Rocco Buttiglione on “Amoris laetitia”

Rocco Buttiglione was interviewed very recently by Andrea Tornielli about Amoris laetitia. The prominent Italian intellectual and politician, known especially for his work on the thought of John Paul II, argues for a strong continuity between John Paul’s teaching in Familiaris consortio and Francis’s in Amoris laetitia. His observations bring out a point that we think has been a little overlooked in the discussion of the Holy Father’s arguments. In particular: traditional moral theology holds that three elements are required for mortal sin—grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent.

At the outset, we note that we have been surprised to see the relative lack of coverage of this interview. For one thing, Buttiglione has long been established as a commentator on (if not a popularizer of) John Paul’s thought, in addition to his credentials as a friend and adviser of the saint. For another thing, Buttiglione has been fairly forthright not only about Francis’s differences from John Paul but also about Francis’s own outlook, especially in economic matters. Thus, we can say that Buttiglione is no reflexive cheerleader of the current pontificate. And that is why we are inclined to give Buttiglione’s comments perhaps more of a hearing than others who have also argued for continuity between Familiaris consortio and Amoris laetitia.

Turning to the interview itself, Buttiglione observes first:

And now what does Amoris laetitia propose?  

“Francis is taking a further step forward in this direction. He does not say that the divorced and remarried can receive or expect communion, hurrah! No! Divorce is awful and there can be no sexual acts outside of marriage. This moral teaching has not changed. The Pope says that now the divorced and remarried can go to confession, starting a path of discernment with the priest. As is done in every confession, for every sin, the priest must evaluate whether all the conditions exist for a sin to be considered mortal. To those of my colleagues who uttered strong words against Amoris laetitia I should mention that St. Pius X – not exactly a modernist Pope – in his Catechism recalled that mortal sin requires a grave matter, but also full awareness and deliberate consent, that is, full freedom to assume total responsibility for what I did.” 

(Emphasis supplied, except for the question, which was emphasized in the original.) He went on to say:

With the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia something has changed, then?  

“Of course something has changed! But neither the morality nor the doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage have changed. The pastoral discipline of the Church is changing. Until yesterday, for the sin committed by the divorced and remarried, there was a presumption of total guilt. Now even for this sin the subjective aspect will be evaluated, as is the case for murder, for not paying taxes, for exploiting workers, for all the other sins we commit. The priest listens and also assesses the mitigating circumstances. Do these circumstances change the nature of the situation? No, a divorce and a new union remain objectively evil. Do these circumstances change the responsibility of the person involved? Maybe yes. You have to discern.”

(Emphasis supplied, except for the question, which was emphasized in the original.) In other words, Buttiglione recognizes that, applying the traditional framework for mortal sin, there may be mitigating circumstances for adultery and bigamy in concrete cases, especially with respect to knowledge and deliberate consent. Buttiglione very correctly says that, for any other sin, when one enters the confessional, there is a process of discernment: was it grave matter? Did one have full knowledge? Did one freely consent?

Now, one must acknowledge that discernment in the context of confession cannot prescind from the truth or the Church’s traditional moral teaching (cf. Amoris laetitia ¶¶ 300, 311). Full knowledge, for example, cannot be elevated to require one to have the moral knowledge of St. Alphonsus and thereby reduce culpability in almost every case. Likewise, free consent may not be elevated to complete, joyful, malevolent consent with the same goal in mind. It is, of course, possible—though it is horrible to contemplate—to commit a mortal sin. And Fr. James Schall has noted that there is a tendency in Amoris laetitia towards the position that a mortal sin is extremely difficult to commit, if not impossible. Yet this problem does not, it seems to us, justify upending the traditional moral teaching of the Church.

