A problem confronting the builder of bridges

News has broken in the last several days that Fr. Franz Schmidberger, former superior general of the Society of St. Pius X and rector of the Society’s “Herz Jesu” seminary in Zaitzkofen, Germany, has written a lengthy memorandum for the consideration of other Society leaders regarding the (increasingly likely) prospect of full regularity in its relations with Rome. (We say “full regularity” for lack of a more euphonious term: it is plain that the Holy Father does not view the SSPX as schismatic, though he acknowledges some canonical irregularity.) Richard Chonak, at New Liturgical Movement, has prepared a translation of Fr. Schmidberger’s memorandum. While Fr. Schmidberger’s memorandum was originally prepared as a private brief, Chonak’s translation has been approved by Fr. Schmidberger. Rorate Caeli has provided the French original.

There has already been some media coverage of Fr. Schmidberger’s memorandum. At the National Catholic Register, a news story notes that Fr. Schmidberger’s memorandum comes in the wake of Archbishop Guido Pozzo’s extraordinary recent interview, in which the secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei suggested in very strong terms that complete acceptance of the various documents of the Second Vatican Council was not a precondition for full union. And, of course, Bishop Fellay recently met privately with the Holy Father in Rome. Plainly, things are happening.

For our part, the collapse of negotiations in 2012 was a bitter event, not least since full union—or full regularity—between Rome and the Society was plainly a project of immense personal significance to Benedict XVI. However, it certainly appears that Pope Francis has picked up where his predecessor left off, and made a commitment this time to take concrete steps to regularize the Society one way or another.

We were particularly struck by a couple of points that Fr. Schmidberger made, which seems especially apt in the wake of Amoris laetitia, and the reactions in some quarters to some responses to that exhortation. First, Fr. Schmidberger emphasizes the distinction between the papacy as a divinely ordained institution and any particular pope:

The Church is infallible in her divine nature, but she is led by human beings who can go astray and also be burdened with failings. An office should be distinguished from the person in it at a given moment. The latter holds office for a certain time and then steps down—either through death or through other circumstances; the office remains. Today Pope Francis is the holder of the papal office with the power of the primacy. At some hour that we do not know, he will step down and another Pope will be elected. As long as he occupies the papal throne, we recognize him as such and pray for him. We are not saying that he is a good Pope. On the contrary, through his liberal ideas and his administration he causes much confusion in the Church. But when Christ established the papacy, He foresaw the whole line of popes throughout Church history, including Pope Francis. And nonetheless He permitted the latter’s ascent to the papal throne. Analogously, the Lord instituted the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar with the Real Presence, although He foresaw many sacrileges over the course of history.

(Emphasis supplied.) Setting to one side the tricky question of the extent to which the Holy Spirit participates in the selection of a particular man as pope at a particular time, Fr. Schmidberger’s second point there (or the second point we emphasized) is something that traditionally minded Catholics should repeat to themselves whenever they are troubled by this or that coming out of Rome. Fr. Schmidberger went on to note:

We have already pointed out the necessary distinction between office and officeholder. No doubt the current Pope has the God-given task of showing everyone plainly what the Council really was and what its ultimate consequences are doing to the Church: confusion, the dictatorship of relativism, setting pastoral concerns above doctrine, friendship with the enemies of God and the opponents of Christianity. But precisely because of this, people here and there are coming to understand the errors of the Council and to infer the cause from the effects. Furthermore, those who relied too much on Benedict XVI personally, instead of putting the papal office first and its holder second, were left out in the rain by the resignation of the Pope emeritus. Let us not make the same mistake again of relying too much on the specific person, instead of on the divine institution! Maybe, too, Pope Francis is precisely the one who, with his unpredictability and improvisation, is capable of taking this step. The mass media may forgive him for this expedient, whereas they would never ever have forgiven Benedict XVI. In his authoritarian, not to mention tyrannical style of governance, he would probably be capable of carrying out such a measure even against opposition.

(Emphasis supplied.) This, too, is a point that ought to be considered very seriously, especially as traditionally minded Catholics seem to be looking to other prelates than the Holy Father for guidance and reassurance.

Link Roundup: Apr. 24, 2016

Fr. Gerald E. Murray has a lengthy essay at The Catholic Thing, arguing that Amoris laetitia did change the Church’s teaching about communion for bigamists and, pace Cardinal Burke, was a magisterial act.

