Thursday, June 15, 2006

Justice for Terri Schiavo -- and for marriage

The brilliant canon lawyer Ed Peters has posted on his blog again (link above) about Michael Schiavo's attempted marriage to Jodi Centonze, the woman with whom he lived while his wife Terri was still alive. That attempt at marriage was apparently given a blessing by the current bishop of St. Petersburg, Robert Lynch.

Ed has expanded his earlier and most excellent comments on the attempt in a new article in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, a fact to which the current post is alerting his readers.

But he also makes the point that canon lawyers, unlike civil lawyers in the U.S., can only investigate a situation and make comments and suggestions. They cannot act like prosecutors or attorneys general and compel bishops or anyone else to do anything.

That is certainly the case and rightly so. The structure of the Church was established by Christ Himself and was set in place for a very good purpose. For a lawyer to try to usurp the three-fold office of the bishop -- to teach, to sanctify and to govern -- would be to usurp the authority of Christ Himself.

However, when someone like Bishop Lynch allows with virtually no comment the deliberate murder by starvation of a young woman by her husband, and then allows that husband who has murdered his wife to marry within the Catholic Church the woman with whom he lived and called "fiancé" while his wife was still alive, that cries out for justice. How that justice is brought about, I don't know. Certainly the civil authorities aren't going to do anything since the courts allowed it to go forward.

Not only is this an unjust situation in terms of the outrage against Terri Schiavo's life and the meaning of her marriage to Michael, it's also an unjust act against marriage itself. It renders marriage meaningless. That is why canon (c. 1090) -- and civil -- laws do not allow it.

So it seems to me that the Church has quite a different place to take here and that something should be pursued within her courts. Can a layperson sue a bishop in ecclesiastical court? Can it be immediately brought to the Congregation of Bishops? Should Michael Schiavo be sued in ecclesiastical court for marrying by fraud? Should his pastor be sued? If so, by whom?

If anyone has insight on this, I would certainly appreciate hearing it.

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