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Working 9 to 5, conspiracy bingo, and the shipping news

Happy Friday friends,

Hope your week was alright. It’s Friday, week six in Ordinary Time. I have no thoughts about that, profound or trivial. It’s what it is.

So here’s some news.

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Earlier this week, Pope Francis made a number of changes to the codes of canon law for both the Latin and Eastern Churches. As promised, we went line by line, canon by canon to break down the changes and explain what’s going on and why it matters.

So, whether you’re a judicial vicar who needs to swot up for a meeting with the boss, a diocesan bishop who wants to be able to look his JV in the eye with confidence during that meeting, or just a Catholic who understands that canon law matters, we have what you need.

You can read our explainer here.

One of the key changes to the Code made by Pope Francis, which has gone widely unremarked upon, is a shift in how national programs for priestly formation are approved.

The USCCB has been locked in a protracted back and forth with Rome’s Congregation for Clergy on the subject and are currently three years late in getting the sixth edition of the PPF approved. The main stumbling block has been the Vatican’s insistence on a requirement for an initial “propaedeutic” period of formation, focused on human and spiritual formation, take place separately from academic studies.

Now, with the new changes to canon law, Rome is meant to exercise a much lower level of scrutiny of the draft — perhaps paving the way for a ‘win’ for the U.S. bishops.

Read all about it.  

Speaking of the future of seminary formation in the United States, we reported this morning that the bishops’ draft for the Program for Priestly Formation doesn’t incorporate a call to build a national screening database of applicants to seminaries and religious orders.

The idea was proposed by formators at one prominent U.S. seminary back in 2016, following an especially horrifc case which, they said, could have been avoided if they had known the student had already been rejected by 45 other dioceses before being admitted to study.

We were able to confirm the policy proposal was received and discussed by the conference’s committee on clergy, vocations, and consecrated life, but the USCCB declined to comment on why the policy wasn’t taken up.

Read all about it here.


For most families, in most parts of the country, life is beginning to edge back to “normal” as COVID restrictions are lifted. But, at least for some, months of lockdown were a time to reflect on priorities and consider if — maybe — life could be done differently, better, even.

In this week’s installment of conversations with interesting people, Charlie Camosy talks to Cate Harmeyer, director of Catholic campus ministry at Christopher Newport University in Virginia.

Cate has had a long career in education and faith formation, as well as being a mother of two. Coming out of coronatide, she and her family have reordered nearly everything about how they do work, home, and school life, and found a new balance which, for them at least, has been incredibly enriching. 

It’s a very interesting conversation about revisiting how we tend compartmentalize our lives and live by a clock, and what can happen when a family decides it isn’t about working 9 to 5 anymore.

Read the whole thing here. 

And then play this song, because I like it.

Court’s in session

The Vatican City court is back in session today for the trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu et al. We will bring you a full round up of the day’s proceedings once they wrap. I’m curious to see if Cardinal Becciu was back in court, following his decision to boycott the last hearing, which, his lawyers told the judges, had sunk beneath his dignity.

Becciu was back in the news earlier this week as part of another unusual story. 

I haven’t been following the Durham inquiry, which I gather is examining the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Frankly, for following the details of labyrinthine investigations overlaid with conflicting narratives and outlandish accusations against public figures, I already cover the Vatican for work, thanks very much. 

But Durham’s dog and pony show wandered across my bingo card this week when I read details of a pre-trial filing he’d made related to a case he’s bringing. Apparently, accusations of collusion between the Trump camp and a Russian bank (I think? Like I said this is complicated) were stood up to the CIA with data gleaned from servers linked to the White House and Trump Tower. 

The data was presented to the spooks by a Democrat affiliated lawyer, who got it from a tech company called Neustar — coincidentally the same company Cardinal Becciu was paying millions of dollars to in Australia in 2016-17, during the height of the Cardinal Pell drama over there. 

What Becciu was paying Neustar for we don’t yet know; he told us last year it was “classified,” but he has assured us it was nothing to do with Cardinal Pell. From what I have read about the company, $2 million would probably buy you something pretty interesting. 

