The Maltese farce

The saga of the Order of Malta gets stranger and stranger. Today, Edward Pentin reports that Archbishop Giovanni Becciu, the Holy Father’s special delegate to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and substitute for general affairs in the Secretariat of State, has written to Fra’ Matthew Festing, erstwhile grand master, “asking” him not to come to Rome for the upcoming Council Complete of State, convened to elect Festing’s successor. Pentin provides a scan of the letter from Becciu to Festing. The request comes as a bit of a surprise, since it has been widely reported that the Holy Father has expressed no objection to Festing’s reelection, if the Order returns him to office. According to Becciu, “many have expressed their desire that [Festing] not come to Rome and participate in the voting sessions.” (It is not difficult to imagine who “many” is.)

Archbishop Becciu makes this request as an “act of obedience.” All of this underscores completely the fact that the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is under the direct administration of the Holy See, which has definite ideas about how it is to be run going forward. This, of course, would not be so extraordinary but for two facts. First, the Order was once presumed sovereign under international law. Second, the Holy See appears to favor one clique definitively in the internal governance dispute, taking extraordinary step after extraordinary step after extraordinary step to ensure that the interests of Boeselager and the German Knights are advanced. One wonders whether these actions—probably unprecedented—will have effects beyond the question of the Order of Malta. For example, will high officials in the Curia start banning other allegedly divisive figures from coming to Rome? Will the Italian state object to the Holy See setting, even on a very limited basis, its immigration policy? 

One thing is clear: it pays—and pays and pays—to have friends in the Secretariat of State.

A new analysis of AL

At First Things, Mats Wahlberg has a lengthy essay about Amoris laetitia. Wahlberg, an associate professor in Umeå University in Sweden, has written several times on Amoris laetitia. But this First Things piece is essential reading. Wahlberg proceeds to demolish neatly both the argument advanced by Walter Cardinal Kasper and the argument favored by Rocco Buttiglione. It would do violence to Wahlberg’s tightly reasoned argument to try to summarize it. Instead, an excerpt:

Perhaps it could be argued that even though the original marriage still imposes a moral obligation, a second, civil marriage can in some cases impose a stronger obligation, and in this conflict of duties, the stronger obligation must win. So the original marriage still exists, but it is, so to speak, morally out-wrestled by the second, civil marriage. However, to reason like this would be irrational. If a second marriage can out-wrestle the first marriage by imposing a stronger moral obligation, then there is no point in having indissoluble marriages. The very point of contracting an indissoluble marriage rather than opting for some provisional or temporary arrangement is that the possibility to “move on” to a new relationship in the future is thereby renounced. By getting married, the spouses close this door, and this closing has an important purpose—they have now committed themselves wholly to each other. But if a second marriage can out-wrestle the first—provided, for example, that the well-being of children in the new relationship is at stake—then the door in question is not closed, and the idea that marriage is “indissoluble” is a theoretical fiction that serves no purpose. After all, what people normally do when they divorce is to start a new relationship. If they are in the right age, what they normally do is to have children. If the Church says that this is what it takes to effectively nullify the moral obligations of one’s first marriage, then the Church has abolished indissoluble marriage.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.

“I believed myself to be doing good”

Yesterday, Edward Pentin ran a lengthy interview with Francesco Cardinal Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, about his new book about chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. It is a stunning interview, especially given Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s role as one of the Church’s top lawyers. In fact, as we read it, we had the sense that it was going disastrously and, what’s more, the participants knew how badly it was going. An excerpt:

Isn’t it better to try to stop the situation of sin completely?

How can you stop the whole thing if that will harm people? It is important that this person doesn’t want to be in this union, wants to leave this union, wants to leave, but cannot do it. There are two things to put together: I want to, but I cannot. And I cannot — not for my own sake, but for the sake of other people. I cannot for the sake of other people.

If the two can live together as brother and sister, that’s great. But if they cannot because this would break up the union, which ought to be conserved for the good of these people, then they manage as best they can. Do you see? That’s it. And it seems this whole complicated thing has a logical explanation, motivation. If others depart from other points of view, they can also arrive at other conclusions. But I would say there would be something missing of the human person. I can’t damage a person to avoid a sin in a situation that I haven’t put myself into; I already find myself in it, one in which I, if I am this woman, have put myself into without a bad intention. On the contrary, I’m trying to do good, and, at that moment, I believed myself to be doing good, and certainly I did do good. But maybe if, already at the beginning I had known, if I knew with moral certitude that this is a sin, maybe I would not have put myself in that condition. But now I already find myself there: How can I go back? It is one thing to begin, another to interrupt. These are also different things, no?

