By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Supreme Legislator Approves: Can Include Women for Pastoral Reasons

Given that the Pope has given his express approval (see statement below) and his tacit approval (he himself included females in the foot-washing rite at the juvenile jail in Rome and had the event videotaped), the debate is, for all practical purposes, legally over or "moot," although I guess opinions will continue to float around until the next controversy du jour gives more fodder to the internet. "Moot" means in legal circles, according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: "Of no practical significance or relevance." The matter is res judicata--"the matter [has been] decided." Since I do not participate (or have not participated for a long time) in the liturgical wars between different factions in the Church and have never taken a past position on the foot-washing issue, it may be easier and less painful for people like me to more quickly recognize what has happened. We are all human, as they say; and cognitive dissonance is not a pleasant experience for any of us. But the experience is familiar to all of us and may even be salutary for each of us.

At some point, the matter speaks for itself (res ipsa loquitur, as the lawyers say). But, of course, we humans can always come up with reasons not to see or to delay seeing the matter before us. I recall an interesting passage in one canon law commentary saying that "an intention is an act of the will" (see p. 90, commentary following Canon 25, in the Code published by the CLSA). Until there is another and different statement, the will of the Pope is quite clear in the statement that follows and in
his concrete acts on Holy Thursday 2013. If the will to approve a pastoral exception is clear, so is the intent to approve a pastoral exception.

The well-intentioned and honest concern of some is that the Pope has disregarded liturgical law. Nevertheless, the Pope has the power under canon law to approve liturgical customs that are contrary to ecclesiastical law (Canon 26). How can he do that without "disregarding" what may have been the liturgical law in effect when he uses that very power as legislator to approve a contrary custom? True respect for Church law means taking all of the provisions of canon law seriously, including the canon that recognizes the power of the Pope to do what he has just legally and appropriately done.

Moreover, if there are good and plausible arguments based on specific canonical reasons for the legality of the Pope's actions and if he engaged in those actions only for the sake of being Christ to the poor, why not give him the benefit of a reasonable--very reasonable, in my opinion--doubt? We give the benefit of a reasonable doubt to accused defendants all of the time. Let's do it in this case also. Doesn't the office of Pope deserve that sort of respectful and reasonable deference?

The following was issued today by the Vatican Press Office:

Here is a press release Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt & Light and Assistant to the Director of the Vatican Press Office, sent today to journalists regarding Thursday's Mass celebrated by Francis at the Juvenile Detention Center, "Casal del Marmo".

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In response to the many questions and concerns raised over Pope Francis washing the feet of 12 young people at the Roman Juvenile Detention Centre on Holy Thursday evening, especially that two were young women, Fr. Lombardi has sent me the following information to be shared with you.

One can easily understand that in a great celebration, men would be chosen for the foot washing because Jesus, himself washing the feet of the twelve apostles who were male. However the ritual of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday evening in the Juvenile Detention Centre in Rome took place in a particular, small community that included young women. When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community.

We are aware of the photos that show Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who in various pastoral settings washed the feet of young men and women. To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet on Holy Thursday night in this Roman prison, would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel, and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules.

That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.