What, then, does Cardinal Cupich mean?

In a recent talk at St. Edmund College, Cambridge, discussing paradigm shifts and hermeneutics implemented by Francis by means of Amoris laetitia, Blase Cardinal Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, stated:

The starting point for the role of conscience in the new hermeneutic is Gaudium et Spes 16 (2), which identifies conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary of a man…(where) he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” When taken seriously, this definition demands a profound respect for the discernment of married couples and families. Their decisions of conscience represent God’s personal guidance for the particularities of their lives. In other words, the voice of conscience—the voice of God— or if I may be permitted to quote an Oxford man here at Cambridge, what Newman called “the aboriginal vicar of Christ”—could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal, while nevertheless calling a person “to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized” (AL 303).

(Emphasis supplied.) The entire talk is well worth reading, if only to see what a prelate widely seen as an influential American squarely aligned with Francis thinks about Amoris laetitia and its implementation. Other American prelates have disagreed, and it is unclear, especially considering recent votes by the USCCB, that Cupich’s views have wide currency among American bishops.

Nevertheless, this is plainly a major address and it has been promoted as such by members of the Pope’s party in the media. Were it not that Francis is currently embroiled in a very serious controversy regarding Bishop Barros of Osorno, Chile, and a letter allegedly presented to Francis by no less an authority than Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, one imagines that Cupich’s talk would receive much more coverage. But Cupich’s talk deserves some attention, not least for the passage quoted above, which implicates Bl. John Henry Newman in Cupich’s understanding of conscience. We shall see that Newman probably does not provide the support Cupich would like for his view of conscience.

First of all, we think it is fairly obvious that Cardinal Cupich intends to invoke Newman’s authority in support of his argument. Fr. John Hunwicke has identified a sort of clever usage here: Cardinal Cupich implies, but never asserts, that Cardinal Newman would have supported the proposition that conscience “could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal.” Now, taken word by word: Cupich never says that Newman said what Cupich says. He never says that Newman understood conscience as a sort of get-out-of-sin-free card or an exception to any ecclesiastical rule or point of doctrine. Nevertheless, Fr. Hunwicke is quite right: to drop the quotation of Newman in the middle of that sentence makes it appear as though Newman would have somehow agreed with Cupich’s understanding of conscience. To determine whether or not this is the case, we must explore Newman’s writings in some detail.

The phrase “the aboriginal vicar of Christ” comes from Newman’s letter to the Duke of Norfolk, and it comes at the end of a long passage where Newman sets forth the Catholic understanding of conscience. The passage—though lengthy—is well worth considering in full:

I say, then, that the Supreme Being is of a certain character, which, expressed in human language, we call ethical. He has the attributes of justice, truth, wisdom, sanctity, benevolence and mercy, as eternal characteristics in His nature, the very Law of His being, identical with Himself; and next, when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels. “The eternal law,” says St. Augustine, “is the Divine Reason or Will of God, commanding {247} the observance, forbidding the disturbance, of the natural order of things.” “The natural law,” says St. Thomas, “is an impression of the Divine Light in us, a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature.” (Gousset, Theol. Moral., t. i. pp. 24, &c.) This law, as apprehended in the minds of individual men, is called “conscience;” and though it may suffer refraction in passing into the intellectual medium of each, it is not therefore so affected as to lose its character of being the Divine Law, but still has, as such, the prerogative of commanding obedience. “The Divine Law,” says Cardinal Gousset, “is the supreme rule of actions; our thoughts, desires, words, acts, all that man is, is subject to the domain of the law of God; and this law is the rule of our conduct by means of our conscience. Hence it is never lawful to go against our conscience; as the fourth Lateran Council says, ‘Quidquid fit contra conscientiam, ædificat ad gehennam.'”

This view of conscience, I know, is very different from that ordinarily taken of it, both by the science and literature, and by the public opinion, of this day. It is founded on the doctrine that conscience is the voice of God, whereas it is fashionable on all hands now to consider it in one way or another a creation of man. Of course, there are great and broad exceptions to this statement. It is not true of many or most religious bodies of men; especially not of their teachers and ministers. When Anglicans, Wesleyans, the various Presbyterian sects in Scotland, and other denominations among us, speak of conscience, they mean what we mean, the voice of God in the nature and heart of man, as distinct from the voice of Revelation. They speak of a principle planted within us, before we have had any training, although training and experience are necessary for its strength, growth, and due formation. They consider it a constituent element of the mind, as our perception of other ideas may be, as our powers of reasoning, as our sense of order and the beautiful, and our other intellectual endowments. They consider it, as Catholics consider it, to be the internal witness of both the existence and the law of God. They think it holds of God, and not of man, as an Angel walking on the earth would be no citizen or dependent of the Civil Power. They would not allow, any more than we do, that it could be resolved into any combination of principles in our nature, more elementary than itself; nay, though it may be called, and is, a law of the mind, they would not grant that it was nothing more; I mean, that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise, with a vividness which discriminated it from all other constituents of our nature.

