Vatican 2 Theology: The Basis for Traditionalists’ Stance on Canon Law and Epikeia

Vatican 2 Theology: The Basis for Traditionalists’ Stance on Canon Law and Epikeia

© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author. All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)

“The sacred Canon Law against which the rebellious wills and shallow intellects of men have ever clamoured is the noblest, highest, purest legislation that mankind has ever known. The jurisprudence of the Church is the perfection of wisdom and justice,” (Henry Cardinal Manning, from his work “The Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost.”)


Already on this site the liberal-based interpretive theory of jurisdiction among Traditionalists has been addressed and explained and its inapplicability in the present situation made abundantly clear. Basically the Canons Traditionalists have officially appealed to in the past, 209 and 2261§2 cannot be invoked for the following reasons. To begin with, Rev. Francis Miaskiewicz and others juridically define the supplying principle in Can. 209, “the Church,” as the Pope, and without a true pope no jurisdiction can be supplied. Furthermore, Can. 209 presupposes that the priests considered for such jurisdiction are both validly and licitly ordained and are members of the Church (who have not incurred censures for apostasy, heresy or schism in a notorious manner), but this cannot be proven where Traditionalists are concerned. It also must be pointed out that Can. 2261§2 is an exception to the law and must be interpreted strictly, (Can. 19). This means that it cannot be stretched beyond its ordinary application to include those who are notorious heretics and schismatics (having adhered to the Novus Ordo and any of its services) or those who, having been ordained or consecrated by bishops without the necessary papal mandate and not in communion with a canonically elected pope are now unable to validly exercise their orders. Finally, Canon Law itself provides the rules necessary to resolve a doubt of law or fact and the interpretative theory ignores the obligation to follow this requirement. If any doubt exists concerning the validity of the Sacraments, they can neither be conferred nor received, (DZ 1151).

How is it that those who founded Traditionalism arrived at the conclusion that it was permissible for them to relax these laws and to disobey and disregard them, as they have routinely done since they embraced the various Traditionalist movements? The answer can be found in an article printed in the May 1965 edition of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review by one Fr. Robert G. Wesselmann, J.C.L., (“Canon Law: Criticisms and Reactions”). Wesselmann begins by saying: “When Pope John XXIII announced plans for an Ecumenical Council in 1959, he immediately indicated that one goal would be revision of the Code of Canon Law. At first canonists thought of revision merely in terms of tidying up the present Code — eliminating inconsistencies in terminology, incorporating laws enacted since 1917 and changing a few specific laws…in accordance with Conciliar decrees. Now even canonists are having second thoughts about the place of law in the mission of the Church.”

Some, he says, wished to abolish the law altogether; others were firm in insisting that the law must simply be obeyed and respected, not attenuated. Wesselemann comments: “There is need for public opinion that thinks of renewal in Canon Law in terms which lie midway between these two extremes,” and this statement sends up red flags. First, what role could public opinion possibly hope to play in numerous ancient laws that reflect the disciplinary traditions of the Church, including 4,000 citations from papal constitutions, 1,200 from ecumenical councils, 11,200 from the Roman Curia and 800 taken from liturgical books, numbers estimated by Rev. Amleto Cicognani? And secondly, why is it necessary to compromise with such people? The “midway” mark is nothing less than the thinly disguised thesis, antithesis, synthesis methodology of the Communists who having infiltrated the Church, were intent on moving Catholic truth ever closer to their desired ecumenical and humanist standards. Below we will see how already in 1965, this effort was well underway.

Catechetical renewal and Canon Law

The remarks made by Wesselmann under this heading show just how ignorant Catholics were of their faith in the 1960s, even those who had enjoyed a Catholic education, and how some were afflicted by scruples, especially where morals were concerned. It leads Wesselmann to observe that something was basically wrong with the Catholic school system or those teaching in it, and/or the education priests received in the seminary, and we opt for the latter. Wesselmann quotes Andrew Greeley who posed the question: Which is more important, love of neighbor or not eating meat on Friday? Greeley says that 53 percent responded not eating meat. Yet the question is not qualified; loving God is far superior to love of neighbor, and we show our love for God in abstaining from meat on Friday. Clerics had long before forgotten that it was their responsibility to ensure that Catholics understood Church teaching and Canon Law, something they woefully failed to do, as evidenced by the mass acceptance of the false Vatican 2 council. Rather than reform the schools, or the seminaries, vocations declined dramatically and schools routinely closed, which was the secret plan of the usurpers all along.