Speaking of Amoris laetitia—despite our best intentions not to—Edward Pentin has an enormous piece collecting various reactions to the exhortation.

Yesterday, if you said the 1960 Breviary, you might have noted that a commemoration of St. George was made at lauds (it was otherwise the Saturday Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Gregory DiPippo has a fascinating essay at New Liturgical Movement, pointing out that there has long been skepticism in the West to St. George’s historicity.

Fr. John Hunwicke has a fascinating post about the circumstances under which Archbishop George Errington was removed as Cardinal Wiseman’s coadjutor archbishop of Westminster by the great Pius IX.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has decided to tantalize his readers horribly by giving us the abstract from a paper of his titled: The Dialectics of Individualism and Totalitarianism in Charles de Koninck, David Foster Wallace, and Michel Houellebecq. We hope that he’ll make the whole paper—or at least lengthy excerpts—available soon.

At Rorate Caeli, there is a new, exclusive interview of Bishop Athanasius Schneider by Dániel Fülep of the John Henry Newman Center of Higher Education in Hungary. (Note that the interview took place before the release of Amoris laetitia, though it touches upon some of the issues raised by that document.)


The other revolution of “Amoris laetitia”

In the furor over Amoris laetitia, one point, we think, has escaped wider notice: what are we to make of the Holy Father’s frequent quotation of aspects of the Relatio finalis of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops? For example, various paragraphs in the hugely contentious chapter eight consist primarily of quotations of the Relatio finalis (e.g., ¶¶ 294, 299–300). And at least one commentator—we can’t remember who just now, but we definitely recall that someone has—has observed that this wholesale quotation of the Relatio finalis is a factor that ought to be considered when determining the magisterial weight of Amoris laetitia. Certainly, Familiaris consortio did not consist of repeating vast excerpts of the Synod’s report. Neither, for that matter, did Evangelii gaudium, which, in addition to being the Holy Father’s “party program,” was supposed to be a post-synodal exhortation following a synod on the “new evangelization.” (Remember that? Us neither.)

Notwithstanding Cardinal Burke’s lengthy, learned argument to the contrary, there is a broad consensus that Amoris laetitia has done something. The Pope’s close collaborator, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, a likely contributor to Amoris laetitia, contends that it’s magisterial. (If we had written it, we would say it’s magisterial, too.) And traditionalist commentators have been, frankly, as aggressive in articulating this view as those pleased by Amoris laetitia. (Why this is so, we daren’t guess.) Now, we are not especially convinced, not least because Amoris laetitia explicitly did not change the Church’s law (¶300)—but we have seen where legalism has gotten Cardinal Burke. But let’s set aside for the moment whether or not Amoris laetitia did anything and assume that it did. If that’s the case, then we’ve witnessed a revolution bigger than anything regarding communion for bigamists. We have witnessed the Synod take on the appearance of legislative authority without a formal papal act granting it such authority.

The Synod process was not explicitly legislative. Recall what happened. Questionnaires were circulated and an instrumentum laboris was prepared based upon those questionnaires. (Cardinal Erdö tried to corral the debate envisioned by the instrumentum laboris with his initial presentation, but that plan was shot down pretty quickly.) Small groups issued their own reports and made suggestions for a final report. A final report was prepared and voted upon and passages that received the necessary majority (all the important passages, at any rate, even if only just) were included in the final report. And that final report was not in the nature of a decree or other juridical document settling questions of doctrine and practice. It was, essentially, an extended discussion of issues, some of which fell into the “Some Synod fathers say X, but others say not-X” mode of reporting. The report was then forwarded to the Holy Father, who responded to it with Amoris laetitia.

As we said, nothing about this process is necessarily legislative. (We’ll see here in a minute that the Synod can be imbued with legislative authority, albeit on an ad hoc basis.) Yet, throughout the synodal process there was a sense among observers that whatever the Synod voted, the Holy Father would ratify. The votes on the relationes were, therefore, hugely significant. (Remember the attention to and tension surrounding the 2014 and 2015 rounds of voting? We do.) The thinking went: if the bad paragraphs got into the final report—as, in fact, they did—then something bad would happen. While we would never denigrate the catastrophe of a broad cross-section of bishops and special papal appointees falling into error, there was a sense that the votes were more significant than that. In other words, the Synod had the air of a legislative assembly, even if it was not properly constituted as such.

