had not been an American bishop killed by homicide in the U.S. since Archbishop Charles Seghers was shot in Alaska, in 1886. The bishop was shot by a guide, as they hiked together across the Alaskan wilderness.

You can read about him, and about American missionary bishops killed in other parts of the world, in this interesting account from Michelle La Rosa. Read it here.

At the Vatican on Thursday, IOR president Jean-Baptiste De Franssu testified at the sprawling Vatican criminal trial.

Back in 2019, the banker was the first to alert the Vatican’s financial authorities that the Secretariat of State’s investment in a London property might be a shell for some kind of money laundering.

On Thursday, De Franssu told the court that after he made that report, leaders of the Vatican’s financial authority pressured him to drop his opposition to the loan application. In fact, he testified that the agency’s top two officials offered to “protect” him, if he helped the Vatican Secretariat of State with the London deal, by approving a loan of 150 million euros.

The Pillar was the first to report that one of those authorities, René Brülhart, actually had a very lucrative consulting contract with the Secretariat of State, at the same time he was allegedly pressuring bankers to approve loans that had been reported to his agency for possible connections to money laundering.

Read that again. The head of the Vatican financial authority allegedly pressured a banker to make a big loan to an office engaged in a shady contract — while it was paying him as a “consultant.”

Guys, you just can’t make this stuff up. If you could make it up, no one would buy it — they’d say it was just too fantastical.

But you can read all about it, right here. The Pillar has got you covered.

Support The Pillar!

Nigeria’s national election is on Saturday, amid extraordinary violence against Christians there.

Will the election end the violence? Probably not. While the country’s leading party runs a Muslim-Muslim ticket, Catholic leaders say that Christians are being shut out of their government. And a major gathering of Muslim clerics has framed the election in religious terms, saying that the “main objective of the Muslim-Muslim ticket is a jihad to us.”

That’s probably not just rhetoric, at least not in a country with hundreds of documented deaths from terror attacks against Christian communities last year.

So what will the election mean for Christian Nigerians? Fr. Justine Dyikuk reports on a crucial moment for the country.

Luke Coppen last week interviewed Baroness Claire Fox, a pro-choice atheist, who is using her place in the British House of Lords to push back on a plan to create prayer-free buffer zones around abortion clinics across Britain.

She is, again, a pro-choice atheist, who thinks “standing outside silently praying” is a “stupid way to behave.” So why is she raising concern about the buffer zones?

It’s pretty interesting, actually, and worth reading. Fox’s political action seems to stem from her honest-to-God political convictions. That’s a rare thing these days.

You can read all about it in this fascinating, don’t-miss, conversation.

Leave a comment

Next, a story we haven’t covered today, but we will.

Reuters reported late last night that about 25 people, mostly former religious sisters, have come forward to credibly accuse Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ, of abusing them, mostly while they were in religious life in his native Slovenia, or after he moved to Rome to work as an artist, installing mosaics in churches around the world.

It had been previously known that Rupnik was accused of such abuse, and that the Vatican had declined to lift the canonical statute of limitations in order to prosecute him. But the Society of Jesus now says it will start an “internal procedure” against the priest, and that Rupnik can no longer carry out any public artistic activity, at least as long as the process endures.

We’ll dive this week into the latest on this story. In the meantime, you can read some previous Rupnik reporting from The Pillar:

Like the fact that Rupnik remains an official advisor to several Vatican departments.

That the priest was commissioned to renovate one of the most important historic sites of the Jesuit order, after he was excommunicated and sacramental abuse.

Or that as scandals swirl around the priest, some have asked what to do with his art in several high-profile American churches.

More to come.

This week’s Pillar Post is brought to you by The St. Kateri Rosary Walk internship!

Are you a college-aged man looking for a profound spiritual experience and a summer job? Do you know one? The St. Kateri Rosary Walk internship includes a real paycheck, food, room & board, and travel through the Great Southwest. Apply today, or share this with your son, brother, nephew, grandson, neighbor or any qualified young man! 

A rescript and some canon law, if you like

I woke up this morning to one of the biggest surprises of my life.

To be honest, readers, I’m not even sure exactly where to start. I guess at the beginning.