Canon Law and the Liturgy

“Most of the disdain for Canon Law stems from the liturgical renewal…Much of the criticism is [not] aimed at the Code of Canon Law but at the pharisaical abuse of the law…Yet Canon Law must be partially blamed, at least by defect, for the legalism which the liturgists decry.” Isn’t this the very accusation of legalism Pope Pius XII so roundly condemns in Mystici Corporis, where he wrote: “Not only should we cherish exceedingly the Sacraments with which holy Mother Church sustains our life, the solemn ceremonies which she celebrates for our solace and our joy, the sacred chant and the liturgical rites by which she lifts our minds up to heaven, but also the sacramentals and all those exercises of piety by which she consoles the hearts of the faithful and sweetly imbues them with the Spirit of Christ. As her children, it is our duty, not only to make a return to her for her maternal goodness to us, but also to respect the authority which she has received from Christ in virtue of which she brings into captivity our understanding unto the obedience of Christ. Thus we are commanded to obey her laws and her moral precepts, even if at times they are difficult to our fallen nature…”

Wesselmann then goes on to champion the “’rights of every person in the Church…for whom the liturgy exists’…The Code sins by defect in not promoting the use of a living pastoral theology. Nor does it provide legal structures for dialogue between the various levels of membership in the Church…In the Code, the emphasis is on institutional rights, on the rights of authority, not on the place of God’s people in the Church and their rights.” So we know that the Code, compiled of numerous binding conciliar and papal teachings regarding the liturgy was opposed to the implementation of the Novus Ordo Missae. This was seen as a major obstacle to the goals of the usurpers and their cohorts because the Code mandated the power of authority (the continual magisterium) to uphold these rights. Why else would liturgical renewal advocates, among them Roncalli, Montini and many others find Canon Law so unfriendly to their endeavors? And here the sickening me-syndrome psychology that permeated society in the 20th century also rears its ugly head. Just as parents were instructed to proceed in the psychological manuals of the day, pastors were advised that to demand obedience from their subjects violated the rights and dignity of “the People of God.” They were told, instead, to understand their children, to counsel them rather than discipline them and to love them “unconditionally.” Only now is society beginning to see the frightening results of this dangerous family experiment. And the extension of that experiment into Novus Ordo channels — the use of “dialogue” and the pastoral leniency practiced over the past several decades — has only resulted in an unhealthy familiarity of the clergy with the faithful that undoubtedly has contributed to the sexual abuse problem rampant in the Novus Ordo.

In his 1956 address to students at the Vienna Law School, “Church Life and Church Law,” Pope Pius XII addresses the very legalism Wesselmann protests throughout his article. In this address, Pius XII wrote: “Church law is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. Like everything else in the Church, it is at the service of the “salus animarum” (salvation of souls) and is therefore a matter of pastoral care. It should assist in opening and smoothing ways into the hearts of men for the truth and grace of Jesus Christ…Many canons, to be sure are only protective norms, such as those which guard the Faith from decay and keep the dignity of grace and the sacraments from sacrilege. But in addition to these there are canons which are built into the very structure of the Church by Her Divine Founder and which are indeed in direct accordance with her nature. These include such forms of organization of the Mystical Body of Christ as the laws regulating the constitution of the Church and those defining the powers of the Pope and of the Bishops. Christ founded His Church not as a formless spiritual movement but as a strongly organized association.

“Certainly Church law must not stifle the spiritual and supernatural values in whose service it exists. The charge has been made that it does this very thing and people have spoken of the “legalization” of the Church. This charge is quite often leveled at the inflexibility with which the Church holds fast to the indissolubility of a legally contracted and consummated Christian marriage…We do not need to tell jurists that the few laws of Apostolic times would not be sufficient to direct a world Church of over 400 million souls today…The new arrangement of Church laws…coincided with the physical spreading out and inner development of the Church in the 19th century…The Church has not come thereby to any “legalization.” …Church life and Church law belong together. A symbol of this for you would be that of the sainted Pope Pius X…creator of the new Church code of laws by which he opened the sources and sluices of all sacramental life,” (“The Pope Speaks,” 1956-7).

