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The Roman Congregations (Slater, 1911)




Joannes laicus Catholicus et in studiis Biblicis cruditus putabat argumentis criticorum actum esse de Mosaica authentia Pentateuchi. Post responsa a Commissione Biblica edita 27 Junii 1906, nil quidem publice scripsit ad suam sententiam defendendam quam tamen usque retinebat et amicis aperte significabat Commissionem Biblicam sua sententia errasse. Quod quum Joannis parochus et confessarius audiret, quomodo Joannes qui de ista materia in
confessione altum silentium servaret esset tractandus quacrebat. Unde

1. Quid sint SS. Congregationes Romanae et qualem habeant potestatem?

2. Qualem vim habeant responsa et decreta dictarum Congregationum?

3. Quid ad casum?


1. What are the Roman Congregations and what power have they?

The Roman Congregations are so many tribunals consisting of cardinals and officials designed to assist the Pope in the government of the Church, especially in the way of administration and discipline. Some few Congregations existed before the time of Sixtus V, but that Pope, by his constitution Immensa, Jan. 22, 1587, increased their number and defined the limits of their authority. In course of time, some new Congregations were added to those of Sixtus V, and difficulties arose as to their competence. Hence Pius X, by his constitution Sapienti Consilio, June 29, 1908, organized them afresh. According to this constitution there are thirteen Congregations, each of which has its appointed sphere of action. The Congregations are forbidden to transact any serious or unusual business without consulting the Pope, and their decrees require the Pope’s approbation, except those for which he has granted special faculties.

2. What force have the answers and decrees of the said Congregations? We must distinguish between various classes of decrees and answers, (a) Sometimes documents issue from the Holy See which, in form, are decrees of one of the Congregations, but which are specially approved in forma specifica, by the Pope. In this way the decree S. C. C. Ne temere was issued Aug. 2, 1907. Such a decree is really a papal act and has the force of a pontifical law; the Pope uses the Congregation to issue a new law of his own. (b) Pius IX, in his letter to the Archbishop of Munich, Dec. 21, 1863, declared that all Catholics are obliged to submit to doctrinal decisions which emanate from the Roman Congregations. The obligation of submission, in this case, is not satisfied by saying and doing nothing contrary to such decrees. Ordinarily, at least, there must also be an internal submission under pain of falling into the sin of temerity and pride, in preferring one’s own opinion to that of a competent authority which is empowered to decide such questions. But inasmuch as the Roman Congregations are not infallible, it may possibly happen that a particular decree of some Congregation is false, and a learned man may see good reason for thinking that it is false. Such a one is not bound to assent to what, with good reason, he thinks is false; he should not openly attack the decree, but he may propose his reasons to the Congregation whose decree is in question, and await the result.1 (c) Particular sentences and decisions given by the Roman Congregations, in particular cases, bind the parties in the case, as all admit. But opinion is divided as to whether such a decision binds others as well as the parties immediately concerned. Some hold that they do not, for want of due promulgation. Others hold that they do, inasmuch as they are merely authentic applications of the law.2

3. The case.  John, a Catholic layman, and learned in Biblical studies, thought that the arguments of the critics against the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch were decisive. The Biblical Commission, June 27, 1906, decided that they were not decisive. Although John did not publicly write against this decree, he nevertheless adhered to his opinion, and openly told friends that he thought the Commission had made a mistake. When his parish priest and confessor heard this, he was puzzled how to treat John, who said nothing about the matter in confession.

The confessor doubtless will remember that by the Motu Proprio of Pius X, Praestantia Scripturae Sacrae, Nov. 18, 1907, the obligation to obey the decrees of the Biblical Commission is the same as the obligation to obey the doctrinal decrees of the Roman Congregations. The words of the Pope are : “Quapropter declarandum illud prsecipiendumque videmus quemadmodum declaramus in praesens expresseque prcecipimus universos omnes conscientiae obstringi officio sententiis Pontificalis Consilii de re Biblica sive quae adhuc sunt emissas sive quae posthac cdentur perinde ac decretis Sacrarum Congregationum pertinentibus ad doctrinam probatisque a pontifice se subjiciendi; nec posse notam turn detrectatae obedientiae turn temeritatis evitare aut culpa propterea vacarc gravi quotquot verbis scriptisve sententias has tales impugnent; idque praeter scandalum quo offendant ceteraque quibus in causa esse coram Deo possint aliis ut plurimum temere in his errateque pronunciatis.” John does not, indeed, impugn the decree of the Biblical Commission, but he openly says that in his opinion it is a mistake. Therefore he does not submit to it, and he can hardly be excused from a grave sin of disobedience, temerity, and scandal, especially as his friends doubtless look up to him as an authority on Biblical subjects. Yet John says nothing about this in the confessional. His confessor, who is also his parish priest, can not allow him to go on receiving the sacraments of the Church while openly refusing to accept her authoritative teaching. The confessor, therefore, must broach the matter to him, kindly but firmly, and admonish him of his obligations. If he refuses to submit, he must deny him absolution.

1 Lehmkuhl, vol. i, n. 304.     2 Genicot, vol. i, n. 135.
--- End quote ---

---Slater, Thomas, S.J. Cases of Conscience, Vol.I.  New York, NY; Benzinger Brothers, 1911.


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