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

Updating the four cardinals’ dubia

Updating our post early this morning about the dubia of the four cardinals, we note that Rorate Caeli‘s Roman correspondent, “Fr. Pio Pace,” has weighed in with an interesting bit of news. The Holy Father made clear—how is not clear at this point—that he would not answer Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. That is, if true, the four cardinals went public not on some arbitrary schedule—i.e., they decided to publish when they didn’t hear back within a time frame of their own choosing—they went public after they received word that they would not hear back at all. The cardinals’ dubia, then, are doubly extraordinary; extraordinary that they would propose them and extraordinary that the Holy Father would simply refuse to answer them.

There are also reports—beginning with Rorate‘s Pio Pace, but in other places—that the four cardinals who proposed the dubia are simply the public face of a larger group of prelates. Sandro Magister says:

The four cardinals who signed this letter and are now making it public are not among those who a year ago, at the beginning of the second session of the synod on the family, delivered to Francis the famous letter “of the thirteen cardinals”[.]

[hyperlink omitted]

The thirteen were all members of the synod and in full service in their respective dioceses. Or they held important positions in the curia, like cardinals Robert Sarah, George Pell, and Müller himself.

These four, however, while all are recognized for their authoritativeness, have no operational roles, either for reasons of age or because they have been dismissed.

And that makes them more free. It is no mystery, in fact, that their appeal has been and is shared by not a few other cardinals who are still fully active, as well as high-ranking bishops and archbishops of West and East, who however precisely because of this have decided to remain in the shadows.

In a few days, on November 19 and 20, the whole college of cardinals will meet in Rome, for the consistory convoked by Pope Francis. And inevitably the appeal of the four cardinals will become the subject of animated discussion among them.

(Emphasis supplied.) In the words of Fr. John Hunwicke, “Apparently, it is now to be the particular ministry and calling of the elderly or the retired or the sacked, because they have nothing to fear being sacked from, to speak with Parrhesia.

The news of the dubia breaks about a week before the ordinary public consistory of the College of Cardinals for the creation of new cardinals, including the Americans Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, and Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark (recently translated from Indianapolis in an unprecedented move).

Four cardinals seek clarifications on “Amoris laetitia”

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin presents the full text of five dubia concerning Amoris laetitia, along with introductory material sent to the Holy Father by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. Apparently, the cardinals sent the dubia to the Holy Father in the middle of September, and no response has been forthcoming to date. Accordingly the four cardinals “have interpreted his sovereign decision [i.e., not to respond formally to the dubia] as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect,” and released the documents for discussion and reflection by the faithful. The five dubia are, with some clarifying emphases:

1. It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (nn. 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 n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia n. 34 and Sacramentum Caritatis n. 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

2. After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?

3. After Amoris Laetitia (n. 301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (cf. Mt 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration, June 24, 2000)?

4. After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (n. 302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 81, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “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”?

5. After Amoris Laetitia (n. 303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 56, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing at the Register, including the introductory and explanatory notes prepared by the cardinals.

We are sure that we will have more to say about these dubia and the explanatory materials in due course.

New “mega-dicastery” for laity, family, and life formally established

Today, the Holy Father has handed down the Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Sedula Mater, formally establishing the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. He has also appointed the Bishop of Dallas, Kevin Joseph Farrell, as the first prefect of the new dicastery. Recall that the statutes of the Dicastery were approved ad experimentum in June, and scheduled to come into force in September. In an interesting twist, the statutes anticipate that the secretary of the Dicastery may be a layperson, and three lay undersecretaries (for the laity, family, and life divisions). (Art. 2 § 1.) Indeed, much about the new dicastery is interesting in comparison to the ordinary structure of a Roman congregation under Pastor Bonus. (Though Pastor Bonus, art. 3 § 1, plainly anticipates that particular law might create a unique dicastery.)

All of this is interesting, to be sure, but we are especially interested in the fact that the Holy Father approved the statutes before he created the Dicastery. Certainly, since the Dicastery is ultimately the product of a merger, for the moment, of the Pontifical Council for Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, with, we suppose, the anticipated involvement of the Pontifical Council for Life, perhaps it was easier to put the cart before the horse this time, but still the optics are passing strange.

A short fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy

What follows is pure, groundless speculation. The merest fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. So, it’s worth at most what you paid for it. But the question we pose has been on our mind for some time. 

As the whole world knows, on July 5, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, gave a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London calling for, among other things, a return to ad orientem (versus apsidem) worship. This drew a quick, pointed correction from the Holy See Press Office, no doubt distracting them from the festive-if-bittersweet preparations for Fr. Federico Lombardi’s imminent retirement. Father John Hunwicke suggests that Vincent Cardinal Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and a long-time supporter of the Holy Father’s cause (even before the Conclave, if some are to be believed), was perhaps the prime mover in obtaining an unusual rebuke of a Curial cardinal. All this is, of course, well known among Catholics of all liturgical stripes now.