Let’s begin by noting that Wesselmann’s statement above, “In the Code, the emphasis is on institutional rights, on the rights of authority, not on the place of God’s people in the Church and their rights,” stands in direct contradiction to the teaching of Pope Pius XII. “Clergy and laity must realize that the Church is fitted and authorized, as are the Bishops for the sake of the faithful entrusted them, in accordance with Canon Law to promote ecclesiastical discipline and see to its observance,” (even in those matters which do not have their immediate origin in natural or divine law). “Clerics and laity may not exempt themselves from this discipline; rather all should be concerned to obey it…” (“The Church and its Powers of Sanctifying and Ruling,” Nov. 2, 1954) The use of epikeia by Traditionalists as a cure all for any and every canon law that is not elastic enough to serve the “people of God” in these “unprecedented times” are a clear concession to these perceived rights, which may never be demanded by any faithful under censure, hence forbidden to receive the Sacraments, nor requested from one who is a notorious heretic or schismatic. And the minute any of those who have even the slightest doubt that these men are not valid or licit yet continue to seek their services, they separate themselves from the Church through communicatio in sacris, or communication with a schismatic minister, even if the Sacraments they receive are neither valid nor licit.

What is paramount here are the rights of the Church. As Pope Leo XII taught in his encyclical letter Tametsi: “About the ‘rights of man,’ as they are called we have heard enough. It is time we should hear about the rights of God !” During an interregnum, no one is to make any determination in any way concerning “the rights of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Church, nor attempt in any way to subtract directly or indirectly from the rights of the same on the pretext of a relaxation of attention or by the concealment of actions perpetrated against these same rights even after the death of the Pontiff or in the period of the vacancy. On the contrary, We desire that the College ought to watch over and defend these rights during the contention of all influential forces” (Pope Pius XII, Vacantis Apostolica Sedis,” 1945). And this section, at least, of Pope Pius XII’s constitution was delivered by his “Supreme Authority,” hence is infallible. The Church indisputably enjoys the right to enforce Her laws, and demand obedience to those laws from the faithful, as Pope Pius XII teaches. And as Pope Pius XII also taught, in the absence of the hierarchy the role of defending these laws and rights falls to the faithful.

As this same pope also states above, the law is a matter of pastoral care. It is obvious that in the 1960s, pastors were tired of doing their jobs and wished to branch out into more social aspects of their “ministry,” such as Protestants are wont to do. The law was a shackle they wish to shed. Yet clearly the Pope warns law students and the Church in general that not all laws are “protective norms”; many in fact are woven into the very constitution of the Church. They are necessary to protect the foundation Christ provided for Her survival. It appears that already in the 1950s, the very issues Wesselmann addresses in his article were being tossed around in legal circles, and the pope clearly dismisses these accusations as baseless. But Vatican 2 theologians “knew better;” the new age of their church had already dawned. In a later address to Pastors on “Preaching the Word of God,” (September, 1956) Pope Pius XII warned theologians that: ”Theologians do not carry on their work through divine right but through the delegation of the Church…The decisive factor in knowing the truth is not the opinio theologorum but the ‘sensus Ecclesiae.’ To reverse the matter would be making theologians practically the magistri Magisterii, which is obviously an error,” (“The Pope Speaks,” 1956-7).

Ah, but this is precisely what Traditionalists longed to be. And they took their position from people like Wesselmann who were obligated to obey Pope Pius XII even after his death, but who chose instead to commit themselves to the destruction of the Church.

Theological criticism

Wesselmann informs us through another author that Canon Law is “’a blight on Christian theology and practice’” and supports its separation from moral theology in the seminaries to present it “in the abiding principles of the Gospel without the refinements of legal concepts.’” Wesselmann favors reorienting Canon Law to the laity and eliminating certain canons that impede “changing needs and inspiration of the Spirit.” In other words, he advocates the orientation of Canon Law not to the common good, as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, but to individual needs, which upends the entire purpose of all law. He believes the system should be “left open” for the benefit of the laity, and suggests that not many laws be made or retained about lay people in order to facilitate “transition.” Unfortunately we know only too well what such transition led to and its tragic consequences for the entire Church of Christ on earth. And obviously, given what Pope Pius XII teaches above, this was never the teaching of the true Church.

