More from Rocco Buttiglione on “Amoris laetitia”

A little while ago, we noted that Italian philosopher and politician Rocco Buttiglione had given an interview arguing for continuity between Familiaris consortio and Amoris laetitia. As part of the Vatican’s apparent effort to push back against the conservative consensus about Amoris laetitia, Buttiglione has written a longer essay for L’Osservatore Romano. Buttiglione is obviously a prime choice for a Vatican surrogate here, having had a strong personal and intellectual relationship with John Paul. He drills down on the argument that Amoris laetitia is traditional insofar as it simply addresses two of the three conditions for mortal sin (the three are: grave matter, full knowledge, and free consent):

When I was a child I studied the Roman Catechism before making my First Holy Communion. The Catechism was written by a Pope who was undoubtedly anti-modernist: Saint Pius X. I remember him saying that to receive the Eucharist a soul had to be free from mortal sin. He also explained what a mortal sin is. In order for a sin to be mortal, three conditions are necessary. It must be an intrinsically evil act or gravely contrary to the moral law: that is, it has to be grave matter. Sexual relations outside of marriage are without doubt gravely contrary to the moral law. This was the case before Amoris Laetitia, this is still the case in Amoris Laetitia, and it will naturally be the case after Amoris Laetitia. The Pope has not changed the Church’s doctrine. 

But Saint Pius X tells us more. For a sin to be mortal, two other conditions are necessary beyond grave matter. It is also necessary that there be full knowledge of the evil of the act committed. If one is convinced in conscience that the act is not (gravely) evil, the action will be materially evil but not imputed to the person as a mortal sin. Moreover, the acting subject must give deliberate consent to the evil action. This means that the sinner must be free to act or not to act: that is, he must be free to act in one way rather than another, and he must not be coerced by a fear that obliges him to do one thing when he prefers another.

Can we imagine circumstances in which a divorced and remarried person finds himself or herself living in a situation of serious sin without full knowledge or deliberate consent? Perhaps a woman was baptized but never truly evangelized, entered marriage superficially, and then her spouse abandoned her. Perhaps a man entered a union with someone he was helping in a moment of serious crisis. He sincerely loved her and became a good father (or a woman a good mother) for the sake of the children the spouse had from the first marriage.

(Emphasis supplied.) He goes on to make a lengthy, not hugely clear, argument about the popes who imposed excommunication as a penalty for the delict of divorce and John Paul, who eliminated that provision in the 1983 Code. Read the whole thing there.

And this argument is fine as far as it goes, but we have one question: if the Holy Father really thought that all that Amoris laetitia was doing was applying the basic analysis of full knowledge and free consent, then why go to the trouble of writing the verbose Chapter 8? Moreover, Buttiglione’s theory, as we have thought about it, addresses only half the problem. Say that an objectively sinful situation is not subjectively sinful because free consent is lacking; what of the scandal to others?

A short fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy

What follows is pure, groundless speculation. The merest fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. So, it’s worth at most what you paid for it. But the question we pose has been on our mind for some time. 

As the whole world knows, on July 5, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, gave a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London calling for, among other things, a return to ad orientem (versus apsidem) worship. This drew a quick, pointed correction from the Holy See Press Office, no doubt distracting them from the festive-if-bittersweet preparations for Fr. Federico Lombardi’s imminent retirement. Father John Hunwicke suggests that Vincent Cardinal Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and a long-time supporter of the Holy Father’s cause (even before the Conclave, if some are to be believed), was perhaps the prime mover in obtaining an unusual rebuke of a Curial cardinal. All this is, of course, well known among Catholics of all liturgical stripes now.

We were struck, however, by the unusual nature of the very public rebuke to Cardinal Sarah. Certainly he is likely seen by many as a potential leader for next time, in opposition to some candidates more simpatico to the Holy Father’s program, such as Cardinal Tagle. But that was not exactly it. Consider all the things that have not drawn rebukes. Cardinal Müller has criticized at length the liberal interpretation of Amoris laetitia at length. Cardinal Burke called it non-magisterial. And Archbishop Gänswein gave an extraordinary talk that, for a time, called into question just what Benedict thought he was doing when he abdicated. Yet, to our knowledge, none of these comments drew quick, decisive rebukes from official quarters (to say nothing of the rebukes from the Pope’s friends, including dear Father Spadaro). Curious.

But something else was happening at about this time: the Holy Father was handing down his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data on the competences of the Vatican financial organs, I bene temporali. As is now customary for Vatican documents of significant importance, I bene temporali is available in only Italian and Portuguese; however, the Holy See Press Office has provided a capsule summary:

The document published today responds to the need to define further the relationship between the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Secretariat for the Economy. The fundamental principle at the base of the reforms in this area, and in particular at the base of this Motu Proprio, is that of ensuring the clear and unequivocal distinction between control and vigilance, on the one hand, and administration of assets, on the other. Therefore, the Motu Proprio specifies the competencies pertaining to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See and better delineates the Secretariat for the Economy’s fundamental role of control and vigilance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In short, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA, in Vatican lingo) recovered significant responsibility for the day-to-day financial administration of the Holy See, I beni temporali § 3, from George Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.

Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen was blunt about what this means:

There are many ways of analyzing the fault lines in the Vatican, but perhaps the most time-honored (if also often exaggerated) is the tension between an Italian old guard and pretty much everybody else. By conventional political logic, anyway, Saturday saw the Italians notch a fairly big win.

It could turn out, however, to be a Pyrrhic victory – because by taking back control over a range of financial powers, the old guard has also reclaimed the blame the next time something goes wrong.

On Saturday, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio, meaning a legal edict, delineating the division of responsibility between the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Secretariat of the Economy (SPE). The former is headed by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the latter by Australian Cardinal George Pell.

In effect, the motu proprio restores several important functions to APSA that had been given to Pell’s department in 2014. One local news agency bottom-lined the result this way in its headline: “The Italians win!”

(Emphasis supplied.) The Vatican line is more or less that the Holy Father has delineated clearly oversight and management by this action and he has solved the problem of letting the financial watchdog also have control over administration.

And perhaps the Vatican line would be believable, if Pell’s oversight functions hadn’t been undercut recently by Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, when the Secretariat of State, apparently with the Holy Father’s permission, suspended an audit that Cardinal Pell had ordered. In other words, over the last few months, the independent authority of the Secretariat for the Economy and Cardinal Pell have been undermined significantly, always in favor of the Vatican old guard—generally Italian—that had been in charge prior to 2013. And we know what the finances at the Vatican looked like at about the same time.

In other words, reform of the Curia and the Vatican’s finances, one of the Holy Father’s signature initiatives—indeed, the St. Gallen group notwithstanding, one of the major reasons why he was elected in 2013, has apparently gone exactly nowhere. Certainly new organs have been established, but in the name of separation of powers, the new organs have been stripped of actual control, leaving them with policy and “oversight.” But, as we have seen from the audit kerfuffle, it is unclear that the Secretariat for the Economy will be permitted to exercise complete, independent discretion in pursuing its oversight functions. Certainly the Secretariat of State has shown a willingness to intervene in favor of, well, more traditional Vatican concerns. In other words, after three years and numerous provisions and amendments and restructuring, things have not changed much. Were the Holy Father a secular politician, one might call this part of his platform “not a success.”

And this brings us back to the kerfuffle over Cardinal Sarah’s speech. If we were to adopt the hermeneutic of conspiracy, we would wonder whether the timing of the rebuke of Cardinal Sarah’s speech had something to do with I bene temporali. What would be the best way to ensure that everyone focused on a relatively trivial matter, rather than the serious issue that the Holy Father’s reform of the Curia, including the Vatican’s finances, has not made huge progress, even now, three years after his election? Once upon a time, we were going to get a rewritten Pastor Bonus. Now, we’ll be lucky to get anything. Certainly, keeping the motu proprio locked in those hugely widely spoken languages, Italian and Portuguese, would help. But you would want to change the news cycle, wouldn’t you? And what drives page views—left and right—better than liturgy stuff?

As we say, this is rank speculation, mere fantasy, and a feverish indulgence in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. Sometimes it is helpful to clear the cobwebs with such thinking.

Cardinal Sarah’s Sacra Liturgia speech

Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has released a text of his speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference. You may recall this speech encouraged priests to celebrate Mass ad Orientem (or versus apsidem, depending on how persnickety you want to be) and informed the crowd that the Holy Father encouraged him to continue studying the so-called Reform of the Reform. These remarks drew an unusual rebuke from Father Lombardi, departing head of the Press Office, who emphasized that Cardinal Sarah wasn’t issuing juridical norms (as though a speech in London were the way to do that), that the GIRM presupposes versus populum worship (it does not), and that the Reform of the Reform is not how the Pope likes to talk about the liturgy (okay, we suppose). However, according to Edward Pentin, Cardinal Sarah has, so far from retreating, chastened, from the field, strengthened some of the controversial sections of his talk and encouraged wide distribution.

Spadaro interviews Card. Schönborn on “Amoris laetitia”

Recently, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential publication La Civiltà Cattolica—whose proofs, we are unfailingly reminded, are corrected in the Secretariat of State, if not Santa Marta—interviewed Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and the Holy Father’s preferred interpreter of Amoris laetitia. A lengthy excerpt has been made available in English. A sample:

But this orientation was already contained in some way in the famous paragraph 84 of «Familiaris consortio», to which Francis has recourse several times, as when he writes: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations” (AL 79).

