“Amoris laetitia” and the Magisterium

When Amoris laetitia was first issued, you may recall the response of Raymond Cardinal Burke, well known to Catholics around the world, in the National Catholic Register:

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 (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” (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, slightly reformatted, and hyperlinks in original.) This approach was not widely adopted by traditionally minded Catholics, not least since the Holy Father and the Holy Father’s favored interpreter of Amoris laetitia, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, O.P., have insisted, explicitly or implicitly, on the magisterial value of Amoris laetitia. In other words, no one except Cardinal Burke seemed to think Cardinal Burke had hit upon the right answer.

Today, at First Things, Jessica Murdoch, a Villanova University theologian, has a wonderful article about the magisterial weight of Amoris laetitia. Professor Murdoch’s whole essay is well worth reading, and we are tempted to quote the whole thing. The crucial point she makes is this:

Given these difficulties, what is to be made of Cardinal Schönborn’s assertion that Amoris Laetitia is a binding document of magisterial authority? His analysis is unpersuasive, for three principal reasons. First, the document lacks language of formal definition. A clear example of language of formal definition appears in Ordinatio Sacradotalis, wherein Pope John Paul II uses words such as “We teach and declare” to define the Church’s teaching on the priesthood. Contrast this with the language of Amoris Laetitia highlighted by Cardinal Schönborn: “I urgently ask”; “It is no longer possible to say”; and “I have wanted to present to the entire Church.” Second, Amoris Laetitia lacks the theological and juridical precision of binding ecclesial documents, instead relying upon metaphors, imagery, and thick description, rather than clear statements. And third, if, in fact, the document does contradict either natural or divine positive law, then it simply cannot bind the faithful to the obsequium religiosum, that is, the assent of mind and will, specified by Church Lumen Gentium 25.

(Emphasis supplied.) It bears noting, if briefly, that Cardinal Burke also pointed to the informal language and lack of “theological and juridical precision of binding ecclesial documents” in his assessment of Amoris laetitia. But Professor Murdoch unpacks very nicely for those of us who are not quite so theologically savvy what Cardinal Burke compressed into a very brief comment. And, while she treats only Amoris laetitia, it is possible to extend her reasoning to the letter to the Argentine bishops lately, which, of course, confirmed the Holy Father’s sense of what, exactly, Amoris laetitia did. Professor Murdoch goes on to note that,

The basic principles of the Church’s doctrine of infallibility provide substantive guidance here. First and foremost, the Petrine ministry participates in the infallibility of the deposit of Revelation. This is crucial to hold in view, because Revelation is ultimately the criterion of truth. The special, divine assistance of infallibility is a privilege attached to the Holy Father as the center of unity of the Church, yet this privilege is always given for the entire Church. Besides the infallibility attached to the Pope’s pronouncements taught with the fullness of his supreme authority (the “extraordinary magisterium”), the “ordinary magisterium” can also be a source of infallible teaching, when it concerns de fide doctrine (concerning faith and morals), when it is marked by unity and unanimity, and when it is proposed to be definitive and absolute teaching. Not every teaching of the ordinary magisterium, however, fulfills these criteria. Some teachings of the ordinary magisterium can be fallible, and do not command interior assent of mind and will, if such teachings are clearly contrary to reason, or to the natural law, or to the divine positive law.

(Emphasis supplied.) She then goes on to propose some practical principles for assessing the magisterial weight of not only Amoris laetitia but also any papal pronouncement. We won’t spoil that, however, other than to say that we were reminded of the greatest science-fiction movie of all time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, by one of her points.

In short, Professor Murdoch adds some serious theological weight to Cardinal Burke’s opinion that Amoris laetitia does not have an excessive amount of magisterial weight. Perhaps it has some—after all, it is a formal teaching document of the Roman Pontiff—but given its informality of tone and its lack of precise definitions, it has magisterial weight insofar as it does not contradict natural law or divine law. Of course, the most serious aspect of the debate so far has been whether or not Amoris laetitia contradicts the divine law.

Read her whole essay, though. It is well, well worth your time.


Bugnini and Benedict

Recently, Peter Kwasniewski had a piece at New Liturgical Movement about St. Josemaría Escrivá’s attachment to the traditional Latin Mass. It’s an interesting piece, but it highlights a question about what form of the Mass St. Josemaría celebrated. The suggestion is that he continued celebrating the Mass of St. Pius V—one imagines in the form set forth in St. John XXIII’s books—even after the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Prof. Kwasniewski links to a piece at Corpus Christi Watershed by Jeff Ostrowski. (You may know Corpus Christi Watershed from its indefatigable work publishing PDFs of wonderful liturgical resources, like the New Westminster Hymnal.) Ostrowski links to another piece, though the link appears to be broken. This piece reports a conversation its author had with “Giuseppe Soria,” Josemaría’s doctor. (We suspect that this is a translation error: Fr. Jose Luis Soria was, indeed, Josemaría’s doctor and present at the saint’s final moments on earth.) The upshot of all of it is that apparently, St. Josemaría had great difficulty reading the new Missal, try as he might. (We have heard other versions of this story, as has Prof. Kwasniewski, apparently. You probably have, too, dear reader.) So, his secretary, Álvaro del Portillo—now himself a beatus—called none other than Annibale Bugnini to obtain an indult for Josemaría. Bugnini’s response: “You don’t need permission from me. Just continue to celebrate the Mass of St. Pius V.”