This, at least, is how I read the doctrine of Protestants as well as of Catholics. The rule and measure of duty is not utility, nor expedience, nor the happiness of the greatest number, nor State convenience, nor fitness, order, and the pulchrum. Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and, even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church could cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a sway.

(Emphasis supplied.) When Newman says that “conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ,” he means it literally. Conscience is an individual’s apprehension of the divine law, and, according to Newman, never suffers enough in the apprehension of the individual to lose its character. That is, conscience will always be the voice of God and must always be obeyed as such.

Taken in one way, Cardinal Cupich appears to assert that God can be set at odds with His Church. Of course, one cannot believe that a bishop and a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church would make such a startling assertion, even if it is popular with protestants and progressives. Nevertheless, taking Newman’s understanding of conscience, to which Cupich refers specifically, if somewhat ambiguously, in his remarks, it is hard to see what Cupich is driving at. One therefore wishes to ask, perhaps somewhat less polemically than Charles Kingsley, what, then, does Cardinal Cupich mean? Let’s see what we mean.

First, Cardinal Cupich recognizes that conscience is identical with the voice of God, as Newman says. Cupich asserts that the voice of God “could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal.” Taken in its literal sense, this is extraordinary: the voice of God could “affirm the necessity” of failing to follow the teachings of the Church. Of course, Cupich neglects to note that “when He became Creator, He implanted this Law, which is Himself, in the intelligence of all His rational creatures. The Divine Law, then, is the rule of ethical truth, the standard of right and wrong, a sovereign, irreversible, absolute authority in the presence of men and Angels.” It is the apprehension of this law that is conscience. This is perhaps the most serious ambiguity. If Cupich accepts the identity of conscience with the divine law, then he asserts here that the divine law, apprehended by man, can “affirm the necessity” of resisting the teachings of the Church.

Recall what Pius XII said in Mystici Corporis Christi:

Because Christ is so exalted, He alone by every right rules and governs the Church; and herein is yet another reason why He must be likened to a head. As the head is the “royal citadel” of the body—to use the words of Ambrose—and all the members over whom it is placed for their good are naturally guided by it as being endowed with superior powers, so the Divine Redeemer holds the helm of the universal Christian community and directs its course. And as to govern human society signifies to lead men to the end proposed by means that are expedient, just and helpful, it is easy to see how our Savior, model and ideal of good Shepherds, performs all these functions in a most striking way.

While still on earth, He instructed us by precept, counsel and warning in words that shall never pass away, and will be spirit and life to all men of all times. Moreover He conferred a triple power on His Apostles and their successors, to teach, to govern, to lead men to holiness, making this power, defined by special ordinances, rights and obligations, the fundamental law of the whole Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Christ, the head of the Church, the sole ruler and governor of the Church, conferred upon the hierarchy, beginning with the Apostles and continuing down to the present day, “a triple power . . . to teach, to govern, to lead men to holiness.” When the Church, in Cardinal Cupich’s words, proclaims its understanding of an ideal, it is exercising this triple power, granted by Christ.

Consequently, it appears that Cardinal Cupich comes awfully close to asserting—presuming an understanding of conscience consistent with Cardinal Newman’s—that the divine law, implanted in each man by God, can permit individuals to act contrary to the teaching of the Church, established and ruled by God, who has given to the hierarchy the powers of teaching and sanctifying. While we are confident that Cardinal Cupich did not mean to set God against His Church by means of conscience, we are afraid that some readers, unschooled in theological controversy, may mistake his meaning and see in his words such an implication. And we admit that, having brought Cardinal Newman’s understanding of conscience into his remarks, one could fairly assume that Cupich meant to adopt Newman’s understanding as his own. The conflict between God and His Church in Cupich’s remarks follows from this understanding; therefore, one wishes that Cardinal Cupich would clarify his meaning.

A clever interlocutor—and the supporters of Amoris laetitia have shown themselves to be extremely clever if nothing else—might object and say that we have ignored an important point in Newman’s discussion of conscience. He might say that Newman acknowledged the possibility of a conflict between conscience and purely ecclesiastical laws. He might say that we are being unjust to Cardinal Cupich, whose meaning can be derived in greater detail from Newman’s own analysis of the potential conflict between conscience and ecclesiastical law. Indeed, our clever interlocutor might say that Cupich’s meaning is entirely clear if one considers Newman’s argument. This may be true. Let us consider, therefore, what Newman says:

But, of course, I have to say again, lest I should be misunderstood, that when I speak of Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme, though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name. If in a particular case it is to be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment on the matter in question. And further, obedience to the Pope is what is called “in possession;” that is, the onus probandi of establishing a case against him lies, as in all cases of exception, on the side of conscience. Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Primâ facie it is his bounden duty, even from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not exceeding his right, and rejoices, in a moral and practical matter to commence with scepticism. He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing just what he pleases, the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his Head’s side, being simply discarded. If this necessary rule were observed, collisions between the Pope’s authority and the authority of conscience would be very rare. On the other hand, in the fact that, after all, in extraordinary cases, the conscience of each individual is free, we have a safeguard and security, were security necessary (which is a most gratuitous supposition), that no Pope ever will be able, as the objection supposes, to create a false conscience for his own ends.

