Black is the new white; breaking rules is a sign of fidelity for modernists

The fundamental theologian Matthias Remenyi on law and breaking the law

Why there is a need for rule-breaking in the Catholic Church


"We will see more and more rule-breaking in the church field. Simply because the norms and theories behind these rules are no longer plausible," says fundamental theologian, Matthias Reményi. And he describes why this is also a good development for law.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has broken the law. He lied and covered up, coldly abandoned the victims and protected the perpetrators. He disregarded the rules he himself helped to introduce as President of the German Bishops' Conference in Freiburg. He now has to live with this multiple guilt. Those affected by sexualised violence must also.

We need an order of law in our church that deserves its name. And we need respect for the law in our church. That is one side.

Breaking the rules from which blessings flow

The other side is that in the future we will see more and more rule-breaking in the church field. Simply because the norms and theories behind these rules are no longer plausible. And we need these rule breaks so that something new can emerge in the church. Actions such as #OutInChurch or Love Wins, but also lay and especially women's sermons and ecumenical meal celebrations are such rule-breakers from which blessings arise.

This is not surprising. The theory-practice circle also applies in the space of the church. Often enough, changed social conditions or new forms of thinking have condensed into a new church practice. Often enough, even against fierce opposition from the official church. The legitimisation by the official church norms followed later.

Breaking the rules as a sign of fidelity to the law

So how do we deal with the paradox of law and lawbreaking? There is a parallel in civil law.

Civil disobedience, for example by climate activists or in church asylum, serves as a selective, calculated rule-breaking not to destroy the law, but rather to restore it in the face of evident grievances. Justice and law are to be promoted, not simply undermined. It is an expression of the loyalty to the law of those who do not have the power to directly legislate themselves. Laws that run counter to the sense of justice can be identified and changed.

Canon law also has a supreme rule

But where is the limit, and what standard should apply? The Church knows a criterion for dealing with law that is above all else. It calls it the salvation of the soul. Salus animarum suprema lex. The salvation of souls is the supreme law. What sounds convoluted means in concrete terms: the supreme norm of all ecclesiastical law is its usefulness for life. Our law should be that which promotes life in abundance and vitality, that which promotes well-being for all in a comprehensive, holistic sense.

In the case of the episcopal cover-up, disregard for law from the position of power has stabilised a dysfunctional system and violated injured lives yet another time. The sense of right was disregarded, the fidelity to right destroyed.

In the case of #OutInChurch and "Love Wins", disrespecting the law from the position of powerlessness has deciphered a dysfunctional system and has, if not healed, dignified violated lives. The sense of law was preserved and - at least with regard to the new basic order - led to new law-making. That is the difference. May God give us the gift of discernment and the courage to live it.

The author

Matthias Reményi is Professor of Fundamental Theology and Comparative Religion at the University of Würzburg.

Cathcon: This is modernism constructing its own reality with its own rules; any will do unless they are Catholic rules.

Saint Thomas More was asked to comment- not strictly analogous as Saint Thomas is talking about secular law- but the point stands, once you start cutting down the law of the Church, there will be a howling gale of wickedness, which will prevail universally.