(Emphasis supplied.)

In keeping with our Lenten suggestion, here is a passage from St. John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis splendor (no. 81), which seems to be relevant to this idea:

In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. “As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”.

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) John Paul went on to teach (no. 82):

Furthermore, an intention is good when it has as its aim the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end. But acts whose object is “not capable of being ordered” to God and “unworthy of the human person” are always and in every case in conflict with that good. Consequently, respect for norms which prohibit such acts and oblige semper et pro semper, that is, without any exception, not only does not inhibit a good intention, but actually represents its basic expression.

(Emphasis supplied.) Consider the full effect of what John Paul taught. First, one cannot, by means of “trying to do good” and believing oneself to be doing good, transform an objectively evil act—like adultery—into a good act. The most they can do is make it less evil. Moreover, an intention to do an objectively evil act, even, one suspects, if it is a convenient or congenial intention, cannot be a “good intention.” In other words, the intention to do an objectively evil act does not lessen the evil of the act.

In any event, it is an open question for us whether one could reasonably believe that one acted with a “good intention,” though we know that that belief would be objectively mistaken, if one intended to do something objectively evil. Again John Paul, discussing conscience (no. 58):

 The importance of this interior dialogue of man with himself can never be adequately appreciated. But it is also a dialogue of man with God, the author of the law, the primordial image and final end of man. Saint Bonaventure teaches that “conscience is like God’s herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God’s authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force”. Thus it can be said that conscience bears witness to man’s own rectitude or iniquity to man himself but, together with this and indeed even beforehand, conscience is the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul, calling him fortiter et suaviter to obedience. “Moral conscience does not close man within an insurmountable and impenetrable solitude, but opens him to the call, to the voice of God. In this, and not in anything else, lies the entire mystery and the dignity of the moral conscience: in being the place, the sacred place where God speaks to man”.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.)


The political Church

We have had on our mind for some time to write a comment about the political approach to the Church and the damage it does. But, for a variety of reasons, we simply have not gotten around to writing it. However, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., well known to readers of Semiduplex, has gotten around to writing such a piece. At his blog, Sancrucensis, he writes, taking a sermon then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave in the United States in 1990 as his theme:

I have been thinking a lot about that sermon of Ratzinger’s recently, because of the controversies about Amoris Laetitia, which have made the ever present danger of dividing the Church through a party spirit apparent. I have to ask myself: am I being faithful to Christ, or am I dividing Him. Is my position an “I am for tradition” in the way in which a Corinthian party might say “I am for Paul” and look down on the naïve party of Cephas? Conversely, of course, certain others should ask themselves whether they are really being faithful to Peter, or whether they are saying “I am for Cephas” because the opinions of the current pope fit their preferences. Now, I do not think that I have been motivated by a party spirit in what I have said and written about Amoris Laetitia. But then, as Nietzsche says, “we are unknown to us, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing at Sancrucensis.

Burke, Brandmüller, and St. Thomas

Vatican Insider has an interview with Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, the eminent Church historian and one of the cardinals behind the dubia regarding Amoris laetitia. One important point emerges from the interview:

In an interview with Vatican Insider, another of the three signatories of the “dubia”, German cardinal Walter Brandmüller, was keen to point out that a potential “fraternal correction” of a point made by the Pope must take place “in camera caritatis”, in other words not in public by means of published acts or written documents . Readers will recall that the five “dubia” regarding the “Amoris Laetitia” were made public just a few days before the final consistory, less than two months after they had been presented.

(Emphasis supplied.) We are, of course, reminded of St. Thomas, who addressed the question of fraternal correction, including correction of one’s prelate, at some length. It seems to us that the cardinals—if what Cardinal Brandmüller says is accurate—are proceeding Thomistically. Which makes sense to us, given how much emphasis, perhaps incorrectly, has been placed by the defenders of Amoris laetitia on “true Thomism,” now the neo-Scholastic manualism of their extreme youth. The cardinals behind the dubia, we think, come much closer to a Thomistic approach to their situation.

