Canon Peters shows he does not know basic principles of Canon Law

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

I do not know whether I should laugh or cry at this tweet by Canon Peters. But I will say something that may be surprising: Steve Skojec did the right thing by asking a canon lawyer to give his opinion. I praise Steve for that, as it is a lot better than insulting everyone on Social Media.

But as for Canon Edward Peters, I have to say he does not know his Canon Law.

I know that sounds like an incredible statement coming from me, who does not hold a degree in Canon Law, but I will demonstrate that it is a true statement.

First, for those who know nothing at all about the controversy over the Declaratio of Pope Benedict XVI. Please read my Index to Pope Benedict’s Renunciation. There are 8 canonical reason why the declaration did not separate Pope Benedict from the papal office, as I detailed in my letter to the Dean of the College of Cardinals, by way of courtesy, for those who need a short list. As can be seen from both links, the controversy has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with a claim that coercion was involved as a cause of invalidity. I understand that such an idea is common among many Catholics, but here we discuss canonical problems, not popular opinions. This is the first reason why I have to laugh, because, Canon Peters gets the very nature of the controversy wrong!

But back to the topic of his tweet:

Canon Peters cites canon 125 §2.

Oh boy!

Here I had to burst out laughing.

Canon 125 regards juridical acts! Juridical acts are acts before a judge, in a tribunal.

But as anyone with the slightest knowledge of Canon Law, like myself, or with eminent amounts of it, like Mons. Arrieta, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, knows, the Declaratio of Pope Benedict XVI is an administrative act not a juridical act.

It is an administrative act, because it is an act of a superior with a munus, in the exercise of his ministerium, deciding something within his whole power and by a motu proprio. It has nothing to do with hearing a case before a judge.

Even if Canon Peters was thinking of putting the Declaratio of Pope Benedict before a tribunal, he errs, because the act of the Roman Pontiff cannot be adjudicated by any power on earth, according to canon 1404: prima sedes a nemine iudicatur. — You know, that canon they are always quoting against Catholics in communion with Pope Benedict, to insist that his Declaration means what they say it means and not what Benedict said.

Then, you really have to cry, because Peters thinks that if a Pope for any reason whatsoever, calls another man, “pope”, that means he renounced papacy.  I guess Canon Peters has never been present when the Coptic Patriarch visited the Vatican. The Coptic Patriarch is called pope. I guess too, Canon Peters thinks that if the Pope catches a fever and while you are visiting him at his bedside, he calls you the Pope, then you become the pope!

Canon 125 §2, what does it say?

Let us see what the Canon says, to see if there is any shred of reason why Canon Peters would be citing it to Steve Skojec. It is not a canon cited in controversies over the resignation, to my knowledge.

Here is the Latin:

Canon 125 §2  – Actus positus ex metu gravi, iniuste incusso, aut ex dolo, valet, nisi aliud iure caveatur; sed potest per sententiam iudicis rescindi, sive ad instantiam partis laesae eiusve in iure successorum sive ex officio.

Which in English, I render thus:

Canon 125 §1 – An act placed out of grave fear, unjustly brought to bear, or out of deceit, is valid, unless something else is provided for by the law; but it can be rescinded through the sentence of a judge, whether at the request of the injured party or of his successors in law or ex officio.

Canon Peters should know not to cite this canon, since both Canons 188 and 332 §2 expressly establish that coercion makes a Papal renunciation invalid. It is not as if anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the controversy can be ignorant of canons 188 and 332, especially if he be a canon lawyer with whom dozens of Catholics have shared on Twitter articles about this matter, as Canon Peters is. Thus his appeal to canon 125 §2 is understood with great difficulty to be something other than dishonest. I can only think he was tweeting after having had one too many beers for Mardi Gras.

Yes, ask Canon Lawyers. But perhaps give some of them some time to respond first and think about what they are going to say. I think this one tweet from Peters shows he either has bad will or lacks the expertise he should have acquired before answering such an important question. But I am confident that with a little study he can acquire it because even Catholics with no such training but good will, can understand it.


CREDITS: The Featured Image is a screen shot of the Twitter Profile Page of Canon Peters on Twitter, and is used here in accord with fair use standards for editorial commentary.

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17 thoughts on “Canon Peters shows he does not know basic principles of Canon Law”

  1. What worries me is that these people don’t seem to want to know the truth! It’s pride that appears to prevent them from examining the facts on both sides objectively- as they don’t fear their jobs.. do they? Only the truly humble will reach correct conclusions in this day and age due to the subterfuge (and it could take years).

  2. And I must say it’s a crucially important topic! It demands serious attention and study!! Not laziness, short-sightedness, fear or even an iota of neglect. God matters. His Church matters. The Pope matters. Our salvation matters- and that of the world! To see or hear people being frivolous about this is unbearable and to me, unthinkable. It’s shocking and saddening.