We were struck, however, by the unusual nature of the very public rebuke to Cardinal Sarah. Certainly he is likely seen by many as a potential leader for next time, in opposition to some candidates more simpatico to the Holy Father’s program, such as Cardinal Tagle. But that was not exactly it. Consider all the things that have not drawn rebukes. Cardinal Müller has criticized at length the liberal interpretation of Amoris laetitia at length. Cardinal Burke called it non-magisterial. And Archbishop Gänswein gave an extraordinary talk that, for a time, called into question just what Benedict thought he was doing when he abdicated. Yet, to our knowledge, none of these comments drew quick, decisive rebukes from official quarters (to say nothing of the rebukes from the Pope’s friends, including dear Father Spadaro). Curious.

But something else was happening at about this time: the Holy Father was handing down his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data on the competences of the Vatican financial organs, I bene temporali. As is now customary for Vatican documents of significant importance, I bene temporali is available in only Italian and Portuguese; however, the Holy See Press Office has provided a capsule summary:

The document published today responds to the need to define further the relationship between the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Secretariat for the Economy. The fundamental principle at the base of the reforms in this area, and in particular at the base of this Motu Proprio, is that of ensuring the clear and unequivocal distinction between control and vigilance, on the one hand, and administration of assets, on the other. Therefore, the Motu Proprio specifies the competencies pertaining to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See and better delineates the Secretariat for the Economy’s fundamental role of control and vigilance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In short, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA, in Vatican lingo) recovered significant responsibility for the day-to-day financial administration of the Holy See, I beni temporali § 3, from George Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.

Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen was blunt about what this means:

There are many ways of analyzing the fault lines in the Vatican, but perhaps the most time-honored (if also often exaggerated) is the tension between an Italian old guard and pretty much everybody else. By conventional political logic, anyway, Saturday saw the Italians notch a fairly big win.

It could turn out, however, to be a Pyrrhic victory – because by taking back control over a range of financial powers, the old guard has also reclaimed the blame the next time something goes wrong.

On Saturday, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio, meaning a legal edict, delineating the division of responsibility between the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Secretariat of the Economy (SPE). The former is headed by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the latter by Australian Cardinal George Pell.

In effect, the motu proprio restores several important functions to APSA that had been given to Pell’s department in 2014. One local news agency bottom-lined the result this way in its headline: “The Italians win!”

(Emphasis supplied.) The Vatican line is more or less that the Holy Father has delineated clearly oversight and management by this action and he has solved the problem of letting the financial watchdog also have control over administration.

And perhaps the Vatican line would be believable, if Pell’s oversight functions hadn’t been undercut recently by Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, when the Secretariat of State, apparently with the Holy Father’s permission, suspended an audit that Cardinal Pell had ordered. In other words, over the last few months, the independent authority of the Secretariat for the Economy and Cardinal Pell have been undermined significantly, always in favor of the Vatican old guard—generally Italian—that had been in charge prior to 2013. And we know what the finances at the Vatican looked like at about the same time.

In other words, reform of the Curia and the Vatican’s finances, one of the Holy Father’s signature initiatives—indeed, the St. Gallen group notwithstanding, one of the major reasons why he was elected in 2013, has apparently gone exactly nowhere. Certainly new organs have been established, but in the name of separation of powers, the new organs have been stripped of actual control, leaving them with policy and “oversight.” But, as we have seen from the audit kerfuffle, it is unclear that the Secretariat for the Economy will be permitted to exercise complete, independent discretion in pursuing its oversight functions. Certainly the Secretariat of State has shown a willingness to intervene in favor of, well, more traditional Vatican concerns. In other words, after three years and numerous provisions and amendments and restructuring, things have not changed much. Were the Holy Father a secular politician, one might call this part of his platform “not a success.”

And this brings us back to the kerfuffle over Cardinal Sarah’s speech. If we were to adopt the hermeneutic of conspiracy, we would wonder whether the timing of the rebuke of Cardinal Sarah’s speech had something to do with I bene temporali. What would be the best way to ensure that everyone focused on a relatively trivial matter, rather than the serious issue that the Holy Father’s reform of the Curia, including the Vatican’s finances, has not made huge progress, even now, three years after his election? Once upon a time, we were going to get a rewritten Pastor Bonus. Now, we’ll be lucky to get anything. Certainly, keeping the motu proprio locked in those hugely widely spoken languages, Italian and Portuguese, would help. But you would want to change the news cycle, wouldn’t you? And what drives page views—left and right—better than liturgy stuff?

As we say, this is rank speculation, mere fantasy, and a feverish indulgence in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. Sometimes it is helpful to clear the cobwebs with such thinking.