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The Court of Popular Opinion?

February 13, 2018

As media coverage continues to rage about Pope Francis' handling of the Barros case, I received a report of a recent broadcast from EWTN. Hosted by the Raymond Arroyo (see The World Over). If the reports I have seen are accurate, a guest lawyer proceeded to offer a variety of opinions as to the role played by Pope Francis and, seemingly, his misplaced understanding of "mercy". Whilst there have been widespread reports of a letter being delivered to the Holy Father, much less has been said as to the precise terms of the letter, or, for that matter, the extent of the evidence available to the Holy Father. It was once famously stated by a senior appellate court in the UK: "If I create a three-pronged digging implement, the fact I label it a shovel, does not mean it is not a fork". There is a world of difference between information on the one hand and evidence on the other. Any rudimentary law student will affirm a similar distinction between information and accusation. As Monsignor Scicluna prepares to commence his investigation, we can be sure -given his experience- that he will be keen to maintain this distinction.  Sadly, however, this saga has served to reveal a much more worrying fragility of the present papacy: the extent to which the media agencies (both liberal and conservative) draw upon social media and related networks to define the papacy or, in some cases, undermine its stability. Like Art 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) the Church recognises the importance of freedom of expression. Any doubt in this respect, is removed by canon 212 §3 of the 1983 Code.  However, this canon must be read as a whole. In common with Art 10 ECHR, the right is qualified, not absolute. The Code - like civil legal systems- recognises that the freedom is directed to a particular purpose: the good of the Church. It should not therefore be seen as conferring a licence to say what we like, when we like. Rights are, after all, inseparable from responsibility.  Perhaps we would do well to await the outcome of the investigation which is now imminent; allowing for the application of the law in a manner which will benefit both complainant and accused?   As a church, we should be committed to ensuring that this is achieved. 

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