Douthat on the Douthat affair

We have been working, not very hard, honestly, on a piece about the Douthat affair—primarily about Fr. James Martin’s hate masquerading as charity response—and we may yet publish it. However, for now, it should be noted that Ross Douthat himself as responded. He comes admirably to the point:

First, because if the church admits the remarried to communion without an annulment — while also instituting an expedited, no-fault process for getting an annulment, as the pope is poised to do — the ancient Catholic teaching that marriage is “indissoluble” would become an empty signifier.

Second, because changing the church’s teaching on marriage in this way would unweave the larger Catholic view of sexuality, sin and the sacraments — severing confession’s relationship to communion, and giving cohabitation, same-sex unions and polygamy entirely reasonable claims to be accepted by the church.

Now this is, as you note, merely a columnist’s opinion. So I have listened carefully when credentialed theologians make the liberalizing case. What I have heard are three main claims. The first is that the changes being debated would be merely “pastoral” rather than “doctrinal,” and that so long as the church continues to saythat marriage is indissoluble, nothing revolutionary will have transpired.

But this seems rather like claiming that China has not, in fact, undergone a market revolution because it’s still governed by self-described Marxists. No: In politics and religion alike, a doctrine emptied in practice is actually emptied, whatever official rhetoric suggests.

(Emphasis supplied.) Well worth reading in full.

Houses where love can dwell

At Ethika Politika, Peter J. Leithart, apparently seized by the spirit of late October, urges Catholics “to become protestant.” What does that mean? It means that the Church should abandon most of the distinctively Catholic features that are, at this point, not only dogmatic—Leithart has a real burr under his saddle about Ineffabilis Deus and Munificentissimus Deus and the rest of the Marian dogmas—but also deeply traditional. And to what end? We’ll leave that for you to find out, dear reader.

We add only this as a comment: in the great Pope Pius’s Syllabus errorum, the annex to his great encyclical Quanta cura, the eighteenth condemned proposition is Protestantismus non aliud est quam diversa verae eiusdem christianae religionis forma, in qua aeque ac in Ecclesia catholica Deo placere datum est. (The source for this proposition is Pius’s 1849 encyclical, Nostis et nobiscum.)

The lost draft and the German moment

As we noted in our post, “Staying too long at the dance,” yesterday, Roberto de Mattei reports that the Synod’s relatio finalis ended up adopting the Germanicus group’s proposal largely because the original draft relatio, which, according to De Mattei, essentially restated the Instrumentum Laboris, could not garner sufficient support in the aula. Now Sandro Magister reports, in the context of the broader Ratzinger-Kasper debate,

So then, in the German circle during the last week of the synod there was unanimity on precisely this last hypothesis that Ratzinger in his day presented as a study case: that of entrusting to the “internal forum,” meaning to the confessor together with the penitent, the “discernment” of cases in which to allow “access to the sacraments.” And in the “Germanicus” in addition to Kasper were cardinals Marx and Christoph Schönborn, plus other innovators. But there was also Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and a staunch Ratzingerian.

But when the “German” solution went into the final document – which in turn was replacing a previous draft torn apart by criticisms – and went to the assembly for a vote, it could not be approved without further softening of its language, to the point of eliminating all innovation. And thus “access to the sacraments” was diluted to a generic “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church.” In the text that was ultimately approved, in the paragraphs on the divorced and remarried, the word “communion” does not appear even once, nor does any equivalent term. Nothing new, in short, with respect to the ban in effect, at least not if one holds to the letter of the text.

(Emphasis supplied.)

The draft relatio was apparently released under strict secrecy—we recall hearing that originally the draft could not be taken from the aula, but that restriction was eventually relaxed to give the Synod fathers time to study it—so it is unlikely that the “lost draft” will ever see the light of day. But it would be interesting to know what, precisely, was in the first draft relatio that made the Germanicus proposal, watered down further or not, the better choice. However, looking at the three documents we do have might shed some light on the lost draft.

