A furor has erupted over the past week over the sacrament of confirmation and a confirmand’s worthiness to receive the sacrament. According to a number of print and internet sources, the pastor of a teenaged Minnesota confirmand, Lennon Cihak, has denied the sacrament to the young man. Previously, Cihak defaced an anti-same-sex-marriage referendum yard sign to demonstrate his support of same-sex-marriage. Cihak also distributed a photo of the sign on Facebook to the overwhelming approval of his fellow confirmands (none of whom were similarly reprimanded). The pastor of his parish, Rev. Gary LaMoine, has not only refused Cihak the sacrament of confirmation, but has also placed his entire family under an interdict by denying the entire family the Eucharist.
Dr. Ed Peters, the noted canonist, contends on his blog In Light of the Law [”Confirmation and advocacy of ‘gay marriage’”, 16 November 2012]
that “proper disposition”, and not just internal assent or resolve, is necessary for a licit confirmation. Dr. Peters writes, basing his opinion on Canon 889 § 2, writes,
Generally “proper disposition” is not a question of internal disposition (such as interior faith, fervor, or grace) but rather of external disposition (public demeanor, dress, and conduct). The state of a would-be recipient’s soul is not determinable, of course, but his or her attitudes and conduct are observable (we’re talking Facebook, no?), and potentially actionable. If a pastor, charged with the custody and celebration of the sacraments left to the Church by Christ, has solid reason to doubt the liceity of his conferral of a sacrament on a given individual, he is within his authority to delay, or even to deny, that sacrament for so long as that sad situation lasts. His decision is, of course, reviewable by ecclesiastical authority (not by the media) and such authority (with access to all the facts) might reach a different conclusion. But one starts any review with the above canons clearly in mind.
It’s not difficult to see the complications of Dr. Peter’s understanding of “proper disposition” for an assembly and for liturgy. For example, could a priest place a person under an eucharistic interdict for having a bumper sticker on her car which supports a recently re-elected center-left president whose policies often do not align with the policies of some bishops? “External disposition” then, is not only a subjective metric but also a way for clergy to control the thoughts and opinions of their parishioners. As Cihak has experienced, the mere challenge of a priest’s political position can spur many ramifications. One should ask: will the pastor’s decisions rend the Body of the assembly, or strengthen the assembly by protecting a putative orthodoxy or orthopraxis?
At the outset, I must state that I have no training as a canonist. I will read
canons as a philologist, as if only for the internal logic of the canon and not its sociocultural or religious import. Granted, this separation is not truly possible. Nevertheless, I will make a worthy attempt. All English translations are mine unless otherwise noted; please criticize my translations!
The question: are clergy, both priests and bishops, able to bar certain persons from the sacrament of confirmation based on “external disposition”?
Consider canon 889 §2, under the heading CAPUT III: DE CONFIRMANDIS (“Chapter 3: About Confirmands”)
889 § 2. Extra periculum mortis, ut quis licite confirmationem recipiat, requiritur, si rationis usu polleat, ut sit apte institutus, rite dispositus et promissiones baptismales renovare valeat.
889 § 2. “Outside of the danger of death, that any person might receive confirmation validly, it is necessary if a person exercises the use of reason that she should have been prepared correctly [and] solemnly disposed, and able to renew baptismal promises.” [my addition]
My translation is necessarily stilted in order to demonstrate the use of the subjunctive for conditionality. Note that rite dispositus belongs with ut sit apte institutus and not promissiones baptismales renovare valeat – dispositus is actually dispositus sit. A comma is missing between dispositus and et.
Here is the polished Vatican English translation for comparison.
889 §2. “To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.”
I have translated the rite in rite dispositus as “solemnly”; the Vatican English translators chose “properly”. Neither choice illustrates the obligations of preparation for the sacrament well.
Tertullian, ad uxorem 3.1 offers one example of rite in a moral and sacramental theological context.
3.1 – Haec cum ita sint, fideles gentilium matrimonia subeuntes stupri reos esse constat et arcendos ab omni communicatione fraternitatis, ex litteris Apostoli dicentis, cum ejusmodi nec cibum sumendum aut numquid tabulas nuptiales de illo apud tribunal Domini proferemus? et matrimonium rite contractum allegabimus? quod vetuit ipse, non adulterium est? 
3.1 – “Things as they are, all agree that the faithful who partake of pagan nuptials are guilty of fornication and should be shielded from all communication within the community nor food shared with such persons, as stated per the letters of the Apostle. In fact, could we bring forth marriage licenses on that day before the tribunal of the Lord? Will we allege that we have contracted marriage rite? That which one forbids is not adultery?”
I have intentionally left rite untranslated so that the reader of this essay might consider the word in context. I would propose that rite connotes activities related to ritual preparation, and not actions denoting political or ideological views not connected to either the theology or ritual performance of a sacrament or liturgy. Tertullian would likely agree that one could easily prepare herself for the ritual performance of either a pagan or Christian wedding. Preparation, in that case, would include conformity to external ritual. The espousal of a pro-same-sex-marriage bears no relationship with preparation for ritual performance. In other words, it is unlikely that Cihak would have carried the sign with him in procession with his confirmation class to the sanctuary. Even if he did, the sign would not have been pertinent to the ritual.
Instead, rite in a Tertullian context suggests that the internal disposition for Christian marriage as well as external ritual preparation are inseparable. Certainly, God will see all of our deeds, both implicit and explicit, thought and external deed, at judgment. I agree with Dr. Peters that both intention and comportment should be considered when advancing a confirmand to the sacrament, but disagree that the internal and external dispositions can be separated or discerned individually.
I also disagree with Dr. Peter’s very broad definition of rite or “properly”. Canon 889 §2 provides no context for the interpretation of rite. I have chosen “solemnly” instead of “properly”, as I consider rite to refer specifically to ritual performance and not political sentiment or other activities outside of the sacramental ritual and preparation for this ritual. In the case of the aforementioned Tertullian excerpt, rite means “proper” in the sense of the liceity of the Christian sacrament and illicit nature of the pagan sacrament. rite applies to preparation within the Christian and pagan ritual spheres, and not a second or third century Christian’s purchase of lentils at a town bazaar. Because of the secular nature of his sign defacement, I would argue that Cihak’s rather moderate demonstration in favor of same-sex-marriage should not have impeded his progress to confirmation. His intentional lawn sign deformation does not oppose preparation for the confirmation ritual, but rather challenges a social question not directly pertinent to the sacramental theology or
liturgical theology of confirmation.
 Erik Burgess, “Barnesville teen denied Catholic confirmation after Facebook post supporting gay marriage”, INFORUM: the Forum of Fargo-Morehead14 November 2012; c.f. “Minn. gay-marriage supporter denied confirmation” (AP)San Francisco Chronicle, 15 November 2012); [both sources courtesy Thomas Peters, “Was the Pro-Gay Marriage 17-Year-Old Denied Confirmation For “Not Being 100% Catholic”? [Updated x2], American Papist, 14 November 2012]
 I have replaced the word “valid” with “illicit” in order to reflect Dr. Ed Peter’s blog post. I have done this at the suggestion of Sam Howard. see Samuel J. Howard, November 19, 2012 (1:36 pm), comment on Jordan Zarembo, “Dissent, disposition, and Confirmation”, Pray Tell Blog, November 19, 2012, http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2012/11/19/dissent-disposition-and-confirmation/
 Tertullian. ad uxorem 3.1 Patrologia Latina, [Col.1292C]. Accessed 19 November 2012.