And, certainly, the Holy Father’s response to the Synod’s final report confirms that sense of authority. While the Holy Father did not explicitly establish a penitential path or a forum internum solution, despite speculation that he would, he did put the stamp of papal approval on the final report by quoting vast sections of it and referring to it over and over (and over and over) in his footnotes. Thus, the concern that whatever the Synod voted, the Pope would ratify, was to some extent completely justified. The Pope did ratify whatever the Synod voted, with some exceptions; however, the Pope did not grant the Synod explicit legislative authority. It just sort of became a legislative body.

Of course, the possibility of a legislative synod has been present since the beginning. Paul VI, in his 1965 apostolic letter issued motu proprio, Apostolica sollicitudo, by which he established the Synod of Bishops, established:

The Synod of Bishops has, of its very nature, the function of providing information and offering advice. It can also enjoy the power of making decisions when such power is conferred upon it by the Roman Pontiff; in this case, it belongs to him to ratify the decisions of the Synod.

(Emphasis supplied.) So, Paul acknowledged the possibility of a legislative synod, but only if the pope conferred upon it legislative power and if he ratified the decisions. In a sense, therefore, a decision of a legislative synod is a decision of the pope: he gives the synod authority to decide and confirms its decisions. Yet one has the sense that Paul did not exactly believe in the idea of a legislative synod:

1. The general purpose of the Synod are:

a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world; 

b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that should be carrying on in today’s world; 

c) to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.

2. Its special and immediate purposes are:

a) to provide mutually useful information;

b) to discuss the specific business for which the Synod is called into session on any given occasion.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, the primary purposes of the Synod of Bishops as Paul conceived of them were essentially advisory and communicative, not legislative. As an idle aside, one wonders what dear Papa Montini, so grieved by the changes that were unleashed in his name, would have made of the 2014–2015 Synod of Bishops, especially with respect of its stated purpose of “facilitat[ing] agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.” Certainly no one thinks that there is more agreement on the question of communion for bigamists than before 2014. Certainly no one thinks even that there is more agreement on the framework to discuss the question than before 2014. Regardless of Amoris laetitia—and remember, we’re assuming, with the majority of leading voices in the traditionalist blogosphere, that it did something—no one can dispute that the 2014–2015 Synod is one of the most divisive events in the life of the Church since 1965. (And, even then, pretty much everyone signed the conciliar decrees, whatever happened in the aula. Even dear Cardinal Ottaviani. [Santo subito!])

Moreover, one of the complaints about the Synod under John Paul and Benedict is that the assemblies were low-risk, stage-managed affairs. That is, the interventions were thoroughly vetted, the final reports were carefully written by central authority, and the post-synodal exhortations, when they came out, were more of the same. The Holy Father has made it a priority to revitalize the Synod as a deliberative assembly. But, at the same time, it seems to us that there is something to be said for a quieter, low-risk approach; if Paul’s initial vision for the Synod was based upon closer union among the bishops of the world, exchanging information, and facilitating agreement, the high-stakes, high-conflict Synod is plainly at odds with that vision. Thus, it seems to us that John Paul and Benedict may well have been in greater continuity with Paul’s vision for the Synod than the Holy Father, who seems to like the idea of the Synod as a mini-Vatican II with all that entails. But we digress.

The Apostolica sollicitudo settlement found its way into John Paul’s 1983 Code of Canon Law, under canon 343:

It is for the synod of bishops to discuss the questions for consideration and express its wishes but not to resolve them or issue decrees about them unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff has endowed it with deliberative power, in which case he ratifies the decisions of the synod.

(Emphasis supplied.) Thus, under the law currently governing the Synod, Paul’s intention remains: the Synod does not have authority to “resolve” issues, unless the pope gives it that authority and ratifies its decisions.

Yet, despite these clear conceptual and juridical limits to the Synod’s authority, there was, as we say, a sense that the advisory report of the Synod would represent some victory (or defeat, depending on your position). We do not recall the Holy Father granting the Synod any specific legislative authority, as Apostolica sollicitudo and canon 343 would require. Yet everyone fairly quickly assumed that the Synod’s vote mattered. Indeed, everyone fairly quickly assumed that the Synod itself was a body that mattered, a body with authority. This is extraordinary, isn’t it?