Let’s examine first the Instrumentum Laboris on the question of a penitential path, since Roberto de Mattei reports that the lost draft essentially restated the Instrumentum here:

A Way of Penance

122. (52) The synod fathers also considered the possibility of giving the divorced and remarried access to the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Various synod fathers insisted on maintaining the present discipline, because of the constitutive relationship between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church as well as her teaching on the indissoluble character of marriage. Others proposed a more individualized approach, permitting access in certain situations and with certain well-defined conditions, primarily in irreversible situations and those involving moral obligations towards children who would have to endure unjust suffering. Access to the sacraments might take place if preceded by a penitential practice, determined by the diocesan bishop. The subject needs to be thoroughly examined, bearing in mind the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances, given that “imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (CCC, 1735). [This foregoing bit is just the relevant section from the 2014 Relatio Synodi.]

123. Concerning the aforementioned subject, a great number agree that a journey of reconciliation or penance, under the auspices of the local bishop, might be undertaken by those who are divorced and civilly remarried, who find themselves in irreversible situations. In reference to Familiaris Consortio, 84, the suggestion was made to follow a process which includes: becoming aware of why the marriage failed and the wounds it caused; due repentance; verification of the possible nullity of the first marriage; a commitment to spiritual communion; and a decision to live in continence.

Others refer to a way of penance, meaning a process of clarifying matters after experiencing a failure and a reorientation which is to be accompanied by a priest who is appointed for this purpose. This process ought to lead the party concerned to an honest judgment of his/her situation. At the same time, the priest himself might come to a sufficient evaluation as to be able to suitably apply the power of binding and loosing to the situation. 

In order to examine thoroughly the objective situation of sin and the moral culpability of the parties, some suggest considering The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (4 September 1994) and The Declaration concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of the Faithful who are Divorced and Remarried of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (24 June 2000).

(Some emphasis supplied.) Let’s look next at the relevant section of the third Germanicus report, as translated by Mark de Vries at his blog, In Caelo et in Terra:

It is known that there has been strong struggle, in  both sessions of the Synod of Bishops, about the questions of whether and to what extent divorced and remarried, faithful, when they want to take part in the life of the Church, can, under certain circumstances, receive the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. The discussions have shown that there are no simple and general solutions to this question. We bishops have experienced the tensions connected to this question as many of our faithful, their concerns and hopes, warnings and expectations have accompanied us in our deliberations.

The discussions clearly show that some clarification and explanation to further develop the complexity of these questions in the light of the Gospel, the doctrine of the Church and with the gift of discernment. We can freely mention some criteria which may help in our discernment. The first criterium is given by Pope Saint John Paul II in Familiaris consortio 84, when he invites us: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid”. It is therefore the duty of the pastors to travel this path of discernment together with those concerned. It would be helpful to take, in an honest examination of conscience, the step of contemplation and penance together. The divorced and remarried should then ask themselves how they dealt with their children when their marital Union fell into crisis? Where there attempts at reconciliation? What is the situation of the partner left behind? What is the effect of the new relationship on the greater family and the community of faithful? What is the example for the young who are discerning marriage? An honest contemplation can strengthen trust in the mercy of God, which He refuses no one who brings their failures and needs before Him.

Such a path of contemplation and penance can, in the forum internum, with an eye on the objective situation in conversation with the confessor, lead to personal development of conscience and to clarification, to what extent access to the sacrament is possible. Every individual must examine himself according to the word of the Apostle Paul, which applies to all who come to the table of the Lord:  “Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died. If we were critical of ourselves we would not be condemned” (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

(Emphasis supplied.) Finally, in Rorate‘s translation, here are the two most relevant passages of the relatio finalis just approved:

