Spadaro and Figueroa against Francis?

Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa have a piece in Civiltà complaining about “the surprising ecumenism” between Catholic integralists and evangelical fundamentalists. As we are never not reminded, Civiltà is reviewed in the Secretariat of State before publication, and, more than that, Spadaro has been a leading hype man for the Holy Father’s projects. (He is also a devoted consumer of pop culture.) Figueroa is an Argentine protestant pastor whose primary claim to fame is that he is friends with the Pope. Spadaro and Figueroa write in some ways the standard left-liberal piece about politics and religion in America. In fact, every educated American has probably read this piece a thousand times over, as it was a very popular piece during the presidency of George W. Bush. That Spadaro and Figueroa feel the need to deliver themselves of it in 2017 betrays their fundamental ignorance of American politics, culture, and the intersection of both with religion. No American editor with half a clue would have accepted their pitch, unless he was trying to ingratiate himself with the Pope’s buddies.

It is hard to describe just how hackneyed this piece is, but, for you, dear reader, we will try. (Assuming you don’t want to read it, which is a perfectly reasonable reaction.) It begins with a potted history of Christian fundamentalism in the United States. It meanders into dominionism and apocalypticism. Next, we turn to the prosperity gospel; bizarrely they talk about Norman Vincent Peale but not Joel Osteen. Why do they mention the prosperity gospel? Who knows. Then we hear about the ecumenism between these protestants and some Catholics on the hot-button social questions of abortion and same-sex marriage. Of course, Spadaro and Figueroa omit to discuss the history of this relationship or some of its central figures, such as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Pastor Figueroa could perhaps be excused for not knowing the Church’s doctrine or history on these points, though the Pope has named him editor of the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, but it is less understandable why Fr. Spadaro is confused by the alliance. Or something. We then turn into a long discourse on spiritual war, which is not hugely clear, but the thrust of which seems to be that Michael Voris’s Church Militant is very bad.

Spadaro clarifies nothing in the interview he did with America about the piece. As we say, any educated American has read the article about fundamentalism and politicians a thousand times, the article about the prosperity gospel a thousand times, and the article about socially conservative Christians putting aside confessional differences to try to stop abortion and same-sex “marriage” a thousand times. What is new, other than the fact that Spadaro and Figueroa are seen as close collaborators of the reigning Pope, is the suggestion that Donald Trump, who is manifestly not hugely interested in religion nor even able to mouth the sorts of religious platitudes that American presidents are usually expected to mouth, somehow fits into this structure. They mention Steve Bannon, but only in passing and with no insight. And this is the primary problem with the essay: Spadaro and Figueroa plainly have no insight into the American political and religious scenes. They simply want to argue that Pope Francis and liberalism are good and integralism is bad.

Unfortunately, and even if you disagree that their piece has been done to death over the last seventeen years (and you’d be wrong), their argument is hamstrung by its mediocrity. For one thing, they never actually get around to discussing the Church’s historical position on the question of integralism. It is argued that Francis rejects it, but they make no effort to demonstrate that such a rejection is consistent with the Church’s social doctrine more generally. But that doesn’t really matter, since they never get around to defining “Catholic integralism.” All that matters for them is that it is extremely bad. It is probably unreasonable to expect them to engage with a tradition that they don’t even define. Moreover, they do not engage with the liberal tradition within American Catholicism, exemplified by the Jesuit John Courtney Murray, which might have provided an interesting strand in their argument—not least because it remains the dominant strand in American Catholicism. That article has itself been written many times, but not so many times as the article Spadaro and Figueroa turned in. It may even have been interesting.

However, even if they had made a halfway intelligent argument, grappling with the liberal tradition in Catholicism, they still would find themselves in opposition not only to the tradition of the Church but also to the pope they want to vindicate. The crux of their essay is this:

The religious element should never be confused with the political one. Confusing spiritual power with temporal power means subjecting one to the other. An evident aspect of Pope Francis’ geopolitics rests in not giving theological room to the power to impose oneself or to find an internal or external enemy to fight. There is a need to flee the temptation to project divinity on political power that then uses it for its own ends. Francis empties from within the narrative of sectarian millenarianism and dominionism that is preparing the apocalypse and the “final clash.” Underlining mercy as a fundamental attribute of God expresses this radically Christian need.