This is an interesting anecdote for many reasons, but we were particularly struck by the resonance between Bugnini’s alleged comment and the fundamental realization in Summorum Pontificum that the Missal of 1962 was lawfully promulgated by St. John XXIII and “never abrogated.”  Indeed, the insight that the older form of the Mass was never abrogated is in some ways the crucial insight of Summorum Pontificum. Fr. John Hunwicke observes that there was a key distinction on this point between Missale Romanum, Paul VI’s apostolic constitution promulgating the new Missal, and Laudis canticum, his constitution promulgating the Liturgia Horarum. That is, Pope Paul clearly abrogated the old Breviary (except under rather limited circumstances), but he did not quite so clearly abrogate the old Missal. In a later post, Hunwicke suggests, building upon writings of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, that the Church does not suppress or abolish liturgical forms. At any rate, Benedict’s insight also echoes the much-discussed report of the commission of cardinal canonists in the 1980s who came to the same conclusion: no one ever actually bothered to suppress the old Mass. One could even go so far as to say that even the Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei adflicta indults assumed that the Mass of Pius V was not abrogated, even though one may also say that the Roman authorities sure acted like it was.

It is extremely interesting, therefore, to read the alleged remark by Bugnini that no permission from him was needed for St. Josemaría to continue celebrating the traditional Mass. Of course, who better than Bugnini to know whether or not the old Mass was suppressed, abrogated, or otherwise disfavored in the law? Something about kidding a kidder?

Thomas Merton, Paul VI, and reform—liturgical and otherwise

It is no surprise when a traditionally minded Catholic criticizes the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council. The reformers, particularly those in Annibale Bugnini’s circle, seemed to view the immemorial tradition of the Roman Rite as a burden to be lightened and an obstacle to be overcome, not a precious part of the faith of the Church to be protected and preserved. One expects to see defenders of the pure, apostolic faith—such as the great Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, the tragic hero of the Second Vatican Council—express reservations of the gravest sort about liturgical reform. It is, however, a surprise when someone not ordinarily considered a traditionally minded Catholic does so.

We were, therefore, surprised when we read Bellarmine University theologian Greg Hillis’s lengthy article about Thomas Merton’s reaction to the breakneck liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Indeed, Hillis’s piece has gotten some coverage from sources that probably do not follow him—or matters Merton—all that closely. He begins:

Alone in his hermitage on 22 September 1967 – a little over one year before his untimely death – Thomas Merton decided to make a recording. Because severe dermatitis in his hands hampered his ability to write, Merton used a tape recorder to dictate various things for a monk down at the monastery to type.

On occasion, however, he used the recorder for his own purposes, and on this day Merton recorded himself chanting in Latin the entirety of the Cistercian mass for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.

His journal entry for the day gives no clue as to why he did this, nor does he explain himself on the tape. But as one listens to Merton chant a liturgy with which he was deeply familiar after more than 25 years as a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, one hears his love for the traditional liturgy, both in the brief explanations he provides about certain parts of the liturgy as well as in the passion with which he sings it.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, of course, hugely interesting on its own. Merton is known primarily as a hermit, mystic, and writer. (That’s how we know him, at any rate.) His spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, is a classic of its kind. One is surprised, therefore, to hear that Merton took an opportunity to sing the traditional Cistercian Mass apparently simply for posterity’s sake. However, as Hillis explains, Merton’s attitudes on the liturgy and liturgical reform were complicated. While a supporter of some reform, Merton had reservations about the way the reform was carried out and what the reform entailed. In this regard, as we’ll see in a minute, he reminds us of Pope Paul himself. And we think—we’ll come back to this—that there is a lesson here for this moment in the life of the Church.

Hillis goes on to tell us that Merton was enthusiastic, in some regards, about Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s decree on the liturgy, and the liturgical reforms that followed the Council. Merton died in 1968, so he would have known the reforms of Inter Oecumenici best. Tres abhinc annos was issued in May 1967, coming into effect about a month later. Thus, one may say that Merton was spared the most radical revisions to the Roman Rite and knew primarily the modest-in-comparison (though not particularly modest in objective terms) reforms of Inter Oecumenici. At any rate, Merton plainly was in sympathy with some of the motivating intentions of the reforms. Indeed,

According to Merton, the laity have become in some cases little more than spectators, detached from the liturgy and detached from one another, and because of this, the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity rooted in communion is lost. Hence Merton’s enthusiasm for the emphasis in Sacrosanctum Concilium on greater participation of laity in the liturgy: “The nature of the liturgy is such that if you don’t have everyone fully participating in it, you don’t have fully liturgical worship.”

Reform of the liturgy necessitates the full, conscious and active participation of the laity, for it is only through this that the true nature of the church is manifested in and through the liturgy. Whereas the Council of Trent emphasized Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and in the priest, Sacrosanctum Concilium completes the picture by emphasizing Christ’s presence in the communion of the faithful, a communion manifested in the union of all in the work of prayer and worship.

(Emphasis supplied.) Nevertheless, Merton understood that the problem—if it was a problem, and that itself remains a debatable and debated proposition—with the liturgy was not a problem with the Roman Rite itself, but a problem with the spirit in which the liturgy was performed. It is true, as Hillis demonstrates, Merton thought a spirit of openness and participation was needed. However, according to Hillis, Merton’s example of a liturgy motivated by a spirit of openness and full participation was a 1938 Mass he heard at Corpus Christi in New York City:

Interestingly, when Merton describes concretely what this kind of liturgy could look like, he appeals not to the new but to the old, pointing specifically to his experience of the liturgy at Corpus Christi parish in New York City in 1938. In this essay, he writes that it was in no small part because of the liturgy at Corpus Christi that he became a Catholic, a monk and a priest. What was it about the liturgy at Corpus Christi that set it apart?