85. Saint John Paul II offered an all-encompassing criterion, that remains the basis for valuation of these situations: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.” (FC, 84) It is therefore a duty of the priests to accompany the interested parties on the path of discernment according to the teaching of the Church and the orientations of the Bishop. In this process, it will be useful to make an examination of conscience, by way of moments of reflection and repentance. Remarried divorcees should ask themselves how they behaved themselves when their conjugal union entered in crisis; if there were attempts at reconciliation; what is the situation of the abandoned partner [“partner” in the original Italian]; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and in the community of the faithful; what example does it offer to young people who are to prepare themselves to matrimony. A sincere reflection may reinforce trust in the mercy of God that is not denied to anyone.
Additionally, it cannot be denied that in some circumstances, “the imputability and the responsibility for an action can be diminished or annulled (CIC, 1735) due to various conditioners. Consequently, the judgment on an objective situation should lead to the judgment on a ‘subjective imputability'” (Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration of June 24, 2000, 2a). In determined circumstances, the persons find great difficulty with acting in a different way. Therefore, while holding up a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that the responsibility regarding specific actions or decisions is not the same in every case. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account the rightly formed conscience of persons, should take these situations into account. Also the consequences of the accomplished acts are not necessarily the same in every case.
86. The path of accompaniment and discernment orients these faithful to becoming conscious of their situation before God. The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, concurs to the formation of a correct judgment on what prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that may favor it and make it grow. Considering that in the same law there is no graduality (cf. FC, 34), this discernment must never disregard the demands of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church. In order for this to happen, the necessary conditions of humility, reserve, love for the Church and to her teaching, in the sincere search for the will of God and for the desire to reach a more perfect answer to the latter, are to be guaranteed.
(Original emphasis omitted, our emphasis supplied.)

Let’s look at the differences briefly. On one hand, the IL position would commit the entire process to the priest, allowing the parties to come to an “honest judgment” about their situation and allowing the priest to form his own judgment sufficient to exercise the power of binding and loosing. In essence, the spouse could come to the conclusion that his first marriage was no marriage, the priest could agree with him, declare the prior marriage void, and the spouse would be readmitted to the Eucharist.

The Germanicus position backs away from the IL position somewhat by acknowledging that there are some impediments—like, oh, a prior, presumptively valid marriage—that are absolute roadblocks to communion. However, Germanicus seems to bring forward the basic component of the IL position; that is, the spouse, in conversation with his confessor, can still come to a basic judgment about his situation, including his objective situation, that would permit him to approach the living Body and Blood of the mighty God. Germanicus did, however, quote Paul in 1 Corinthians about the grave danger of unworthily approaching the Eucharist.

Finally, the RF position largely ratifies the Germanicus position. As we have noted before, Germanicus called for an examen about the spouse’s conduct of the marriage. So does the RF. Germanicus called for an internal forum solution. So does the RF. However, if there is a significant difference between Germanicus and the RF, it comes when you compare Such a path of contemplation and penance can, in the forum internum, with an eye on the objective situation in conversation with the confessor, lead to personal development of conscience and to clarification, to what extent access to the sacrament is possible (from Germanicus) with The conversation with the priest, in internal forum, concurs to the formation of a correct judgment on what prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that may favor it and make it grow (from RF). The difference seems to come between “to what extent access to the sacrament is possible,” which seems to result in the basic outcome of the IL position, that is the spouse and the priest coming to a conclusion that the spouse may approach the Eucharist, versus “what prevents the possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church and on the steps that may favor it and make it grow,” which implies that prior marriages need to be resolved via a nullity case (among other things). Remember that Sandro Magister reports that the Germanicus position had to be “softened” in order to pass. This could be that softening.

It seems to us that if, as De Mattei reports, the lost draft restated the IL position, the Synod fathers might well have objected to the fact that the entire process would be committed to the priest, the spouse, and their consciences, and that the priest would have the power of the keys to do something about the prior marriage. Germanicus never went that far, explicitly, and instead called for an examen and a conversation in the internal forum, with an eye on objective realities, whatever that means, to reach a point of clarity about the spouse’s situation. In other words, the talk of objective realities could be seen as a hook for the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and adultery. Thus, it seems entirely possible that Germanicus’s report would be more palatable to moderates.

However, we’re still not sure that there is a huge difference between the IL position and the Germanicus/RF position. It seems to us that all the potential for abuse—and, frankly, sacrilege—present in the IL is still present in the Germanicus/RF position. The priest and the spouse still journey together—or whatever—toward a correct judgment on what, if anything, stands between the spouse and full participation. Now the possibility remains open that the answer could be “nothing,” notwithstanding the objective realities of the situation. This was the possibility in the IL and the Germanicus report. It is true that the RF adds some talk about the teachings of the Church, meant generally to include Familiaris consortio and the like, graduality, and the demands of the Gospel. However, the RF also IL’s talk about reduced culpability while omitting Germanicus’s citation to 1 Corinthians 11. By doing this, it seems that the RF gives everyone the ultimate out: Yes, the prior marriage was presumptively valid. Yes, this is objectively sinful. But, setting all that to one side, there are extenuating circumstances tending to diminish culpability.