Francis wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church. Spirituality cannot tie itself to governments or military pacts for it is at the service of all men and women. Religions cannot consider some people as sworn enemies nor others as eternal friends. Religion should not become the guarantor of the dominant classes. Yet it is this very dynamic with a spurious theological flavor that tries to impose its own law and logic in the political sphere.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) It would be impossible to unpack all of the errors contained in these two paragraphs. For example, Spadaro and Figueroa apparently intend to deny outright the doctrines contained in Leo XIII’s Libertas praestantissimum, Immortale Dei, and Diuturnum illud, to say nothing of St. Pius X’s Fin dalla prima nostra and Notre charge apostolique. They also intend to deny the authority of the Church to pronounce on matters of political economy set forth by Leo XIII in Rerum novarum, Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno, and Pius XII in La solennità della Pentecoste. They also apparently intend generally to deny the condemnations of liberalism contained in Gregory XVI’s Mirari vos and Bl. Pius IX’s Quanta cura and Syllabus. No doubt they see in Gaudium et spes, Dignitatis humanae, Nostra aetate, and Unitatis redintegratio the rejection of such tedious anti-liberal doctrines. We may say then that Spadaro and Figueroa oppose not only Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII, but also Benedict XVI, who taught that the Council could not be read in opposition to those good and holy popes.

More to the point, Spadaro and Figueroa set themselves against Pope Francis himself when they articulate a bizarre liberal atomization of man. According to Spadaro and Figueroa, in church, man is a believer; in the council hall, he is a politician, at the movie theater, he is a critic; and he is apparently supposed to keep all of these roles separate. The believer and the politician can never communicate, nor the critic and the believer, nor the politician and the critic. However, in April of this year, Francis gave an address to a conference in Rome on Populorum progressio in which he said:

It is also a matter of integrating in development all those elements that render it truly such. The various systems: the economy, finance, work, culture, family life, religion are, each in its own way, a fundamental circumstance for this growth. None of them can be an absolute, and none can be excluded from the concept of integral human development which, in other words, takes into account that human life is like an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.

It is also a matter of integrating the individual and the community dimensions. It is undeniable that we are children of a culture, at least in the Western world, that has exalted the individual to the point of making him as an island, almost as if he could be happy alone. On the other hand, there is no lack of ideological views and political powers that have crushed the person; they have depersonalized the individual and deprived him of that boundless freedom without which man no longer feels he is man. There are also economic powers interested in this conformity; they seek to exploit globalization instead of fostering greater sharing among people, simply in order to impose a global market of which they themselves make the rules and reap the profits. The ‘I’ and the community are not in competition with each other, but the ‘I’ can mature only in the presence of authentic interpersonal relationships, and the community is productive when each and every one of its components is such. This is even more the case for the family, which is the first cell of society and where one learns how to live together.

It is lastly a matter of integrating among them body and soul. Paul vi previously wrote that development cannot be restricted simply to economic growth (cf. n. 14); development does not consist in having goods increasingly available, for physical wellbeing alone. Integrating body and soul also means that no work of development can truly reach its goal if it does not respect that place in which God is present with us and speaks to our heart.

(Emphasis supplied.) It is clear that Francis, like his predecessors, rejects the notion that the various aspects of human life can be atomized and compartmentalized. Instead, he sees human life as “an orchestra that performs well if the various instruments are in harmony and follow a score shared by all.” This is not the rhetoric of a pope who “wants to break the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church,” as Spadaro and Figueroa say. This is the rhetoric of a pope who understands the vital importance of this organic link and wishes to foster it.

Moreover, we are far from convinced that Francis is as liberal as Spadaro and Figueroa would have us believe. Consider Laudato si’. Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., a great friend of Semiduplex and a leading light among Catholic integralists, has argued conclusively that Laudato si’ is a deeply anti-modern, anti-liberal encyclical. Rusty Reno, editor of First Things, has likewise articulated the case that the Francis of Laudato si’ is deeply suspicious of modernity and liberalism. Indeed, the liberal atomization that Spadaro and Figueroa want to exalt is one of the central problems with modernity that Francis dissects brilliantly in Laudato si’. Francis teaches us:

A misguided anthropocentrism leads to a misguided lifestyle. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I noted that the practical relativism typical of our age is “even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism”. When human beings place themselves at the centre, they give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative. Hence we should not be surprised to find, in conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests. There is a logic in all this whereby different attitudes can feed on one another, leading to environmental degradation and social decay.