“Corpus Christi had the same Roman liturgy as everyone else in 1938. It was just the familiar Mass that is now being radically reformed. There was nothing new or revolutionary about it; only that everything was well done, not out of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness, but out of love for God and His truth. It would certainly be ingratitude of me if I did not remember the atmosphere of joy, light, and at least relative openness and spontaneity that filled Corpus Christi at solemn High Mass.”

Merton tries here to steer a middle course between those calling for total reform with little regard for the tradition and those refusing to countenance reform of the old. There was, Merton writes, nothing of the new in the traditional Latin High Mass Merton experienced at Corpus Christi, but neither was the liturgy celebrated in order to be beautiful or out of slavish adherence to the rubrics. It was open, spontaneous, and beautiful because it was performed out of love.

(Emphasis supplied and slightly reformatted.) Of course, the tension between liturgy celebrated well to honor God and mere adherence to the rubrics is nothing new to traditionally minded Catholics. Indeed, Fr. Adrian Fortescue expressed—in very sharp terms—nothing but contempt for liturgists whose lives were consumed with minute study of rubrics and responsa ad dubia from Rome. Of course, we might quibble and suggest that the arid, legalistic, technically correct Mass—a frequent caricature of the 1950s and 1960s—was not nearly so widespread as portrayed by supporters of the reform, not least since these spiritually unprofitable Masses were fantastically well attended. People don’t tend to go to Masses that do not provide some spiritual sustenance; just ask the finance councils of all the hip parishes known for their hip liturgies. (Provided they haven’t been “reorganized” out of existence. Yet.)

But, throughout all this, Merton deplored the unseemly haste with which supporters of the reform discarded the ancient forms of the Roman Rite—especially Latin and Gregorian chant. He wrote once, “The monks cannot understand the treasure they possess, and they throw it out to look for something else, when seculars, who for the most part are not even Christians, are able to love this incomparable art.” (Emphasis supplied.) And Merton understood that imprudent reforms would produce a terrible result. To a Carthusian, Merton wrote, in a spirit that seems not far removed from true prophecy, “I am very much afraid that when all the dust clears we will be left with no better than we deserve, a rather silly, flashy, seemingly up-to-date series of liturgical forms that have lost the dignity and the meaning of the old ones.” (Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Merton, despite his enthusiasm for “openness” and authentic participation, understood that the liturgical patrimony of the Church was, so far from a burden and an obstacle, “a treasure” of tremendous spiritual value.

However, Merton was far from alone in expressing both enthusiasm for reform and a sense that something irreplaceable was being lost in the process of the reform. We are particularly reminded of Paul VI’s famous comments in his general audience of November 26, 1969, in which he expressed, with seemingly great regret, just what ditching Latin would mean for the Roman Rite:

 The other reason for the reform is this renewal of prayer. It is aimed at associating the assembly of the faithful more closely and more effectively with the official rite, that of the Word and that of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, that constitutes the Mass. For the faithful are also invested with the “royal priesthood”; that is, they are qualified to have supernatural conversation with God.

It is here that the greatest newness is going to be noticed, the newness of language. No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. The introduction of the vernacular will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin. We are parting with the speech of the Christian centuries; we are becoming like profane intruders in the literary preserve of sacred utterance. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant.

We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment. What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth. But why? What is more precious than these loftiest of our Church’s values? 

The answer will seem banal, prosaic. Yet it is a good answer, because it is human, because it is apostolic.

(Emphasis supplied.) We are also reminded of Paul’s 1966 Apostolic Letter to religious bound to the choral recitation of the Divine Office, Sacrificium laudis:

Yet, from letters which some of you have sent, and from many other sources, We learn that discordant practices have been introduced into the sacred liturgy by your communities or provinces (We speak of those only that belong to the Latin Rite.) For while some are very faithful to the Latin language, others wish to use the vernacular within the choral office. Others, in various places, wish to exchange that chant which is called ‘Gregorian’, for newly-minted melodies. Indeed, some even insist that Latin should be wholly suppressed.

We must acknowledge that We have been somewhat disturbed and saddened by these requests. One may well wonder what the origin is of this new way of thinking and this sudden dislike for the past; one may well wonder why these things have been fostered.


Yet those things that We have mentioned are occurring even though the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council has after due deliberation declared its mind in solemn fashion (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 101,1), and after the publication of clear norms in subsequent Instructions. In the first Instruction (ad exsecutionem Constitutionis de sacra Liturgia recte ordinandam), published on 26th September, 1964, it was decreed as follows: In celebrating the divine office in choir, clerics are bound to preserve the Latin language (n. 85). In the second Instruction (de lingua in celebrandis Officio divino et Missa “conventuali” aut “communitatis” apud Religiosos adhibenda), published on the 23rd November, 1965, that law was reinforced, and at the same time due consideration was shown for the spiritual advantage of the faithful and for the special conditions which prevail in missionary territories. Therefore, for as long as no other lawful provision is made, these laws are in force and require the obedience in which religious must excel, as dear sons of holy Church.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink added.) It is extraordinary to read Paul’s statements, knowing that the root-and-branch destruction of the Roman Rite was carried out in his name. We are, of course, well aware of the story that Bugnini told him that Consilium wanted all these changes and the Consilium that Paul wanted the changes. We are also aware of the story about the Octave of Pentecost. But we are no less aware that, as archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Montini gave an intervention at the Council on October 22, 1962 on the schema De Sacra Liturgia, which would become Sacrosanctum Concilium. (The intervention may be found in the Acta Synodalia I.313–16.) His whole intervention is worth reading, not least because it seems to reflect a certain enthusiasm on his part for liturgical reform. Thus, we are not always sure that he was an unwilling participant in Bugnini’s schemes, but we will leave that for his biographers.

