In my recent post I asked, “So why the hostility from so many conservative Catholics? I am not certain, but from what I have heard over the years, I don’t think many conservative Catholics have much trust in the average parish priest, especially here in America. But then, they don’t seem to have much trust in bishops, taken as a class, either. And from these responses to Amoris Laetitia they clearly don’t trust the Pope. So I find myself wondering in whom, or in what, they do place their trust.”
Well, here’s something of an answer from Rusty Reno: canon law. “On the matter of the divorced and remarried, Francis turns the pastor into the arbiter of who can and cannot receive communion—a decision based on a priest’s judgment of the interior spiritual condition of an individual Catholic. Francis sets aside the objective clarity of canon law, something that gives the lay Catholic a place to stand and leverage against limitless clerical discretion.”
That’s helpful, and it certainly confirms my sense that for many conservative Catholics priests are simply not to be trusted. However, I also think it raises questions about whether canon law, or any law, can be so specific and detailed as to eliminate the need for judgment — whether the legislative branch of any law-governed organization, so to speak, can supplant the judicial branch. Won’t judgment always be needed? And in these matters isn’t such judgment always and necessarily, at least to some degree, meant to discern “the interior spiritual condition of an individual Catholic”? (Think of the confessional and the sacrament of Penance, in which priests don’t just read off a card but are expected to make discerning evaluations.) And even if canon law could replace prudential judgment, would that be any less “clerical” a mode of discipline, given that canon law is written and implemented by clerics?