The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.

(Emphasis supplied and footnote omitted.) Francis sees what Spadaro and Figueroa do not: “the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church” is necessary for living well. The “objective truths and sound principles” provided by the Church ought to inform our lifestyle, our culture, and our political activities; indeed, these truths are necessary for our culture and our political activities, lest they fall into sickness and tyranny.

Spadaro and Figueroa, so far from expressing the mind of Francis, seek to articulate the misguided lifestyle Francis warns us about.




“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.)


Aristotle, Thomas, and the “City of Rod”

Rod Dreher has released his book, The Benedict Option, setting forth one more time that which he has set forth many, many times in various essays and blog posts. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, a leading voice among Catholic leftists, has reviewed the book at great length and, frankly, panned it. Dreher has responded to Bruenig’s review at equally great length, and you can read the whole exchange at the links above. (We will not bore you by summarizing all of Bruenig’s critiques and Dreher’s responses.) However, our attention was grabbed by one passage in Dreher’s response:

As I say in the book, Christians have to stay engaged in ordinary politics, if only to protect our religious liberty interests. (I believe we have to stay involved for other reasons too, but even if you don’t agree, you can at least agree that religious liberty is absolutely vital.) But we cannot put as much trust in politics as we have in past eras. The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) For someone who claims—as Dreher does—to be encouraging Christians to recover a premodern tradition to fight the corrosive influence of liberalism, this is a stunning statement. Indeed, it constitutes nothing less than a rejection of the premodern tradition regarding politics. Let us put it another way; Bruenig is not the most stringent critic of Dreher on this point—Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas are.

A very brief review of the relevant points is perhaps in order. You no doubt know, dear reader, that Aristotle taught that man is a political animal and that the state arises from nature (Politics I.1, 1253a3–4). Aquinas follows this teaching when he observes, in the context of the natural law, that it is proper for man to know truths about living in society (ST Ia IIae q.94 a.2 co.). And this point remains noncontroversial in the tradition. Leo XIII, for example, reaffirms that it is natural to man to live in society in Immortale Dei. The great pope further reminds us that, in nature, rulers are necessary for the direction of society, even if a particular kind of ruler is not necessary (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 co. & ad 3). And the ruler makes laws in order to make the members of the society good (ST Ia IIae q.92 a.2 co.; Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–28). Finally, politics, Aristotle tells us, is simply the practical art of making good laws (Ethic. X.9, 1180b24–25, 1181a22–b1; cf. ST Ia IIae q.95 a.2 co. & ad 3).

With these very basic principles in mind, the extent of Dreher’s error becomes obvious. Man participates in politics, either as ruler or ruled, naturally (cf. ST Ia IIae q.90 a.3 ad 1). The notion that man could withdraw from politics naturally is ridiculous (cf. Politics I.1, 1253a4–6). The notion becomes more ridiculous when one considers that the civil power comes from God, regardless of the political mechanism for its exercise and transmission. We won’t beat this dead horse further by discussing the duties of the state to God and true religion, to say nothing of the indirect subordination of state to Church. The bottom line is that the idea that a Christian could—much less should—limit his or her political engagement simply misunderstands what politics is. Now, one may say that one ought to express his or her engagement in a given way—a Catholic may vote for a pro-abortion politician only in certain circumstances when his opponent’s position on another grave matter requires it—but if that is what Dreher means, you could have fooled us.

Especially because Dreher goes on to say:

Right now, a lot of Christian conservatives believe that we dodged a bullet with the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. I agree that things aren’t as dangerous for us now as they would have been under Clinton. But it’s simply delusional to think that Trump is going to turn things around. Even if he were a saint, he couldn’t do that. As Bruenig makes clear early in her review, there is increasingly little space for us Christians, at least those who don’t go along with the latest iteration of liberalism, in the public square.