Of course, this is, we think, a major point in the Holy Father’s program for the Church. Remember what he said as recently as last fall in Florence:

I prefer a restless Italian Church, ever closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I would like a glad Church with a mother’s face, that understands, accompanies, caresses. You too dream of this Church, believe in her, innovate with freedom. The Christian humanism that you are called to live radically affirms the dignity of every person as a Child of God, it establishes among all human beings a fundamental fraternity, teaches one to understand work, to inhabit creation as a common home, to furnish reasons for optimism and humour, even in the middle of a life many times more difficult.

Although it is not for me to say how to accomplish this dream today, allow me to leave you just one indication for the coming years: in every community, in every parish and institution, in every diocese and circumscription, in every region, try to launch, in a synodal fashion, a deep reflection on the Evangelii Gaudium, to draw from it practical parameters and to launch its dispositions, especially on the three or four priorities that you will identify in this meeting. I am certain of your capacity to put yourselves into a creative movement in order to make this study practical. I am sure of it because you are an adult Church, age-old in the faith, firmly rooted and with an abundance of fruit. Therefore be creative in expressing the genius that your great ones, from Dante to Michelangelo, expressed in an incomparable way. Believe in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is neither a legacy of individuals nor of elites, but of the community, of the people of this extraordinary country.

(Hyperlink in original, but emphasis supplied.) And just a little before that, at the ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Synod, the Holy Father stated:

From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome, I sought to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to reproduce the image of the Ecumenical Council and reflect its spirit and method. Pope Paul foresaw that the organization of the Synod could “be improved upon with the passing of time”. Twenty years later, Saint John Paul II echoed that thought when he stated that “this instrument might be further improved. Perhaps collegial pastoral responsibility could be more fully expressed in the Synod”. In 2006, Benedict XVI approved several changes to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, especially in light of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which had been promulgated in the meantime.

(Hyperlinks in original, but footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) He went on to observe in a lengthy passage:

In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most evident manifestation of a dynamism of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions.

The first level of the exercise of synodality is had in the particular Churches. After mentioning the noble institution of the Diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to cooperate with the bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community…


The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Ecclesiastical Regions, Particular Councils and, in a special way, Conferences of Bishops. We need to reflect on how better to bring about, through these bodies, intermediary instances of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and updating certain aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical organization. The hope expressed by the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. We are still on the way, part-way there. In a synodal Church, as I have said, “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’”.

The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within an entirely synodal Church. Two different phrases: “episcopal collegiality” and an “entirely synodal Church”. This level manifests the collegialitas affectiva, which can also become in certain circumstances “effective”, joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in solicitude for the People God.

(Footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) It is therefore plain that the Holy Father has a clear vision of a synodal Church, which extends well beyond Paul’s vision for the Synod of Bishops, which was simply a closer union among the bishops of the world, an exchange of information, and a process of finding points of agreement. It is plain, furthermore, that the Holy Father may well think that the turbulence and disagreement of the 2014–2015 Synod was, after a fashion, desirable, insofar as it reflects restlessness (on the part of the progressives) and dynamism.

Thus, no one should be surprised that the Synod has just sort of become an important, legislative assembly without actually receiving that authority from the Holy Father. We would be surprised, in fact, if it were an accident. But it seems to us that once the door is open—and it is open—it will be difficult for future popes to shut it. If the 2014-2015 Synod is so significant, and the next Synod under the Holy Father will be similarly significant, then “John XXIV” or “Paul VII” will be at a serious disadvantage if they try to restore the Synod to something closer to what Paul VI imagined when he created it. And this constitutes, in our view, a very quiet revolution in Church governance.

Link Roundup: Apr. 17, 2016

We took a break from Link Roundup last Sunday, largely since we did an Amoris laetitia special edition and because everyone was talking (in circles, for the most part) about Amoris laetitia. They still are, of course, but that does not mean that interesting things aren’t being said on other topics—if you can imagine that.

While on the island of Lesbos, the Holy Father, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece issued a Joint Declaration regarding the refugee situation and the crisis in the Middle East. No reference is made, as far as we can tell, to Pius XII’s great Exsul Familia Nazarethana, which addressed these very topics in the wake of the Second World War.