As we say, St. Thomas provides a very sound guide to fraternal correction, which is, he teaches us, an act of charity, ST IIa IIae q.33 a.1 co.,

 Consequently the correction of a wrongdoer is twofold, one which applies a remedy to the sin considered as an evil of the sinner himself. This is fraternal correction properly so called, which is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well. Consequently fraternal correction also is an act of charity, because thereby we drive out our brother’s evil, viz. sin, the removal of which pertains to charity rather than the removal of an external loss, or of a bodily injury, in so much as the contrary good of virtue is more akin to charity than the good of the body or of external things. Therefore fraternal correction is an act of charity rather than the healing of a bodily infirmity, or the relieving of an external bodily need. There is another correction which applies a remedy to the sin of the wrongdoer, considered as hurtful to others, and especially to the common good. This correction is an act of justice, whose concern it is to safeguard the rectitude of justice between one man and another.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is a point that is ultimately overlooked in the dubia controversy, not least since plenty of people on both sides have a political view of the question. It is not a vicious act to correct the error of one’s brother or even one’s prelate. It is, indeed, an act of love. It is ultimately a cheap, gaudy “mercy” that smiles benignantly on the mistakes of one’s prelate and a bitter selfishness that puts one’s head down and says “that’s above my pay grade.” One does not want to see one’s superior—a superior to whom one may be bound with supernatural bonds of charity—do a bad job any more than one wants to see one’s parents do a bad job. (Especially in matters of the highest importance that have eternal consequences.) Now, as fraternal correction is ultimately a matter of virtue, one can deviate from the mean and make one’s fraternal correction less virtuous. But done appropriately, the bottom line is that fraternal correction is an act of deep charity.

Now, it seems that public correction of one’s prelate is one of those circumstances that deviates from the mean of virtue. This appears to us to be Cardinal Brandmüller’s point when he talks about the correction taking place in camera caritatis. The respect one owes to one’s prelate prevents one from correcting him publicly. This is a noble, humble approach. It is, however, not quite Thomistic. Responding to an objection, St. Thomas said, ST IIa IIae q.33 a.4 ad 2,

To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (4:17) tells them to admonish their prelate: “Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry [*Vulg.: ‘Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.’ Cf. 2 Tim. 4:5].” It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.”

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, while one generally ought to correct his prelate privately, when the faith is endangered, “a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.” (Emphasis supplied.) Defense of the faith is an exception to the rule.

This is a point that ought to be emphasized, especially to the critics of the cardinals: the cardinals would be justified, if they, in good conscience, believe that fraternal correction of the Holy Father is merited in making that act of correction in public. It is beyond doubt that the questions raised by Amoris laetitia present “imminent danger of scandal concerning faith.” Indeed, the past year demonstrates clearly the reality of scandal concerning faith for many Catholics, despite the scoffing of some of the Holy Father’s self-appointed defenders. This is, St. Thomas teaches us, an exception to the rule that one corrects one’s prelate in private. However, the cardinals behind the dubia, if Cardinal Brandmüller’s statements have been accurately reported, wish to proceed privately, in camera caritatis, if such a fraternal correction is ultimately necessary. The cardinals, therefore, are proceeding with greater caution and sensitivity than strictly necessary.

Good luck hearing that from the media aligned with Santa Marta and Villa Malta, though.


More on the Thomism in “Amoris laetitia”

Some defenders of Amoris laetitia like to suggest it is a profoundly Thomistic document, though not, notably, any Thomists. Indeed, among Thomists, there are serious reservations about the use of the Angelic Doctor in the exhortation, particularly the infamous Chapter 8. At the National Catholic Register, Fr. Basil B. Cole, OP, a professor at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., has written a fantastic comment. You’ll want to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already, but here’s an excerpt:

Another tangle one can encounter is when quoting Aquinas piecemeal or without full advertence to his theological project. St. Thomas was nothing if not a complete and consistent thinker. To pick and choose his statements without considering their context and relation to his other relevant insights would be about as disastrous as proof-texting Sacred Scripture. One might suppose that a situationist ethic is supported by Aquinas when he states, “In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all. […] The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail” (ST I-II, q. 94, a. 4; quoted in Amoris Laetitia n. 304). Isolated from Aquinas’s other statements, it could seem as if the doctor of the Church is saying that no moral rule is absolute, but that discernment is needed in each and every situation to know whether or not a general moral principle applies in a particular situation. However, this is not authentic Thomism. Situation ethics contradicts Aquinas’s firm affirmation that there are some moral norms that always hold for everyone: these are the precepts of the Decalogue (ST I-II, q. 100, a. 8), and similar universal negative precepts, for they condemn acts that are “evil in themselves and cannot become good” (ST II-II, q. 33, a.2). He specifically says that “one may not commit adultery for any good” (De Malo, q. 15, a.1, ad 5). In the same vein, Aquinas holds that some acts “have deformity inseparably attached to them, such as fornication, adultery, and others of this sort, which can in no way be done in a morally good way” (Quodlibet 9, q. 7, a. 2). The reason for these exceptionless norms is that human nature does not change, nor does the Gospel and the Church’s mandate to transmit it unsullied through the centuries. Certain positive norms need to be adapted to the times, such as one’s relation to the environment. In such cases, Magisterial teaching adapts to changing conditions—but always without contradicting reason and the truths already articulated by the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fr. Cole dispatches quickly, charitably, and utterly the suggestion that there’s anything all that Thomistic about Amoris laetitia. And he does it without hyperbole or polemical tone.