Richard John Neuhaus hoped that we would have a place there. That project has failed, it seems to me. What now? Yes, we still have to be engaged in politics, but what happens when and if we lose? We don’t suddenly cease to be Christian, or to have the obligation to serve Christ, even if we have to suffer for it. How are we going to do that? How will we find the faith and the courage within us to know when we are being asked to believe or to accept something that we cannot if we want to be faithful? Where is our “Here I stand, I can do no other” line? How will we know when we are being asked to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, living as we must as resident aliens in Babylon, and how will we find it within ourselves to go into the furnace singing, as did Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego?

(Emphasis supplied.) Given all of this, it is passing hard to imagine that Dreher simply meant to say that we have to temper our engagement, while remaining politically active as nature requires.

It is, however, not hard at all to see how Dreher loses the thread. A sharp friend of ours has observed that Dreher’s work as a journalist has influenced his thinking on this point. Recall what he said a little bit before what we just quoted:

The great error of the Religious Right over the past 30 years or so is not to have gotten politically involved. It’s to have thought that advancing the Kingdom of God was more or less synonymous with helping the Republican Party ascend to power. Our leaders (and a lot of us followers), often without knowing what we were doing, put way too much focus on political engagement, and way too little on personal spiritual formation, and what the Benedictines call “conversion of life.”

(Emphasis supplied.) In essence, Dreher’s complaint is that American Christians are bad at politics. One does not have to be a journalist reporting on politics and culture—like Dreher—to see that the deal that conservative Christians have cut, knowingly or not, with Republicans has not been a good deal historically. This is obvious. And we will not bore you with all the ways in which it is obvious. You can recite them as well as we can. But it is clear that Dreher’s reporting on this situation has affected how he thinks politics work in general terms.

And this, of course, is the great temptation for a traditionally minded or integralist Catholic (or Christian more broadly): the culture—political, popular, and otherwise—of the United States is undoubtedly disordered. Part of this disorder is the hostility to Christians generally and orthodox Christians specifically. But it extends far beyond that. And confronted with this, the temptation for a serious Christian is to react to the situation itself. But this is ultimately the wrong approach. St. Thomas tells us that law—and therefore politics—is an exercise of reason ordered to the common good (ST Ia IIae q.90 a.2 co. & ad 1). While there is certainly room for the application of discretion and judgment, consistent with the common good and the divine and natural law, in given circumstances, one must be careful not to jettison the conclusions of reason itself based upon those circumstances.

Dreher falls into just that trap. He observes correctly that the culture of the United States is bad, and he reacts to this situation by deciding that Christians should participate in politics only on limited terms. No. Dreher is right that the way out is by recovering the premodern tradition, but recovering the premodern tradition means understanding that political participation is natural to man.

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.


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.

Pentin on the reshuffle at CDW

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin has some good analysis of the recent reshuffle at the Congregation for Divine Worship, and what the personnel changes will mean for the prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah. Initial reports suggested that the Holy Father had cleaned house, ousted the members of the Congregation known to be liturgical traditionalists, and essentially moved the clock back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. Pentin suggests that it might not be as bad as all that. Pentin observes:

Pope Francis made a major overhaul last week to the membership of the Vatican’s department for the liturgy, but his new appointments are not quite as sweeping as some had suggested, according to a full list of previous and new members obtained by the Register.

On Oct. 28, the Vatican announced the Holy Father had appointed 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, many of whom come from a wide variety of nations to give the dicastery an international character.

However, although the Pope dismissed such prominent cardinals as Raymond Burke, Marc Ouellet and George Pell, he renewed the membership of nine others, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, a former secretary of the congregation under Benedict XVI; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Peter Erdö, the former general rapporteur at the synod on the family.

Like those who have been replaced, these three renewed members are known to be “Ratzingerians,” closely aligned to Benedict XVI’s vision for the Church. (See below for full list of names.)