We bring it up only to note that Merton was far from alone in this ambivalence about liturgical reform. No less a reformer than Paul VI had reservations about not only the way the reforms were being carried out but also what was being lost in the reforms. One doubts very much whether Father Merton and Papa Montini, so to speak, were alone in their sentiments. Yet, the reforms occurred all the same. And this is perhaps a salubrious lesson for this moment in the life of the Church. It may even be the essential lesson for this moment in the life of the Church. A sense that something is not quite right or that the price for something is too high to pay—even if it is shared by figures as different as the Supreme Pontiff and a Kentucky hermit—is not enough to stop reform if the experts have determined that reform is necessary. More, it seems, is needed. Otherwise, the experts will implement the reform they want and leave the faithful to catch up.

Some interesting posts from Sancrucensis (and a response)

Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., well known to regular readers of Semiduplex, has a fascinating post today iterating some of his conclusions about the assent the faithful owe to Amoris laetitia (and, indeed, any document at greater or lesser variance with the tradition of the Church). He comes to this point:

Regrettably, the Holy Father himself has endorsed the Argentine document in a letter. This letter of the Holy Father’s example is a perfect example of a case I envisioned in the reflections on submission to magisterial teaching with which I introduced my letter to Cardinal Schönborn. The case has to do with that category of magisterial teachings with the least authoritative weight. In the Professio Fidei we promise religious submission of will and intellect to 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.” But this submission is not absolutely unconditional and certain, as it is with regard to definitive teachings. Teachings that are not intended to be proclaimed by “a definitive act,” do not fall under the definition of infallibility, and there is therefore a possibility that they might be in error.  Usually one submits to them, since one ought to trust the legitimate authority to teach reliably. But if the teachings are in conflict with more authoritative statements of the same or a higher authority then one has to start making distinctions. In some cases one can give a reverential reading, interpreting the problematic statement in the best possible light, but if there is no reasonable means of “saving of the appearances” then one must give preference to the more authoritative teaching. Pope Francis’s letter to the Argentine bishops seems to me a clear case where the appearances cannot be saved.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Pater Waldstein makes the important point, furthermore, that this does not implicate more generally the Pope’s teaching authority, nor does it justify rejecting the Pope’s teachings root and branch. We still owe religious submission and will to the Pope’s teachings. We are, of course, aware of a contrary argument on this point, including, perhaps, the ongoing series posts by “Thomas Cordatus” at the splendid Laodicea blog. We may have something to say about those when the series wraps up. But for now, we will say simply that Pater Waldstein’s view seems to us to be correct and prudent. (And well supported by historical precedent.)

In another post today, Pater Waldstein was kind enough to link to our note on the Pope’s letter to the Argentine bishops. He made this observation:

Semiduplex is solid as always, though I think he is a bit too harsh on St. John Paul II’s letter to Cardinal Baum on how one can intend not to fall into a certain sin again while expecting that one will. This is certainly often the case with habitual sins (eg. gluttony and drunkenness). Of course, one ought to avoid the near occasion of sin, but the supposition here is that there are very serious reasons for not extricating oneself from the occasion. This does, of course, show that those reasons must be very strong indeed, if they are to justify staying in a situation so dangerous to one’s immortal soul.

(Emphasis supplied.) We appreciate Pater Waldstein’s praise, but we feel that we ought to respond to his very mild criticism. There is something about the very mild criticism of a monk that makes one absolutely frantic to clear things up.

Our point, perhaps infelicitously expressed, is not that there is any fundamental problem in John Paul’s letter to Cardinal Baum. Or at least not a problem that we’re interested in. Instead the problem is that Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops distort John Paul’s teaching in a crucial way. John Paul highlights a tension that all of us—all of us who struggle with habitual sins, at any rate—know well: the firm intention of amendment is in tension with the knowledge that we will probably screw up and sin again. John Paul resolves this tension in a humane way. Recall that this is what he says:

If we wished to rely only on our own strength, or primarily on our own strength, the decision to sin no more, with a presumed self-sufficiency, almost a Christian Stoicism or revived Pelagianism, we would offend against that truth about man with which we began, as though we were to tell the Lord, more or less consciously, that we did not need him. It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, one resolves the tension by willing to do what one can do avoid the sin in the future. (“I know I may screw up, but I’m going to try not to, with God’s help.”) Our point was that John Paul’s point, as expressed, is eminently sensible and in keeping with the traditional moral theology of the Church; however, the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops takes John Paul’s view and strikes out the final clause (“when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin”). To put it another way, it lowers the requirement of the final clause to the point that it is not possible to do anything to avoid sinning. Either way, the proponents of Amoris laetitia want to get that final clause out of the way. We’ll see in a minute why we think this is so. But first, let us consider first Footnote 364 of Amoris laetitia:

Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 [1996], 589).

(Emphasis supplied.) Indeed, that’s what John Paul said; but something’s missing. What? It’s the final clause!  And now the Argentine bishops’ protocol (or at least the leaked version). First, in Spanish:

Cuando las circunstancias concretas de una pareja lo hagan factible, especialmente cuando ambos sean cristianos con un camino de fe, se puede proponer el empeño de vivir en continencia. Amoris laetitia no ignora las dificultades de esta opción (cf. nota 329) y deja abierta la posibilidad de acceder al sacramento de la Reconciliación cuando se falle en ese propósito (cf. nota 364, según la enseñanza de san Juan Pablo II al Cardenal W. Baum, del 22/03/1996).