An addendum and a digression about the Novus Ordo

An addendum…

In our previous post, “Staying too long at the dance,” we said,

But it seems to us that, while certainly withdrawal into safe circles is the only reasonable response to the situation—and by this we mean (1) finding and building relationships with solid bishops and priests, (2) focusing ever more intensely on traditional devotions to Our Lord really present in the Eucharist and Our Lady’s Rosary, and (3) deepening one’s understanding of the doctrine of the Church—so too is hope.

(Emphasis supplied.) We wanted to expand upon this briefly in the context of various “options” floating around.

In particular, Rod Dreher has pushed, in various forms, his so-called Benedict Option for a while now. The nut of the idea is this: orthodox Christians are essentially and irrevocably at odds with the liberal, secular culture now dominant in the United States, and in order to preserve one’s faith and one’s family from the onslaught of that culture, it is advisable to form stable communities around religious institutions, like churches or monasteries. The idea is that the storm has to blow over sooner or later and that, when it does, these islands of the faith will be available and ready to re-evangelize the United States. (For our part, we think there are some problems with the idea, not the least of which is who decides when the storm has blown over. Also, small communities don’t always maintain a good sense of balance and perspective, to put it decorously.) There has been some serious criticism of Dreher’s basic idea and some criticism that’s less well articulated. Dreher has advanced other ideas, like Leah Libresco’s “be active in your parish” suggestion.

We do not mean by our comment in “Staying too long at the dance” to suggest that traditionally minded Catholics ought to come up with a Benedict Option-type solution (an Athanasius Option? a Lefebvre Option?) As unwieldy as the Benedict Option seems to be in practice, a similar plan for traditionally minded Catholics seems even less workable. Neither did we mean to suggest taking the Benedict Option to the next level, pulling a Hans Castorp, and retreating to a mountain refuge to pray and debate doctrine while the Church is shaken by paroxysms not seen since the Council. (Another friend wrote to us as we were drafting this comment to point this flaw in our original post out, which we attribute to more than serendipity.) All of those options tend to discount the very real value that action—motivated by an orthodox will—can have on the situation in the Church and society more broadly.

As every priest reminds us sooner or later, we are all members of the Body of Christ, His Church, and we are often called upon to help Christ by acting in accordance with his will, as best as we can discern it. That is, while we ought to hope that God will save his people once again as he has done over and over again from the beginning of time, as the Psalmist always hoped, we need to remember that we might be the divine intervention for the Church and for society we are hoping for. It is not insignificant to us that the readings in the 1960 Breviary right now are from the books of Maccabees. Thus, while it is important to, as we said, form networks of solid bishops and priests (recalling one’s obligations to one’s pastor and one’s ordinary), to renew our attachment to traditional devotions, and to deepen our knowledge of the faith, it is also important to put this orthodoxy into action. This can take many forms in many places, and those forms are often dictated by circumstances.

However, if, after considering the circumstances, a strategic retreat seems like the best option for oneself and one’s family, then it may be appropriate to consider some Option or another. Our point is that beating a retreat as a policy is bound to result in disaster. It did after the Council and it will here, too, if we’re not careful. We did not mean to suggest in our original comments that beating a retreat was the reasonable response in all cases or, indeed, in many cases.

A digression…

While we are on the subject, a digression about the Novus Ordo. Some fairly prominent commentators on the Synod have taken the opportunity to remind us, once more, that they really, really do not like the Novus Ordo Mass (the Missal of Bl. Paul VI or the Forma Ordinaria or what-have-you). Some make vague noises about the liceity of the Novus Ordo and some make vaguer noises about its validity. One of our friends has noted how unhelpful this attitude is at the moment. We tend to agree. The current debate is over basic Gospel truths, and it seems to us that anyone who is willing to stand up for those basic Gospel truths is one of the good guys regardless of their liturgical orientation. Now, we think it is unlikely that a priest is going to process in to “Hear I Am, Lord,” amid felt banners and dancers, ad lib a little and there with the Collect, say Eucharistic Prayer II, ad libbing a little more with the preface or whatever, and then preach a barn-burning sermon against adultery and in defense of Our Lord really present in the Eucharist. But he could. And it seems to us to be shortsighted to discount that priest entirely because his Mass is a mess redolent of John Paul’s worst ceremonies. But, as we noted, we digress.