(Emphasis supplied.) Pentin informs us later that Cardinal Bagnasco of Genoa, a prelate likely seen as closer to Benedict’s style than Francis’s, has also been reappointed to the Congregation. Interestingly, the Holy Father has dismissed at least one of his own men; Cardinal Mamberti, appointed to replace Cardinal Burke as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and quickly elevated to the purple, for example, was dismissed. Pentin goes on to write:

The majority of the Pope’s new choices have a distinctly preferential approach to Blessed Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, the “ordinary form” of the liturgy most widely used in the Latin Church today, as opposed to being adherents of the Mass in Latin or the Tridentine Mass of the 1962 Roman Missal, designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary form” of the liturgy in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, favors the approach encouraged by Benedict, the retention of a more traditional approach to the liturgy. He supports what is called a “Reform of the Reform,” meaning the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the way the Council Fathers intended.


Some have read these latest appointments as being made in opposition to Cardinal Sarah. However, the Vatican source said the cardinal “still holds all the cards”; and although he may feel isolated (his junior officials, appointed by Francis, are also firm adherents of the new Mass), the source said it’s unlikely any of the members would “bang their fists on the table” to demand change or Cardinal Sarah’s removal.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Indeed, Pentin’s Vatican sources report that Cardinal Sarah, as prefect of the Congregation, will be firmly in charge of the Congregation’s agenda and day-to-day operations. When the Holy Father wants to reduce a prelate’s prominence, he knows how. For example, Cardinal Pell, once given sweeping financial powers, has found himself essentially a glorified auditor, with the balance of actual power shifting back to the Secretariat of State and APSA. And when the Holy Father wants to fire someone, he knows how. Ask Cardinal Burke. Perhaps Pentin has a point, then.

However, as an exercise in image and the politics of gestures, it is hard to say that the Holy Father has not made his preferences known. That is, by dismissing some prelates very clearly in line with Benedict’s project and appointing several very prominent liturgical progressives from the reign of John Paul II, it is clear (we think it is clear, at any rate) that the Holy Father has emphasized, however you want to characterize the emphasis, a very different liturgical direction than the one Cardinal Sarah had marked out.

The Holy Father pours cold water on women’s ordination?

Like many readers, we follow the Holy Father’s in-flight press conferences closely, since they appear to be, if not an action of his papal magisterium, then a means of communication close to his heart. Following the Holy Father’s recent trip to Sweden, he was asked a question about women’s ordination. You may recall that he recently established a commission to explore the historical aspects of deaconesses. While Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem severed in some way—or, more precisely, concretized finally a process of severing that began with Lumen gentium—the diaconate from the episcopate and the presbyterate, it has nevertheless been seen by many that the push for deaconesses is but the thin end of the wedge for women’s ordination into the presbyterate and episcopate. This is, obviously, one of the great dreams of progressives in the Church today. But the Holy Father appears to draw a bright line under St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which teaches infallibly that women may not be ordained.

Here is Hannah Brockhaus’s coverage at the National Catholic Register:

During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.

The question concerning women priests in the Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

(Emphasis supplied.) Brockhaus goes on to note that the Holy Father has been clear on this point previously, citing Ordinatio sacerdotalis repeatedly:

In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”

He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”

On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”

“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.

(Emphasis supplied.) However, it is unclear to us the extent that the Holy Father sees the question of deaconesses as inextricably tied up with the broader question of women’s ordination, which he apparently views as settled by Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

As we noted at the time, some members of the Holy Father’s deaconess commission are known to be advocates for the ordination of women at least to the diaconate. The argument of Phyllis Zagano, for example, is that while Ordinatio sacerdotalis (probably, she would say) settles the question of ordination to the presbyterate and, a fortiori, the episcopate, it does not settle the question of ordination to the diaconate. In other words, the question of deaconesses is not connected to the questions answered by Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Of course, such an argument likely creates disunities within Holy Orders and immediately serves to create two tiers of ordained ministers. Which is the next step in the argument from the advocates for women’s ordination, to be sure. At least, it has always been the argument.

So, while it is greatly cheering to hear the Holy Father reaffirm simply and directly the infallible pronouncement of John Paul II, we are left wondering what his overall picture of the situation is. Does he, like Zagano and her associates, think that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is limited to the episcopate and presbyterate? Or does he think that the diaconate is somehow off to one side? Certainly he would not err if he considered the diaconate somehow different. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul, and Benedict each considered it as somehow separate from the episcopate and presbyterate. However, the extent of the difference is, we think, an open question.