And now in LifeSiteNews’s translation:

When the concrete circumstances of a couple make it feasible, especially when both are Christians with a journey of faith, it is possible to propose that they make the effort of living in continence. Amoris Laetitia does not ignore the difficulties of this option (cf. note 329) and leaves open the possibility of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation when one fails in this intention (cf. note 364, according to the teaching of Saint John Paul II to Cardinal W. Baum, of 22/03/1996).

(Emphasis supplied.) If Amoris laetitia removed the last clause of John Paul’s teaching, the Argentine bishops compress it into unrecognizable dimensions. But again the final clause is missing. But such compression is, frankly, in the logic of Amoris laetitia‘s argument. The tension between the firm intention of amendment and the fear of failure in the future is resolved by the will to do what you can to avoid failing. Remove the requirement of the will to stop sinning, as Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops do, and you’re left in a situation where the fear of failure can overwhelm the purpose of amendment. The only other way to resolve the tension is to diminish to the point of irrelevance one of the two forces at work. And this, we think, precisely what is done. “You’re going to fail, so don’t worry too much about the firm purpose of amendment.” Now, in another post, we talked about how pessimistic and infantilizing this view is, and this is certainly the case; however, we have yet to see how this isn’t the view of Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops.

This, then, is the fundamental problem with Amoris laetitia and the Argentine bishops’ use of the letter to Cardinal Baum. It guts the meaning of the teaching by leaving out a crucial clause. (This is, coincidentally, the progressives’ favorite thing to do to poor St. John Paul; cf. the tendentious partial quotation of Familiaris consortio so much in the news.)  And by gutting the meaning of John Paul’s teaching which resolves the tension between the firm purpose of amendment and the possibility of future failure in a humane way through the will to stop sinning (with God’s help, which he promises all of us), it leaves the door open to resolve the fundamental tension between by diminishing the purpose of amendment to the point where it is no longer in tension with the possibility of future failure.

More on “De concordia inter codices”

As we mentioned a few days ago, the Holy Father has issued an Apostolic Letter motu proprio data, De concordia inter codices, amending the 1983 Code of Canon Law to bring certain provisions into line with the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. There has been some coverage of De concordia inter codices, which gives some important background.

Cindy Wooden, of Catholic News Service, has an article at the Catholic Herald. She notes that the motu proprio was the result of fifteen years of study and consultation. A note at the Vatican website, translating (apparently) an article by Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta in L’Osservatore Romano, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which informs the reader:

Indeed, to this there may be added the conviction that, wishing to harmonise the two Codes in the pastoral matters most in need of clarification, it was enough to limit the modifications to some texts of the Latin Code, without the need to touch the Oriental one. It is precisely this that is established by Pope Francis’ recent Motu Proprio, accepting the proposal to modify the canons approved in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts of 31 May 2012.

(Emphasis supplied.) Another note on the Vatican website implies that the drafting process involved revisions based upon comments from a wide range of experts:

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, by means of a Commission of experts in oriental and Latin canon law, has identified the issues most in need of normative adjustment, and has drawn up a text sent to around thirty Consultors and experts throughout the world, as well as to the Authorities of the Latin Ordinariates for oriental faithful. Following an appraisal of the observations thus gathered, the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts approved a new text.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is interesting to observe that De concordia inter codices is the mirror image of Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, which was apparently drafted nearly in secret by an ad hoc committee, without widespread consultation, and on a highly abbreviated timetable.

It is interesting to note that this expansive gesture to the Eastern Churches comes at a time when, perhaps, things are a little rough on that front. Earlier this summer, the formidable Sandro Magister wrote a long article about the treatment of the Eastern Churches under this pontificate:

But at home ecumenism is not to be found. Blow after blow, the Vatican congregation for Oriental Churches does nothing but dissipate what remains of important dioceses and institutions of the Byzantine Catholic rite, instead of reinforcing their identity.

The congregation is governed by Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, who was trained in the secretariat of state and is assisted by the Jesuit Cyril Vasil, secretary, and by the Dominican Lorenzo Lorusso, undersecretary, both canonists and members of two religious orders that have nothing Eastern about them.

And the effects can be seen. This site has already given extensive coverage to the slap in the face inflicted by Rome on the Greek Orthodox Church last winter, by appointing as apostolic exarch of Athens Manuel Nin, a Catalan Benedictine monk who is therefore a Latin in Byzantine clothing, former rector of the Pontifical Greek College in Rome, which in the eyes of the Greeks is still the detested institution founded in 1577 to prepare Catholic missionaries to be sent to Hellas to convert the Orthodox:

And three months before there was the appointment, as president of the special commission for the liturgy at the congregation for Oriental Churches, of a liturgist who has never had any competence whatsoever on the Eastern rites: Piero Marini, former master of ceremonies for John Paul II and a disciple of that Annibale Bugnini whom all see – whether for him or against him – as the true architect of the postconciliar liturgical reforms of the Latin Church.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Magister goes on to discuss at length the precarious situation of the Italo-Albanian Catholics, heirs to the ancient Italo-Greek tradition (though the Italo-Albanian tradition began in earnest in the fifteenth century with migration by Albanians to Italy), both in their Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi and their Abbey of Grottaferrata.

