I’m accustomed to a smooth ride

Fr. Raymond de Souza has a must-read piece at the Catholic Herald, “What will the Pope say? His friends tell us.” An excerpt:

Does silence on John Paul’s formulation token assent? Or does it mean that the traditional teaching is being left aside?

A commentary last week by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, gave a clear answer. Civiltà always carries a certain authority, as the Jesuit periodical is reviewed by the Holy See secretariat of state before publication.

Fr Spadaro is more authoritative still, as both a close confidant and mouthpiece of Pope Francis. It is inconceivable that he would write something contrary to what the Holy Father desired. In his analysis of the synod, his answer is emphatic.

“The [synod’s final report] proceeds on this path of discernment of individual cases without putting any limits on integration, as appeared in the past. … The conclusion is that the Church realises that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and close off the practice of integration within a rule that is entirely general and valid in every case. 

It is not said how far the process of integration can go, but neither are any more precise and insurmountable limitations set up.”

The “limits of the past” are that of Familiaris Consortio, which was certainly “precise”. It no longer holds. And how far will the integration go?

(Emphasis supplied.) Fr. De Souza goes on to address Scalfari’s quickly discredited-but-not-denied interview with the Holy Father:

Pope Francis gave another interview to the notorious Eugenio Scalfari last week, who reported that the Holy Father had told him that all those divorced and remarried who ask will be admitted to Holy Communion.

The Holy See Press Office issued the customary statement about the unreliability of Scalfari, who reconstructs his papal conversations from a fertile memory, but what Scalfari wrote in a few lines is basically what Fr Spadaro wrote in 20 pages: living in a conjugal union outside of marriage will either no longer be considered necessarily sinful, or being in a state of serious sin will no longer be an obstacle to receiving Holy Communion.

If Scalfari and Fr Spadaro were presenting conflicting views, it would be advisable to follow Fr Spadaro as to the Holy Father’s thought. But if they agree, there is no room for doubt.

(Emphasis supplied.) And Fr. De Souza gives a little more information; however, it adds up to this point—if the Pope’s favored theologians and journalists are an indication of the Pope’s mind, then the Pope is going to implement some version of the Kasperite proposal. (We wonder, perhaps idly, when something can properly be called a heresy? Does a pope have to condemn it as such, as St. Pius X, of happy memory, demolished Modernism in Pascendi? Does an ecumenical council have to anathematize it? Does the all-important sensus fidelium play a role?) However, we are far from sure that one needs to look to the Pope’s favorites, like Fr. Spadaro and Scalfari, to get a sense of what the Pope is thinking.

Indeed, it seems to us that the Holy Father has told us (and told us and told us) what he thinks, in broad terms, about these issues. All the condemnations of pharisees, Pelagians, Gnostics, and so forth—all of which seem to mean, in the Holy Father’s inimitable style, “someone overfond of rules”—gives a strong indication of the Pope’s thinking. Likewise, the Holy Father’s endless talk at Santa Marta and elsewhere about mercy and inclusion gives a strong indication of the Holy Father’s thinking. On one hand, the Holy Father has a certain idea of mercy that is, perhaps, hard to concretize. On the other hand, the Holy Father seems to think that, at best, the people who focus on obstacles are hung up on rules at best and hypocrites at worst.

Even today, the Holy Father, addressing the Romano Guardini Foundation, made comments that seem to be especially significant in the context of the forthcoming exhortation (or motu proprio or whatever):