(Emphasis supplied.) First of all, some context. Newman begins this argument by observing “that, conscience being a practical dictate, a collision is possible between it and the Pope’s authority only when the Pope legislates, or gives particular orders, and the like. But a Pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy.” It is not clear that when the Church proposes an ideal, in Cardinal Cupich’s terms, relating to the moral law, that there is the same possibility of collision. Still less is it clear that when the Church repeats what Our Lord said in the Gospel—as is the case with the question of divorce and remarriage—that there can be the possibility of collision.

Second of all, as we have noted before, Newman rejects an understanding of conscience as mere self-will. This is the “miserable counterfeit” of conscience Newman excludes from consideration in the context of a collision between conscience and ecclesiastical authority. In rejecting this understanding, Newman sets forth the important principle—a maxim, if you prefer—that “conscience has rights because it has duties”:

So much for philosophers; now let us see what is the notion of conscience in this day in the popular mind. There, no more than in the intellectual world, does “conscience” retain the old, true, Catholic meaning of the word. There too the idea, the presence of a Moral Governor is far away from the use of it, frequent and emphatic as that use of it is. When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all. They do not even pretend to go by any moral rule, but they demand, what they think is an Englishman’s prerogative, for each to be his own master in all things, and to profess what he pleases, asking no one’s leave, and accounting priest or preacher, speaker or writer, unutterably impertinent, who dares to say a word against his going to perdition, if he like it, in his own way. Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver and Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations. It becomes a licence to take up any or no religion, to take up this or that and let it go again, to go to church, to go to chapel, to boast of being above all religions and to be an impartial critic of each of them. Conscience is a stern monitor, but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit, which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self-will.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, “the right of thinking, speaking, writing, and acting, according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all” cannot excuse one from obedience to the pope. Why not? Because it is not conscience. Therefore, if, by conscience, one uses this popular understanding, one can never justify, no matter how skillfully the argument is laid out, disobedience to ecclesiastical authority, to say nothing of disobedience on a point of considerable importance, such as this one.

Additionally, in the note on liberalism to Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua, we learn that Newman—as a protestant—”denounced and abjured” the proposition that “There are rights of conscience such, that every one may lawfully advance a claim to profess and teach what is false and wrong in matters, religious, social, and moral, provided that to his private conscience it seems absolutely true and right.”

To return to the main question: assuming, without granting, that the moral and ethical teachings of the Church fall into the category of acts discussed by Newman, we see that Newman proposes an extremely rigorous process for a conscience to claim the right of resistance. “If in a particular case it is to be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a right judgment on the matter in question.” Moreover, the burden of proof, the onus probandi, is always with conscience: that is, if one believes one’s conscience requires resistance, one has the duty either to make out a case against obedience or to obey. The commands of the Pope do not have a burden of proof; that is, it is enough that the Pope issues them. Additionally, Newman recognizes that there may be an initial inclination to disobedience, which must be addressed squarely and rigorously. “He must vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not exceeding his right, and rejoices, in a moral and practical matter to commence with scepticism.” The process of justifiable resistance, in Newman’s terms, is arduous. It is not enough to invoke immediately—without serious thought, prayer, and an exhaustive effort of arriving at a right judgment—conscience and thereby claim the right to resist the Pope’s teaching.

Perhaps this is what Cardinal Cupich means. That is, perhaps he means that, for the divorced-and-remarried who wish to defy the teaching of John Paul II in Familiaris consortio and Benedict XVI in Sacramentum caritatis—that is, the teaching that they must live as brother and sister in order to be free to approach communion—upon the invocation of conscience, the process is long and difficult. The bigamists must engage in serious thought, prayer, and formation through “all available means” of a right judgment. They must “vanquish that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit” of their nature that rebels against commands from superiors. They must have no hint of self-will, and they must understand that the burden is on them and the presumption on the side of John Paul and Benedict and the teaching of the Church from the time of Christ Himself. Only when they are “able to say to ‘themselves,’ as in the Presence of God, that they must not, and dare not” follow the decrees of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Cardinal Cupich may be saying, may they invoke conscience as a basis to live more uxorio in a bigamous second marriage. Such a rigorous interpretation of Amoris laetitia would put Cardinal Cupich in an extreme camp. Few prelates, if this is indeed what Cardinal Cupich means, have expressed such a rigorous view.