Canonical equity and multiple dispensations

Here we get to the meat of the matter as concerns Traditionalists, for this addresses the principle of epikeia, imbuing it with precisely those same properties that Traditionalists ascribe to it today. In choosing to favor epikeia as the answer to the problem of “multiple dispensations,” leaving it up to the laity (who he already has admitted are largely ignorant of their religion), Wesselmann effectively dilutes all authority of the hierarchy in the Church, pretending the laity are able and qualified to decide for themselves on moral matters without the strictures of “legalism.” He writes: “To be able to do away with the present system, we would need greater emphasis on equity (justice tempered by fairness, moderation, mercy) in enacting and enforcing laws and more frequent exercise of the virtue of epikeia by the subjects of the law…For the subjects of law, it means willingness to apply the law in concrete circumstances, not according to its letter but according to its spirit…” He wishes to leave the determination of this “equity” to the average layperson, and encourages “the rejection of constant readiness to place any and every perplexity before one’s superiors…The present penal section of the Code…is needlessly complicated and might be virtually abolished,” as it was in effect when the 1983 Code of Canon Law was issued.

Entirely ignored here is how the laity is to determine the “spirit” of these laws. Canonists writing before Wesselmann had laid out the method by which even the laity could determine its spirit. But few lay people ever cracked open anything concerning the law so knew nothing of this method. And obviously canonists were not well versed in it either, or chose to ignore it as “legalistic bunk” with which the faithful should not be “burdened.” As noted in the site article “Who May interpret Canon Law?” the canonist Rev. Matthew Ramstein, S.T. Mag, J.U.D., OFM (“A Manual of Canon Law,” 1947) says that even private individuals may use the rules for proper interpretation provided in Canon Law itself in trying to resolve certain cases not covered in the Code, provided that no authentic interpretation of the law is available. Speaking of Pope Benedict XV’s Motu Proprio promulgating Canon Law, Monsignor Amleto Cicognani writes: “There is no prohibition in the Motu-proprio of private interpretation, which may be doctrinal or usual…It is said to be doctrinal when it is given by those skilled in canon law; customary (also called usual) when it is derived from unwritten practive, that is custom…General rules for the right interpretation of the Code are given in Canons 17 ff, besides those of Canons 5 and 6, (“Canon Law,” 1935, pgs. 434, 598-9).

As Rev. Nicholas Neuberger explains in his dissertation, “Canon 6,” (Catholic University of America, 1927), “Of old, the jurists distinguished between a mere declaration of and the interpretation of the law. The declaration today is called comprehensive interpretation. Its scope is not to change the law but determines the sense of the law comprehended therein from the beginning. Therefore, it adds or subtracts nothing from the original meaning…The comprehensive interpretation adds nothing anew but explains more and more the significance attached to the words… Ordinarily, every private individual may interpret laws according to the rules of jurisprudence, unless a special prohibition has been made…The code, in Canon 6 §2 bids us have recourse to the doctrine of the approved authors. The authentic, however, always remains the guide for the doctrinal.” So the sense or “spirit” of these laws is very well defined for conscientious canonists and lay people who wish to consult them. But it was never the intention of the Novus Ordo crowd to obey anything that went before, although one would think it would be the intention of Traditionalists. And the “spirit” of the law is not to be equated with its sense, according to Wesselmann. For he associates “spirit” with the “liberty” of Christians, redefined by John 23 in his “Religious Liberty” allocution, to do as they see fit, regardless of whether he believes their consciences are properly formed. The entire thrust of employing epikeia in his article is to reduce Canon Law to “directive regulations” and “suggestions of law.” This is all too akin to other efforts to dilute Christianity in general by relegating even the natural law to the status of the “Ten Suggestions.” Therefore the “moral principles…of the Gospel” Wesselmann says are superior to Canon Law were not safe either, for once Canon Law was relaxed, there was no legal framework left to protect them.