In his commentary, Edward Pentin makes clear that the Holy Father and his close supporters are particularly invested in claiming Thomistic support for Amoris laetitia. It is, therefore, hugely important to hear from theologians like Fr. Cole, who plainly have tremendous breadth and depth of knowledge about St. Thomas’s theology. Note also that, in their open letter to the Holy Father, John Finnis and Germain Grisez went out of their way to demonstrate, discussing what they call Position C, that the allegedly Thomistic aspects of Amoris laetitia are, in fact, not compatible with Thomas’s own thought. (They also suggest a connection between Position C and the dissent from Paul VI’s teaching in Humanae vitae, which seems to be a fruitful historical argument that someone else may want to flesh out.) For our part, while we think some cases for Amoris laetitia might be articulated more or less well (though all of them are unconvincing), we think it’s probably time to stick a fork in the claim that it is especially Thomistic.

At any rate, as it is clear that the controversy over Amoris laetitia is not going away, it is perhaps now the time to delve into the claims made about it, particularly the claims that it somehow reflects this or that school of thought in the Church.

A moving reflection from Matthew Schmitz

There is something going on at First Things. Yes, Rusty Reno and Mark Bauerlein jumped on the Trump bandwagon, but we’re not talking about that. There are a lot of very sharp, young Catholics writing for First Things, expressing something other than the neocon, neo-Cath fusionism of Fr. Neuhaus’s circle. Among the bright lights of the magazine is literary editor Matthew Schmitz, who has written today “How I Changed My Mind About Pope Francis.” An excerpt:

I was not then, and never will be, against Francis. In June of that year, I celebrated the publication of Laudato Si’: “Francis’ encyclical synthesizes the great cultural critiques of his two most recent predecessors.” I was glad to see Francis smashing the false idols we have made of progress and the market.

Then Amoris Laetitia came out. In it, Francis sought to muddy the Church’s clear teaching that the divorced and remarried must live as brother and sister. “I have felt the Church’s teaching on marriage land like a blow, yet I take no encouragement from this shift,” I wrote. It was clear by then that my initial rosy assessments were wrong. Francis meant to lead the Church in a direction that I could not approve or abide. He believes that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” This renders him unable to resist the lie that says a man may abandon one wife and take up another. Instead, he reassures us that we can blithely go from one partner to the other without also abandoning Christ. This is the throwaway culture baptized and blessed, given a Christian name and a whiff of incense.

My admiration for Laudato Si’ has only grown with time, but I fear the import of that document is bound to be obscured by Amoris Laetitia. A pope who speaks with singular eloquence of our need to resist the technocratic logic of the “throwaway culture” seems bent on leading his Church to surrender to it. What is more typical of the throwaway culture than the easy accommodation of divorce and remarriage?

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Schmitz’s reflection, moving as it is for his frank admission that he got it wrong and tried too long to explain what, in retrospect, was clear, is all the more moving because it points to the unrealized promise of this pontificate. Laudato si’ is a brilliant dissection of the sickness at the heart of modernity. The environmental stuff is ballast. That is not to say that the pope does not have the authority to pronounce on such matters—he certainly does—merely that it is less compelling than his diagnosis of the disease that has atomized society, disconnecting man from himself, his neighbor, his world, and, most destructively, his God. Yet the Holy Father does not seem all that interested in revisiting these issues.

