Epistemic Institutional Design (A reply)

A brief rejoinder to the blogger at St. Angilbert Press [EDIT: The blog is now parked by spammers, so I have removed the link] who claims that Ratzinger’s letters regarding the treatment of homosexual priests (which for him would include the so-called ephebophile priests who molested post-pubescent boys) are not infallible because they

seem… to be procedural critiques more than doctrinal or moral prognostications

and thus fail to pass the “matters of faith and morals” test for infallibility.

So far as I can tell, this is simply an argument from assertion:”This is not that.” To my mind, identifying the authority to investigate, punish, treat, and forgive is a “faith and morals” issue, as is the question of whether the principle sin in molesting adolescent boys is statutory rape or homosexuality. But let me try to respond to Angilbert’s assertion with something more than a counter-assertion. Were these “procedural rules” not matters of faith and morals, much of the Catechism Angilbert uses to justify the “faith and morals” provision itself would not qualify as infallible. They are what H.L.A. Hart called “rules of recognition.” If the rules of recognition are fallibile, none of the rules recognized can be infallibile. (This is, in general, one of the major problems with a legal system that purports to be infallible. But I’ll develop this point in the next post in this series.)

There’s a larger issue here: the distinction between procedural and substantive itself regularly trips us up. Inclusion and authority are both moral issues that frequently require us to make arbitrary distinctions in edge cases. Yet it is clearly a moral matter to ask: who has jurisdiction over criminal priests? Is it the Church, or is it the police?

Ratzinger’s letter prescribed a course of pastoral action by which such sinners ought to be reconciled and preserved from temporal authority rather than isolated by secular punishment. Is this really a matter of outside of “faith and morals”? I think not, and I think I’ve justified my claims to the contrary.

Strangely, Angilbert ducks the larger crime/sin question. He claims that molesting post-pubescent boys is homosexuality, not pedophilia, and that homosexuality is a reconcilable sin. While I don’t see the justification for calling homosexuality a sin (contra Aquinas, we see it in nature: this is a classic slippage between procedural and substantive) I do believe that non-consensual sex is a crime that must be punished, and that adolescent boys cannot give meaningful consent to adults. Is there anyone out there who actually supports the claim that these are matters that are better left to the Church’s jurisdiction? Is there anyone who can read about the secrecy order and not shudder?

Does the 1986 letter claim infallibility? Well, it’s based on the 1975 letter Sexual Personae, which Ratzinger didn’t write, and which does claim infallibility through the “constant teaching of the Magisterium and the moral sense of the Christian people.” The power and the problem with various attempts at infallibility is that they are transitive: what the ordinary and universal Magisterium proclaims in 1975 can be reproclaimed in 1986 or in 2001 with slight expansions while preserving the original infallibility. And thus “procedural” matters slowly become “substantive” matters.

Another oddity in Angilbert’s post: I was discussing the case of Father H, who we now know is Fr. Peter Hullermann. Yet Angilbert rebuts using an example of theAmerican priest Fr. Lawrence Murphy. It’s ironic that the Church’s current predicament makes it difficult to figure out which potentially-Pope-linked pedophile we’re talking about.

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