TCA Life for March/April 2016


Q. The Church now allows for cremation for loved ones. In the past that was forbidden, right? What changed? Scattering is still not allowed, right? Can you keep a small amount of the ashes in a proper setting, like a sealed locket or box? And is there a proper way to transport the ashes?

Abigail, Miami, Fla.

A. Cremation is allowed, but the Church prefers the customary burial of the mortal remains of the body in a coffin in sacred ground. The 1983 Code of Canon Law states, “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176.3). The 1917 Code of Canon Law did not allow for cremation because of its pagan origins. What changed is the civil law in some countries where cremation is obligatory. So an exception has been made in the universal law of the Church. But it remains an exception.

Cremated remains should be buried piously in a cemetery or a mausoleum, preferably in a Catholic cemetery. The cremated remains are not to be scattered to the four winds, over the water or left in an urn on the mantle above the fireplace in your living room. Nor should you put them in a sealed box or a locket. If you wish, you could place a lock of hair in a safe place and keep it as a relic of a loved one, but the cremated remains should be buried.

In Vitro Fertilization

Q. I know there are very good reasons for the Church to teach against IVF (in vitro fertilization), but what are they? Also, what forms are allowed, and what is the difference?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. The Church hopes and prays that God will bless married couples with children, but knows very well from experience and stories in the Bible that not every married couple receives the gift of children. So, to begin to answer your question, it needs to be stated that “children are a gift from God” — they are not a right. While every married couple has a right to try to have children, it is important to respect God’s law and the law of nature for procreation. In this regard the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right ‘to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,’ and ‘the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.’ The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others” (Nos. 2378-79).

There are several reasons why IVF is unethical. The first reason is that in the attempt to create new human life, IVF results in the disproportionate risk of loss of innocent human life. Innocent human lives are lost through IVF because “excess” human embryos created in the process are either discarded or placed in cryo-preservation (deep freeze). Since human embryos are human lives, and human beings have an inherent right to life which is denied by cryo-preservation or by being discarded, IVF is unethical. Pope Francis has been remarkably strong in his condemnation of our modern “throwaway” culture. Up to 90 percent of the human embryos that are created never make it. They never had a chance.

Again, the Catechism, based on the instruction on respect for human life in its origin (Donum Vitae, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1987), states: “‘It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.

“Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity’ which are unique and unrepeatable” (No. 2275).

The second reason IVF is unethical may be difficult for people to understand if they do not have an appreciation for natural law, but here it is anyway. Because IVF invades the sacred space of interpersonal human sexual relations and relies too much on technology, it winds up separating the spouses from each other and often separating the real parents from their offspring. Here it will be helpful to reprint what the Catechism teaches us in this regard:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’

“Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that ‘entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.’ ‘Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union.... Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person’” (Nos. 2376-77).

Finally, reproductive medical assistance or techniques allowed include any which respect the life of the embryo and the exclusive sexual union of the married mother and father. LTOF (lower tubal ovum transfer) and GIFT (gamete intra-fallopian transfer) are methods that the Church does not condemn.

New Annulment Procedures?

Q. I know someone who is looking to work toward an annulment. I have heard that the new rules will make the process easier for couples. Sorry, if you keep getting asked this, but how does it work exactly? And I was told a while back that some tribunals are more lax or likely to grant an annulment than others? Is that true? If so, how do you research that? I apologize if that is inappropriate, but my friend really wants to secure an annulment (it was a difficult marriage). Any advice?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. You have managed to get this by the editor and sneak in five questions in the space of one! Bravo!

If a person who married in the Catholic Church is convinced that his or her marriage was invalid, he or she may petition for a declaration of nullity. The process normally begins with a conversation with the pastor of your local parish. Since the judicial process is supposed to be fair and impartial, the faithful are not to shop around for the easiest and quickest annulment. After all, a declaration of nullity is not a divorce, because Jesus prohibited divorce (see Mt 19:9: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”). However, the Code of Canon Law provides four options for the tribunal:

“In cases concerning the nullity of marriage which are not reserved to the Apostolic See, the following are competent: 1. the tribunal of the place in which the marriage was celebrated; 2. the tribunal of the place in which the respondent has a domicile or quasi-domicile; 3. the tribunal of the place in which the petitioner has a domicile, provided that both parties live in the territory of the same conference of bishops and the judicial vicar of the domicile of the respondent gives consent after he has heard the respondent; 4. the tribunal of the place in which in fact most of the proofs must be collected, provided that consent is given by the judicial vicar of the domicile of the respondent, who is first to ask if the respondent has any exception to make” (Canon 1673).