Yet it seems that that is what has happened. Now, we admit that Buttiglione’s point is one that we ourselves made recently in another forum: in discussing the question of communion for bigamists in the context of Amoris laetitia, some exponents of the traditionalist view seem to stop at grave matter. Adultery and bigamy are unquestionably grave matter, thus objective adultery and bigamy are always mortally sinful. However, traditionally, the Church has taught that full knowledge and deliberate consent are also required to make a mortal sin. By focusing on the grave matter of adultery and bigamy, it seems to us that some traditionalists create a hermeneutic in which grave matter is sufficient standing on its own for mortal sin. Perhaps that’s true in the context of bigamy and adultery, though Buttiglione notes that those would be exceptions to the general rule. However, even if that’s the case, it is not correct to say in all cases that grave matter alone suffices to make every sin a mortal sin. One cannot dispense with knowledge and consent so easily. Yet one could get that impression from the discourse surrounding Amoris laetitia.

Strangely enough, the Society of St. Pius X articulated something like Buttiglione’s view in its official communique on Amoris laetitia:

In a papal document one expects to find a clear presentation of the Church’s magisterial teaching and the Christian manner of living. Now, as others have correctly noted, Amoris Laetitia is rather “a treatise on psychology, pedagogy, moral and pastoral theology and spirituality”. The Church has the mission of proclaiming the teaching of Jesus Christ in season and out of season and of drawing from it the necessary conclusions, all for the good of souls. It is incumbent upon her to remind men of God’s Law and not to minimize it or explain how it might not apply in some cases. The Church has the obligation of stating principles, the concrete application of which she leaves to pastors of souls, to confessors, and also to the conscience that has been enlightened by faith, the proximate rule of human action.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, interesting to observe that the leading traditionalist group in the Church, since the Holy Father has dispelled once and for all the accusation that the Society is in schism, has what some might say is a broadminded view of the matter. This might be explained by the Society’s obvious awareness and emphasis on the Church’s traditional moral teaching on these issues. It is, we think, unlikely that the so-called fundamental option was ever taught in Society seminaries, for example.

The underlying phenomenon, we think, is part of a broader issue surrounding some of the Holy Father’s statements. Some commentators, perhaps out of zeal for tradition or a scandalized conscience, overshoot in their negation of this or that statement of the Holy Father, landing at a point where they negate not only an apparent novelty but also perfectly sound teaching set alongside the apparent novelty. A Catholic ought to be perfectly happy to affirm the Holy Father without reservation when he teaches what has always and everywhere been taught. Indeed, a Catholic ought to be willing to affirm all of the Holy Father’s teachings, provided that they are at least consistent with the prior teaching of the Church. At any rate, one ought to avoid the fundamentally political temptation to deny everything one’s opponent says, not least because the Holy Father is not one’s opponent and the Church of Christ is not politics.

None of this is of course to say that the Holy Father’s critics are not correct—and Buttiglione incorrect—when they say that Amoris laetitia represents a major change in praxis amounting to a change in doctrine. However, we point to Buttiglione’s comments primarily to point out the fact that one must be careful to not to do violence to unobjectionable teaching in one’s haste to declare this or that teaching of Amoris laetitia objectionable.

A comment on the SSPX

Elliot Milco has a very good, very lengthy reflection on the current situation of the Society of St. Pius X, especially the events of 1975-1976. (A fuller history of these events may be found, of course, in Michael Davies’s Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre, which is still freely available on the internet.) Milco observes:

Lefebvre loved the Pope, but he rejected the changes he saw destroying the Church he had served all his life.  He embraced the authoritative teaching of Vatican II, but rejected its ambiguous expressions and inversions, which he believed paved the way for abuse and error.  Ultimately he loved Christ and the Truth, and would (like any good missionary) have rather died than abandon either.  Despite all these virtues, a decade and more of ostracism, injustice, and (occasionally) outright dishonesty from Vatican officials left Lefebvre extremely distrustful of the Vatican.  While a million abuses and heresies were permitted and even encouraged throughout the Church, Lefebvre’s little seminary was being targeted and suppressed.

(Emphasis supplied.) Of course, the events of 1975-1976 were overshadowed by the events of June 1988, and one could be excused for thinking that 1988 was the sole relevant year for relations between the Society and Rome.