Nel suo libro Il mondo religioso di Dostoevskij, Guardini riprende, tra l’altro, un episodio dal romanzo I fratelli Karamazov (Il mondo religioso di Dostoevskij, Morcelliana, Brescia, pp. 24ss). Si tratta del passo dove la gente va dallo starec Zosima per presentargli le proprie preoccupazioni e difficoltà, chiedendo la sua preghiera e benedizione. Si avvicina anche una contadina macilenta per confessarsi. Con un bisbiglio sommesso dice di aver ucciso il marito malato il quale in passato l’aveva maltrattata molto. Lo starec vede che la donna, nella disperata consapevolezza della propria colpa, è totalmente chiusa in sé stessa, e che qualsiasi riflessione, qualsiasi conforto o consiglio urterebbe contro questo muro. La donna è convinta di essere condannata. Il sacerdote, però, le mostra una via d’uscita: la sua esistenza ha un senso, perché Dio la accoglie nel momento del pentimento. «Non temere nulla, non temere mai, e non angosciarti – dice lo starec –, purché il pentimento non s’indebolisca in te, e poi Dio perdonerà tutto. Del resto, non c’è, e non ci può essere, su tutta la terra un peccato che Dio non perdoni a chi si pente sinceramente. Né l’uomo può commettere un peccato così grande che esaurisca l’infinito amore di Dio» (ibid., p. 25). Nella confessione la donna viene trasformata e riceve di nuovo speranza.

(Emphasis supplied.) The emphasis at the end of the passage about confession seems to be especially significant, given the fact that the Müller-Kasper compromise, represented in the Germanicus report, ultimately reheated the so-called forum internum solution as an alternative to a loosy-goosey penitential path.

For the monoglot—or for the polyglot who don’t have a lot of Italian—Vatican Radio summarizes this passage:

Quoting the words Dostoyevsky gave to his mystic priest-healer Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov, to speak to a woman who had taken the life of her abusive husband when he was sick, Pope Francis said, “Do not fear. Never fear, and do not be sad, so long as your remorse does not dry up, God forgives everything. There is no sin on the whole Earth that God will not forgive if you show true remorse. Man is unable to commit a sin that is too great for God’s unending love.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Obviously, we suspect that this will be quoted by individuals with a rooting interest in the debate—either because they like the Kasperite proposal or because they feel the need to retcon, as science-fiction aficionados might say, the Holy Father’s statements into greater consistency with the teachings of his immediate predecessors—as a rejoinder to De Souza’s (and our) broader point. “See?! The Holy Father agrees that mercy requires repentance! Whatever version of the Kasperite proposal he implements will require remorse!” Maybe so.

But, of course, the whole debate over the Kasperite proposal could be conceived as a debate over how one expresses remorse. The consistent teaching of the Church over the last thirty years or so has been that the divorced and remarried—bigamists seems like such a hurtful word, but it is more convenient than “divorced and remarried”—express remorse for the adulterous second marriage either by terminating it or by living in complete continence. This is, of course, the point of Familiaris consortio. Thus expressing their remorse, they can be validly absolved and approach the Eucharist. But the Kasperite proposal, as modified by the Germanicus report, seems to say (1) the divorced and remarried may not have anything to be remorseful for (this is what the tendentious quotation of the PCLT statement on subjective imputability is for) or, worse, (2) there may be ways of expressing remorse that don’t involve a firm purpose of amendment. Thus, it seems to us that the Holy Father’s emphasis on remorse in the Guardini Foundation speech as the necessary precondition for mercy—movingly stated and entirely correct, by the way—does not exclude anything with respect to the Kasperite proposal.

But to return to our original point, as diverting as reading Pontifical tea leaves may be, it does not seem to be necessary to look to the Pope’s friends to get a sense of where he is headed. It seems to us that the Pope has given us, in broad terms, the direction of his thinking. Of course, this could be a setup for a Humanae vitae volte-face; that is, following signal after signal from men who might be called the Pope’s friends (if poor Pope Paul could be said to have had any friends in Rome) that the Pope would permit birth control, Paul ultimately decided to reaffirm in clear, almost prophetic, terms the Church’s traditional teaching (which had already been eloquently articulated, as with everything else, by Pius XI in Casti connubii). But Pope Paul’s decision seems to have been a function of his personality. One does not get the sense that the Holy Father dithers about anything. Once he makes up his mind, it’s a one-way train, though it may be a stopping train instead of an express.