While it may be true that one tribunal may be more efficient than another, that is usually due to available resources. For your friend who wants to obtain an annulment I assume it is because he or she wants to get married in the Catholic Church. That being the case, it is prudent to wait for the competent tribunal to issue the judgment and not rush into another marriage right away. Important decisions should wait; very important decisions must wait.

The Pope’s recent revision of the corresponding section of the Code of Canon Law on the annulment process does streamline the procedures by waiving the need to have a second corroborating judgment from another court. But the process is still judicial in nature and takes both time and prudence, and requires the accumulation of evidence and presentation of facts so the competent judges can make an informed decision. Remember, annulments are not divorce. Jesus prohibited divorce. Finally, the new rules will make it both easier and faster in some of the more obvious cases, and that will be a welcome improvement.

Sabbath Rest?

Q. Maybe a weird question, but my children asked me this. What do we mean by rest on the Sabbath? Does that mean no work at all? What if an important report is due? What about homework for kids? Also, does the same thing hold for solemnities such as All Saints or, especially, Christmas and Easter?

Kara, via e-mail

A. All questions from children are fair game! The Sabbath rest is a gift from God, and if people work nonstop they will wear out and sooner or later shut down. Remember that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. The Third Commandment, remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day, is a gift from God and not an imposition. Here it will be helpful to read and reflect on what the Church teaches us in the Catechism:

“On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health” (No. 2185).

Let me encourage you and your children to read and discuss this paragraph together. That will be very helpful in the formation of their conscience.

Finally, if you are able to get to Mass on Sunday as a family, and your children are allowed unstructured playtime outdoors for several hours on a Sunday, I think that God will be glorified. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a child spending an hour on homework on a Sunday, or sweeping the garage, or doing the dishes, but as a general rule — and this depends on age and circumstances — it’s best to avoid unnecessary work on a Sunday. And, yes, this applies to Christmas and Easter as well, and to the extent possible to the other holy days of obligation if you can manage it.


Q. I read recently that there are two kinds of excommunication. If so, what are they? Is the sexual abuse of minors by priests included? Why would that matter? And how are they both lifted. How are they imposed? Is it a public ceremony? I ask because I read about the special privilege given by the pope to priests to lift the excommunication for abortion. Do priests have the right to life other kinds of excommunication?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. You ask questions which correspond to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law, “Sanctions in the Church,” treated in Canons 1311-1399. A complete and precise answer to such questions is beyond the scope of a column like this, so I will limit myself to generalities.Broadly speaking, you are correct: there are two classes of excommunication: automatic and declared (latae sententiae and ferendae sententiae, respectively). Five crimes are so serious that they incur automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See, which means only the pope can forgive it: 1. desecration of the holy Eucharist; 2. schism; 3. physical assault of the Roman pontiff; 4. breaking the seal of confession; 5. absolution of a partner in a sin against the Sixth Commandment.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law currently in force does not list “clerical sexual abuse of a minor” as a crime incurring automatic excommunication, but it is a serious mortal sin and has caused extraordinary damage to the Church and her credibility. The John Jay College Report on this problem noted that 81 percent of the victims were male and 78 percent were between 11 and 17 years of age. While the clerical sexual abuse of a minor is not a crime that incurs automatic excommunication, since the U.S. bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002, such a crime does bring automatic suspension from priestly ministry (see Article 5). Moreover, anyone who knows of such crimes should report it immediately to the police.

You ask, “Why would it matter” if such a crime incurred automatic excommunication? I suppose such a penalty would be a very strong deterrent to such behavior. In fact, that is one of the purposes of penal law: to stop bad behavior before it gets started. An automatic excommunication is not usually declared publically, but it could be in order to remove any confusion or scandal among the faithful. On the other hand, a declared excommunication (ferendae sententiae) could be published for all of the faithful to know, but not necessarily. An automatic excommunication can be “lifted” by any cleric who has the proper jurisdiction if the penitent is sorry for his crime. The same applies to a declared excommunication, with the additional proviso that the lifting of that penalty should also be “declared” and be a matter of Church record.