Subsidiarity, marriage cases

As noted elsewhere, the idea of subsidiarity as defined by Pope Pius XII and Vatican 2 subsidiarity are two entirely different animals. Pope Pius XII encouraged the participation of the laity in the salvation of souls process by promoting Catholic Action, which promptly disappeared following his death. Wesselmann suggests the Church, contrary to Her own definition of the lay state in the 1917 Code, involve the laity in the actual legislative process of the Church, something the Church has long condemned. Pope Pius XII was very careful to place specific restrictions on this participation, but as we all know today the Novus Ordo church has removed all barriers between laity and clergy in its quest for liberty, equality and fraternity. Here is mentioned collegiality at all levels, in order to pay homage to and accommodate the precious “People of God.” Thus is the entire hierarchical structure of the Church overthrown as anticipated, for without their true shepherd all the sheep scattered.

Marriage is simply an outline of what the Novus Ordo would do and has done over the past several decades, flouting its law of equity in granting countless annulments and dissolutions of marriages for the benefit of “the human person.” Pope Pius XII was well aware of what they were already up to here in his own time.


It is quite interesting to note that Traditional personalities such as Fr. Gommar de Pauw, (Bp.) Robert McKenna and Fr. Lawrence Brey were contributors to the Homiletic and Pastoral Review at least into the mid-1960s, even after the convening of Vatican 2. Sedeprivationist Guerard des Lauriers wrote for other publications as well. Nor do their letters and articles reflect any particular beef with the Vatican 2 church, although by 1964 De Pauw had separated himself from the Novus Ordo and had begun the Catholic Traditionalist Movement. He operated under the displaced Chinese bishop Blaise S. Kurz, a Franciscan. But unfortunately Kurz wrote on de Pauw’s behalf: “The aim of the Catholic Traditionalist Movement is simply the FULL implementation of ALL decisions of the recent Ecumenical Council, including the one providing the people with a choice between the old Latin liturgy and the new vernacularized one,” (“Declaration,” para. 7, Bishop Kurz ordained one priest, Gunther Storck, who later joined the Thucites. Des Lauriers “consecrated” Storck bishop April 30, 1984, ( ). At any rate it appears that all these men, doctors of Canon Law or not, imbibed the pernicious spirit of change in the Church to varying degrees. This accounts for the adoption of their present views on Canon Law in general and jurisdiction, epikeia and other points of law in particular. They then carried these false liberal and ecumenical ideas of Canon Law into the Traditionalist movement and communicated them to their fellow “clerics.” Yet why, then, was their official stance to condemn the Novus Ordo and all it stands for?

Only they can answer such questions. But the fact remains that they have taught the faithful and others tenets of a false religion and have abided by those tenets themselves. Never before in the history of the Church would statements such as those presented above have been tolerated in a purportedly “Catholic” publication by no less than a canon lawyer. Gesselmann was right about one thing: These men failed to receive proper training in the seminaries, and he can include himself in the mix. How often have you heard Traditionalists fling the “legalism” accusation at their opponents who accuse them of violating Canon Law? The teaching of Pope Pius XII is the final word on this, and it proves their accusations are not only contrary to Catholic Faith but also are supportive of the present church in Rome. Since the entire basis for this legalistic claim proceeded from the liturgical renewal movement, how could these self-righteous supporters of the immemorial Latin Mass justify their invocation of epikeia knowing that much of what prompted it was the very type of thinking and believing that destroyed the Mass?! Is it just coincidence that these Novus Ordo traitors were out to get rid of all disciplinary law, especially the various censures that forbid them to function in the first place and which place Traditionalists outside the Church? Is it surprising that this article definitely plays down the role of the hierarchy in favor of individual autonomy?

The fact that des Lauriers, McKenna and Storck all eventually supported the outrageous “material papacy” hoax (see the site article under this title) proves that these men and the organizations responsible for their creation never really abandoned their loyalties to the counterfeit church set up by the usurpers. They simply recognized an opportunity to appear to be ultra-Catholic and function without any juridic constraints or direction. And they seized upon that opportunity to indulge in their own ambitions at the expense of the faithful. For them, all roads really do lead back to Rome, but it is NOT the Rome of the Sovereign Pontiffs beginning with St. Peter and ending in the reign of Pope Pius XII.

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