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.

Buttiglione responds to the cardinals

We have followed Rocco Buttiglione’s interpretation of Amoris laetitia with interest, finding it, at first, interesting and perhaps persuasive at first, though we have found it less persuasive with each iteration (and make no mistake: he’s one of Santa Marta’s preferred mouthpieces on this subject, no doubt for his closeness with St. John Paul II). In short, Buttiglione argues for continuity between Amoris laetitia and Familiaris consortio by hanging everything on the subjective component of mortal sin; that is, if you approach the question in the traditional framework, you see that Amoris laetitia simply approaches the question of free consent on the part of the penitent. Is that so? Now, Buttiglione has responded to the dubia proposed by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. We won’t waste your time going point by point through the dubia and responses, though we encourage you to do so when you have an idle hour. Instead, we will focus on the first dubium and its responsum.

The cardinals ask:

It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio, 84, and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 34, and Sacramentum Caritatis, 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in Note 351 (305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

Buttiglione responds:

The first a question the eminent cardinals ask, is whether it is in some cases acceptable for absolution to be granted to people who despite being tied down by a previous marriage, live more uxorio, engaging in sexual intercourse. It seems to me, that the response should be affirmative given what is written in the “Amoris Laetitia” and what is stated in the general principles of moral theology. A clear distinction needs to be made between the act, which constitutes a grave sin, and the agent, who may find themselves bound by circumstances that mitigate their responsibility for the act or in some cases may even eliminate it completely. Consider, for example, the case of a woman who is completely financially and mentally dependant on someone and is forced to have sexual intercourse against her will. Sadly, such cases are not just theory but a bitter reality, witnessed more often than one would imagine. What is lacking here are the subjective conditions for sin (full knowledge and deliberate consent). The act is still evil but it does not belong (not entirely anyway) to the person. In criminal law terms, we are not in the realm of the theory of crime (whether an act is good or bad) but of the theory of liability and subjective extenuating circumstances.

This does not mean unmarried people can legitimately engage in sexual activity. Such activity is illegitimate. People can (in some cases) fall into non mortal but venial sin if full knowledge and deliberate consent are lacking. But, one could argue, is it not necessary for a person to  have the intention of never sinning again in order to receive absolution? It certainly is necessary. The penitent must want to end their irregular situation and commit to acts that will allow them to actually do so in practice. However, this person may not be able to achieve this detachment and regain self-ownership immediately. Here, the “situation of sin” concept illustrated by John Paul II, is important. One cannot plausibly promise never to commit a certain sin if they live in a situation in which they are exposed to the irresistible temptation of committing it. In order to hold fast to one’s intent, one needs to be committed to coming out of a situation of sin.

(Emphasis supplied.)

While superficially persuasive, upon closer examination Buttiglione’s argument collapses into incoherence. Buttiglione deftly sidesteps the dubium by shifting his ground from someone living in a second relationship more uxorio to a woman held captive in an abusive relationship. But such an extreme case does not seem to be what the cardinals had in mind. They seem to have had in mind the case of a “conventional” second marriage. Indeed, in Amoris laetitia, the case of a “conventional” second marriage is what is on the Holy Father’s mind, otherwise why devote so much time to the good of the children of such a bigamous union? In other words, Buttiglione wants to treat a pathological case as though it is the situation anticipated by the Holy Father and the cardinals. To what end? The answer is obvious: everyone can agree about the extreme case, and Buttiglione wants to pretend that the extreme case is a normal case. Thus, the consensus about the extreme case becomes the consensus. He is silent upon the more relevant question, which is the point Amoris laetitia raises, of whether merely having children in a bigamous union is sufficient to diminish one’s free consent to the point where adultery is merely venially sinful or not sinful at all. He is silent, one suspects, because that is a much harder question to answer if you want to say “yes.”

But that’s not all.

Buttiglione appears to concede that a firm purpose of amendment is necessary. He even appears to concede that that means terminating the bigamous relationship. (This may be more than Amoris laetitia even concedes.) But when you drill down on his actual argument, it’s not at all clear what he means. Penitents have to be committed to coming out of the situation of sin they have put themselves in, but they will need some time to do so. It is plain that he views the adulterous union as the situation of sin—that is, when you’re living with someone, you’re tempted irresistibly to copulate (which must be rather alarming news to the millions of students and roommates who live together without being tempted to do so)—and it is plain that the penitent needs to get out of the situation. But the argument falls apart on its own terms. Merely sharing quarters with one’s partner in bigamy is irresistibly tempting. Therefore, the penitent has to be committed to leaving a situation he cannot leave. No, don’t laugh: it’s what he says. The situation is irresistibly tempting and the penitent should be given time to gain control over himself. How can he gain control over himself if the situation is irresistibly tempting? Surely, when he should be gaining control over himself, he’ll be doing, uh, other things not consistent with that resolution. That’s concupiscence for you.