Canonist Ed Peters has a fascinating post about the concept of Eucharist-as-medicine, with copious citations to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the SSPX, in a homily on April 10, in which it was revealed that, apparently, in the last days of Benedict’s pontificate, the SSPX received an ultimatum: accept the then-current offer from Rome by a date certain or be excommunicated. Benedict apparently decided to leave the matter for his successor and Francis apparently decided not to go forward with it. There have been discussions previously about offers made during those extraordinary, portentous final days of Benedict’s reign, but they did not include the “or else” Fellay mentions.

Matthew Hazell has a new book out: Index Lectionum. The first of a projected three-volume work, Hazell’s book is nothing less than a comparison of the EF lectionary and the OF lectionary. Valuable for those who are interested to know what got kept, cut, and shuffled in the post-conciliar reforms. (There is also an interesting discussion in the comments.)

Edward Pentin reports that the Holy Father met with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders briefly, while Sanders was at the Vatican to address a conference marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Centesimus annus. Carol Glatz has a good overview of the conference, albeit with a focus on the Sanders angle, including some quotes from Cardinal Maradiaga’s address.

At Opus Publicum, Gabriel Sanchez has a very interesting review of a new book discussing John Paul and Benedict’s reactions to Balthasar’s speculation about Christ’s descent into hell on Holy Saturday.

Bernie Sanders addresses “Centesimus annus” conference


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, had this to say today:

I am honored to be with you today and was pleased to receive your invitation to speak to this conference of The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Today we celebrate the encyclical Centesimus Annus and reflect on its meaning for our world a quarter-century after it was presented by Pope John Paul II. With the fall of Communism, Pope John Paul II gave a clarion call for human freedom in its truest sense: freedom that defends the dignity of every person and that is always oriented towards the common good. 

The Church’s social teachings, stretching back to the first modern encyclical about the industrial economy, Rerum Novarum in 1891, to Centesimus Annus, to Pope Francis’s inspiring encyclical Laudato Si’ this past year, have grappled with the challenges of the market economy. There are few places in modern thought that rival the depth and insight of the Church’s moral teachings on the market economy.

(Emphasis supplied.) He went on to observe:

The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us. Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.” (Para43).

(Emphasis supplied.)

Sanders was at the Vatican, you may remember, for a conference marking the 25th anniversary of Centesimus annus, hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences. There was some controversy about Sanders’s visit to Rome, since the invitation, made at the behest of Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, though that’s not really the interesting part of the story. The interesting part of the story—at least for us—is that an American presidential candidate traveled to the Vatican to discuss Centesimus annus, Rerum novarum, and Catholic social teaching more generally.


On Cardinal Burke’s analysis of “Amoris laetitia”

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, eminent canonist and Curial cardinal, has written a very lengthy comment on Amoris laetitia as an exclusive for the National Catholic Register. It is Cardinal Burke’s opinion that,

The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching. Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium (No. 3). The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops. For instance, in Chapter Eight, which some wish to interpret as the proposal of a new discipline with obvious implications for the Church’s doctrine, Pope Francis, citing his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, declares:

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street” (No. 308).

In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for His Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care.” The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops, and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.

(Emphasis supplied, but hyperlinks in original.) Cardinal Burke also brings up the example of Paul VI’s 1967 interviews with Jean Guitton, published by Fayard as Dialogues avec Paul VI, as a cautionary example for the faithful:

I remember the discussion which surrounded the publication of the conversations between Blessed Pope Paul VI and Jean Guitton in 1967. The concern was the danger that the faithful would confuse the Pope’s personal reflections with official Church teaching. While the Roman Pontiff has personal reflections which are interesting and can be inspiring, the Church must be ever attentive to point out that their publication is a personal act and not an exercise of the Papal Magisterium. Otherwise, those who do not understand the distinction, or do not want to understand it, will present such reflections and even anecdotal remarks of the Pope as declarations of a change in the Church’s teaching, to the great confusion of the faithful. Such confusion is harmful to the faithful and weakens the witness of the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.