We are left therefore where we were a few minutes ago. What does Cardinal Cupich mean when he says that conscience “could very well affirm the necessity of living at some distance from the Church’s understanding of the ideal”? Does he mean to say that conscience sets God at odds with His Church in individual cases? We cannot believe that a cardinal would make such a bold—and boldly un-Catholic—statement, but, if he means to ratify Newman’s understanding of conscience and not the “miserable counterfeit” resisted by Newman, his meaning is unclear to a great extent. On the other hand, does he mean to follow Newman in holding that conscience may resist a decree of the Pope if, after the most arduous process of purification, education, and proof, conscience determines it is necessary? Such a view would turn the pastoral emphasis of Amoris laetitia into an austere rule leading to careful theological argumentation. Perhaps this is what Cardinal Cupich means to endorse. But if this is the case, we admit frankly being confused by the Pope’s friends’ endorsement of Cardinal Cupich’s talk. It is so far removed from their understanding of Amoris laetitia to be altogether more like the arguments of Cardinal Burke or Bishop Athanasius Schneider than those of Cardinal Schönborn or Rocco Buttiglione.

A word on that John Paul II address

At Life Site News, there is a translation of a 1987 speech by St. John Paul II touching upon, among other things, Humanae vitae. In the speech, John Paul stated, “What the Church teaches about contraception is not a matter of free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary is tantamount to inducing the moral conscience of the spouses into error.” In this view, John Paul joined Paul VI and Pius XI, both of whom taught—in Pius’s case, perhaps infallibly—that contraception was always and everywhere objectively evil. John Paul went on in his speech to rebut briefly the idea that the doctrine of the Church, while objectively true, is infeasible in some circumstances. (Recall that this address was before Veritatis splendor was issued.) Not so, John Paul teaches us: God does not command the impossible and He gives grace to all to follow His commandments. Obviously, as the attack on Humanae vitae ramps up—with people appointed by Francis to the Pontifical Academy for Life in the vanguard of the assault—Life Site News offers the translation as a counter.We wonder, however, whether it really matters at this point.

Since March 2013, two things have been obvious. The perennial teaching of the Church on questions like communion for bigamists and contraception is well known. Francis and his staunchest partisans don’t care. Familiaris consortio and Sacramentum caritatis—to say nothing of the words of Our Lord and St. Paul—were well known on the communion-for-bigamists question prior to the disastrous family synod. Yet, despite the ambiguous votes of the bishops at the family synod, Amoris laetitia was issued, apparently in contradiction to Familiaris consortio and Sacramentum caritatis. Now, a few years later, the Pope has declared the Buenos Aires guidelines, themselves profoundly ambiguous in light of the Church’s prior teachings, “magisterial.” One wonders how it happened that the Pope’s old colleagues in Buenos Aires came to issue guidelines that he responded to in a private letter, which was later promoted to the status of an Apostolic Letter. One wonders if Cardinal Parolin and Cardinal Baldisseri know. Did the clear teaching of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI matter, even as Francis canonized John Paul and can still see a light burning in Benedict’s monastic cell?

Likewise, the teaching of the Church on contraception is clear. Pius XI, in Casti connubii, proclaimed that it was evil, and he did so in a way that some theologians believe was infallible. The infallibility of Pius’s statement in Casti connubii was debated by the commission that resulted eventually in Humanae vitae. The status of Pius’s statement in Casti connubii in light of the doctrinal commentary to Ad tuendam Fidem probably should be discussed, too; that is to say, the question has gotten harder, not easier, to answer in the negative. Then, in an act worthy of St. Peter himself, Paul VI stood up to his own commission and the entire world and proclaimed all forms of artificial birth control were intrinsically evil. This act will never be forgiven by the progressives in the Church, always ready to make another accommodation with the world, and they have not stopped complaining about it. Nevertheless, Paul’s solemn discharge of the munus Petrinum has made possible the Church’s defense of life on every front. John Paul and Francis could not inveigh against the death penalty without the Church’s opposition to abortion, and Paul’s rejection of contraception made the Church’s steadfast opposition to abortion possible. Everyone knows this. Nevertheless, there is a mounting campaign against Humanae vitae.

The progressives see Francis as their last, best chance to achieve their long-cherished goal of setting aside Paul’s act. And not without good reason! Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life appointed by Francis challenge the applicability of Humanae vitae. What’s worse: Edward Pentin reports that a spokesman for the Academy claims that it “knew” about the positions of these members prior to their appointment. Moreover, Francis has handed the proponents of communion for bigamists a major victory. Why would the progressives arrayed against Papa Montini think they will fail? Indeed, the logic of Amoris laetitia is already a victory in their eyes! Thus, while we think it is unquestionably a good thing that Life Site News has presented the translation of John Paul’s 1987 speech, we are not sure it matters all that much.