Staying too long at the dance

We have, so far, avoided discussing—here, at any rate—the relatio finalis from the Synod. It is exactly the sort of document that permits both Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Pell to argue that it supports each man’s position. However, comparing the three significant paragraphs—84, 85, and 86—with Germanicus’s final report, it is clear that Germanicus’s thinking was adopted by the Synod. Germanicus misconstrued Familiaris consortio 84; so did the relatio finalis. Germanicus proposed a forum internum path; so did the relatio finalis. If you think that Germanicus’s report represents, essentially, a compromise version of the Kasperite proposal, then it is fairly clear that the relatio finalis adopted such a view. Whether the Holy Father will, in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation or other, more juridical document, put some backbone into the proposal remains to be seen.

However, one can get a sense of the Holy Father’s outlook from his extraordinary speech at the end of the Synod. We quote the entire passage, which is fairly lengthy:

As I followed the labours of the Synod, I asked myself: What will it mean for the Church to conclude this Synod devoted to the family?

Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s tradition and two-thousand-year history, bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said.

Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.

It was about urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.

It was about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors, who came to Rome bearing on their shoulders the burdens and the hopes, the riches and the challenges of families throughout the world.

It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.

It was about trying to view and interpret realities, today’s realities, through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism.

It was about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others.

It was also about laying closed hearts, which bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.

It was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.

It was about trying to open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints, so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.

In the course of this Synod, the different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp”, but draws from the sources of her faith living waters to refresh parched hearts.

And – apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and every general principle – as I said, dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s magisterium – every general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied. The 1985 Synod, which celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, spoke of inculturation as “the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity, and the taking root of Christianity in the various human cultures”. Inculturation does not weaken true values, but demonstrates their true strength and authenticity, since they adapt without changing; indeed they quietly and gradually transform the different cultures.

(Emphasis supplied, italics in original, and citations omitted.) For our part, we cannot remember—or even really imagine—John Paul or Benedict speaking in such a manner about their doctrinal opponents. In fact, often, John Paul and Benedict gave their doctrinal opponents the red hat and important Curial positions. (We have said repeatedly, elsewhere, that John Paul and Benedict’s legacies are compromised by their willingness to promote dissenters like Cardinal Kasper to high office.) But, regardless of whether or not such an expression is precedented, it is clear that the Holy Father has had it up to here with traditionally minded Catholics.

We note at this point that Roberto de Mattei explains the Holy Father’s critical Synod Speech by articulating another alleged revolt against a deficient text. On October 22, the draft relatio finalis was released, in Italian, under the strictest secrecy. The draft had the Holy Father’s evident backing, and it essentially restated the really deficient Instrumentum Laboris, ignoring the debate in the aula, the reports of the circuli minores, and the thousands of written modi. There was, according to De Mattei, a revolt in the aula: 51 Synod fathers, including some major figures in the Curia (and the Conclave), intervened, mostly against the draft. It became clear that the draft relatio finalis couldn’t pass. And then it was remembered that Germanicus achieved complete consensus—that is, Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Kasper on the same page—with its restatement of part of Familiaris consortio and its forum internum solution. The draft relatio finalis was amended to adopt, essentially, the Germanicus proposal, and it passed—but just barely and probably wouldn’t have passed without the Holy Father’s appointees. In other words, when the Holy Father gave his speech to the Synod, he was at the end of what De Mattei calls his “black day.” De Mattei says, of the Speech, “Hard words, which express bitterness and dissatisfaction: certainly not those of a victor.” (Emphasis supplied.) We are not sure what to make of De Mattei’s report. Certainly, it ought to be considered carefully, as aspects jive with objective facts—especially the fact that the Germanicus compromise solution ended up being the Synod’s position.