However, it is perhaps providential that Pope Francis is reigning on the fortieth anniversary of the initial conflict between Lefebvre and Rome. The Holy Father has made the resolution of the SSPX a major priority for his pontificate, and he has been willing to overlook technical issues in favor of dialogue and reconciliation. Recently, in an interview with La Croix, the Holy Father observed:

In Buenos Aires, I often spoke with them. They greeted me, asked me on their knees for a blessing. They say they are Catholic. They love the Church.

Bishop Fellay is a man with whom one can dialogue. That is not the case for other elements who are a little strange, such as Bishop Williamson or others who have been radicalized. Leaving this aside, I believe, as I said in Argentina, that they are Catholics on the way to full communion.

During this year of mercy, I felt that I needed to authorize their confessors to pardon the sin of abortion. They thanked me for this gesture. Previously, Benedict XVI, whom they greatly respect, had liberalized the use of the Tridentine rite mass. So good dialogue and good work are taking place.

(Emphasis supplied.) For his part, Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the Society, in a lengthy and wide-ranging interview with Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, noted:

The Pope’s harshest criticism always tends to be directed to the “doctors of the law” and whom he views as pharisaical. Some would argue that he’s talking about, among others, the Society. What do you say to that, that he seems to be most angry towards people like yourselves?

I asked some people in Rome, who is he aiming at? They didn’t know, they didn’t know what to say. They said “maybe you, but…”. The answer I most got was: “Conservative Americans”! So really, frankly, I don’t know. He definitely dislikes people who are too ideological. That’s very clear. And I think he knows us enough from Argentina to see that we care about people. Yes, we may have a very strong position on the doctrine, but we care. So we show a genuine, so to say, action following this doctrine and I think what he’s reproaching is not that. Certainly he doesn’t agree with us on these points on the Council which we are attacking. Definitely he doesn’t. But for him, as the doctrine is not so important, man, the people, are important, and there we have given enough proof that we are Catholics. That’s the approach that he has.

(Question in italics and emphasis supplied.)

When one thinks on the events of 1975 and 1976—the disastrous “meetings” of February 21 and March 3, 1975, the peremptory decision of the Commission of Cardinals of May 6, 1975, and the Bishop of Lausanne’s irregular suppression of the Society itself—the attitude of the Holy Father is astonishing. Recall the clever technical maneuvers of the Commission of Cardinals and Cardinal Villot, then the Secretary of State, which were anything but clear. Were the meetings between Lefebvre and the Commission mere discussions or a canonical trial? Did the Bishop of Lausanne have the authority of the Holy See to suppress the Society? Did the Holy Father approve the acts of the Commission in forma specifica? If so, when?  Were some of the Commission’s actions, in fact, reviewable by the Apostolic Signatura? Pope Francis, on the other hand, makes his distaste for such lawyerly straining at gnats clear: dialogue is the important thing, not technicalities, and he is willing to make concrete gestures to further this dialogue. He meets with Bishop Fellay at Casa Santa Marta, he concedes the Society faculties for the Jubilee Year, and he makes it clear that the Society is on the path to full communion.

It is, in a sense, the exact reversal of the attitude of the Roman authorities in 1975-1976.

The Rotal Subsidium on “Mitis iudex”

A while back, we heard that the Roman Rota had prepared a lengthy guidance on Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, intended for diocesan tribunals. In fact, we had heard about the document in the context of its general unavailability: it could be purchased at only the Vatican bookstore in Rome, or something like that. However, after a canonist of our acquaintance recently made some comments about it, we checked the Roman Rota website again. And the Subsidium for the Application of the Motu Proprio Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus is now freely available in PDF format. Much of it deals with some of the administrative reforms of Mitis iudex, including the expectation that diocesan bishops will constitute their own tribunals, ceasing to rely upon inter-diocesan tribunals, for example. However, it includes lengthy guidance on the processus brevior, especially article 14 § 1 of the Procedural Norms, which has been the subject of much concern and debate.

Of great interest: the Subsidium emphatically declares that article 14 § 1 does not articulate new grounds of nullity, and that the situations mentioned therein have long been “enucleated” by the jurisprudence “as symptomatic elements of the invalidity of matrimonial consent” (emphasis in original). That is not quite what we remember some eminent canonists saying, but we’ll take the Rota’s word for it.