On the other hand, it is clear that the confusion over once-clear moral questions is spreading. As the Second Vatican Council in Lumen gentium reminds us, the Church does not consist of the hierarchy, clergy, and vowed religious alone. Lay men and women, the Council tells us, make up a significant part of the entire Church. Progressives react with horror to the suggestion that the words of St. Pius X in Vehementer nos about the duties of the laity have much applicability today. As confusion mounts, the laity have, the Council would tell us, the right to the spiritual goods of the Church and the right to make known to their pastors their opinions. Parrhesia is not merely a synonym for progressives saying what a pope does not want to say. Consequently, the laity ought to understand what the doctrine of the Church is, what the recent popes have said, and in what ways the favorites of the current pontificate are deviating from that doctrine. This is, in fact, likely the only way that the confusion spreading in the Church will be addressed.

The Shouting

Rorate Caeli reports that in the October 2016 edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis the Holy Father’s letter to the Buenos Aires bishops regarding their interpretation of Amoris laetitia is presented as an apostolic letter. The bishops’ interpretation is also included. And, topping off this bounty, there is a note from Cardinal Parolin, which reads:

Summus Pontifex decernit ut duo Documenta quae praecedunt edantur
per publicationem in situ electronico Vaticano et in Actis Apostolicae Sedis,
velut Magisterium authenticum.

In Rorate‘s translation:

The Supreme Pontiff decreed that the two preceding documents be promulgated through publication on the Vatican website and in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, as authentic Magisterium.

Of course, astute observers knew this was coming. Archbishop Fernandez’s essay in the CELAM theological journal relied heavily on the letter to the Buenos Aires bishops. This simply adds the icing to the cake. One wonders—though how ingenuously is another matter—how the bishops in Francis’s old diocese managed to come up with guidelines that happened to come across his desk and happened to receive a favorable reply. (Maybe Cardinal Baldisseri knows.) No matter. Did anyone have any doubt that this is how the story of Amoris laetitia would end? That is, did anyone really think Francis would really leave Familiaris consortio untouched? When the only responses to the dubia were sneering insults from the commentators in line with Santa Marta on one hand and fuzzy casuistry from the serious theologians on the other? It is, as they say in our neck of the woods, all over but the shouting.

Or is it? There are orthodox interpretations of the Buenos Aires guidelines. A very clever friend of ours has pointed out that paragraph 6 is frustratingly vague and requires interpretation. It is possible to read an orthodox interpretation into the guidelines. Here’s Matthew Hoffman’s translation:

In other, more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity, the aforementioned option may not, in fact, be feasible. Nonetheless, it is equally possible to undertake a journey of discernment. If one arrives at the recognition that, in a particular case, there are limitations that diminish responsibility and culpability (cf. 301-302), particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union, Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (cf. notes 336 and 351). These in turn dispose the person to continue maturing and growing with the aid of grace.

(Emphasis supplied.) This passage, despite being now “Magisterium authenticum,” is full of perplexities. Does it apply in the United States, where almost everyone who asks can obtain a declaration of nullity? What does it mean to be “feasible” in this context? Millions of people live continently every day, and, recalling the Tridentine anathema, it seems to us that continence is always “feasible.” And, taking a step back, if the presence of children is the guiding star, have we not found a new regime crueler than anything John Paul established? Does not the middle-aged childless bigamist who found new love have to step aside for the professional who ditched his “starter wife” for a younger woman and had a couple of children? After all, the yuppie might judge “that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union.” And his younger wife could be put out if he suddenly got religion. Indeed, it seems as though he is the target recipient of these guidelines. But, given all the Pope’s talk of pastoral solicitude and helping the poor and the Church as a field hospital, it cannot be the Pope’s intention to encourage the practice of “starter spouses” and new families in smart suburbs. Or is it? As we say, the Buenos Aires guidelines do not clear much up. Maybe it is all over except the shouting, but there’s still plenty of shouting to be done.

Of course, the case will be judged in the court of history by future Catholics and future popes. The partisans of Santa Marta, like Archbishop Fernandez, the microblogging platform enthusiast Massimo Faggioli, and the writer Stephen Walford, have been banging the “development of doctrine” drum. Fair enough. In response to one of our columns for First Things, we received a note from a learned correspondent on a point relating to Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine. (Despite our Email Policy, we won’t reveal our correspondent’s details.) Our correspondent pointed out that Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine was written in 1845 as part of Newman’s conversion to Catholicism, though revised in 1878. One can read about this in the Apologia pro Vita Sua or Ian Ker’s biography. The Development of Christian Doctrine should be placed in its proper context. Our learned correspondent noted that, consequently, we should be cautious in proposing Newman’s tests or notes of authentic developments as a toolkit for speculative theology or a means of judging the magisterium. This is true as far as it goes, though, in response we would submit that Dei verbum formalizes, with the assent of an ecumenical council, the idea of development of doctrine without providing a clear understanding of how to separate developments from corruptions.