At any rate, the Holy Father apparently sees some (many?) traditionally minded Catholics—you know, orthodox Catholics—not as defenders of the Apostolic faith, which is, after all, the only sure means of salvation, but as judgmental, superior, and blinkered. But this is not a new attitude for the Holy Father. One of his favorite rhetorical devices is to criticize the so-called doctors of the law. He also likes to talk about modern-day Pharisees. He is also known for his ability to really let folks have it with both barrels: recall the 2014 Christmas speech to the Curia, which outlined fifteen diseases of the Curia. What is extraordinary to us, however, is the unwillingness of the Holy Father to make even vague noises about the good intentions of his doctrinal opponents. One gets the sense that he does not think that—oh, any number of men with red hats you could name as well as we could—even mean well.

And Francis is sick of them. Perhaps this is the way it goes. Rorate reposted today a comment from a Jesuit confrere of the Holy Father’s, which asserted that the Holy Father fell into bad, distant relationships with some groups during his time in Argentina. We do not know whether this is true: we weren’t there. However, we have a strong sense there is a sense the relationship between Francis and the conservatives is, on the whole, not good. We have the sense that everyone here thinks everyone else has stayed too long at the dance. The Holy Father wishes that the traditionalists would stop citing rules and throwing wrenches; they should get in line.

But the weariness and wariness is not limited to Francis’s side of the line of scrimmage, either. It seems to us that many traditionally minded are as worn out with Francis as he is with them. Into this mix, Elliot Milco has offered, at The Paraphasic, a lengthy, deeply personal reflection, “In the Absence of a Shepherd.” Milco observes

In such a Church, where do you look for guidance and support when the wolves are devouring Christ’s lambs? What authority is on your side?  The general absence of legitimate authority, the absence of clerics ready to stand up for the truth, makes it almost impossible to speak in defense of the orthodox faith.  In the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, we have been scattered because there is no shepherd, and when we are scattered we become food for all the wild animals.

It is against this background that I experience the protestations of many Catholics, who are committed to believing that Everything Is Fine in the Church.  Somehow their insular context or good fortune has spared them from seeing the massive damage and scandal being done by our clerics.  These people do not have to stand before hundreds of children who are already mostly committed to the corruption of the present age, and hear the words of the Supreme Pontiff quoted as evidence against the teachings of Christ.  They do not have to hear conversations about how X pastor feels emboldened in his tendencies by Francis’s perceived liberalism, or how Y priest is now secure enough under the present Archbishop that he will officiate at the marriage ceremony of two men.  And not knowing these things, even committed, it sometimes seems, to remaining oblivious of them, these Catholics turn those of us who cannot help but know them them into the enemies of the Church.  We are cranks, unhinged, hysterical, wackos. We are crypto-schismatics.  We are to blame for the present sense of chaos.  How could we dare to lose faith in the Holy Spirit’s protection of the Pope and the Hierarchy!  We must affirm!  Everything is fine! Really!

How easy it must be to stand by “Everything is Fine”, when the life of the Church is an abstraction, and not dozens of real faces one has to see and attempt to guide day after day.  How comforting it must be to say “Things have been this bad before!” when the corruption of the times is thought of generally and not with respect to a particular person’s spiritual development and eternal destiny, which is being visibly impacted for the worse by the scandalous vagueness of those in authority.  With such an easy frame of mind at stake, who can blame these Catholics for defending the comfortable abstraction against the doomsayers and cranks?

(Some formatting omitted.) We have previously commented on the lack of trust in traditional circles for the Holy Father and certain prelates, and we think Milco’s piece expresses these feelings very precisely and movingly. And he is not alone. Dr. John Rao, for example, during a web-exclusive interview for The Remnant, expressed similar feelings regarding “neo-Catholics,” by which he means, apparently, conservative Catholics who take the reigning pope as the definitive expression of the Magisterium. We have noticed a sense among traditionally minded Catholics that they are on their own as the Church navigates its way through the coming months and years. We see them attaching themselves to a handful of prelates, not usually diocesan ordinaries, such as Raymond Cardinal Burke or Bishop Athanasius Schneider, and settling in for a long, hard journey. It is also clear, we think, from Milco and Rao’s eloquent comments, that traditionally minded Catholics see clearly that this debate is only about doctrine. Discipline is a sideline to the real debate.