And who could forget the recent spectacle of the Holy Father and the Patriarch of Moscow issuing a joint statement with oblique references to the Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Sviatoslav, the patriarch of Kiev, whose continuing existence is an affront to men like Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate? Despite Sviatoslav’s position, it does not appear that he was consulted about the statement before it was issued. This was not exactly what one hopes to see, and one can imagine, given the perpetual hostilities between Kiev and Moscow, the heroic Catholics of Kiev felt some pain seeing the Pope cozy up to Moscow without, apparently, so much as a second thought for what that spectacle would mean to men and women who have suffered much to remain in communion with the See of Peter.

Indeed, in an interview following the release of the statement, Patriarch Sviatoslav noted:

It was officially reported that this document was the joint effort of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) from the Orthodox side and Cardinal Koch with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from the Catholic side. For a document that was intended to be not theological, but essentially socio-political, it is hard to imagine a weaker team than the one that drafted this text. The mentioned Pontifical Council is competent in theological matters in relations with various Christian Churches and communities, but is no expert in matters of international politics, especially in delicate matters such as Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Thus, the intended character of the document was beyond their capabilities. This was exploited by the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is, first of all, the instrument of diplomacy and external politics of the Moscow Patriarchate. I would note that, as the Head of our Church, I am an official member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, nominated already by Pope Benedict. However, no one invited me to express my thoughts and so, essentially, as had already happened previously, they spoke about us without us, without giving us a voice.

(Emphasis supplied.) The whole interview with Sviatoslav is well worth reading. We note in passing that Sviatoslav is one of the most compelling and interesting men in the Church today, and a true pastor. (Would that all Latin bishops were like him.)

The upshot of all of this is that De concordia inter codices comes at a time when relations between the Latin church and the eastern churches, even the eastern churches in Italy, has not been at its best. Given the lengthy period of drafting and revision of the text that would become De concordia inter codices, we suspect that the document antedates the current rough patch. However, one may hope that the formal release of the motu proprio portends a new phase in those relations.


You’ll find out when you reach the top

Elliot Milco, no stranger to our readers, has a piece at First Things about the Argentine bishops’ protocol and the Holy Father’s endorsement of it. He makes this point:

The Church teaches and has always taught, from St. Paul to the Council of Trent and beyond, that grace strengthens and liberates us from the bonds of sin, and that while we may never, in the present life, be perfectly free from the inclination to do wrong, it is possible through grace to keep the commandments. This doctrine was given force of law in Trent’s decree on justification: “If anyone says that the commandments of God are, even for one that is justified and constituted in grace, impossible to observe, let him be anathema.” The same decree explains that “God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you to do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and aids you that you may be able.”

The real problem with the Argentine norms is their deviation from this larger and more fundamental principle: that grace truly sanctifies and liberates, and that baptized Christians are always free to fulfill the moral law, even when they fail to do so. Jesus Christ holds us to this standard in the Gospel. It is presumptuous of Francis—however benign his intentions—to decide that his version of “mercy” trumps that given by God himself.

(Emphasis supplied.) In addition to the Decree on Justification, one is reminded of St. Matthew’s Gospel, when Our Lord says “Take my yoke upon yourselves, and learn from me; I am gentle and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ch. 11, vv. 29–30.)

We are not qualified to say whether the Tridentine anathema applies to the Argentine bishops’ protocol or Amoris laetitia or whatever, so we will prescind from a serious doctrinal analysis. (We are sure that Pope Boniface X or Pope Clement XV will clear things up for us one day in the dim and distant future, and we, of course, look forward to getting things sorted out.) But we will remark briefly on the pessimism of such a view, which is desperately gloomy. What else can we say of an attitude that says that one simply cannot do something that is by no means impossible, merely a little difficult? What a negative judgment! Yes, yes, the Amoris laetitia defender says, everyone knows what the rule is, but, well, you can’t live up to it. Even if you want to, you’ll just fail. Why fail? Why try? We’ll just change the rules. Of course, such a bleak view of the world is hardly sustainable; who would want to live in a world without possible escape, in which everyone is doomed to failure? Perhaps such a view is compatible with Christianity, but it seems compatible only with great difficulty with the confident, joyful Christianity that the Church has proclaimed to the world since, oh, Pentecost.

(We will leave to your imagination, dear reader, what one might do to take a little bit of the chill off such a view, to try to make it fit with the Church’s traditional teaching—what one might, for example, call this approach to get some warm feelings back into it.)

Not only is this view pessimistic, it’s also infantilizing. Throughout one’s childhood—our childhood, at any rate, if you can believe that we had one, dear reader—one wants to do more than one is “supposed to.” It’s not impossible; others do it, why can’t we? One wants to take the training wheels off one’s bicycle. One wants to sit at the grownups’ table at Christmas dinner. One wants to play basketball with the older kids. One wants to hang out with the seniors when one is only a sophomore. It is infantilizing to be told you’re not strong enough, clever enough, or whatever enough to keep up. It is infantilizing in the moral context, too. One is told that one is so morally weak that one is categorized with children—that their sins aren’t really sins. They don’t know any better. They’re not strong enough, clever enough, or whatever enough to do what Christ commands them to do, even though Christ promises them his help in doing it. Better to sit at the children’s table, to get a bigger set of training wheels, and let the grownups lower the hoop so that you can shoot 3-pointers like Steph Curry.