The stronger argument, which we feared we would see more of after the Argentine bishops’ protocol is this: the firm purpose of amendment is not vitiated by the fear that one will commit the same sin again. Remember what St. John Paul wrote to Cardinal Baum:

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.) The Argentine bishops’ argument would swallow up the need for any firm purpose of amendment, of course, but that’s the argument. And it is superficially more convincing that some of the other arguments we have seen. Like this one. Indeed, it seems to us that Buttiglione’s contention that the penitent may need some time to get out of a situation he cannot escape is even more unsatisfactory in the light of the stronger argument.

Read the whole thing, though. It’s illuminating, if nothing else.

Pentin, Cupich, and the dubia

Edward Pentin has a must-read article at the National Catholic Register about an exchange he had with Blase Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, following Cupich’s formal elevation to the cardinalate. At a press conference at the North American College, Cupich, responding to a question from Pentin about the four cardinals’ dubia regarding Amoris laetitia, suggested that the controversial propositions had been passed by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods. Not so fast, Pentin replies:

But defenders of the Dubia argue that Cardinal Cupich’s comment that the controversial propositions in question were “voted on by two-thirds of the bishops” is especially problematic.

It is often forgotten, they point out, that despite the strenuous efforts by the Synod secretariat and others to manipulate and jostle the synod fathers into accepting the most controversial propositions (allegations detailed in my book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?), none of the three most controversial propositions managed to obtain a two-thirds majority during the first, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in October 2014.  

One of them was a proposition relating to the “Kasper proposal” of admitting the divorced and remarried to holy Communion after a period of penitence. That failed to pass, and only a proposition calling for “careful reflection and respectful accompaniment” of remarried divorcees made it through.

Under such circumstances, they would normally therefore have been rejected.

In spite of this, the Pope controversially broke with custom, which he can do, and authoritatively insisted that all three rejected proposition be kept in the document, thereby enabling them to be carried over into the working document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family the following year.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Read the whole thing there, especially Cardinal Cupich’s response to Pentin’s question.

We note with some interest that Cardinal Cupich hangs his red hat on the magisterial status of Amoris laetitia, suggesting that it has the same magisterial weight as any other post-synodal apostolic exhortation. To question the document would be to undermine all of the exhortations. Including—you guessed it—Familiaris consortio. This is, of course, the progressives’ favorite maneuver. Any document they don’t like—e.g., Familiaris consortio—is subject to renegotiation and discussion. As soon as they get a document they do like, however, it is a dogmatic pronouncement and cannot be questioned without undermining the very foundation of the Church. And when the pope who promulgated it called for reflection and discussion, as the Holy Father did with Amoris laetitia? Well, that’s not relevant. The important thing is that everyone get in line. And that’s precisely what Cardinal Cupich’s comments boil down to. The Pope has decided; deal with it. What accompaniment! What primacy of conscience!

We are reminded, also, of Professor Jessica Murdoch’s wonderful, indeed magisterial, analysis of Amoris laetitia, from a couple of months ago, in which she observed:

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.) Indeed, to our recollection, much of Amoris laetitia is simply the restatement of the final Relatio, with occasional remarks. It is interesting to consider what, exactly, the role of the supreme pontiff is supposed to be, especially in light of Our Lord’s mandate to St. Peter, if his merely repeating something, regardless of its orthodoxy, makes it quasi-dogmatic. Is the pope magic? But it is worth remembering that  the claims of the supporters of Amoris laetitia are not made in a vacuum. Thus, Cardinal Cupich not only is wrong when he claims that the problematic paragraphs of Amoris laetitia were approved by 2/3rds of the synod fathers at two synods, but he is also out on a spindly limb when he claims baldly that it is a magisterial document and that to question it would be to question all such documents.

The faithful needn’t overlook the fact that Amoris laetitia is an extraordinary document—and the Holy Father knows how to hand down ordinary documents when it pleases him to do so—when they consider these arguments.


“Misericordia et Misera” and the SSPX

Yesterday, rumors swirled that the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, marking the close of the Year of Mercy, would touch upon the SSPX. Some reported that the letter would contain the unilateral recognition mentioned by Bishop Fellay, especially in the context of the confused signals coming from Rome about the assent required of the Society to the various documents of the Second Vatican Council. We thought about—and then thought better of—reporting on the rumors last night. Given the regularity with which Archbishop Pozzo and Bishop Fellay address the press on these matters, it seems to us that the best course on SSPX news is to wait to hear from the men who know what the status of negotiations is.

Now that the letter has been released, we see that it contains “only” an extension of the faculty to hear confessions:

For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins. For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.

(Footnote omitted.) While this is disappointing in some regard—it would have been a joy to see the Year of Mercy formally concluded with a concrete sign of the unconditional mercy so often mentioned by the Holy Father, such as simply accepting the Society as it is and accompanying it along its journey—at the same time, any concrete sign of progress is something to be cheered.

We anticipate having some further remarks on Misericordia et Misera.

No pre-consistory meeting: a final word on the dubia?

