Thursday, September 24, 2009

Peters on Burke on the Catholic Funeral of the Year

Finally, canonist Ed Peters replies to the recent controversial Burke comments about Ted Kennedy's Catholic funeral. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed. I was hoping he'd address the overwhelming majority of the people at that InsideCatholic dinner who went home convinced that Burke was voicing authoritative, unequivocal opposition to Ted Kennedy's Catholic funeral and participation therein by Catholic prelates. Instead, Peters' treatment is a highly lawyerly and defensive piece of academic legerdemain that misses the forest for the trees.

Peters seems more interested in avoiding the appearance of conflict between his original post on the EMK funeral and the statements of canon law's top dog (which have yet to be released as a full transcript). This is standard lawyerthink: present your position as humbly conforming with a higher authority. So Peters starts out punching at a red herring popular with the dissenting Catholic left: Burke said "the Church erred." But it's a strawman issue that distracts from what conservative or orthodox Catholics have been wrestling with in the wake of the EMK funeral.

It's fine to point out the obvious: Burke never said the Church erred, but that hems around the question of whether Burke was communicating his opposition to episcopal blessing bestowed upon EMK. Clearly, Deal Hudson at Crisis Magazine thought Burke to be opposed. And I'd bet Raymond Arroyo felt nothing but smug vindication by Burke. Pro-life websites are now explicitly claiming Burke (who is their current incarnation of the Code of Canon Law) condemns granting Catholic funeral rites to pro-choice Catholics like EMK (here, here).

But Peters doesn't really address this beyond acknowledging "how the people are confused." Instead he cleverly spins Burke's comment on public signs of repentance as prescriptive, rather than descriptive of the law. For Peters, Burke was simply stating his advocacy of future amendments to the Code or canonical jurisprudence. The takeaway, however, for most has been that Burke's opposition to Catholic funerals for pro-choice Catholics is descriptive of the current state of canon law (ius vigens). Peters waves us off from finding in Burke's speech any criticism or opposition to his brother bishops (or Peters) who signed off on the funeral. I seriously doubt anyone left the dinner with anything close to this interpretation in mind. Peters may or may not be right on Burke's actual intentions, but it ignores the fact that Burke never stated that he "wants to see canon law come to require 'public signs of repentance'" in the future; and thus it's just as speculative as David Gibson's claim that Burke condemns O'Malley & McCarrick's participation in EMK's funeral (which is tellingly similar to what Arroyo, et al, are saying as well).

Sure, Peters can argue that he's a canonist and this is precisely what canonists do. But I'd counter that his audience is not primarily academic. Hands down, Peters is the premier canonist for the Catholic blogosphere. At the end of the day, Peters is completely in the right on the canonical merits of EMK's funeral. I just wish he were a bit more honest about what Burke actually did say and how it gave fuel to more, not less, confusion.