Ok, here we go:

You might recall that almost two weeks ago, I wrote an analysis which addressed some canonical problems - identified by me and by other canonists with whom I regularly compare notes - about the implementation of Traditionis custodes, as undertaken and overseen by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The central point of that analysis was that Cardinal Arthur Roche has made some canonical claims which do not conform to canon law. Most notably, the cardinal recently told some U.S. bishops by letter that Traditionis custodes contained a kind of implicit reservation to the Apostolic See of the power to dispense from its disciplinary norms, including the prohibition of celebrating the Extraordinary Form in parish churches.

The analysis pointed out that the cardinal had seemingly overstepped his authority, because can. 87 §1 provides that a bishop is only prevented from locally dispensing with universal disciplinary laws when their dispensation is “specially reserved to the Apostolic See.”

Since Traditionis custodes makes no mention of any special reservations, I wrote, there was not then a legal basis upon which to claim that bishops can’t dispense from the parish church requirement. I added that whether Cardinal Roche was doing so with or without the tacit consent of the pope, the cardinal was claiming authority which exceeded the limit of his dicastery’s legal mandate.

To my surprise, Cardinal Roche responded to my analysis last week. In response to a request for comment on the analysis, he told the website “Where Peter Is” that:

“It is an absurdity to think that the prefect of a dicastery would do anything other than exercise the wishes of the Holy Father as clearly outlined in their mandate and the General Norms of Praedicate Evangelium. The article in the Pillar is not really an attack on me but on the Pope’s authority which for Catholics is an astonishing act full of hubris.”

Don’t worry, I didn’t take it personally.

But I did write a response, which I’d meant to include in this newsletter. The response, some 2,000 words worth, aimed to explain that, per can. 87, the reservation of a dispensation to the Apostolic See, rather than to the diocesan bishop, must be made explicit in the law.

The response had footnotes and pictures and everything.

But this morning, in a rescript ex audientia sanctissimi, Pope Francis made a new law.

The law said that “the use of a parish church or the erection of a personal parish for the celebration of the Eucharist using the Missale Romanum of 1962” is now among “dispensations specially reserved to the Apostolic See.”

That about settles it. The pope saw fit to change the law, and he did so, using the genre of legislation called the rescript ex audientia sanctissimi.

Believing, as I do, in the pope’s authority as the universal legislator of the Church, I take his special reservation of that dispensation to the Apostolic See as an important piece of clarity about the implementation of Traditionis custodes, and am grateful that bishops can better implement the law with clarity about what prerogatives are theirs, and which belong to the Dicastery for Divine Worship.

I am flummoxed, I must admit, or humbled, to see that an analysis I wrote sits on a direct trajectory that led to a change in the universal law of the Church. That doesn’t happen every day.

And there might well be traditionalist Catholics who are wishing I’d kept my trap shut. Oh well. I’m not their advocate. But I care a lot about good governance, and I call it like I see it.

I’ll offer a few other notes, which will get into the canonical weeds a bit. Skip ahead if that’s not your cup of tea. I won’t be offended.

Note one:
There seems to be some question, based upon the wording of the text, about whether the pope has made new law, or whether he has authentically interpreted the original text of Traditiones custodes, or given instruction as to how it should be applied.

I’m of the mind that the pope made new law, for a few reasons.

In the first place is that the rescript ex audientia sanctissimi is a mechanism by which, among other things, the pope legislates, as Pope Francis has done before. No one would argue that the pope’s 2019 changes to the Normae de gravioribus delictis, for example, were an authentic interpretation of the law — they were a change to the law itself. This case is similar.

Second, if the pope were authentically interpreting the law as written, he would presumably say so directly, in order for the authentic character of the interpretation to be made known. And if he were giving an instruction, he would do so using the legal instrument called - believe it or not - an instruction, which, according to can. 34, “clarifies the prescripts of laws and elaborates on and determines the methods to be observed in fulfilling them.”

Third, if the pope were interpreting the law, he would be setting an extraordinary precedent — namely, the Holy Father would be indicating that dispensations can be implicitly reserved to the Apostolic See, despite the specialiter of can. 87, and the preponderance of canonical scholarship to the contrary.

I don’t think he’d do that, but if he did, the implications would be monumental. Plus, there is the text of the rescript itself, in which Pope Francis affirms that bishops might have already granted the newly reserved dispensations, and he does not call those acts invalid — he just says they should contact the Dicastery for Divine Worship to address them.

Next note:
In 2021, the Dicastery for Divine Worship issued a document, called the Responsa ad dubia, which addressed a number of implementation questions regarding Traditionis custodes.