You can catch up on what we know here.

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They/their problem with I/we

Last week on the podcast and on the site, JD and I talked a lot about the recent flare-up in the whole “we baptize you” scandal. 

This week saw the story break through to the secular media, only two years behind the curve, with major outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the New York Times to CNN rushing to wheel out comment pieces and Q & As with anyone willing to sneer at the Vatican’s 2020 declaration that baptisms attempted using the first person plural pronoun are invalid.

I found this thought provoking, on a few levels. 

There is, of course, the irony. Outlets like the Times and the Post have run myriad pieces in recent years about the use of “preferred pronouns,” including referring to someone in the singular vs plural, and how failure to get it right is an abuse of power and a tool of oppression. 

Speech like that, I have read more than once in zer pages, is a kind of violence; words have real effects, and ze are usually the first to insist on it. 

It requires a particular kind of doublethink to hold that the Church is being absurdist and quibbling in saying there is a material difference between saying “I” and saying “we,” while holding that saying “she” instead of “they” is akin to assault. 

It would be funny, if the setup to the joke wasn’t the descent of our public discourse into self-referential existential madness. 

Aside from the tragicomedy of the pronoun wars, we as a society normally have little difficulty in accepting, even demanding, that the use of the right words at the right time by the right person is essential. As one reader pointed out to me in an email this week: when the police fail to properly Mirandize an arrestee, no one disputes (especially no one at the Washington Post) that a legal event has become invalid, with all the consequences that entails. It’s only in religion, it seems, that words become just noises squirted through our throats. 

At the root of much of the incredulity we have seen is, I think, the belief that all that really matters is what one wants. Religion and liturgy, as with all beliefs in secular society, have value only in as much as they are affirming, not causing problems for people. This is how someone can rationalize dismissing sacramental matter and form as just dress up and make-believe, but insist that, say, a kindergarten boy pulling a dress out of a costume box is medical science. 

Where the two examples converge is the central tenet of modern philosophy: it’s not about what anyone says or does, it’s how you feel inside that matters, and religion is all, to the modern mind, about feelings, not reality.  

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Of course, it isn’t quite fair to lay all the blame for bad commentary about the Church’s teaching at the feet of editors. Many of those denouncing the Church’s sacramental teachings on zer airwaves or in zer pages have been priests, who seem remarkably confident dismissing the Church’s teaching as “ridiculous” and “mind-boggling.” 

JD and I have already written about the catechetical crisis this whole mess seems to have illuminated; many Catholics are sincerely crying out for clarity about what is going on — not necessarily with skepticism, but genuine desire to understand. 

The reason for the confusion is, perhaps, more easily understood when we see quite so many media priests primed, at a moment’s notice, to mock the idea that sacraments are genuine binding realities, and dismiss a Jesuit pope and prefect as quibbling, pettifogging legalists. 

(I’d note here that it has long been my view that you should keep a weather eye on any priest with a steady cable news gig. As suspect classes go, in my book, they are up there with clerics who spend all their time talking about other people’s sexuality on Twitter.) 

Without rehashing the CDF’s rationale, which I have said already has been badly explained, I would simply note that, according to the arguments some of these media clergy have made, there would be nothing theologically wrong or sacramentally invalidating with saying “this is OUR body” in the consecration. 

But perhaps they do say that, when the mood takes them.

However bad and confused this story has been in the breaking, it seems likely that the bishops will have to come up with a more coherent response as more and more dioceses discover they have a problem in their own backyards. A key part of that response, one hopes, will be bishops learning to talk about this subject rather more fluently than Twitter priests and cable news clerics.

In addition to Detroit and Phoenix, which have had noteworthy “we baptize you” cases, the Diocese of San Diego announced that it had identified a similar problem practitioner in a parish. 

In response, Bishop Robert McElroy said that "Fortunately, this is essentially a pastoral dilemma rather than solely a matter of church law.”