(Emphasis supplied.) But one could just as easily mention any of the other explicitly non-magisterial documents that have emanated from the Vatican since 2013. Recall, for example, that, in Evangelii gaudium, the Holy Father explicitly declined to exercise the papal magisterium in a definitive manner (EG ¶¶ 16–18). And “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable”, the recent reflection of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, was likewise explicitly non-magisterial (Preface). Certainly, when the Holy Father wishes to issue magisterial, binding documents he knows how to do so—consider, for example, Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus or Fidelis dispensator et prudens and the various statutes of the financial entities—thus one can safely conclude that there is some intent behind his decision here.

It seems to us, therefore, that Cardinal Burke’s conclusion—”the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for His Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls ‘a more rigorous pastoral care.'”—is eminently sensible. If one views the exercise of the papal magisterium as a switch, then one could say that the Holy Father went out of his way to leave the switch in the “off” position throughout Amoris laetitia. One cannot say that Cardinal Burke is twisting Amoris laetitia to fit his own ideological preferences. Indeed he is taking the Holy Father at the Holy Father’s own work. Look: the Holy Father himself says that it is non-magisterial (AL ¶3). And, again, the Holy Father says that he is not providing general norms, applicable to all situations, in chapter 8 (AL ¶ 300). Indeed, the Holy Father specifically characterizes chapter 8 as “reflections” (AL ¶309). Thus, Cardinal Burke is doing nothing more than pointing out, calmly and soberly, what the Pope has already said about Amoris laetitia.

Of course, we suppose that some traditionally minded Catholics are going to be disappointed by Cardinal Burke’s analysis. No doubt they wanted to hear him criticize in stringent language the infelicities, ambiguities, and (putative) errors of Amoris laetitia. Indeed, we have seen Twitter today and read various other blogs, so we know that some traditionally minded Catholics are deeply disappointed by Cardinal Burke’s response, going so far as to characterize it as a betrayal of some sort or another. At the very least, the situation represents a cautionary tale to traditionally minded Catholics about deciding that this or that prelate is “our man in Rome” or “on our side.” (This is an error American Catholics habitually make in the political context, treating the Republican Party as “our men in Washington” or “on our side.”) Certainly, liturgical traditionalists have had friends and supporters in Rome over the years, and look what they’ve had to endure.

One of our oldest friends has pointed out that Cardinal Burke, in responding to Amoris laetitia, has shown himself to be far more sympathetic and charitable than anyone, his friends or his foes, usually gives him credit for. Certainly no one imagines that Cardinal Burke was especially pleased by Amoris laetitia; his consistent witness, both at the Extraordinary General Assembly and in the intervening eighteen months, shows that he has a clear sense of the Church’s perennial teaching on this subject. And he is far from ignorant of the pastoral consequences of that teaching, as his moving comments about experiences from his youth and life as a priest show. But, rather than detailing the numerous infelicities, ambiguities, and (putative) errors of Amoris laetitia, to say nothing of any personal disagreements he may have, Cardinal Burke has taken the Holy Father at his word and explained the value and the limitations of the document. Cardinal Burke has engaged in the dialogue the Holy Father says he wants.

For our part, we wonder why anyone would be disappointed or feel betrayed by Cardinal Burke’s analysis. As some commentators have recognized already, Cardinal Burke’s commentary boils down to this: Amoris laetitia did not change anything because it could not change anything, both by the Holy Father’s explicit intention and by its nature. More than that, he explains:

Certain commentators confuse such respect with a supposed obligation to “believe with divine and Catholic faith” (Canon 750, § 1) everything contained in the document. But the Catholic Church, while insisting on the respect owed to the Petrine Office as instituted by Our Lord Himself, has never held that every utterance of the Successor of St. Peter should be received as part of her infallible magisterium.

The Church has historically been sensitive to the erroneous tendency to interpret every word of the pope as binding in conscience, which, of course, is absurd. According to a traditional understanding, the pope has two bodies, the body which is his as an individual member of the faithful and is subject to mortality, and the body which is his as Vicar of Christ on earth which, according to Our Lord’s promise, endures until His return in glory. The first body is his mortal body; the second body is the divine institution of the office of St. Peter and his successors.

(Emphasis supplied.) Recall, for example, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1998 doctrinal commentary on the profession of faith instituted by Ad tuendam Fidem:

The third proposition of the Professio fidei states: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act”.