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan

On May 20, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the Papal Household and longtime secretary to Benedict XVI, made some remarks at the presentation of a book about Benedict’s pontificate. Edward Pentin reports that Archbishop Gänswein’s remarks included a discussion of the factors that led to Benedict’s abdication and a discussion of the precise effect of Benedict’s abdication. In short, Archbishop Gänswein contends that Benedict continues to exercise some form of the Petrine ministry.

In particular, Pentin reports:

Drawing on the Latin words “munus petrinum” — “Petrine ministry” — Gänswein pointed out the word “munus” has many meanings such as “service, duty, guide or gift”. He said that “before and after his resignation” Benedict has viewed his task as “participation in such a ‘Petrine ministry’.

“He left the Papal Throne and yet, with the step he took on 11 February 2013, he has not abandoned this ministry,” Gänswein explained, something “quite impossible after his irrevocable acceptance of the office in April 2005.”

Instead, he said, “he has built a personal office with a collegial and synodal dimension, almost a communal ministry, as if he had wanted to reiterate once again the invitation contained in the motto that the then-Joseph Ratzinger had as Archbishop of Munich and Freising and naturally maintained as Bishop of Rome: “cooperatores veritatis”, which means ‘co-workers of the truth’.”

Archbishop Gänswein pointed out that the motto is not in the singular but in the plural, and taken from the Third Letter of John, in which it is written in verse 8: “We must welcome these people to become co-workers for the truth”.

He therefore stressed that since Francis’ election, there are not “two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry — with an active member and a contemplative member.” He added that this is why Benedict XVI “has not given up his name”, unlike Pope Celestine V who reverted to his name Pietro da Marrone, “nor the white cassock.”

(Emphasis supplied and slightly reformatted.)

Now, it must be noted that Archbishop Gänswein, while a close collaborator and friend of Benedict’s, is not Benedict. However, it seems almost unbelievable to us that Archbishop Gänswein would make remarks like this without discussing them beforehand with Benedict. He is no fool, and he is undoubtedly aware that there is a general perception that he is extremely close to the Pope Emeritus. Thus, while there is no guarantee that Archbishop Gänswein’s comments reflect Benedict’s thinking, it is difficult to imagine that Gänswein would make the statements if he thought that they were wholly incompatible with Benedict’s view of his role in the Church.

And what Archbishop Gänswein has said is extraordinary. An expanded papal ministry “with an active member and a contemplative member”? What does that mean? Certainly we depart quickly for the realm of speculation and supposition, since this idea has not, to our knowledge, ever been worked out in a rigorous manner. (If you are aware of some treatment of this subject, please do not hesitate to contact us—we will happily post your correspondence with attribution.) A little speculation very quickly shows the inherent difficulties in such an idea.

Could the “contemplative member” of the papacy reverse himself and decide to take a more active role again? Benedict has so far decided to conduct himself as the cloistered monk of Mater Ecclesiae, praying silently on behalf of the Church, but there is no law requiring that he do so and there is certainly no guarantee that “Paul VII” would make the same decision after abdicating. After a few years, Contemplative Pope Paul VII might decide that his Active successor, “Clement XV,” was making a dreadful mess of things, and  Paul might try to put things back in order publicly. Or, after years of contemplation and prayer regarding a theological question confronting the Church, Paul VII might attempt to invoke the charism of infallibility and define, in an act of the extraordinary papal magisterium, a dogma that Clement XV refused to define. After all a contemplative pope is still somehow the pope! These are, of course, extreme—silly, even—examples, but when you start talking about expanding the Petrine ministry, you have to start talking about the limits of each mode of expression of that ministry.