And this is where Newman comes in. The tests set forth in Development of Christian Doctrine might not be especially good for speculative theology; that is, one would have a hard time sketching out a theological argument on a given topic by means of the notes. However, as a method of approaching magisterial interventions—which are asserted to be developments of doctrine—you could do a lot worse than the notes in Development of Christian Doctrine. We have made this argument before. It is obvious that the proposed development contained in Amoris laetitia fails to pass several of the tests set forth by Cardinal Newman, not the least of which is whether or not the proposed development is conservative of the course of prior developments. Amoris laetitia contradicts Familiaris consortio. This is clear. If it is proposed that Familiaris consortio is itself a development of doctrine, which seems entirely plausible, then Amoris laetitia is not conservative of the course of prior developments. If we walk a little bit forward in time, and look back at this moment, we can say, without doing violence to Cardinal Newman’s intent in the Development of Christian Doctrine, that the development proposed by Francis by means of Amoris laetitia and his apostolic letter to his friends in Buenos Aires would not be an authentic development by Cardinal Newman’s lights.

Now, one may reject Newman’s approach. We have it on pretty good authority that one of the Pope’s most prominent defenders in the media has been presented with this argument and has made precisely this rejection. The response is, of course, Newman is not magisterial and, as our learned correspondent rightly pointed out, did not write the Development of Christian Doctrine as a work of speculative theology, intended to be applied to proposed developments as a means of judgment. Fair enough. Both are quite valid points. And one may go further, as we believe this prominent defender did, and argue that authentic developments are those which the pope says they are. Such an approach is simply wrong under the ecclesiology of Lumen gentium, insofar as it obliterates the teaching offices of the other bishops in the world in communion with the pope. And it is nowhere found in Dei verbum:

Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, this commentator would chuck the finely wrought teachings of the Second Vatican Council in favor of a papal autocracy beyond the dreams even of Pius IX and the Vatican Council itself in Pastor aeternus. Perhaps we ask a lot of Newman, but, the fact remains that Newman is the one best situated to help the Catholic who wishes to “remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles” and to contribute to the “single common effort” of “holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith,” identified by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

And it is this “single common effort” that we refer to when we say that the case of Amoris laetitia will have to be judged by future Catholics.

 

On the Weinandy letter

As you no doubt know, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., wrote a letter to Pope Francis, arguing, essentially, that the Pope’s demeanor was causing great confusion among the faithful. Note that Weinandy’s argument is somewhat different than the arguments advanced by the cardinals who submitted dubia and the so-called filial correction that was much in the news recently. That is, Weinandy does not argue that Amoris laetitia contradicts doctrine or advances heretical teachings; instead, he argues that the Holy Father’s general demeanor is causing confusion. Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman has an excellent piece looking at some of the more prominent responses to Weinandy, and pulling apart the shoddy logic of some critics. One ought to read very carefully both Weinandy’s letter and Somerville-Knapman’s piece.

For our part, we delayed somewhat in covering Weinandy’s letter, not least because it seems manifestly different from the other documents we have discussed. It is not a technical, theological argument; indeed, to us, it is a humble plea not for a doctrinal retreat but for a little clarity and a little kindness. Additionally, Weinandy has explained that he wrote the letter only after significant discernment and receiving what he took to be a sign from God. This is by no means something to be ignored or diminished, especially in an age when discernment has such primacy. Consequently, we did not want to rush to judgment or present Weinandy’s letter without a little time on our part to consider it carefully.

Naturally, the media supporters of the Pope swung into full gear almost immediately. The accusation seems to be that Weinandy, such a staunch critic of dissenting theologians, himself dissents. This misrepresents Weinandy’s letter almost to the point of malice. Moreover, it represents a mindless ultramontanism that has appeared among progressives and modernists since, oh, the spring of 2013. The theologians Weinandy criticized held views that contradicted, squarely, revealed truths. It contradicts no revealed truth when Weinandy asks the Pope to clear up the confusion that exists in the Church today. However, progressives like Fr. James Martin, the public face of changing the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality, argue that Weinandy is just as bad as the dissenting theologians he criticized. The implicit argument is that any request for clarity is dissent. Robert Royal today has an excellent piece along these lines, in which he argues:

I argued here about a month ago that we’re starting to see emerge a kind of faith without reason that is quite different from the mainstream Catholic tradition. As sadly happens when you make any argument on the Internet these days, commenters accused me of calling people I disagreed with stupid – including the pope himself. But what I actually said is that I think there’s been a conscious decision to emphasize a kind of pastoral sentimentalism over the older hard-head/soft-heart Catholic realism – sometimes even bordering on the belief that clear doctrine obstructs the workings of the Holy Spirit. Something considered “pastoral” is assumed to trump other teachings, even consistency and fidelity to tradition.

