Question: The Pope recently changed Canon Law. Can we expect to see priests and professors who teach non-Catholic ideas thrown out of Catholic institutions?
Answer: No one has the right to teach error -- particularly in a Catholic institution, in the Church founded by Jesus Christ, who identified Himself and the Holy Ghost with truth, and named it as the means of sanctification.1 It is clearly the responsibility of popes, bishops, and pastors to make sure that nothing foreign to the Catholic Faith is taught in Catholic churches and schools. Yet, since the beginning of Vatican II, there has been a veritable "open season" in the assault on the truth at every level in the Church. A lack of canon law to deal with dissenters has not been the problem.
The Vatican made virtually no use of the 1917 Code of Canon Law which was in use until 1983 -- except to harass those trying to preserve the Faith from the errors of the last Council. Even though the 1917 Code was much more strongly worded than the recent addition to the 1983 Code, error was allowed to flourish for those twenty years. The law required that those who, even privately, defended condemned doctrines would loose their rights to preach, hear confessions, or teach in any capacity -- and then the authorities would add an appropriate punishment, and determine a means of repairing the scandal.2 The legal tool certainly existed to remove dissenters, but the liberal philosophy of Vatican II militated against its use.
The 1983 Code, although considerably watered down, still demanded "the respect of intellect and will" for the teachings of the "authentic magisterium" even if not proclaimed with a "definitive act."3 Those who violate the law were "to be punished with a just penalty."4 The 1998 revision adds the demand that "everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must also be accepted and held."5 While "accepting and holding" something is a bit more than merely "respecting it with the intellect and will" the penalty for violating this clause remains the same "punishment with a just penalty."
This new paragraph is slightly stronger, but the question remains: Is there any reason to think that the Pope and bishops who did not make use of the 1917 Code will make use of this new revision? The question will be answered by the events of the next few months and years, but there is little reason for hope.
Dissent was institutionalized, we might say "baptized," by Vatican II. At it's very beginning, Pope John XXIII relegated the condemnation of error to the past.6 The Council took the unprecedented step of recognizing a heretofore unknown "right" to "religious liberty"; a "right" not just to believe error, but also to act upon it.7 The Council introduced the scandalous notion that the Church of Christ merely "subsists in the Catholic Church" instead of being identical with It.8 It recognized a plethora of erroneous religions as vehicles of what is "true and holy," urging "dialog and collaboration" with them. 9 This sort of doctrinal laxity continued in the letters issued by the post-conciliar Popes, in the New Catechism, and in the 1983 Code itself.
Just a few years ago Pope John Paul II issued a letter just dripping with calls for "dialog" with non-Catholics, with particular attention to discussion about the relationship of Scripture and Tradition, the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrificial nature of the Mass and the nature of priestly ordination, the authority of the Pope and bishops, the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God. 10 If such basic elements of the Catholic Faith are now up for discussion, how could any dissenter be brought under control?!
It is extremely unlikely that Pope John Paul added his new paragraph with the intention of turning himself in for "a just penalty," or that he will appoint a committee to delete all the errors from the Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents and begin to punish what he has previously praised. It is only slightly more likely that he seek out and punish those who are even more liberal than himself -- that would betray his existentialist philosophy of man creating truth through dialog. So, why bother to amend the Code?
It is only a guess, of course, but the change seems to be something of a show to be put on for the pseudo-conservatives of the New Order, and, perhaps, even something to be used against them. Ever since Vatican II, such "conservatives" have promoted the foolish notion that the Church's new troubles were entirely the fault of the "middle men"; that all of the ills of New Order could be blamed on a few bishops, priests, and nuns who dispensed an imperfect version of Vatican II in their writings and sermons and lectures. They urged that Vatican II could somehow be "interpreted in the light of tradition" if only these radicals could be gotten rid of or made to stop distorting "the true meaning of the Council." The augmented Code might seem to some a gesture of good faith along these lines. As this is written, no dissenter has yet been disciplined, but the pseudo-conservative journal The Wanderer, on its front page, describes the changes as "Putting The Last Nails In The Coffin Of Dissent," and prints the melodramatic banner, "Pope Crushes Heretics. ... " 11 The problem, in its myopic view, lies solely with the "Amchurch," which were expected to believe has just been vanquished.
Paradoxically, few Catholics other than the "conservatives" will feel themselves bound by any form of discipline under canon law. Perhaps the Left will now find it easier to use the law to silence the "conservatives."