Edward Pentin reports that the Holy Father has decided not to have a pre-consistory meeting of the College of Cardinals before the ordinary public consistory for the creation of new cardinals. Pentin says that Marco Tosatti is suggesting (in Italian) that this may have to do with the dubia submitted by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner regarding chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. Pentin:

Vaticanist Marco Tosatti of La Stampa believes that the submission of five questions or “doubts” about Amoris Laetitia that four cardinals sent to the Pope in September and which he has declined to answer, may be a motivating factor behind Francis’ decision this year.

Tosatti asserts that the dubia, although not made public when the Pope decided against holding such a meeting, were going to be “resubmitted” during the pre-consistory gathering, “not only by the signatories of the request for clarification, but also perhaps by other cardinals, eager for a decisive word from the Pope.” It’s a situation, he added, the Pope probably “preferred to avoid.”

But Tosatti noted that the Vatican has not given an official reason for the decision. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke has also not responded to a Register enquiry about the real motives behind the decision not to hold the meeting.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) It would be very interesting indeed if the Holy Father, no doubt recalling all too well the floor revolt during the 2014 Extraordinary Synod, decided not to have a pre-consistory meeting in hopes of avoiding having to face the four cardinals’ dubia squarely or of revealing a broader base of support than a handful of cardinals invariably described as “retired” or “traditionalist” or whatever else the Villa Malta publicity machine describes them as.

At any rate, we won’t be holding our breath for a public answer from the Holy Father.

Another (big) interview with Cardinal Burke

Edward Pentin has an explosive exclusive interview with Cardinal Burke about the dubia. This one is, in our view, hugely important, as it outlines what Cardinal Burke sees as a potential way forward for the dubia, especially if the Holy Father continues to decline to clarify the teachings in Chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia. In short, the Cardinal has raised the prospect of “a formal act of correction of a serious error” if the Holy Father does not clarify the teachings contained in Amoris laetitia.

To a certain extent, we think that this marks a bit of a change in tone from the initial release of the dubia. Recall what the prefatory letter said: “The Holy Father has decided not to respond. We have interpreted his sovereign decision as an invitation to continue the reflection and the discussion, calmly and with respect.” (Emphasis supplied.) In the new interview, Cardinal Burke says:

What happens if the Holy Father does not respond to your act of justice and charity and fails to give the clarification of the Church’s teaching that you hope to achieve?

Then we would have to address that situation. There is, in the Tradition of the Church, the practice of correction of the Roman Pontiff. It is something that is clearly quite rare. But if there is no response to these questions, then I would say that it would be a question of taking a formal act of correction of a serious error.

In a conflict between ecclesial authority and the Sacred Tradition of the Church, which one is binding on the believer and who has the authority to determine this?

What’s binding is the Tradition. Ecclesial authority exists only in service of the Tradition. I think of that passage of St. Paul in the [Letter to the] Galatians (1:8), that if “even an angel should preach unto you any Gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.”

If the Pope were to teach grave error or heresy, which lawful authority can declare this and what would be the consequences? 

It is the duty in such cases, and historically it has happened, of cardinals and bishops to make clear that the Pope is teaching error and to ask him to correct it.

(Emphasis supplied and italics in original.) One wonders whether this is a conscious shift in tone, and, if so, what may have occasioned it.

In any event, read the whole interview at the Register.

An interview with Cardinal Burke (and an interesting tidbit)

There is a new interview with Cardinal Burke, one of the four cardinals who submitted dubia regarding Amoris laetitia to the Holy Father (and received no answer). The interview is well worth reading in full, as Cardinal Burke discusses as great length how the dubia fit into his duty as a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church to aid the Holy Father in his duties as universal pastor. You may know that some media outlets—particularly the drearily predictable Reporter—are already portraying the mere submission of dubia as an act of defiance and criticism. What openness! What parrhesia! According to the Pope’s staunch defenders in the media, we can ask questions about ordaining women, about normalizing all manner of sins, and about any other pet topic of the progressives, but to ask questions about the Holy Father’s signature pastoral initiative is defiance. You can read Cardinal Burke’s remarks on this point at the website. Instead, we offer this excerpt:

The issue is not about divorced and remarried couples receiving Holy Communion. It is about sexually active but not validly married couples receiving Holy Communion. When a couple obtains a civil divorce and a canonical declaration that they were never validly married, then they are free to marry in the Church and receive Holy Communion, when they are properly disposed to receive. The Kasper proposal is to allow a person to receive Holy Communion when he or she has validly pronounced marriage vows but is no longer living with his or her spouse and now lives with another person with whom he or she is sexually active. In reality, this proposal opens the door for anyone committing any sin to receive Holy Communion without repenting of the sin.

I would also like to point out that only the first of our questions to the Holy Father focuses on Holy Matrimony and the Holy Eucharist. Questions two, three, and four are about fundamental issues regarding the moral life: whether intrinsically evil acts exist, whether a person who habitually commits grave evil is in a state of “grave sin”, and whether a grave sin can ever become a good choice because of circumstances or intentions.

(Emphasis supplied.)

The interesting tidbit is this: On November 10, the Holy Father received Cardinal Burke in audience