For the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has given all priests anywhere the faculty to lift the penalty of automatic excommunication for the sin of abortion, and additionally those priests designated as “Missionaries of Mercy” will have the delegated authority from the Pope to lift the penalty of excommunication for those five sins/crimes normally reserved to the Holy See.


Q. My question relates to choosing godparents. Is a Catholic couple permitted to choose godparents who have not been confirmed? I know they are Catholic and baptized, but can they serve as godparents? Also, what is the age limit for godparents? Is there a minimum and a maximum age?

Laura, St. Petersburg, Fla.

A. The godparent, or sponsor, has the serious responsibility of raising the child in the Faith should the parents be unable to do so. For that reason, the godparents should be good and strong practicing Catholics. At least one of the godparents/sponsors should be a confirmed practicing Catholic over the age of 16, but there is no maximum age limit.

Here is what the Code of Canon Law states on the subject: “Insofar as possible, a person to be baptized is to be given a sponsor who assists an adult in Christian initiation or together with the parents presents an infant for baptism. A sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.

“To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:

“1. be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;

“2. have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;

“3. be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;

“4. not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;

“5. not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.

“A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism” (Canons 872-874).

May I marry my cousin?

Q. My understanding is that the term consanguinity refers to blood relations. My question is, What does the Church teach about how closely two people can be to be married? I assume it is second cousins, but I might be wrong. Do you know if that has changed in laws recently? There are so many awful changes to marriage that I wanted to check.

Rose, Detroit, Mich.

A. Here’s what the Code of Canon Law establishes:

“In the direct line of consanguinity marriage is invalid between all ancestors and descendants, both legitimate and natural.

“In the collateral line marriage is invalid up to and including the fourth degree.

“The impediment of consanguinity is not multiplied.

“A marriage is never permitted if doubt exists whether the partners are related by consanguinity in any degree of the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line” (Canon 1091).

That means you can never marry your parents or grandparents or your children or grandchildren (direct line), or your brothers or sisters (second degree of collateral line); and without the proper dispensation, you cannot marry your aunts or uncles, or your first cousins (third and fourth degrees of collateral line). But you could marry your second cousin. Hmmm . . .

May We Change Rites?

Q. I was baptized in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Because of where I live, there is no Ukrainian Church. My children were baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, same as my husband. May I change rites? And, if so, how? And, will my children be able to be Ukrainian Catholics? What is the law about this?

Stephanie, via e-mail

A. I assume that you and your husband were married in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church and today — because you do not live near a Ukrainian Church (Eastern rite) and because your children have been baptized in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church — that you are practicing as a Latin-rite Roman Catholic. When you were married, if you did not declare that you were becoming Latin-rite, then you are still part of the Ukrainian rite, but the circumstances are such that you can only avail yourself of the sacraments in the Latin rite. If, on the other hand, at the moment of your marriage you declared that you were transferring to the Latin rite, then you remain in the Latin rite until the marriage has ended, but your children can transfer back to the Ukrainian rite when they reach 14 years of age.

This may seem quite complex, but it is addressed in parallel places in both the (Latin-rite) Code of Canon Law (CIC) and the (Eastern-rite) Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO). The pertinent sections are copied below for your instruction:

“After the reception of baptism, the following are enrolled in another ritual Church sui iuris:

“1. a person who has obtained permission from the Apostolic See;

“2. a spouse who, at the time of or during marriage, has declared that he or she is transferring to the ritual Church sui iuris of the other spouse; when the marriage has ended, however, the person can freely return to the Latin Church;

“3. before the completion of the fourteenth year of age, the children of those mentioned in nn. 1 and 2 as well as, in a mixed marriage, the children of the Catholic party who has legitimately transferred to another ritual Church; on completion of their fourteenth year, however, they can return to the Latin Church.

“The practice, however prolonged, of receiving the sacraments according to the rite of another ritual Church sui iuris does not entail enrollment in that Church” (CIC, Canon 112).

“A wife is at liberty to transfer to the Church of the husband at the celebration of or during the marriage; when the marriage has ended, she can freely return to the original Church sui iuris.

“If the parents, or the Catholic spouse in the case of a mixed marriage, transfer to another Church sui iuris, children under fourteen years old by the law itself are enrolled in the same Church; if in a marriage of Catholics only one parent transfers to another Church sui iuris, the children transfer only if both parents consent. Upon completion of the fourteenth year of age, the children can return to the original Church sui iuris” (CCEO, Canon 33).

Rev. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Follow him on his Facebook page “Father Rocky.”