While some claimed that document had binding force of law in the Church, others, including canonical scholars and canonically-trained journalists, disagreed. One scholar noted that the Dicastery for Divine Worship has itself clarified that responsa ad dubia - responses to questions - do not possess official force unless they are published in the official journals of the Church. He also noted that such responses don’t, in themselves, create new law. They are meant to help bishops apply laws in their dioceses — but when private responses deviate from the stated law, the stated law prevails.

And he noted that while the Dicastery for Divine Worship does have the prerogative to execute the law, to oversee Traditionis custodes, and to help bishops apply it, the pope did not give the dicastery the authority to authentically interpret the law — to officially explain what it means, or to write new laws.

Nevertheless, there will likely be some claims today that when the pope mentioned in his rescript the Responsa ad dubia, he was affirming that the text had had some binding legal force. But for my part, I do not actually see that in the text of the pope’s rescript. Instead, the pope affirmed this morning that the dicastery exercises vicarious administrative authority with regard to Traditionis custodes — a fact that I don’t think anyone has called into question.

And since we’re talking about the Responsa ad dubia, it’s worth noting that the 2021 text never actually claimed that the “parish church dispensation” was reserved.

Here’s the text of the relevant section:

The Responsa asks this question: “Can the diocesan Bishop ask the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for a dispensation from the provision of the Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes, Art. 3 § 2, and thus allow [the Extraordinary Form] in the parish church?

The answer to that question is yes, just like Roche’s dicastery said it was.

Of course the bishop can ask the dicastery for a dispensation! The dicastery is competent for a lot of things. But that’s not the question some cardinals believed it was. It was a different question from this one: “Must the diocesan bishop petition the dicastery for a dispensation because the dispensation is reserved, or can he give it himself?”

Must the diocesan bishop petition the dicastery because the dispensation is reserved?

“Yes,” Pope Francis answered today, “it is now.”

That’s the law now. Per canon 9, it is not retroactive, but it is the law now.

But as to the Responsa ad dubia: Even if it had binding interpretative or legislative authority - which it doesn’t - it didn't actually reserve the dispensation. It just affirmed that the dicastery had dispensing power, without actually making a formal or explicit judgment on the prerogative of the diocesan bishop.

Third note:
I’ve seen questions this morning about whether this particular reservation is really in keeping with the instruction of Christus dominus 8 regarding the proper prerogative of the diocesan bishop, or in accord with the pope’s vision of a more synodal and decentralized Church.

I leave that to others to debate, but with this caveat: It’s up to the Roman pontiff to apply the Church’s doctrinal principles in law, and the See of Peter is judged by no one.  

We’ll cover reactions and debate, but from my point of view, the pope has spoken, and his law is binding.

Final note:
There is, actually, a legal issue worth examining in the pope’s Feb. 21 rescript, mentioned to me this morning by a canonist who preferred not to be named.

You might have noticed that the rescript addresses two things — the parish church issue, and the issue of the bishop’s need for permission from Rome before he permits recently ordained priests to offer the Extraordinary Form.

When Traditionis custodes was first published, the initially promulgated texts, in various languages, said that a bishop must consult with the Dicastery for Divine Worship before permitting priests ordained after the motu proprio to celebrate the older liturgy. In December 2021, Roche’s dicastery said that was actually a problem with translation, and that the official Latin edition, which had not previously been released, required that bishops do more than consult — that they needed to get permission from the dicastery before letting newly ordained priests offer the older Mass.

All of that was a bit controversial, and some people cried foul about the appearance of a switch from the published versions of the text to a suddenly emerging official version with a different meaning.

The Feb. 21 rescript apparently aims to address that — it says that with regard to “the granting of permission to priests ordained after the publication of Motu proprio Traditionis custodes to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962,” the “dispensation” is “reserved in a special way to the Apostolic See.”

Here’s the question: What dispensation?

A dispensation, according to can. 85, is “the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law in a particular case.”

A permission is not the relaxation of a law, formally speaking — and in fact can. 59 distinguishes between “dispensations” and “permissions,” when it says they are both species of rescripts, administrative acts in law.

So what’s going on here?

It seems clear that the pope probably means to say: “Hey. You bishops really have to get the dicastery’s permission before you allow young priests to say the old Mass.”

Fair enough.

But that’s not concretely what the law actually says, since dispensations and permissions are not the same thing. Formally speaking, the new law now refers to an unnamed dispensation - perhaps it would be formally interpreted to mean a dispensation from the requirement of obtaining permission.