We note, of course, that this state of affairs would have scarcely been possible before (1) the Internet made instant communications anywhere in the world a fact of daily life and (2) before Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI made the modern papacy very present for Catholics, especially conservatives who found the universal pastor more sympathetic and a better spiritual guide than their local pastors and ordinaries. In 1735, 1835, or 1935, if the pope had made a critical speech—and popes were making critical speeches even then—it is unlikely that the speech would be instantly heard of outside Rome. More likely, word would take months to reach even plugged-in churchmen, and the laity might never hear of the Holy Father’s barn-burning speech. Likewise, the partisan political side of the Church could not disseminate news and form received opinions as quickly in those days. It seems to us that the Church’s response to telecommunications in 2015 is sorely lacking, and a Synod could profitably be called to figure out how best to engage, meaningfully and pastorally, with the faithful in the age of Twitter. And if wishes were horses.

The question, the answer to which does not immediately present itself to us, is how Francis—how the Church —moves forward. And we are not sure Francis can. Even if he does not implement the Kasperite proposal, it is not clear to us that he ever regains warm feelings with the traditionally minded Catholics. The past year or eighteen months have done considerable damage to the Church and caused great scandal to traditionalists. Likewise, it is not even clear to us that he wants to regain warm feelings with the conservatives. The Holy Father pretty clearly views the traditionalists as rule-quoting scolds who are gumming up the works. So, is it a standoff for as long as the Holy Father reigns (and long may he reign)? Maybe. We do not see any openings or angles that would convince us otherwise, at any rate.

But it seems to us that, while certainly withdrawal into safe circles is the only reasonable response to the situation—and by this we mean (1) finding and building relationships with solid bishops and priests, (2) focusing ever more intensely on traditional devotions to Our Lord really present in the Eucharist and Our Lady’s Rosary, and (3) deepening one’s understanding of the doctrine of the Church—so too is hope. Milco notes,

Where does that leave us, fellow Christians, Pastors?  When the Church is divided between those fighting for heresy and those struggling to pretend that nothing is wrong, where can the faithful find refuge?  This is, I believe, the growing crisis of those committed to the ancient faith.  What can we do but put our hope in Christ?

Hope does not require candy-coating the present. Indeed, real hope acknowledges the gravity of the situation. Think of the Psalms, many of which express the anxiety and despair over the situation the Psalmist found himself in, which emotions are often amplified if you put the Psalms on the lips of Our Lord. But the Psalmist trusted that God would not abandon his people.

The Avignon Papacy and Liberalism

The Josias has an excerpt from Ludwig von Pastor’s history of the papacy about the Avignon popes, their cupidity, and the consequences of the same. Well worth a read. This passage, in particular, stuck out to us:

Still more radical, if possible, are the views regarding the doctrine and government of the Church put forth in this work. The sole foundation of faith and of the Church is Holy Scripture, which does not derive its authority from, her, but, on the contrary, confers on her that which she possesses. The only true interpretation of Scripture is not that of the Church, but that of the most intelligent people, so that the University of Paris may very well be superior to the Court of Rome. Questions concerning faith are to be decided, not by the Pope, but by a General Council.

This General Council is supreme over the whole Church, and is to be summoned by the State. It is to be composed not only of the clergy, but also of laymen elected by the people. As regards their office, all priests are equal; according to Divine right, no one of them is higher than another. The whole question of Church government is one of expediency, not of the faith necessary to salvation. The Primacy of the Pope is not founded on Scripture, nor on Divine right. His authority therefore can only, according to Marsiglio, be derived from a General Council and from the legislature of the State; and for the election of a Pope the authority of the Council requires confirmation from the State.

The office of the Pope is, with the College appointed for him by the Council or by the State, to signify to the State authority the necessity of summoning a Council, to preside at the Council, to draw up its decisions, to impart them to the different Churches, and to provide for their execution. The Pope represents the executive power, while the legislative power in its widest extent appertains to the Council. But a far higher and more influential position belongs to the Emperor in Marsiglio’s Church; the convocation and direction of the Council is his affair; he can punish priests and bishops, and even the Pope.