  3. I know that Br. Alexis Bugnolo does not hold a degree in canon law, and it shows. However, the man he seeks here to ridicule does, both at licentiate and doctoral level and, moreover, has extensive experience at both teaching and practicing it at the highest levels, as well as writing authoratatively about it.

    Dr Edward N Peters BA JD JCL JCD (in chronological order) is Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair of Faculty Development at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Archdiocese of Detroit. He is not “Canon” Peters, not being a priest but a married layman and father of six. (And, yes, I do know that the Liberian Chapter, that is the Chapter of Canons of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, is honoured to have as its Protocanon His Majesty the King of Spain, at present Juan Carlos Primero de Bourbon.)

    After obtaining his doctorate in Canon Law, his dissertation was entitled “Penal Procedural Law in the 1983 Code of Canon Law” (August 1991), for ten years Dr Peters served variously as diocesan Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor, Director of the Office for Canonical Affairs, Defender of the Bond, and Collegial Judge for diocesan and appellate tribunals in the Dioceses of Duluth (Province of St. Paul/Minneapolis) and San Diego (Province of Los Angeles). In 2010, Peters was named a Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, becoming the first layman so appointed since the reconstitution of Signatura over 100 years ago. In 2012, Peters was named by His Holiness an expert consultant to the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization.

    I have not been privy to the discussions which preceded Dr Peters’s comment. If you note the title of Dr Peters’s doctoral thesis (above) it should be self-evident that he was making no mistake when he adverted to Canon 125 §2. What is relevant here is NOT the precise wording of that clause of that canon, NOR is it the fact that this relates to what he is a specialist in, penal law and juridical acts. What is important is the legal principle laid out in this canon: irrespective of the fact that an act be done out of grave fear, unjustly brought to bear, or out of deceit, it is still done validly. Therefore, even if it could be proved that pressure had been brought illicitly to bear on Pope Emeritus Benedict to force him to resign, his resignation was still valid and Pope Francis’s election cannot be challenged on that basis.

    1. Hugh, thank you for the bibliographic informtion for Mr Peters, but did you even read canon 125 §2? It refers to cases where THE LAW DOES NOT PROVIDE for invalidity on account of coercion. In resignations, canon 188 and 332 §2 make for such a provision. MOREOVER, THE ARGUMENT FOR THE INVALIDITY OF THE RENUNCIATION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COERCION. Do you homework! I do not expect you to be a canon lawyer, but at least get to know the argument before you jump in and defend someone who has not done his homework either.

  4. I’m loth to comment here, for various reasons, but I was alerted to this post, and I thought I would go against my better judgment for a moment.

    I see that you reviewed, favorably, Socci’s book about BXVI. But I wonder why you chose not to address the argument of Francesco Patruno, made on page 71, in which he says that “The resignation, as well as the acceptance of the Supreme Pontificate, is a purely juridical act. In technical jargon, it is an actus legitimi, which does not tolerate the addition of accidental elements (accidentalia negotii) such as a time limit. This is confirmed in the present canonical codification.”

    He goes on to argue that because of this, “the resignation, which is a contrarius actus, an equal and opposite act to the acceptance, does not permit terms or conditions of any sort.”

    Socci says that Patruno’s observations “imply the fact that the Petrine ministry is not a mer administrative of bureaucratic office, but is rather a munus that God confers…”

    Now, the term munus is, as I understand it, central to your arguments on this matter.

    And yet, according to Socci, citing Patruno, the fact that the resignation is, explicitly, a juridical act, means that “it is not possible to place conditions on God so that He waits to withdraw this authority and grace precisely at the moment of 8:00 PM of a date in the near future…”

    Patruno thus concludes that “the classification of the act of acceptance or resignation in this juridical category involves the radical nullity of hte act (vitiatur et vitiat).”

    So which is it? An administrative act or a juridical one? I see two men convinced that Benedict is still the pope, both claiming his resignation is invalid, both offering diametrically opposed interpretations of canon law about whether the resignation is juridical.

    Does Patruno, who is a “doctor of research in the canonical and ecclesiastical sciences” (whatever that means) know his canon law? Do you laugh at him, too?

    I’m just trying to sort out all these “experts” and their incompatible reasoning on the law, which seems as though it should be straightforward.

    1. Dear Mr. Skojec,

      I thank you for positing a question that is worth replying to. And I will respond to it.

      The controversy does not regard the Declaratio as a document, but the renunciatio as an act.

      If the pope exercises his ministry or not, then the act regards administration, because in Latin administratio means “regarding ministry”. The act of Benedict was a renunciation of ministry, therefore it was administrative in the highest sense.

      As for juridical, such acts are acts of power. And those who think Benedict renounced the power of his office call the act a juridical act. But the more specific term for juridical, as I use above, is an act of power regarding a judgement, since Canon 125.2 regards the sentence given by a judge which can rescind an act.