But it turns out that there has been some speculation about this exact issue since 2013. In 2014, Vittorio Messori, a distinguished Italian Vaticanist, took up this question in an article that was translated by Rorate Caeli. Furthermore, Antonio Socci has been grappling with these issues for some time. At any rate, Messori observed, relying on a report by an eminent canonist,

That is to say, we discover, that Benedict XVI did not intend to renounce the munus petrinus, nor the office, or the duties, i.e. which Christ Himself attributed to the Head of the Apostles and which has been passed on to his successors. The Pope intended to renounce only the ministerium, which is the exercise and concrete administration of that office. In the formula employed by Benedict, primarily, there is a distinction between the munus, the papal office, and the execution, that is the active exercise of the office itself: but the executio is twofold: there is the governmental aspect which is exercised agendo et loquendo – working and teaching; but there is also the spiritual aspect, no less important, which is exercised orando et patendo – praying and suffering. It is that which would be behind Benedict XVI’s words : “I do not return to private life […] I no longer bear the power of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, in the enclosure of Saint Peter.” “Enclosure” here would not be meant only in the sense of a geographical place, where one lives, but also a theological “place.”
Here then is the reason for his choice, unexpected and innovative, to have himself called “Pope Emeritus.” A bishop remains a bishop when age or sickness obliges him to leave the government of his diocese and so retires to pray for it. More so, for the Bishop of Rome, to whom the munus, the office, and the duties of Peter have been conferred once and for all, for all eternity, by the Holy Ghost, using the cardinals in conclave only as instruments. Here we have the reason for his decision to wear the white cassock, even though bereft of the signs of active government. Here is the reason for his will to stay near the relics of the Head of the Apostles, venerated in the great basilica.

To cite Professor Violi: “Benedict XVI divested himself of all the power of government and command inherent in his office, without however, abandoning his service to the Church: this continues through the exercise of the spiritual dimension of the pontifical munus entrusted to him. This he did not intend renouncing. He renounced not his duties, which are, irrevocable, but the concrete execution of them.” Is it perhaps for this that Francis seems not to be fond of calling himself “Pope” aware as he is of sharing the pontifical munus, at least in the spiritual dimension, with Benedict?

(Emphasis supplied.) Remember what Archbishop Gänswein said again:

Drawing on the Latin words “munus petrinum” — “Petrine ministry” — Gänswein pointed out the word “munus” has many meanings such as “service, duty, guide or gift”. He said that “before and after his resignation” Benedict has viewed his task as “participation in such a ‘Petrine ministry’.

“He left the Papal Throne and yet, with the step he took on 11 February 2013, he has not abandoned this ministry,” Gänswein explained, something “quite impossible after his irrevocable acceptance of the office in April 2005.”

[…]

He therefore stressed that since Francis’ election, there are not “two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry — with an active member and a contemplative member.” He added that this is why Benedict XVI “has not given up his name”, unlike Pope Celestine V who reverted to his name Pietro da Marrone, “nor the white cassock.”

(Emphasis supplied.) One need not speculate too wildly to get from Gänswein’s position to Messori’s position. Indeed, one could see Gänswein’s argument as, essentially, a confirmation of the position that Benedict resigned the active exercise of the papacy, leaving that to Francis.

But the consistent tradition of the Church of Rome has been to have one pope at a time. To say nothing of the fact, well attested in Holy Scripture, that Our Lord conferred upon Peter an unique ministry (cf. Pastor aeternus ch. 2). Once upon a time, Cardinal Ratzinger would not have found this to be an exceptional proposition. Indeed, it is worth quoting that document, The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church at some length here:

“First Simon, who is called Peter”. With this significant emphasis on the primacy of Simon Peter, St Matthew inserts in his Gospel the list of the Twelve Apostles, which also begins with the name of Simon in the other two synoptic Gospels and in Acts. This list, which has great evidential force, and other Gospel passages show clearly and simply that the New Testament canon received what Christ said about Peter and his role in the group of the Twelve. Thus, in the early Christian communities, as later throughout the Church, the image of Peter remained fixed as that of the Apostle who, despite his human weakness, was expressly assigned by Christ to the first place among the Twelve and was called to exercise a distinctive, specific task in the Church. He is the rock on which Christ will build his Church; he is the one, after he has been converted, whose faith will not fail and who will strengthen his brethren; lastly, he is the Shepherd who will lead the whole community of the Lord’s disciples.