Consider also the opportunity missed on the subject of integral human development. While Cardinal Müller has a reputation as a rock-ribbed doctrinal enforcer, if largely ignored these days, he has done a lot of important work on liberation theology, especially in correcting some of the errors condemned by the Church. And, of course, Francis’s time as Jesuit provincial in Argentina was marred by his conflict with his brethren who were very enthusiastic about liberation theology. Thus, the Holy Father and his doctrinal chief have extensive experience dealing with theology aimed at development and liberation, while being clear eyed about the errors that crept into liberation theology. Imagine, then, the work they could do in articulating an authentic, orthodox vision in the vein of Pacem in terris, Populorum progressio, and Caritas in veritate. However, instead of an encyclical building upon not only Laudato si’ but also the previous social magisterium, we are dealing with Amoris laetitia and the pressing question of how the Pope can admit bigamists to communion without formally admitting bigamists to communion. One cannot escape the sense that time and energy are being wasted.

But the problem confronting many Catholics is more serious than merely wasted potential. Wasted potential in and of itself would not be a huge problem. After years of a pope’s reign, it is easy to look back and see missed opportunities and mistakes. No, the situation is more serious. Schmitz goes on to observe:

I was inspired this week to revisit my past writings by Austen Ivereigh’s recent interview of Antonio Spadaro, one of the pope’s close advisers. Ivereigh notes that it’s “striking how many of AL’s critics are lay intellectuals, rather than pastors,” and suggests there is “a basic division in the reactions to AL between, as it were, the pastors and legalists.” Spadaro seems to agree. Am I, as a lay critic of Amoris, guilty of an unpastoral legalism? Probably so, if it is legalistic to wish that Francis’s defenders were as ready to offer doctrinal clarifications as they are to hand out psychological diagnoses.

But I also wonder at the assumption in Ivereigh’s question. If fewer pastors than laypeople have criticized the document, is that because the pastors approve of it? Or is it because they fear the damage that would be done to the Church by a public division? If the latter is the case, I wonder what Francis would have to do or say before more bishops begin to speak out. Is it unobjectionable for a pope to contradict his predecessors, the faith, and Christ himself, so long as he doesn’t explicitly say that’s what he’s doing?

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink in original.) This is, we think, a question that many Catholics are now asking themselves. And, at this point, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Holy Father means to contradict Familiaris consortio and Veritatis splendor. His supporters—especially men like Ivereigh and Fr. Spadaro who have a lot of their professional prestige wrapped up in the “Francis revolution”—will talk about what St. John Paul really taught and how he really would have agreed with Amoris laetitia. But this is window dressing: they know as well as the next person that if St. John Paul had meant to endorse communion for bigamists living more uxorio he would have done so.

In a certain sense, it seems to us, the so-called Francis revolution is deeply reactionary. The Holy Father and his supporters apparently want to roll the clock back to 1975 or so, when all things indeed seemed possible in the wake of the Council. The careful theology of St. John Paul and Benedict XVI, intended largely to continue the work of the Council in applying the magisterium to modern problems (to say nothing of correcting the erroneous perceptions of the Council), has been jettisoned for the most part. And rightly so for the men and women who saw the Council as an opportunity to make the Church in the world’s image. The bitterness of their disappointment on that October night in 1978 has only recently become manifest. They saw, it now seems, the period from late 1978 to early 2013 as a deviation from the course marked out by the Council.

But this is an anxiety that only men and women alive in 1975 or so can share. To those who grew up as spiritual children or grandchildren of St. John Paul and Benedict, these concerns are not only dated but also wrong. Those of us who remember John Paul and Benedict remember that, whatever else they did and whatever their flaws were, they treated us like adults who were prepared to take up our crosses and follow Christ as Christians in the modern age. That is not the message we see uniformly from Santa Marta these days, which is often as not deep pessimism about our ability to do what Christ tells us He will help us do. Schmitz concludes:

Francis says his critics desire rigidity. Once I disregarded the polemical edge of that word, I came to see that he is right. In a world that has been massively deregulated, both morally and economically, people are bound to desire the security of structure. Is seeking this structure a form of “rigidity” to be mocked and denigrated, or an honest human need worthy of consideration by any pastor? Francis wants the Church rebuilt to suit the freewheeling ways of the baby boomers. It’s no accident that their children don’t like the changes.

(Emphasis supplied.) The only younger Catholics excited by what they see are those young Catholics with a primarily political agenda. (This includes clerical careerists, would-be spinmeisters, and political operatives sent into the Church by secular politicians.) But it is unclear, from our limited experience, that serious young Catholics are all that committed to this revolution, not least because, as Schmitz rightly observes, they have long paid the price for the free-to-be-you-and-me world dreamed of by the men and women of 1975.

Read the whole thing at First Things. It’s very good.