In that case, today’s rescript would be saying something like this: “Hey bishops, if you want a dispensation from the requirement of asking us for a permission, you need to ask for that dispensation from us.”

I don’t know if this will be clarified or not, but I do know that what the law says, and what the pope seems to mean are not nearly aligned in the text.

Ok, just one more thing:
Some of you might be asking what any of this has to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s a very fair question. Canonists have to answer it all the time.

And for me, the answer is this – Our law is meant to order our ecclesial society in such a way that grace, faith, and charisms have primacy. The law is meant to ensure that we all respect one another, and respect God himself, as we work together for the mission of the Church: the proclamation of the Kingdom, the worship of God, the care of the poor.

Law aims to “safeguard the unity of God’s people.” — Pope Francis said that.

He also said that canon laws “reflect the faith” - that they’re drawn from our doctrine - and that they have a “salvific end.”

In other words, being a society of laws helps us to be a society of Christians. And because I believe the pope believes that, I think it’s worth wanting the law to be clear about what’s expected of every member of the Church. Knowing that helps us to live our vocations. Ambiguity about that leads too often to confusion, frustration, and hurt.

Law gives us clarity, or it’s meant to, and without it, societies became afraid, sclerotic, or disenchanted.

I don’t want Christians to be disenchanted. I don’t want to be disenchanted myself, for that matter, which is why I think that it’s important curial officials observe the law, and Catholics - at least some of us - be attentive to what the law is.

Because good governance helps us become saints.

In the meantime, there may well be another round of all this. But for now, whatever Catholics think of the pope’s new legislation, I am grateful that the pope aimed to address an issue of real difficulty in the Church’s life, in the manner he judged best.

I’m grateful for Cardinal Roche, and grateful to have him as a Pillar reader.

And I know he is right that I often have too much hubris. I will work on it this Lent, I’m sure of it.

I’m also grateful for the gift of the Church, and, as a Catholic, grateful that God has given us a pope as his vicar, and a Roman curia to assist him.  

May Our Lady, the Mirror of Justice, pray for us all.

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— Lent and The Last Word

Finally, Lent begins tomorrow.

And to prepare appropriately, Luke Coppen interviewed Bishop Erik Varden, the Trappist bishop-prelate of Trondheim, Norway. We like talking to Bishop Varden, because he talks richly of his interior life, and he offers cogent advice for those who are beginners in the spiritual life.

On Lent:

The whole point of Lent is to prepare us precisely for Christ’s victory over death. There’s a case for saying that that is the fundamental dichotomy of Christianity. We easily think of Christianity, of the New Testament, as being structured on the dichotomy of sin/grace, sin/forgiveness, sin/redemption, and that is true.

But the fundamental conflict is between life and death. What we’re being taught during Lent is that death is real, as a consequence of sin, but it hasn’t got the last word.

On prayer:

The first thing would be to follow the Church’s liturgy. Just reading the Collects for Lent is a marvelous exercise. We simply don’t realize what a treasure we have in that great collection of prayers. Taking the Collect for each day, reading it slowly, and analyzing it to make sure I really understand what it says — because those are very, very dense texts — then trying to apply it to my life. That would be an excellent way of praying in Lent.

Perhaps Lent could be a good time to discover a bit of the Divine Office. Compline, for instance. Go to Mass more often.

Basically, praying with the Church is the fundamental thing to do. And it’s an extremely nourishing and life-giving thing to do.

Really, while you’re getting ready for Lent, please read this.

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And as we begin Lent, just a word of thanks for your support to The Pillar. We see so much in need of reporting in the life of the Church, and we would love to add more great reporting to our project — to be able to benefit from the serious, faithful, Catholic reporting of really qualified people, who are alive in faith, around the world, and in the U.S.

But as you know, we chose to be funded mostly by subscribers, because we believe your interests align with ours — you want serious, courageous, cogent and Catholic reporting and analysis, not clickbait or nonsense. And you let us deliver that kind of reporting.

If you’ve been thinking about subscribing, maybe today is the day. That way I can buy Ed, and my kids, some pancakes or king cake or something before Lent starts.

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Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.
And thank God for the gift of the Church.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

This week’s Pillar Post is brought to you by The St. Kateri Rosary Walk internship!

Are you a college-aged man looking for a profound spiritual experience and a summer job? Do you know one? The St. Kateri Rosary Walk internship includes a real paycheck, food, room & board, and travel through the Great Southwest. Apply today, or share this with your son, brother, nephew, grandson, neighbor or any qualified young man!