In Peter’s person, mission and ministry, in his presence and death in Rome attested by the most ancient literary and archaeological tradition – the Church sees a deeper reality essentially related to her own mystery of communion and salvation: “Ubi Petrus, ibi ergo Ecclesia“. From the beginning and with increasing clarity, the Church has understood that, just as there is a succession of the Apostles in the ministry of Bishops, so too the ministry of unity entrusted to Peter belongs to the permanent structure of Christ’s Church and that this succession is established in the see of his martyrdom.

On the basis of the New Testament witness, the Catholic Church teaches, as a doctrine of faith, that the Bishop of Rome is the Successor of Peter in his primatial service in the universal Church; this succession explains the preeminence of the Church of Rome, enriched also by the preaching and martyrdom of St Paul.

In the divine plan for the primacy as “the office that was given individually by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be handed on to his successors”, we already see the purpose of the Petrine charism, i.e., “the unity of faith and communion” of all believers. The Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is “the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity both of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful” and therefore he has a specific ministerial grace for serving that unity of faith and communion which is necessary for the Church to fulfil her saving mission.

(Emphasis supplied and footnotes omitted.) Everything in this traditional understanding of the papacy, founded upon Scripture and tradition, points toward the conclusion that the Petrine office is a singular office. It was conferred uniquely on Peter and, as a visible sign of unity, the Petrine office is filled by one person at a time.

The idea of a division in the Petrine office stands this framework on its head. First of all, it immediately contradicts the fact that the office was conferred uniquely on Peter and his successors. But that’s obvious. What is, perhaps, less immediately obvious is the fact that the split papacy undermines seriously the Petrine office as a visible sign of unity. The whole point is that there is one successor of Peter, “whose faith will not fail and who will strengthen his brethren; […] who will lead the whole community of the Lord’s disciples.” As soon as you introduce another member of the ministry, you obliterate this unity. The faithful have a choice, and choice necessarily implies disunity. (We have seen this already, frankly, though perhaps in a different way.) It seems to us that one must argue long and hard to get around the conclusion that there is one pope at a time.

We mention it in passing, but if the principle is that there is one pope at a time is divinely revealed or necessarily logically connected with what is divinely revealed, then we begin to arrive at serious difficulties if one contends that Benedict retains some portion of the Petrine office. Indeed, we begin to approach, fairly quickly, a very unpleasant conclusion about who the pope has been these past several years.

But!

One need not actually delve into these depths of speculation. One need not approach any unpleasant conclusions. One can resolve the matter very simply by saying that, when Benedict resigned, he resigned. His life after resignation may well have looked different than Peter Celestine’s, but his resignation was no less effective. One may wish that he had returned to seclusion in a Bavarian monastery as “Bishop Joseph Ratzinger.” However, it would be hugely difficult to have a world figure like Benedict living outside of the Vatican, where arrangements for his security and comfort would be exponentially harder to implement. But turning aside from practical considerations, it is perhaps the more reasonable position to take that, notwithstanding Archbishop Gänswein’s views in 2016, when Benedict left the papacy in 2013, he left the papacy. Of course, it is understandable that Archbishop Gänswein would attempt to fit this situation into existing structures; however, it seems to us that it is perfectly acceptable to say (1) that a situation is unprecedented and (2) that everyone is still trying to figure out where to go from here.

 

Link Roundup: May 23, 2016

John Allen has an article at Crux, following up on Bishop Bernard Fellay’s joke that the Holy Father’s strong words for inflexible “fundamentalists” are largely aimed at “conservative Americans,” observing that there is currently a distaste in Roman circles for conservative Americans.

At the blog More Crows than Eagles, “Anne Amnesia” has a devastating piece about the “unnecessariat.”

Sam Kriss has a hilarious piece about the world’s largest pizza, just made in Naples. (To tell you more would be to spoil it.)

Leon Neyfakh has a long, fascinating article at Slate about academic fraud in Russia and the activists who are trying to catch out prominent Russians who have plagiarized or purchased their doctoral dissertations.

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., has released the text (and a recording) of a talk he recently gave at a conference at Worcester College, Oxford, on the subject of individualism and totalitarianism in David Foster Wallace and Charles de Koninck.