      I have not read Socci’s Book. But I think the scholar you mention is acting on the presumption that the act regards the office. I would counter his argument thus: if the act of a papal renunciation were a juridical act, and it is the contrary act of the act of becoming pope, since a man becomes pope by saying yes to his legitimate election, and the man who says yes is not the pope, then the man who says no, that is, who separates himself from the office, is also not the one with the office, and therefore it cannot be a juridical act, because such acts require power and office. We see confirmation of this, in the common expression, He was elected pope. No one says, He accepted to be pope, because the juridical act is the election by the Cardinals, the consent to that act by the man elected is not of itself juridical, though it is materially necessary for the Cardinals’ choice to have force of law.

      This touches upon a common error made by many canonists when reading Canon 332.2. They fail to see that the one who renounces is called Roman Pontiff because that is the dignity of the substance acting, but not the substance who acts, as I have shown above, because an act of renunciation separates the substance acting from the dignity he holds.

      However, inasmuch as the Roman Pontiff might publish a document containing his act of renunciation of office, then the document is juridical in both senses. The document here is the Declaratio, the Act is the renunciatio.

      But when he merely resigns the ministry, then the document is juridical but the act contained in it is administrative. But such a document can contain several acts some juridical along with it, such as if the Pope as Pope makes other determinations at the time of his renunciation, but these have to be posited before the act of renunciation, because once that is posited he has no authority to posit such an act. Indeed, a number of writers held the act invalid for the reason that it did not renounce, it only said it was going to renounce, which is not a juridical act, but a publication of news about an upcoming act, which publication is administrative.

      Let us remember, that the act of renouncing the papacy has to be in the first person and present indicative: I renounce my munus as Roman Pontiff, or We renounce our munus as Roman Pontiff. Or something like that. What Benedict did was fraught with problems from every point of view for using indirect discourse and improper Latin constructions, as I showed in my study of it, Clamorous Errors in the Latin of the Renunciation (which can be found in the Indext on the Renunciation above, in the upper bar of this website).

      Even if a scholar were to conceive it as juridical, he has to run into canon 126 which points out that juridical acts need to have the proper species and genus of act.

      In any case, resignations are governed by canon 188 and 332, which specifically mention coercion and liberty, so howsoever a canonist can conceive the act, whether administrative or juridical, he should not cite canon 125 §1 on the grounds that acts under duress are valid unless adjudicated otherwise in tribunal.

      For this reason, I think I have the right to laugh at Canon Peters’ tweet and point out how badly it responds to your question.

      Keep questioning canonists. I encourage you to it. I have written more than 50 myself, and have spoken with 2 here at Rome.

      They both agree the act of Benedict renouncing was administrative, and that canon 188 and 332.2. apply. No one speaks about 125.

      God bless, and be assured of my prayers for yourself and your family this Holy Season of Lent.

  5. Mr. Hugh McLoughlin,

    Nice try, but we do not care how many titles, appointments or certifications, ‘Canon Peters’ holds, nor how many times you attempt to shove a lie down our throats using a sacred canon. It is clear that neither you or ‘Canon Peters’ understand canon 125 §2, nor do you care to, since you cannot and will not rectify your misapplication of the canon.

  6. Steve Skojec, I was and still occasionally am a reader of your posts. This matter is so serious that unless you have objectively and independently examined all the evidence, I think you should. No-one can say that this doesn’t matter- God and His True Church and True Vicar. Souls who follow a false pope have their very souls at risk. Not necessarily yours but many many others; probably billions or millions. This could be, and I believe is, The Great Apostasy. No-one else, no friend or respected person, needs to support you in this. Only The Truth matters. And God knows the Truth( for us it is findable. It must be given due and serious attention. This will involve prayer and fasting this Lent so that you do not fail God in these treacherous times. You must ask God to guide you! Humbly, with full attention and obedience to what He tells you and shows you and makes you think about. I will be praying for you to uncover the Truth for yourself- whatever that may be- acknowledging there can only be 1 real Truth. Without the Truth, without humility, relying only on the opinion of respected bishops or priests etc., to discern, you will fail. Come before God and strip yourself of pride.

  7. Dear Steve,

    There is no such word as “loth.”

    There is no such thing as a Pope Emeritus, either.

    Remember, Man, that you are dust, and into dust you shall return.

  8. Thank you, Br. Bugnolo, for your clear explanations of Canon Law. I know I am not alone when I say your explanations are complete, involving both the spirit and the letter of the law.

    Further, your understanding of the ontological aspects of this issue has opened my thought even more to the unshakeable foundation of our Faith.

    Thank you.

  9. There seems sufficient question about this topic that we deserve to have a panel commissioned of whatever configuration is proper, to fully investigate the question of Benedict’s abdication, and present the case as to whether or not it was done correctly so that the outcome is, he is not the pope, or to rule that he is. We simply cannot have this amount of division over this topic. If there is nothing to fear, let’s have it. But what am I saying, “hagan lio” is what the man in the Chair of Peter has said he wants. There is no bigger mess than Catholics not knowing with all certainty who is definitively the pope. If Francis has nothing to worry about, one would imagine he would want this to clarify it.

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