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Document Details :
Title: Questions of Canon Law Concerning the Election and Consecration of a Bishop for the Church of Utrecht
Subtitle: The casus resolutio of 1722
Author(s): HALLEBEEK, Jan
Volume: 61 Issue: 1 Date: 2000
In 1723 the Vicariate of Utrecht elected Cornelis Steenoven as archbishop, whereas the following year Steenoven was consecrated in spite of the fact that the Pope refused to confirm his election. However, the Vicariate did not act without considerable forethought. First it sought advice on the many thorny questions concerning such an election and consecration. The justification was provided by a scholarly treatise, signed in December 1722 by three Louvain professors, the Casus Resolutio de Misero Statu Ecclesiae Ultrajectinae.
This work deals with specific questions of Canon Law, discussed in five chapters: (i) Does the Church of Utrecht need a bishop? (ii) Has the Church of Utrecht the right to elect a bishop? (iii) Is it allowed to consecrate the elect if the Pope refuses to confirm the election? (iv) Would an episcopal consecration performed by only one consecrator be valid? (v) Should bishops hasten to help the Church of Utrecht? All these questions are answered in the affirmative, whereas the entire treatise is dominated by one central thought, viz. that the Church of Utrecht is an uninterrupted continuation of the pre-reformation Catholic Church of the Northern Netherlands with all its corresponding rights. The Vicariate is considered a continuation of the medieval Cathedral Chapter, the Vicars Apostolic were in fact diocesan bishops. Because the draft of the casus resolutio was composed by Dutchmen, who had received their theological and legal education at Louvain, the doctrines of the Louvain professor of Canon Law Zeger Bernard van Espen can frequently be found.
One can question the intentions of the Church of Utrecht when composing the casus resolutio. It is sometimes considered a justification for withdrawing from Rome and enforcing a schism, part of a preconceived plan heading for a breach. However, the legal justification for electing an archbishop of Utrecht seems to be directed primarily at establishing that such an election and consecration would in every respect be in conformity with current ecclesiastical law, and, as a consequence, a possible schism could not be laid on the conscience of the Utrecht clergy.