Further Canonical Observations on Cardinal O’Brien

Cardinal O’Brien’s situation continues to develop and to raise more questions.

News that his resignation, submitted late last year, has been accepted by Rome and that he will voluntarily remove himself from the conclave confirms the grave seriousness of the allegations made against him.

The speed with which he has departed from office and taken himself out of the conclave (it is unclear as yet whether he will simply not attend or if he is resigning from the College) is remarkable, as is the adherence thus far to canonical process. As was mentioned in an earlier post, the complaint was made privately, through the proper channels, directly to the Holy See and there was no conflation of civil and canonical process, yielding a very quick result indeed.

This contrasts with the increasingly ugly situation in Los Angeles involving the former Archbishop, Cardinal Mahoney, who shielded priests who violated canon 1395 §2 from exposure. Since the release, by his successor Archbishop Gomez, of curial documents showing the scale of his involvement, Cardinal Mahoney has engaged in a very ugly, very public exchange with Archbishop Gomez, who has issued canonically empty (see c.357 §2) decree removing Mahoney from ‘public ministry’. Members of the Archdiocese have organised a petition to bar Mahoney from the conclave while he continues to assert his right to attend and insists he will travel to Rome.

Both situations are extremly regrettable and do horrific damage to the Church and the faith of those involved.

In these situations the Church is often criticized for being insitutional, slow moving and unable to react. Yet, as the situation around Cardinal O’Brien has shown, the truth is that the canonical process can actually proceed remarkably swiftly if used properly. Canon law is the oldest complete legal system in current use, dating back, depending on where you distinguish it from Roman law, at least 1200 years. Frustration, confusion and acrimony usually arrises when the process is ignored or improperly applied, as has happened in Los Angeles.


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