To this paragraph belong all those teachings – on faith and morals – presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgement or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal MagisteriumSuch teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect. They are set forth in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of revelation, or to recall the conformity of a teaching with the truths of faith, or lastly to warn against ideas incompatible with those truths or against dangerous opinions that can lead to error.

A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore ‘tuto doceri non potest’.

(Emphasis supplied, but italics in original.) One can very easily see how Amoris laetitia fits—or, in fact, doesn’t fit—into this framework. And it is well worth noting that Ad tuendam Fidem modified canon 750, and, therefore, it could be said that the doctrinal commentary is in pari materia, so to speak, with canon 750. But setting to one side the precise connection, our point is this: Cardinal Burke is correct when he notes that there is no obligation to believe, with “divine and Catholic faith,” propositions that are not functions of the Pope’s “authentic Magisterium,” to say nothing of meditations on discerning subjective culpability in irregular situations. Thus, Cardinal Burke’s point is twofold: (1) Amoris laetitia did not change anything and (2) Amoris laetitia is not necessarily binding on one’s conscience. What, exactly, is so disappointing about that?

And this is perhaps what is so valuable about Cardinal Burke’s insight. One respects the Pope, one loves the Pope, one smiles happily when one passes his picture in the hallway, one remembers him in one’s prayers, but one need not try to square the circles in Amoris laetitia. If one likes the second chapter or the fourth chapter, super-duper. The Holy Father is always at his best when waxing rhapsodical, isn’t he? And if one is scandalized by the eighth chapter, well, one shouldn’t feel compelled to even try to assent to it. The Holy Father certainly has ideas, doesn’t he? One doesn’t have to try to put a brave face on things. Or convince others that this is the greatest catastrophe since the days of Liberius and Damasus. One doesn’t have to do anything.

But if one does want to convince others of something—anything—about Amoris laetitia, what better way to begin than to say, “All of us are free to reach our own conclusions about the Pope’s reflections, and these are the conclusions that we have reached”?


Scoring the Thomism in “Amoris laetitia”

If you were like us, you noted that the Holy Father appeared to rely on St. Thomas Aquinas fairly heavily at crucial moments of Amoris laetitia. (And if you didn’t notice it, take our word for it.) We have been left wondering what the general quality of the Holy Father’s Thomism was, not being ourselves in a position to judge it. At the always-excellent blog, Laodicea, “Thomas Cordatus” walks through the Thomistic arguments in Amoris laetitia. He’s not uniformly impressed. A sample,

Paragraph 304 seeks to recruit St Thomas in favour of having no unvarying law about how to act towards those in e.g. adulterous situations. It quotes a passage from 1a 2a 94, 4: “Practical reason deals with contingent things, upon which human activity bears, and so although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects…  In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles.” Presumably one is supposed to think that St Thomas would have said that therefore you can’t have a fixed principle of not giving Holy Communion to those who live in an adulterous relationship, but only a defeasible presumption of not doing so. The problem with this is that it ignores his, and the Church’s, teaching about intrinsically evil actions. Since some actions are intrinsically evil, one can indeed have unvarying negative precepts, saying that such and such a thing must never be done, whatever the circumstances. Affirmative precepts, on the other hand, such as giving back a loaned article when the lender requires it, bear on a good to be done and not on an evil to be avoided, and since goodness requires not only a good object but also the right circumstances, affirmative precepts can be suspended in particular cases (e.g. don’t return a gun to a madman.) The precept of not giving Holy Communion to those in public mortal sin is a negative precept, based on the intrinsic evil of dishonouring the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.

And while you’re there, you also need to read the comments. “Thomas Cordatus” points out in some detail a potential contradiction between Amoris laetitia, para. 301, and Trent’s eighteenth canon on justification, which itself refers to Romans 11. It’s a straightforward application of “you’ve got to dance with the one what brung you.” You cannot say that the commandments of God are impossible, even for one in a state of grace (can. 18); since Amoris laetitia teaching that those in irregular situations may be in a state of grace (AL ¶301), Trent says that you cannot say that the commandments of God, including, of course, perfect continence in their irregular situations, are impossible for them. But Amoris laetitia says, “[a] subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding ‘its inherent values’, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin” (¶301 [emphasis supplied]). Now, at no point does Amoris laetitia say straight out that it’s impossible for the subject to obey God’s commandment, but it sure sounds like it says that.