Perhaps we’re a little off the mark with the infantilization bit, but the problem of infantilization in the faith has been on our mind today, given this insightful essay by Jesuit Fr. Robert McTeigue. He observes:

In other words, the illusion that Christianity is actually a “play-date” with religious decorations attached, while temporarily stimulating to young people, is affecting the rest of the Christian community. Excitement and novelty become the hallmarks of “authentic” faith and worship. This leads to a threefold problem.

First, it exalts the adolescent and trivializes the sacred. Second, it distracts the folks who should know better from handing on the fullness of the faith. Third, perhaps worst of all, it leaves our young ill prepared for the next stage of their lives. We are promising them a perpetual playground when they should be preparing for a spiritual battleground. Giving children what the world tells them they want rather than what the Church knows they need does not serve them well and does not glorify God.

(Emphasis supplied.) While Fr. McTeigue is criticizing specifically the usually embarrassing outreach to teenagers, his insights have a broader applicability. The idea that Christianity is some sort of religious play-date is by no means limited to children, and excitement and novelty have indeed become hallmarks of “authentic” faith and worship. The threefold problem Fr. McTeigue identifies is a problem undergirding most—not all, but most—of the problems confronting the universal Church today.

One can check Fr. McTeigue’s boxes in this context. Just think about the Amoris laetitia solution. Do we exalt the adolescent and trivialize the sacred? And how! Are the teachers of the faith distracted? You could say that. Are Catholics being left unprepared for the next stage of their lives? Oh my, yes. Thus, we think that, in addition to reflecting a pessimistic view of the capacity of the average Christian, who has, after all, been promised grace by Our Lord to discharge his duties, the view of the Amoris laetitia defenders infantilizes the Christian. The Christian can’t do what’s required of him because he’s a moral child. Perhaps he could be taught, challenged, and helped to do better. Certainly that’s what one does with children, as a rule. But what does it say that a large number of the world’s bishops, including, apparently, the Bishop of Rome, don’t think that that’s a viable option?

And this brings us back to pessimism. One is inclined to ask them what they know that the rest of us don’t. Certainly the German bishops, politically powerful in this pontificate, want their Kirchensteuer back. (As though the doctrine on bigamy was the reason for Germany’s slide into irreligion.) But is that all? Or is there something more serious that the hierarchy sees that leaves it unable or unwilling to help Christians conform their lives to Christ’s call? One can dress up the idea in any number of ways, but, at bottom, there is an implication is that we are simply incapable of doing that which Christ tells us we can do because Christ will help us do it. And there is an implication that, for whatever reason, it’s not feasible to help us do better. This is not a comforting thought.

Milco urges us not to worry about the Pope or his program—instead we should deepen our understanding of the traditional teaching of the Church and pray for the Holy Father, good advice to be sure—but confronted by such a deep pessimism, can one help it if one does worry? Confronted by such an infantilizing view, can one help it if one even gets a little upset?

I guess I should’ve known I’d end up on my own

Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing has an insightful essay about the Argentine bishops’ protocol and the Holy Father’s approval of the same. Read the whole thing there, of course, but we wanted to call attention to this:

Indeed, Catholics have a new teaching now, not only on divorce and remarriage. We have a new vision of the Eucharist. It’s worth recalling that in January the pope, coyly, not ruling it out, suggested to a group of Lutherans in Rome that they, too, should “talk with the Lord” and “go forward.” Indeed, they later took Communion at Mass in the Vatican. In a way, that was even more significant. A Catholic couple, divorced and remarried, are sinners, but – at least in principle – still Catholic. Has intercommunion with non-Catholic Christians also been decided now without any consultation – almost as if such a momentous step in understanding the Sacrament of Unity hardly matters?

(Emphasis supplied.) At this point, it is long since time for Catholics in the pews to start asking questions like this. And to start demanding clear answers. It is apparent that there is no “right way” for a pope to communicate changes in doctrine and praxis under this pontificate. Every little thing—footnotes, offhand comments here and there, private letters, dishy interviews with favored editors—counts.

Royal’s final point—gloomy though it is—is well worth considering, too.

We’re back on the train

There is a new Amoris laetitia controversy.

Apparently, the Argentine bishops—or some Argentine bishops—issued a secret-ish protocol implementing Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. It says what Amoris laetitia says: under some circumstances bigamists may receive communion without committing to live as brother and sister. While stunning, in a sense, to hear bishops of the Church saying something like this, it is not especially surprising after the last couple of years. This is “Amoris laetitia 101.” Then a private letter from the Holy Father to one of the Argentine bishops was leaked, praising the document generally and saying that it represented the correct understanding of Amoris laetitia. After some back and forth about whether the Holy Father’s letter was genuine, it seems that Vatican Radio has referred to it as the real deal. There has been some critical coverage of these events.

We’re left wondering: what’s the big deal? Let us be realistic for a moment. It has been manifest for a couple of years—and explicit since Amoris laetitia was released—that the Holy Father wants pastors to admit bigamists to communion without their first committing to live as brother and sister. Now, we recognize that Chapter 8 did not propose any juridical norms; thus, one may say that, notwithstanding what the Holy Father wants, he has not actually done anything. The law before Amoris laetitia is the same as the law after Amoris laetitia. No big deal. But the ship sailed on that argument some time ago. Now, it may be an interesting question why the Holy Father has not done something explicitly that he seems to want to do very badly. (As a friend of ours has suggested privately, perhaps the Holy Spirit has protected him from formally teaching error.) But the fact remains that he wants to do this and seems willing to let it happen on a wink-and-nod basis. And maybe this recent round of the Amoris laetitia wars is a big deal with that in mind.