“The theology of the Church teaches that God binds himself to the efficacy of validly celebrated sacraments,” McElroy acknowledged, before going on to say that “The bounty of God's grace powerfully suggests that any men and women who were possibly baptized so long ago have received from the Lord the graces of baptism and all that goes with them in their lives. And thus they should be at ease.” 

The bishop is indisputably right that this is a pastoral dilemma, and he is also right to assert that this is not a matter of simply Church law — it is a matter of teaching and faith, and the sacraments as Christ gave them to the Church, which the Church has no power to change. 

I, of course, agree with him that God can and certainly does act outside the sacramental economy, and that no one who has been invalidly baptized in this way should fear for their salvation on that score.

But as for “receiving the graces of baptism and all that goes with them”? Perhaps the bishop might phone Fr. Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who discovered that isn’t so, and had to be rebaptized, confirmed, and ordained when he learned he’d been baptized with a “we.”

Reading the CDF’s actual text, I would suggest that the real dilemma McElroy faces is not quite what he thinks it is.

“It is impossible twenty years later to analyze the nature of each specific baptismal formula that was used in individual baptisms, find the person who was baptized, and rebaptize them,” McElroy said. 

But, when asked if “those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized [with the correct formula]” the CDF responded simply “Affirmative.” 

That’s a dilemma alright.

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The Shipping News

I don’t know if you have been following the fate of Felicity Ace, the Panama-flagged cargo ship. She was sailing some 90 nautical miles southwest of the Azores, en route to America from Germany carrying Porsche and VW cars, when a fire broke out Wednesday morning. 

The 22-man crew abandoned ship. Half were picked up by a passing tanker, Resilient Warrior, and the other half were recovered from life rafts. All have now been airlifted to hospital and are said to be fine. But the Felicity is adrift, with a Portuguese naval ship steaming to the area.

Here’s what’s cool — the law. I’m fascinated by the Law of the Sea. It’s the only functioning legal system nearly as old as canon law, dating back at least to the Lex Rhodia and Justinian’s Digest. 

Not too many years ago, having finished canon law studies, I was living in London basically looking for a way to make a living. The Mrs. suggested I consider seeing what, if any, profitable forms of lawyering I might learn easily having a canon law degree, and I proposed getting an LLM in maritime law and qualifying as an admiralty court lawyer. 

Once she realized I was being serious, she… didn’t go for it, and we didn’t really have the money anyway. But I’ve been stuck on it as a hobby subject ever since.

In the case of Felicity Ace, the owners, despite the crew having abandoned ship, have not relinquished legal rights — so the ship is not just up for grabs, despite what you might have seen on social media. But it is now subject to salvage law, and here’s what’s cool about that:

While, legally, anyone can mount a salvage operation provided there’s no opposition from the rightful owner (there’s a line between salvage and plunder you know), most of the time companies look to hire professional salvage firms that keep ships ready to mount rescue operations in cases like this. Felicity’s owner’s have appointed one, and their team is gearing up in the Azores right now.

Now, while they might engage such a company, they can’t actually agree on a fee in advance — that’s a condition of a legal salvage operation. When the ship is saved it gets towed to port, where the value of the saved ship and cargo is assessed by an admiralty court and a percentage awarded to the salvage crew as fee. 

Maritime courts have a six point jurisprudential test they apply in deciding how big the percentage is, factoring in the risks taken, the relative success of the venture, the value of the cargo and ship, and, of course, loss of life or equipment in the salvage. It’s fairly intuitive stuff. 

But here’s a fun fact — you’d think professional salvage companies and crews would be awarded at a lower rate, right? They’re pros, after all: the risks are (presumably) lower and they have the right kit for the job compared to amateurs who take it on in an emergency. Wrong. 

Professional salvagers actually get a higher percentage in court awards as a matter of justice, since their existence is considered a benefit to the common good and keeping salvage fleets in the water ready to go is expensive. Fascinating, right?

I could go on, and I know you’d like me to. But we’ll leave it there.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon


The Pillar

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