In the Navy there was a term we used for people who seemed to think they knew all the rules and would use technicalities to avoid work – Sea Lawyers. Within Catholic circles there is a something similar though not an exact parallel. There are many that seem to think they can pick up the code of Canon Law and just read a canon and correctly interpret it authoritatively. This attitude is kind of Sola Canon Law and closely parallels Sola Scriptura. Instead of Sea Lawyers perhaps the term of use is “Holy See Lawyers”.
This is an easy trap to fall into and that I have fallen into. Thankfully we have bloggers like Canonist Edward N. Peters, who has a whole bunch of letters after his name, that can help us from falling into this mindset. Reading his blog over the years and following his appearances on Catholic Answers live it has certainly helped me to understand that there is so much more to it than simply reading the canons as there is much commentary and years of understanding in how they are to be interpreted. Plus of course within the Canonist community there is also differing opinions. There is a very interesting cross-section of theology and Church law involved that certainly catches my attention. I remember Jimmy Akin’s discussion on his podcast on what actually constitutes heresy and the subject is very involved with many nuances, yet many seem to think it is very easy to class somebody a formal heretic.
I bring this up because I was thinking about the subject due to Ed Peters discussion on his blog about the canonical situation of Michael Vorbis and the Archdiocese of Detroit. My own “Holy See Lawyer” attitude would have thought it was a slam dunk that the Archdiocese did not have a correct canonical case since RealCatholic.tv legal headquarters is not in this Archdiocese. Nice to be reminded that once again I am not a Canon Lawyer or even attempting to play one on my blog.