The Canonical Fate of Raymond Lahey

In a very rare move, the Holy See has decreed that Raymond Leahy, disgraced former bishop of the Diocese of Anitiginosh, Nova Scotia, has been dismissed from the clerical state. The brief press release from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops lays out clearly and succinctly the canonical effects that this administrative action carries:

According to Canon 292 of the Code of Canon Law, the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has the following effects: loss of the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except as provided for by Canon 976 of the Code of Canon Law in those cases involving danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire. Raymond Lahey has accepted the Decree of Dismissal, which also requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm and the scandal he has caused, and for the sanctification of clergy.

This is, thankfully, a very rare circumstance indeed that the Church is dealing with: a bishop found guilty of a grave public crime in both the civil-criminal and canonical spheres of jurisdiction. While we are all too familiar with similarly distasteful examples involving priests, when the offender is of episcopal rank the situation is exceedingly delicate for the Church, although not for the reasons that the average person, jaded by the decades of cover-ups and paper shuffling, would expect. The greatest fear with a disgraced bishop is that, if so inclined, he could “go rogue” and begin ordaining men as priests and even bishops without approval, creating a potentially messy schismatic situation with potentially long-lasting ramifications. Such ordinations outside the communion with the Bishop of Rome would of course be gravely illicit, and would bring immediate ecclesiastical penalties upon all involved. But, at the end of the day, they would most likely still be valid ordinations.

So I find it a fitting arrangement that the decree for Lahey has stripped him of all privileges of his presbyteral and episcopal state, but has re-iterated the obligations he assumed at his own ordination: to live celibately, to observe perfect and perpetual continence, and to pray faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours, in his case with the special intention of reparation for his failings and their impact on the entire community. It has a very old-fashioned ring to it, but he really has been directed to live out his days in prayer and penance. And I for one cannot see a better arrangement the Church could have made in this sad case.
Major Reduction in Number of Parishes Proposed in Saginaw Diocese

An all-too-common news item in recent years: Catholic dioceses in the United States closing churches and merging parishes to save costs and try to stretch reduced prebyterates farther and farther to meet the needs of the faithful. In this case, the Diocese of Saginaw (Michigan) is looking at reducing its number of parishes by as much as half of the current total of 105.

About the only heartening news I take from this piece is that it appears that (so far, at least) the process is careful, and that the plan has a properly-informed canonical direction. While the imprecise (i.e. non-canonical) wording of this article obscures this a bit, it seems that the proposals are looking at canonically altering existing parishes through merger (canon 121), and that at least some of the church buildings which are current parish churches will remain in use as “additional worship sites” within the newly-altered parish boundaries. While I find the terminology of “additional worship sites” unlovely and seeming to come more from the language of business than from the language of the Church, I do applaud the realization (which too many diocese up to this point have seemed to miss) that the disposition of church buildings and of parishes are not identical questions, and that a parish can well have more than one active, useful church building within its bounds. I hope that more dioceses will keep this in mind in the years ahead as this long and painful process is repeated all over the country.

There is more to this story...

Now this just cries out for further explanation:

The Ethiopians celebrate [the Eucharist] only on Sundays and feasts, though there is a daily Eucharist offered in some monasteries. The only ones that receive communion with relative frequency are monks, the clergy, preadolescent children and, among the adult laity, those who are canonically married. Since canonically regular unions are rare except among the clergy; and since among the married, incontinence is simply presumed unless time shows the contrary to be true; the majority of the laity never communicate after puberty.

Robert F. Taft, S.J., “The Frequency of the Celebration of the Eucharist Throughout History,” in Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year, edited by Maxwell Johnson (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000), p. 94.