(Hyperlink in original and emphasis supplied.) The Weinandy affair shows precisely this: we are entering a phase in the history of the Church where clarity is considered inimical to faith.

Royal goes on to make this excellent point:

When you take that approach, you look less to what others actually say and more to how it might help or harm what you are trying to achieve. In the Weinandy case, it’s telling that the omnipresent Fr. James Martin has weighed in saying that “dissent” is a two-edged sword: how is Fr. Weinandy’s belief, he asks, that God personally encouraged him to write the letter different from LGBTQ people who believe God finds their inclinations just fine? It’s tiresome to have to point out the obvious here, but Fr. Weinandy was speaking up for the whole Catholic tradition and those who believe in it – not “dissenting” or pushing a personal interest – and sincerely asking the Holy Father to take up his role as the promoter of Church unity.

Such a view is ultimately the triumph of theological liberalism. Martin’s implicit argument is ultimately that the view that Pope Francis is permitting confusion to mount is as good as the view that homosexuals ought to be normalized in the Church. We are reminded, when we hear of Fr. Martin’s latest false equivalency, of Cardinal Newman’s biglietto speech:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man’s religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is why we return to Newman so often. He was an implacable opponent of theological liberalism, and the progressives and modernists are enthusiastic proponents of liberalism. Newman shows that liberalism is incompatible with the Catholic faith. (So too, frankly, do the progressives.)

The Weinandy affair shows also that the Pope’s supporters in the media are incapable of having the dialogue that even high prelates like Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, have called for. Within hours—minutes—of the release of Weinandy’s letter, they started their all-too-familiar drumbeat: he’s an extremist, he’s a dissenter, he’s a bitter minority. We have seen already that they conflate dissent from actual doctrine with merely asking for clarity regarding the Pope’s teachings. Their vicious response to Weinandy only underscores the fact that, for them, this is not a matter of unity but party politics. Their man, as it were, is in government, and the loyal opposition must be excluded and mocked for as long as the ride lasts.

Müller’s latest on “Amoris laetitia”

We have posted several times about Rocco Buttiglione’s arguments concerning Amoris laetitia. Buttiglione, a confidant of John Paul II, has come out against the critics of the exhortation, including the cardinals who submitted dubia, on several occasions. It seems that his various essays have been collected into a book. Of great interest is the fact that Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a cardinal without portfolio at the moment, has written a preface for the book. The preface has been excerpted at Vatican Insider. The relevant passage is this:

The formal element of sin is the departure from God and his holy will, but there are different levels of gravity depending on the type of sin. Spirit’s sins can be more serious than flesh’s sins. Spiritual pride and avarice introduce into religious and moral life a more profound disorder than impurity resulting from human weakness. The apostasy of faith, the denial of the divinity of Christ weighs more than theft and adultery; adultery among married people weighs more than among the unmarried and, the adultery of the faithful, who know God’s will, weighs more than that of the unbelievers (cf. Thomas Aquinas, th. S. I-II q. 73; II-II q). Moreover, for the imputabilty of guilt in God’s judgment, one must consider subjective factors such as full knowledge and deliberate consent in the serious lack of respect for God’s commandments, which has as a consequence the loss of sanctifying grace and of the ability of faith to become effective in charity (cf. Thomas Aquinas S. th. II-II, q. 10 a. 3 ad 3).

This does not mean, however, that now Amoris laetitia art. 302 supports, in contrast to Veritatis splendor 81, that, due to mitigating circumstances, an objectively bad act can become subjectively good (it is dubium n. 4 of the cardinals). The action in itself bad (the sexual relationship with a partner who is not the legitimate spouse) does not become subjectively good due to circumstances. In the assessment of guilt, however, there may be mitigating circumstances and the ancillary elements of an irregular cohabitation similar to marriage can also be presented before God in their ethical value in the overall assessment of judgment (for example, the care for children in common, which is a duty deriving from natural law). 

(Emphasis supplied.) This is essentially the argument Buttiglione himself has propounded, which is essentially that Amoris laetitia implements the traditional moral analysis, particularly with respect to deliberate consent.  There is a more interesting passage, however, when Müller goes on to argue:

In paragraph 305 and in particular in note 351, which is the subject of a passionate discussion, the theological argument suffers from a certain lack of clarity which could and should have been avoided by referring to the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Trent and Vatican II on the justification, the sacrament of penance and the appropriate way of receiving the Eucharist. What is at issue is an objective situation of sin which, due to mitigating circumstances, is subjectively not imputed. This sounds similar to the Protestant principle of simul jus et peccator, but it is certainly not intended in that sense. If the second bond were valid before God, the marriage relationships of the two partners would not constitute a serious sin but rather a transgression against ecclesiastical public order for having irresponsibly violated the canonical rules and therefore a minor sin. This does not obscure the truth that the relationship more uxorio with a person of the other sex, who is not the legitimate spouse before God, constitutes a serious fault against chastity and justice due to one’s spouse.

