- Ecclesiastical Law and the Year of Faith:Principles for Reflection and Application
On September 27, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI directed the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts to begin a reexamination of the penal law of the Church with the goal of revising Book VI of the Code of Canon Law to adapt it to the needs and circumstances of the present moment. As Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, expressed it well: "The initiative sprang from a deeply held conviction of the Pontiff, the fruit of years of personal experience, and from his concern for the integrity and the consistent application of Church discipline."1 The process for reform of Book VI is ongoing. What is important for the purposes of this article is not the ultimate content of the reform, but the very possibility or cause for it.
When I read with anticipation of the intention to revise ecclesiastical penal law, it led me to recall the first article I had written in the area of canon law, published in the pages of this same journal,2 and on a specific subject I would not pursue further. It sought primarily to present the history of the Church's legal discipline regarding Freemasonry. By way of conclusion, it addressed briefly the question not infrequently asked during the last several [End Page 31] decades, at least in the United States: May Catholics legitimately join the Freemasons? The legal basis for the question was one of penal law since the revised Code prohibits membership in associations that conspire against the Church. I offered summary observations on the question without giving the topic the more determined response it deserved. For some time, it has been a goal of mine to offer that more thoughtful consideration, but within a framework other than that of the strictly legal development of the matter.
Since the time the article was published, much has changed. This is not so much the case with Freemasonry itself. Nor is it the case with the Church's discipline regarding the Freemasons. What has received growing emphasis, and what has occasioned this article, is the continued flourishing of the Church's efforts with regard to promoting the new evangelization. Beginning with the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, the new evangelization was consistently emphasized throughout the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, and has in the past six years received special consideration by Pope Benedict XVI. The new evangelization has become, in effect, a hermeneutic through which the Church lives out her mission in the world today. It should be that way as well for the renewal and practice of canon law. This was stated by John Paul II:
The immediate purpose of the revision of the Code was to ensure that it embodied the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. And, given that the Council's teaching aimed at stirring new energies for a new evangelization, it is clear that the revision of the Code belongs to that series of graces and gifts which the Holy Spirit has poured out so abundantly on the ecclesial community so that, in fidelity to Christ, it will enter the next millennium seeking to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.3
Three recent events give further and immediate occasion for the consideration of the impact of the new evangelization on ecclesiastical law and discipline: the establishment by Pope Benedict XVI of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, the choice of the theme of the new evangelization for the XIII Ordinary General Synod of Bishops scheduled for October 2012, and the proclamation of a Year of Faith to begin at the same time as the synod and to run until November 2013. [End Page 32]
In hopes of contributing to this important initiative, this article will propose some elements or principles of the new evangelization that might serve as sources of reflection for the application of the new evangelization to and by ecclesiastical law. A practical vehicle for applying the principles will be the reconsideration of the original question of the article mentioned...