Now, perhaps the big deal is the fact that the footnotes are the strongest basis for the Argentine bishops’ action. Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the protocol apparently make use of the notes in Amoris laetitia for key propositions. The citations include, you guessed it, the infamous Footnote 351, which has been criticized cogently by Robert Spaemann, among many, many others. As a clever friend of ours said on Twitter in the past couple of days, all the people who talked about the time bombs in the footnotes were correct; the Argentine bishops show that the footnotes, far from being the least important parts of Amoris laetitia, are among the most important parts. The suggestion that the Pope doesn’t use footnotes to make important pronouncements about doctrine or praxis is ridiculous now. (Perhaps it always was.) At any rate, it should suffice to answer anyone who claims that the pope doesn’t use footnotes in a doctrinally serious manner to say that the Argentine bishops—whose interpretation has been praised and endorsed privately by the Holy Father—sure think he does. The burden has shifted to the defenders, we think.

And perhaps the big deal is that the Argentine bishops’ protocol also cites a 1996 letter from John Paul II to William Cardinal Baum, then the major penitentiary. (There is a translation available from EWTN of this letter, but not from the Vatican.) This document was cited in Footnote 364 of Amoris laetitia, though we have not seen it heavily discussed. (Not least since Footnote 364 contains some of the Holy Father’s characteristic polemic about particularly rigid priests. You might be excused for missing the citation to a not-hugely-well-known bit of papal moral theology.) We wonder, however, if the protocol represents a new line of attack by the defenders of Amoris laetitia. The relevant passage from St. John Paul’s letter to Cardinal Baum is this:

It is also self-evident that the accusation of sins must include the serious intention not to commit them again in the future. If this disposition of soul is lacking, there really is no repentance: this is in fact a question of moral evil as such, and so not taking a stance opposed to a possible moral evil would mean not detesting evil, not repenting. But as this must stem above all from sorrow for having offended God, so the intention of not sinning must be based on divine grace, which the Lord never fails to give anyone who does what he can to act honestly.

If we wished to rely only on our own strength, or primarily on our own strength, the decision to sin no more, with a presumed self-sufficiency, almost a Christian Stoicism or revived Pelagianism, we would offend against that truth about man with which we began, as though we were to tell the Lord, more or less consciously, that we did not need him. It should also be remembered that the existence of sincere repentance is one thing, the judgement of the intellect concerning the future is another: it is indeed possible that, despite the sincere intention of sinning no more, past experience and the awareness of human weakness makes one afraid of falling again; but this does not compromise the authenticity of the intention, when that fear is joined to the will, supported by prayer, of doing what is possible to avoid sin.

(Emphasis supplied.) Obviously the argument goes something like this: John is living in a second marriage with Jane. A holy priest has explained to John and Jane that their marriage is adulterous, whatever else might be said for it, but John cannot divorce Jane because they’re raising their child, James. With us so far? John and Jane resolve to live as brother and sister and are, accordingly, absolved sacramentally and admitted to Holy Communion. But John and Jane slip up. Now, the Amoris laetitia casuist might say that, if John and Jane are sincerely repentant in the confessional for the slip up, and if they sincerely resolve to resume living as brother and sister—even though they are aware from past experience and the awareness of their weakness, that they may well slip up again—they have the firm purpose of amendment required for a good confession. Problem solved! Perhaps so, but it is remarkably easy to start waving one’s hands at the requirements of this theory and arrive at the place where the possibility of the future slip up vitiates the requirement to resolve to live as brother and sister. One can hear a pliable priest saying, “Listen, you know you’re going to slip up again, why let yourself down? The important thing is that you’re sorry now.”

As we say, we have heard far more about Footnote 351 than Footnote 364. It will be interesting to see if the argument from Footnote 364 gets a little more currency. Currently, the Amoris laetitia defenders say, essentially, that the gravity of the sin of bigamy is reduced by concrete circumstances. That’s Rocco Buttiglione’s argument, at any rate: the bigamists don’t freely consent because of these circumstances making it impossible to break off the adulterous relationship, thus what would be a mortal sin is really a venial sin. But the Argentine bishops’ line of attack is altogether more dangerous. Of course it’s a mortal sin, our casuist says. Of course! No question about it. Familiaris consortio could not be clearer. One wishes that the whole of FC 84 had made its way into Amoris laetitia. Bigamists have to live as brother and sister if they want to receive Holy Communion. Beyond a doubt this is so! St. John Paul restated the apostolic teaching of the Church, as part of his towering contribution to moral theology. But, the same St. John Paul said that a firm purpose of amendment needn’t be such a gloomy, totalizing, all-encompassing thing. The fact that you might slip up—you probably will slip up, if you’re being honest with yourself, and sooner rather than later—in the future doesn’t vitiate your repentance in the hic et nunc. You just have to try to do better. Just try. But don’t beat yourself up over it. Everybody goofs up!

Of course, those with ears to hear know exactly what all that means.

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Francis X. Rocca has a long piece at the Wall Street Journal about Cardinal Pell and his Secretariat for the Economy, recognizing what we’ve been saying for a while: the Pope’s financial reforms have not been going well. But Rocca provides some of the background to the Pope’s gradual withdrawal of authority from Cardinal Pell and the Secretariat, following some lightning reforms early in his pontificate:

In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA.

“When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Part of this is the usual clamor about Cardinal Pell, who is seen as a conservative. Robert Mickens, formerly of The Tablet (as some of our readers may recall), and Andrea Tornielli are quoted for context. Big surprise.

But Rocca provides some interesting information:

The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices.

APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives.

Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements.

The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat.

Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.