Saint John Paul II did indeed distinguish a variety of situations. He saw a difference between those who had tried sincerely to salvage their first marriage and were abandoned unjustly, and those who had destroyed a canonically valid marriage through their grave fault. He then spoke of those who have entered a second marital union for the sake of the upbringing of their children and who sometimes are subjectively certain in their consciences that the first marriage, now irreparably destroyed, was never valid. Each one of these cases thus constitutes the object of a differentiated moral evaluation. There are very many different starting points in an ever deeper sharing in the life of the Church, to which everyone is called. John Paul II already presupposes implicitly that one cannot simply say that every situation of a divorced and remarried person is the equivalent of a life in mortal sin that is separated from the communion of love between Christ and the Church. Accordingly, he was opening the door to a broader understanding, by means of the discernment of the various situations that are not objectively identical, and thanks to the consideration of the internal forum.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.

We predicted, prior to the release of Amoris laetitia, that it would be presented as an incremental development on John Paul’s thinking in Familiaris consortio and Benedict’s thinking. We have not been disappointed so far. In reading the whole of this excerpt, it becomes clear that Cardinal Schönborn wants very much to convince his readers that, really, Amoris laetitia is of a piece with Familiaris consortio and other magisterial interventions through the years. He also, in passing, suggests that the forum internum solution was, in fact, pre-Conciliar practice with which he was familiar, which is something we had not yet heard.

Pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah, and the “reform of the reform”

The news has been making the rounds today that Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has called on priests to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem beginning on the first Sunday of Advent this year. In and of itself, this is fairly interesting, and the usual sources have gone ballistic at the suggestion. However, Cardinal Sarah said something else that is even more interesting: the Holy Father has asked him to study the so-called reform of the reform, which was a major topic between 2005 and 2013. Matthew Hazell, at New Liturgical Movement, has some good coverage of Cardinal Sarah’s whole speech. According to the story, Cardinal Sarah said:

When I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite. This will be a delicate work and I ask for your patience and prayers. But if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence.

(Emphasis supplied.) Given the scanty information in Cardinal Sarah’s comment—and recalling what the Holy Father thinks of commissions and “studies”—it is hard to offer much commentary; however, we recall Cardinal Sarah’s essay in L’Osservatore Romano from about this time last year, in which he suggested that the penitential rite and offertory from the Forma Extraordinaria might one day make their way into the Missale Romanum as an appendix or option.

A comment on the SSPX statement

After a meeting of major superiors of the Society of St. Pius X, gathered apparently to discuss the status of negotiations between the Society and Rome, Bishop Bernard Fellay has issued a communiqué. There are two particularly relevant passages. First:

The Society of Saint Pius X, in the present state of grave necessity which gives it the right and duty to administer spiritual aid to the souls that turn to it, does not seek primarily a canonical recognition, to which it has a right as a Catholic work. It has only one desire: faithfully to bring the light of the bi-millennial Tradition which shows the only route to follow in this age of darkness in which the cult of man replaces the worship of God, in society as in the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.)  Then:

The “restoration of all things in Christ” intended by Saint Pius X, following Saint Paul (cf. Ep.h 1:10), cannot happen without the support of a Pope who concretely favors the return to Sacred Tradition. While waiting for that blessed day, the Society of Saint Pius X intends to redouble its efforts to establish and to spread, with the means that Divine Providence gives to it, the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Emphasis supplied.)

The usually very reliable Edward Pentin seems to view the communiqué as a pause in the ongoing discussions between the Society and Rome and request for clarification, instituted not only because of the events in the Church so much discussed here and elsewhere but also because the line from Rome had gotten somewhat confused.

Recall that Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, had stated in interviews that Vatican II could be understood only in the full light of the Church’s preceding tradition, which is a position fairly close to the Society’s, relatively speaking. On the other hand, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pozzo’s boss, has stated that, indeed, any arrangement between the Society and Rome would have to involve full acceptance.

The Holy Father himself has weighed in through an interview in La Croix, holding that “[t]he Second Vatican Council has its value,” which is not exactly a ringing defense of the Council and a demand that the Council be adhered to absolutely and gleefully. And his position makes the confusion between Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Pozzo even more acute: their boss, so to speak, does not seem to have an absolutist view about the Council. In other words, the Society would be, we think, justified in requesting clarification—or simply waiting for the dust to settle—from the Roman authorities as to what, exactly, the requirements with respect to the Council are. One cannot be expected to agree to something without knowing what he’s agreeing to.

Rorate Caeli, often reliable on Society issues, has given its analysis of the communiqué, and seems to imply that the Society is giving Francis an opening to act unilaterally with respect to the Society. Certainly if any situation calls for a personal intervention by the Holy Father, settling the matter once and for all, it is this one. A unilateral recognition of the Society by the Holy Father would fit in nicely with his own ongoing program: reform of the Curia and pastoral accompaniment of marginalized groups. In one move, Francis would not only cut through a Curia that cannot quite make up its mind but also reach out a group that has been accused of schism (and worse) for trying to hold fast to the ancient, apostolic faith as it understands it.