Peter Kwasniewski has an informative piece at New Liturgical Movement about celebrating a reverent outdoor Mass, which concludes with some practical tips.

Rorate Caeli brings our attention to a new project in San Diego, based at the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) parish there, to rescue teenage women from sex trafficking. The long-term goal is to start a new congregation of women religious devoted to saving these women.

Prove to me you got some coordination

On May 20, the Holy See released a rescript ex audientia regarding canon 579, which reads in relevant part:

Pertanto, seguendo il parere del Pontificio Consiglio per i Testi legislativi, Il Santo Padre Francesco nell’Udienza concessa al sottoscritto Segretario di Stato il 4 aprile 2016, ha stabilito che la previa consultazione della Santa Sede sia da intendersi come necessaria ad validitatem per l’erezione di un Istituto diocesano di vita consacrata, pena la nullità del decreto di erezione dell’Istituto stesso.

Therefore, following the opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Holy Father Francis in the Audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of State, on April 4, 2016, has established that the prior consultation of the Holy See shall be understood as necessary ad validitatem [for the very validity] for the erection of a Diocesan Institute of Consecrated Life, under pain of nullity of the Decree of Erection of the Institute itself.

(Emphasis supplied.) (Translation by Rorate Caeli.) In case you’ve forgotten what canon 579 says,

Diocesan bishops, each in his own territory, can erect institutes of consecrated life by formal decree, provided that the Apostolic See has been consulted.

(Emphasis supplied.) Rorate makes some comments along with its translation of the rescript, including this point:

If this had been the case in the past, many of the Traditional Catholic institutes and congregations first established as Diocesan foundations might never have seen the light of day… It is the centralization (and bureaucratization) of a very important part of Diocesan Life, a grievous wound on the autonomy of Particular Churches in ascertaining the needs of their own spiritual lives.

The Vatican affirmed that it is not a “permission”, but a mere “consultation” (as the mentioned Canon asks for, but which was pro forma and not at all considered a condition for the very validity of the erection)… This may convince the gullible, but any individual who has ever had contact with a stifling bureaucratic apparatus knows that the intent here is to promote centralization in an area that has always been under the great autonomy of each individual Ordinary, who has himself “divinely conferred authority”.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fr. John Zuhlsdorf offers some comments along the same lines.

For our part, we have two comments. First of all, it seems to us that the interpretation of canon 579 implemented in the rescript is objectively pretty reasonable. A diocesan bishop can erect by decree an institute of consecrated life—provided that he consults with the Holy See. Second, this is plainly an attempt by the Congregation for Religious to seize power from the dioceses with the obvious intent of keeping a lid on conservative dioceses. A liberal bishop needn’t erect an institute of consecrated life to establish a liberal enclave in his diocese; he can simply invite any number of existing institutes to his diocese. Conservative bishops on the other hand are more likely to need to establish diocesan institutes. And it is beyond dispute that conservative bishops haven’t had tremendous success setting up traditionalist groups in their dioceses; consider, for example, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, set up with tremendous foresight by Francis Cardinal George in 1999.

What we would be more interested to know—and we might make some discreet inquiries to find out some day—is what put the burr under Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s saddle about this.  The rescript makes it clear that the impetus for this clarification came from the Congregation for Religious, and it seems quite unlikely that there isn’t a specific reason that the Congregation wants this.

A priest writes to a cardinal about “Amoris laetitia”

One day after our Link Roundup for the week (and, not coincidentally, one day after he caught us out in a r embarrassing solecism), Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., published a must-read essay on Amoris laetitia. There are two points we’d make about Pater Waldstein’s essay. First, he begins with a lengthy discussion of the requirement of submission to papal teaching in the context of the Professio Fidei implemented by John Paul II in Ad tuendam Fidem:

There has been a lamentable tendency in Catholic theology since about July of 1968 to minimalize the requirements of submission to the teachings of the popes. Submission, so goes the argument, is only absolutely necessary to infallible teachings, and according to Vatican I the pope is only infallible under four conditions: “when, (1) in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, (2) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (3) he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals (4) to be held by the whole Church.” Many Catholic theologians, especially in Germany, have argued that these conditions are only met in solemn definitions, in which the supreme pontiff exercises his extraordinary magisterium. This was the strategy adopted by those who wished to dissent from the teaching on artificial contraception of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This extremely minimalistic approach to the teachings of the supreme pontiffs has always been particularly abhorrent to me. The pope is infallible not only in his extraordinary magisterium, but also his ordinary and universal magisterium, when he intends to bind the Church definitively. Moreover, the Church requires religious submission of will and intellect even non-definitive teachingsMy tendency has thus always been to the opposite extreme. And yet, this too can be taken too far.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.) He goes on to observe, discussing Fr. Chad Ripperger’s analysis of the subject, that:

That is, the third kind of assent is not always given, but it is usually given, since one presumes that the legitimate ecclesiastical authority teaches reliably. The one exception is when a teaching contradicts more authoritative teachings of the Church. The assent is thus conditioned on the teaching not contradicting more authoritative teaching. Note that this is quite different from the carte blanche claimed by German theologians for rejecting non-infallible teachings that are not in accord with their private theological opinions. The exception here has to do with the tradition to which the whole Church, including her rulers, are bound.

(Emphasis supplied.) Given the ongoing debate over Amoris laetitia, it is important to keep some basic principles in mind, and the assent required of the faithful is one of those principles.

There are, as Pater Waldstein observes, really two risks. On one hand, one can join any number of German-speaking theologians, 1962–present, who think that everything short of a definition implicating the pope’s extraordinary magisterium is up for debate. This is, of course, how we got Amoris laetitia in the first place; Cardinal Kasper, despite being told “no” by John Paul and Benedict, kept at it until he got something he could construe as a “maybe.” This is also why women’s ordination remains an open question. Because John Paul did not explicitly invoke his extraordinary magisterium in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, some hold that there is room for debate. (Not so, Pater Waldstein observes.)

On the other hand, one can fall into a ultra-ultramontanism, which Elliot Milco has discussed at length previously, and a sort of papal fundamentalism. The danger here is, as others have noted, turning each and every pronouncement of the reigning supreme pontiff as definitive and binding, notwithstanding the prior tradition of the Church. Just as Catholics on the left have fallen into the trap of discounting every papal pronouncement short of an extraordinary dogmatic definition, Catholics on the right have fallen into this trap.

But Pater Waldstein has done more than this. He has written a letter to Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, who has been the Holy Father’s official-enough interpreter of Amoris laetitia. A brief excerpt from Pater Waldstein’s letter:

At another point he writes: “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” (AL, ¶ 301). Again, one can say this about certain definite acts in the past, but when someone is contemplating their whole future way of life it is most dangerous to say something like this. We know that it is never necessary to do an act that it intrinsically evil; God always gives us a way out. Of course, one can foresee that it is likely that one will fall into a sin that has become habitual in a certain situation, but one can never intend to continue to commit acts that are objectively evil. How is it possible for someone in such a situation to sincerely seek God as their last end, highest good, and greatest happiness? One need only apply this way of reasoning to other kinds of sin to see how absurd it is. The Holy Father has been very eloquent in his condemnation of sins against the poor. Consider the case of a priest who would say to a capitalist, who denies his workers their just wage, “you are probably in a state of grace since, although you know the demands of the Gospel, you are not able to understand its inherent values.” What would the Holy Father say to such a priest? He would be horrified, and quite rightly so. Such a priest should say what the Holy Father himself says: “by closing your heart to the poor you are plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell” (cf. Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2016). This is what people who are intending to live a life of continual adultery need to hear as well.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is a splendid point, which really ought to be repeated: the sin of adultery is not really different from any other grave sin, and we do ourselves no favors when we start distinguishing between our sins.

But beyond that we are deeply impressed to see Pater Waldstein take concrete action regarding his concerns about Amoris laetitia. The Holy Father has called for a serious, prayerful discussion of the ideas contained in Amoris laetitia, and it seems to us that part of that discussion needs to include priests (and laity) speaking frankly (but charitably) to bishops about their concerns and difficulties with that document.

His whole essay is, of course, well worth reading.