(Emphasis supplied.) One argument, even in the context of the internal forum solution, which Müller more or less advances earlier in the preface, is that the public scandal of communion by bigamists is independent of their culpability in the second union. That is, even if they are really not gravely culpable, the fact that they are publicly in a second union is an independent basis for denying communion. Müller seems to respond to that contention, arguing instead that they have committed only the “minor sin” of “irresponsibly violat[ing] the canonical rules.” On the other hand, Müller doesn’t want to follow that argument all the way home:

The sacraments have been established for us, because we are corporeal and social beings, and not so that God may need them to communicate grace. Precisely for this reason it is possible that someone receives the justification and mercy of God, forgiveness of sins and new life in faith and charity even if for external reasons one cannot receive the sacraments or has a moral obligation not to receive them publicly in order to avoid a scandal.

Cardinal Müller was shut out of the Amoris laetitia drafting process by all accounts. Indeed, we think in one or another of his recent, frank interviews, he has said as much. However, it is hard to see why in the light of this essay. His argument seems to be essentially the argument implicit in Amoris laetitia: sometimes it is not subjectively a grave sin to live more uxorio in a second marriage, even if adultery is objectively a grave sin; and, moreover, it is possible for the second marriage to be a true marriage even if that fact cannot be established judicially. This is not hugely surprising, given that Müller was part of the German-speaking small group at the 2015 Synod, which came out unanimously largely in favor of the internal forum solution. (Cardinal Marx, we recall, took some measure of credit for brokering a solution that got both Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller to sign on.) Nevertheless, it is strange to see this essay after a year or so of media portrayals of Müller as one of the cardinals resisting the Pope’s agenda of mercy.

More on the Latin “Amoris laetitia”

Anthony Holmes, a professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College, has an interesting piece at his blog, confirming that the Latin text of Amoris laetitia, used by Robert Fastiggi and Dawn Eden Goldstein to argue against certain interpretations of the exhortation, is ultimately derivative of the various vernacular translations. We won’t spoil the surprise of his piece, which is quite clever, and instead encourage you to read it at his blog. In sum, anyone who suggests, as Fastiggi and Goldstein do, that the Latin text expresses the mind of the Holy Father in Amoris laetitia is going to have a hard time making their case. The original text of Amoris laetitia, from which the other vernacular translations were made, is the Italian or Spanish text, given what we know of the drafting process. The Latin text was likely prepared from the same original text. Nevertheless, Holmes suggests, it might be worthwhile to translate the Latin text of Amoris laetitia. It is, after all, the official text, even if it is probably not the most revealing text.

Cardinal Müller speaks

At the National Catholic Register, there is a very lengthy and very frank interview with Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, until recently the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Naturally, it is with Edward Pentin, who is, we are comfortable saying, the single best English-language Vaticanista today by a country mile. We are sure—as Cardinal Müller himself says—that excerpts will be selected and warped by his enemies, especially in the press, and used to allege that he is a reactionary, out of touch, or an enemy of the Holy Father. This is the tactic progressives have settled on in their frantic attempts to shore up their agenda against the rising resistance from faithful Catholics. We won’t quote every interesting passage, but we will quote what we think is the heart of the interview:

All my life, after the Second Vatican Council, I’ve noticed that those who support so-called progressivism never have theological arguments. The only method they have is to discredit other persons, calling them “conservative” — and this changes the real point, which is the reality of the faith, and not in your personal subjective, psychological disposition. By “conservative,” what do they mean? Someone loves the ways of the 1950s, or old Hollywood films of the 1930s? Was the bloody persecution of Catholics during the French Revolution by the Jacobins progressive or conservative? Or is the denial of the divinity of Christ by the Arians of the fourth century liberal or traditional? Theologically it’s not possible to be conservative or progressive. These are absurd categories: Neither conservatism nor progressivism is anything to do with the Catholic faith. They’re political, polemical, rhetorical forms. The only sense of these categories is discrediting other persons.

We have Holy Scripture, we have eschatological revelation in Jesus Christ, the irreversibility of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, the salvation of the cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ for the end of the world. … The responsibility of the Pope and the bishops is to overcome the polarization. Therefore, it’s very dangerous for the Church to divide bishops into friends and enemies of the Pope regarding a footnote in an apostolic exhortation. I am sure that anybody will denounce me also for this interview, but I hope that the Holy Father will read my complete interview here and not only some headlines, which cannot give a complete impression of what I said.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing.