Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” contains one particularly confusing passage (among others) that appears to minimize the ontological dignity of the priesthood. He writes:
The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”. The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions “do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others”. Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered “hierarchical”, it must be remembered that “it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”. Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people.
I am especially concerned with the phrase “we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness”, which is taken from Blessed John Paul II’s “Christifideles Laici”, apparently in context. Is there no special dignity in the priesthood? Is the priesthood not uniquely set apart for divine service – i.e., a sacred office? Mere functionality doesn’t require a sacrament! Note also the statement that the “ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people” (i.e., just “one means” among others of equal value and efficacy?), followed by another mitigating statement, that “our great dignity derives from baptism”, intended to further diminish the distinction between priests and laity. The motive here seems to be an attempt to placate feminists, who see the priesthood exclusively in terms of power and authority, and who therefore covet ordination for themselves. Although it may be useful, at times, to emphasize the purely functional aspects of the priesthood which are “totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members”, Pope Francis seems to do so at the expense of the divine authority and sacerdotal dignity conferred by holy orders. Therefore, I think it wise to refer to the Council of Trent (its “most fruitful doctrine” being recently praised by Pope Francis) for clarity:
On the institution of the Priesthood of the New Law.
Sacrifice and priesthood are, by the ordinance of God, in such wise conjoined, as that both have existed in every law. Whereas, therefore, in the New Testament, the Catholic Church has received, from the institution of Christ, the holy visible sacrifice of the Eucharist; it must needs also be confessed, that there is, in that Church, a new, visible, and external priesthood, into which the old has been translated. And the sacred Scriptures show, and the tradition of the Catholic Church has always taught, that this priesthood was instituted by the same Lord our Saviour, and that to the apostles, and their successors in the priesthood, was the power delivered of consecrating, offering, and administering His Body and Blood, as also of forgiving and of retaining sins.
On the Seven Orders.
And whereas the ministry of so holy a priesthood is a divine thing; to the end that it might be exercised in a more worthy manner, and with greater veneration, it was suitable that, in the most well-ordered settlement of the church, there should be several and diverse orders of ministers, to minister to the priesthood, by virtue of their office; orders so distributed as that those already marked with the clerical tonsure should ascend through the lesser to the greater orders. For the sacred Scriptures make open mention not only of priests, but also of deacons; and teach, in words the most weighty, what things are especially to be attended to in the Ordination thereof; and, from the very beginning of the church, the names of the following orders, and the ministrations proper to each one of them, are known to have been in use; to wit those of subdeacon, acolyth, exorcist, lector, and door-keeper; though these were not of equal rank: for the subdeavonship is classed amongst the greater orders by the Fathers and sacred Councils, wherein also we very often read of the other inferior orders.
That Order is truly and properly a Sacrament.
Whereas, by the testimony of Scripture, by Apostolic tradition, and the unanimous consent of the Fathers, it is clear that grace is conferred by sacred ordination, which is performed by words and outward signs, no one ought to doubt that Order is truly and properly one of the seven sacraments of holy Church. For the apostle says; I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God, which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love of sobriety.
On the Ecclesiastical hierarchy, and on Ordination.
But, forasmuch as in the sacrament of Order, as also in Baptism and Confirmation, a character is imprinted, which can neither be effaced nor taken away; the holy Synod with reason condemns the opinion of those, who assert that the priests of the New Testament have only a temporary power; and that those who have once been rightly ordained, can again become laymen, if they do not exercise the ministry of the word of God. And if any one affirm, that all Christians indiscrimately are priests of the New Testament, or that they are all mutually endowed with an equal spiritual power, he clearly does nothing but confound the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is as an army set in array; as if, contrary to the doctrine of blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists, all pastors, all doctors.
Wherefore, the holy Synod declares that, besides the other ecclesiastical degrees, bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles, principally belong to this hierarchial order; that they are placed, as the same apostle says, by the Holy Ghost, to rule the Church of God; that they are superior to priests; administer the sacrament of Confirmation; ordain the ministers of the Church; and that they can perform very many other things; over which functions others of an inferior order have no power. Furthermore, the sacred and holy Synod teaches, that, in the ordination of bishops, priests, and of the other orders, neither the consent, nor vocation, nor authority, whether of the people, or of any civil power or magistrate whatsoever, is required in such wise as that, without this, the ordination is invalid: yea rather doth It decree, that all those who, being only called and instituted by the people, or by the civil power and magistrate, ascend to the exercise of these ministrations, and those who of their own rashness assume them to themselves, are not ministers of the church, but are to be looked upon as thieves and robbers, who have not entered by the door.
These are the things which it hath seemed good to the sacred Synod to teach the faithful in Christ, in general terms, touching the sacrament of Order. But It hath resolved to condemn whatsoever things are contrary thereunto, in express and specific canons, in the manner following; in order that all men, with the help of Christ, using the rule of faith, may, in the midst of the darkness of so many errors, more easily be able to recognise and to hold Catholic truth.
Now we do not see a direct, open contradiction between the Council of Trent and “Evangelii Gaudium”, but we do see strongly opposed and contrary emphases – the former upholding with clarity the divine authority of the priesthood, the latter obscuring it and seemingly embarrassed by it. Furthermore it should be noted that the doctrinal truths proclaimed and clarified by the Council of Trent have practical, earthly, non-abstract implications with respect to how the laity are to view the sacrament of holy orders. No one better explains this than Saint John Vianney in his classic Sermon on the Priesthood:
My children, we have come to the Sacrament of Orders. It is a Sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to everyone. This Sacrament raises man up to God. What is a priest! A man who holds the place of God–a man who is invested with all the powers of God. “Go,” said Our Lord to the priest; “as My Father sent Me, I send you. All power has been given Me in Heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations. . . . He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you despises Me. ” When the priest remits sins, he does not say, “God pardons you”; he says, “I absolve you. “At the Consecration, he does not say, “This is the Body of Our Lord;” he says, “This is My Body.” St. Bernard tells us that everything has come to us through Mary; and we may also say that everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts. If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest–always the priest. And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again the priest. You cannot recall one single blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest. (Do read the whole thing!)
An English translation can be found on the Vatican website. In the following excerpts, the points I chose to emphasize are in bold. I have also eliminated the footnotes for simplicity in reading.
“The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position ‘to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit’. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”
“Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”
“Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”
“In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives.”
“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
“It is also true that at times greater emphasis is placed on the outward expressions and traditions of some groups, or on alleged private revelations which would replace all else, than on the impulse of Christian piety. There is a kind of Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life which does not in fact correspond to authentic ‘popular piety’. Some people promote these expressions while not being in the least concerned with the advancement of society or the formation of the laity, and in certain cases they do so in order to obtain economic benefits or some power over others.”
“This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.”
“This insidious worldliness is evident in a number of attitudes which appear opposed, yet all have the same pretence of ‘taking over the space of the Church’. In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few.”
“I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because ‘the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace’ and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.
“Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power ‘we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness’. The ministerial priesthood is one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people, yet our great dignity derives from baptism, which is accessible to all. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions ‘do not favour the superiority of some vis-à-vis the others’. Indeed, a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops. Even when the function of ministerial priesthood is considered ‘hierarchical’, it must be remembered that ‘it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members’. Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God’s people. This presents a great challenge for pastors and theologians, who are in a position to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.”
“A preaching which would be purely moralistic or doctrinaire, or one which turns into a lecture on biblical exegesis, detracts from this heart-to-heart communication which takes place in the homily and possesses a quasi-sacramental character: ‘Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ’ (Rom 10:17). In the homily, truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness. Far from dealing with abstract truths or cold syllogisms, it communicates the beauty of the images used by the Lord to encourage the practise of good. The memory of the faithful, like that of Mary, should overflow with the wondrous things done by God. Their hearts, growing in hope from the joyful and practical exercise of the love which they have received, will sense that each word of Scripture is a gift before it is a demand. The challenge of an inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values. Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart.”
“The different tools provided by literary analysis are well known: attention to words which are repeated or emphasized, recognition of the structure and specific movement of a text, consideration of the role played by the different characters, and so forth. But our own aim is not to understand every little detail of a text; our most important goal is to discover its principal message, the message which gives structure and unity to the text. If the preacher does not make this effort, his preaching will quite likely have neither unity nor order; what he has to say will be a mere accumulation of various disjointed ideas incapable of inspiring others. The central message is what the author primarily wanted to communicate; this calls for recognizing not only the author’s ideas but the effect which he wanted to produce. If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; if it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.”
“The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.“
“The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfilment in eternity, for he has created all things ‘for our enjoyment’ (1 Tim 6:17), the enjoyment of everyone. It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life ‘related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good’”.
“This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it. The Church’s reflection on these texts ought not to obscure or weaken their force, but urge us to accept their exhortations with courage and zeal. Why complicate something so simple? Conceptual tools exist to heighten contact with the realities they seek to explain, not to distance us from them. This is especially the case with those biblical exhortations which summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor. Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. So why cloud something so clear? We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom. For ‘defenders of orthodoxy are sometimes accused of passivity, indulgence, or culpable complicity regarding the intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes which prolong them’“.
“This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”
“In this perspective, ecumenism can be seen as a contribution to the unity of the human family. At the Synod, the presence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomaios I, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Rowan Williams, was a true gift from God and a precious Christian witness … If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us. To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality. Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.”
“We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word … God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.”
“Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they ‘profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day’. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings …”
“Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’, and thus be ‘associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’. But due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God. While these lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences. The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs.“
Dear friends, I deleted the last post about the cancellation of the TLM at St. John the Baptist in Chico. Against my better judgment, I was indiscreet and much too loquacious in my remarks – as usual. I apologize to those who left thoughtful comments. For informative purposes, let me just state that the nearest diocesan approved TLM is St. Stephen the First Martyr in Sacramento, a fully traditional parish served by the FSSP. There is a small chapel located in Chico that is served by the SSPX - St. Therese Chapel – with masses twice per month, on the 1st and 3rd Sundays, at 10:00am.
The one who is truly seeking God in this revolutionary Church, is left frightfully alone.
What to do in this suffocating atmosphere? And what not to do?
First of all, it is important not to be beset by agitation, it is important not to react like revolutionaries: that would be like treating a disease, which is precisely what the Revolution is, with the same illness. The revolutionary spirit, even when it pretends to save the good, will never be the solution.
Instead, it is essential to stay really outside of the Revolution, by living Catholicism integrally in the stability that was there, before the Revolution invaded everything.
In the darkness of [the present] confusion, you need to decide before God to live a stable Catholic life. In order to do this you have to identify a place that transmits the peace of the Faith which possesses revealed truth. A place where the Traditional Mass is celebrated: choose it as a reference for your life, allowing yourself to be educated by this place. Do not live in agitation, in a perennial struggle, but live like Catholics in the Liturgy of all time, in the Doctrine of all time, in the Grace of all time according to the Sacraments of all time; and with that, do all the good that the Lord permits you to do.
Padre Calmel says it like this: “Despite the diabolical efforts of the new post-Vatican II Church, the things that will always be possible and guaranteed in the Church are: the goal for real sanctity, the opportunity of educating oneself, in a real group even if it is very small, about the immutable and supernatural doctrine, under a real authority, conserving the certainty that there will always be true priests and faithful Bishops, who will not have abandoned [themselves] (perhaps even without being aware of it) into the hands of committees and collegiality.” ( R.T. Calmel, Brève apologie pour l’Eglise de toujours [Italian edition], Editrice Ichthys, p 51).
I love this man.
There was a lot of “fight” in Dr. McArthur.
From “Abandonment to Divine Providence”, by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ:
The soul that does not attach itself solely to the will of God will find neither satisfaction nor sanctification in any other means however excellent by which it may attempt to gain them.
If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find something to be in accordance with this divine wisdom and goodness ought you not to conclude that it must needs be excellent? Do you imagine you will find peace in resisting the Almighty? Is it not, on the contrary, this resistance which we too often continue without owning it even to ourselves which is the cause of all our troubles?
It is only just, therefore, that the soul that is dissatisfied with the divine action for each present moment should be punished by being unable to find happiness in anything else. If books, the example of the saints, and spiritual conversations deprive the soul of peace; if they fill the mind without satisfying it; it is a sign that one has strayed from the path of pure abandonment to the divine action, and that one is only seeking to please oneself. To be employed in this way is to prevent God from finding an entrance. All this must be got rid of because of being an obstacle to grace.
But if the divine will ordains the use of these things the soul may receive them like the rest-that is to say-as the means ordained by God which it accepts simply to use, and leaves afterwards when their moment has passed for the duties of the moment that follows. There is, in fact, nothing really good that does not emanate from the ordinance of God, and nothing, however good in itself, can be better adapted for the sanctification of the soul and the attainment of peace.
The SSPX has been largely silent during the recent firestorms created by Pope Francis’ interviews. Today, the silence is broken with what strikes me as the most comprehensive and respectful criticism I have seen thus far:
After he has been in charge of the Holy Catholic Church for more than half a year, it is easier to understand the thought of Pope Francis. Due to many of his statements, even if we see a genuine movement in his way of focusing on our Lord Jesus Christ and His Gospel as the Good News, we may feel real causes of concern.
In his declarations, we seem to find running through the papal thought a kind of idée fixe, which focuses on the Pauline teaching developed by St. Augustine regarding the gift of life and the fight against what may kill it. “St. Paul,” says the Pope, “is the one who laid down the cornerstones of our religion and our creed. You cannot be a conscious Christian without St. Paul… Then there are Augustine, Benedict and Thomas and Ignatius,” who was “especially a mystic.” And “naturally Francis.”
His model is Fr. Peter Faber, the Reformed Priest co-founder of the Jesuits. The Pope likes his gentleness and simplicity, his proximity to the poor and those on the margin of society, his availability and qualities of discernment and judgment.
“His two preferred contemporary thinkers are Henri de Lubac and Michel de Certeau.” Henri de Lubac, a founder of the New Theology, opened a theological battlefield and created a great confusion with his works on the natural and the supernatural. Moreover, he rejected the necessary ecclesial logical link, the continuity between the present beliefs and the explicit faith of the first centuries.
Would the word of the Apostle to the Corinthians: “For the letter kills, but the spirit vivifies,” help us to discern the web of his mind?
“We have to find a new balance. Otherwise, even the moral edifice of the church is likely to
fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
- Pope Francis
Radical, earth-shaking, disruptive policy changes don’t generally happen before subtle hints have been dropped in order to gauge reactions and initiate some low-level discussions. A prudent leader wants to anticipate problems and objections in advance. On several occasions now, Pope Francis has hinted that he would like to relax the Church’s perennial discipline as it pertains to withholding communion from those living in invalid “second unions” (those who have divorced and remarried without an annulment). He believes that the present discipline is “unmerciful”. Yesterday, it was announced that the pope will call an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops next year to discuss the matter. This appears to be a subject close to Pope Francis’ heart. His previous remarks on this topic may have seemed unscripted and “off the cuff”, and perhaps subject to translation problems, etc., but he seems very determined to move forward on this subject.
As every Catholic should know, the sacramental theology of the Church requires that communicants be in a state of grace, or free from mortal sin. A person who contracts a civil “marriage” while still validly married to another person is, objectively, living in a state of adultery until this second union is renounced or the first union is canonically annulled. That is reason enough to bar such persons from the reception of the Eucharist. Furthermore, there is the additional problem of scandal, whereby even if such persons were subjectively ignorant of their sin, by publicly receiving communion they would still give scandal to the faithful.
This is a big deal, folks. In theory, I suppose it is possible that Pope Francis could change the longstanding discipline of the Church without, in theory, unraveling the Catholic doctrine of indissoluble marriage. But a change in discipline wouldn’t change the objective reality of sacrilege at the altar. Furthermore, with respect to the faithful, the psychological effect would be devastating, effectively making a mockery of marital “indissolubility” and thereby poisoning every marriage at the outset with an escape clause. I can’t help but think of the insult this would send to thousands of faithful Catholics who, in obedience and faith, have remained faithful to their marriage vows, even when deserted by and divorced from their spouses, and whose fidelity has been – until now – honored by the discipline of the Church.
In the La Cavilta Cattolica interview quoted above, the pope expresses concern that the Church’s “moral edifice” could collapse like a “house of cards” unless the Church finds a “new balance”. He seems to be saying that the Church must relax her disciplines or risk losing her moral authority in the lives of the faithful. The danger is that this “new balance” will itself reduce the Church’s “moral edifice” to a paper tiger.
A theology professor at the University of Florence calls Pope Francis to task, gently and respectfully, for the recent disastrous interviews and other public statements and actions that have undermined the Catholic Church.
A “LIQUID” MESSAGE
by Pietro De Marco
In conscience I must break with the courtly choir, composed of all-too-familiar secular and ecclesiastical names, which for months has accompanied the public statements of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio. It is the choir of those who celebrate the “new” of the pope knowing that it is not such, and are silent about the true “innovations,” when they are embarrassing. For this reason, I am constrained to point out some of the reiterated approximations into which the spontaneous and captivating eloquence of Francis has fallen.
No one is exempt, in daily and private conversation among a few, from approximations and distortions, But there is no person who has responsibility in regard to many – who teaches, for example – who will not adopt another register in public and seek to avoid improvisation.
Now, instead, we have a pope who exclaims: “Who am I to judge?” as one can emphatically say at the table or even in preaching spiritual exercises. But before the press and the world a “who am I to judge?” spoken by a pope objectively jars with the entire history and profound nature of the Petrine function, moreover giving the distasteful sensation of an uncontrolled outburst. Because of his function as a vicar with respect to Christ, not as an individual, the pope judges. Since Pope Francis demonstrates, when he wishes, the awareness of his powers as pope, this is a matter – whatever he might want to say – of a true error of communication.
We then read in the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” the phrase: “Spiritual interference in personal life is not possible,” which seems to group together under the liberal-libertarian figure of “interference” both theological-moral judgment, and the public evaluation of the Church, when necessary, and even the care of a confessor or spiritual director in indicating, preventing, sanctioning intrinsically evil conduct. Pope Bergoglio Involuntarily adopts here a commonplace typical of postmodernity, according to which the individual decision is, as such, always good or at least always endowed with value, in being personal and free as one naïvely thinks it may be, and therefore incontestable.
This relativistic slippage, no longer rare in general pastoral practice, is covered up, not only in Bergoglio, by references to sincerity and to the repentance of the individual, almost as if sincerity and repentance canceled the nature of sin and prohibited the Church from calling it by its name. Moreover, it is doubtful that it is merciful to be silent about and respect that which each one does because he is free and sincere in doing it: we have always known that clarifying, not hiding, the nature of sinful conduct is an eminently merciful act, because it permits the sinner to discern about himself and his state, according to the law and the love of God. That even a pope should seem to confuse the primacy of conscience with a sort of unjudgeability, or even as immunity from the judgment of the Church, is a risk for the authoritativeness of the pope and for the ordinary magisterium that cannot be underestimated.
In the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” the pope returns to the “who am I to judge?” and confirms: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is seeking God, I am no one to judge him. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has made us free.”
The reiterated use of that “who am I?” confirms on the one hand, in Francis, a popular acceptation of “to judge” as a synonym of “to condemn” – which produces confusion, because judgment is not necessarily condemnation, and often it is not – and on the other accentuates the idea that none of us and not even the pope is legitimated to express judgment. But this is false: each of us can be judge in every organization and even in the Church, if he acquires competence, and the pope is judge because of the mandate that is proper to him. Moreover, either no one is legitimated, ever, in judgment, because only God is, or it is not clear why only in the case of homosexuality the capacity for judgment should not be found.
If moreover, as the pope says, “religion” – a cursory way of designating the history and institutions and treasures of grace founded in Christ of which the pope is the guarantor – “has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people,” but must not interfere in freedom, there is no longer room either for the law of God or for charity. Freedom as such becomes, truly, the absolute. And certainly if “religion” is reduced to an opinion group it cannot take on the stature of judge. Who has, moreover, need of charity if his freedom absolves him prior to any judgment?
The formula of the Church “in the service of the people” returns in the words of the pope even with regard to liturgical reform, which is taken to be “a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel on the basis of the concrete historical situation.” A staggering definition that reduces the sacred signs even below the little they had fallen to in the Protestant churches. What has been the use of a century and a half of liturgical “ressourcement?”
It will be said that one must not overanalyze words that are spoken in a conversation between Jesuit confrères. But if this is the case, it would have been well that the conversation should have remained in the private memoirs of pope Bergoglio and Fr. Antonio Spadaro. To endure the fate of reading in “La Civiltà Cattolica” – a magnificent combatant at least since the 1950′s for the Catholic truth and for Rome – that for the current successor of Peter doctrine, traditions, and liturgy have become the faculty and eventuality of giving an opinion and “offering a service,” is a humiliation that could have been spared the Church.
In “la Repubblica” of October 1 we read other debatable statements of pope Bergoglio. We learn that “proselytism is solemn foolishness, it makes no sense,” as a response to the theme of conversion proposed ironically by Eugenio Scalfari (“Do you want to convert me?”). But seeking the conversion of the other is not “foolishness”; it can be done in a manner that is foolish, or sublime, as in many saints. I recall that the spouses Jacques and Raïssa Maritain, converts themselves, ardently desired and worked for the return to the faith of their great friends. Why avoid the theme of conversion by comparing it with “proselytism,” a word loaded with a negative connotation?
We then read that, to the relativistic objection of Scalfari: “Is there a single vision of the good? And who establishes it?” the pope concedes that “each of us has his vision of the good” and “we must incite him to proceed toward what he thinks to be the good.”
But if everyone has “his vision of the good” that he must be able to realize, these visions cannot help but turn out to be the most diverse, in contrast and often in mortal conflict, as proven by current affairs and by history. Inciting one to proceed according to his personal vision of the good is in reality inciting the struggle of all against all, a strenuous battle, because it is waged for the good and not for the useful or something else contingent. This is why particular visions – including those guided by the most upright intentions – must be regulated by a sovereign, or in modern terms by the law, and ultimately by the law of Christ, which has no nuances of concession in individualistic terms.
Perhaps Pope Francis meant that man, according to the Catholic doctrine of the natural law, has the original capacity, a primary and fundamental impulse, given to all by God, of distinguishing that which is good in itself from that which is evil in itself. But here is inserted the mystery of sin and grace. Can one extol Agustine, as the pope does, and omit that in that which man “thinks to be the good” sin is always at work also? What has become of the dialectic between the city of God and the city of man and of the devil, “civitas” of love and of self? If the good were that which the individual “thinks to be the good,” and the convergence of these thoughts could save man, what need would there be for positive law in general, for the law of God in particular, and for the incarnation of the Son?
The pope also maintains: “Vatican II, inspired by Pope John and by Paul VI, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to open to modern culture. The council fathers knew that opening to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with nonbelievers. After then very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and the ambition of wanting to do it.”
All of this sounds like an “a priori” that is hardly critical. How much destructive “ecumenism” and how much “dialogue” subservient to the ideologies of the Modern have we seen at work in past decades, to which only Rome, from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, have presented a barrier! The Bergoglio who criticized the theologies of liberation and revolution cannot fail to know that dialogue with modern culture carried out after the Council was quite another thing than a courteous “ecumenism.”
Pope Francis shows himself to be the typical religious of the Society of Jesus in its recent phase, converted by the Council in the years of formation, especially by what I call the “external Council,” the Vatican II of militant expectations and interpretations, created by some episcopates, by their theologians, and by the most influential Catholic media outlets. One of those churchmen who, in their conciliatory and pliable tone, in their undisputed values, are also the most rigid “conciliars,” convinced after half a century that the Council is yet to be realized and that things should be done as if we were still in the 1970′s, in a hand-to-hand with the “pacellian” church, neoscholastic theology, under the influence of the secular or Marxist paradigm of modernity.
On the contrary: that which the “conciliar spirit” wanted and was able to activate has been said or tried over the decades and today it is a question in the first place of making a critical assessment of the results, sometimes disastrous. Even the tenacious proclamation in Pope Francis of the divine mercy corresponds to a pastoral attitude now widespread among the clergy, to the point of that laxity which the pope moreover censures. Not only that. The theme of sin has almost disappeared from catechesis, thereby liquidating the very need of mercy. Rather than promoting generally merciful behaviors, this is a matter today of reconstructing a moral theology less made up of words and again capable of guiding clergy and faithful in concrete cases. Also in moral theology the road to the true implementation of the Council has been reopened by the magisterial work of Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger.
Some maintain that Francis could be, as a postmodern pope, the man of the future of the Church, beyond traditionalism and modernism. But the postmodern that most thrives in him – as liquidation of forms, spontaneity of public appearance, attention to the global village – is superficial. With its pliability and aestheticism, the postmodern is hardly plausible in a bishop of Latin America, where until recently the intelligentsia was dominated by the Marxist Modern. Bergoglio’s solid core is and remains “conciliar.” On the road undertaken by this pope, if confirmed, I see first of all the crystallization of the dominant pastoral conciliarism in the clergy and in the active laity.
Of course, if Bergoglio is not postmodern, his worldwide reception is. The pope pleases right and left, practicing and nonbelievers, without discernment. His prevalent message is “liquid.” On this success, however, nothing can be built, there can only be remixed something already existing, and that not of the best.
There are worrying signals of this “liquid” appearance for anyone who may not be prone to the relativistic chatter of this late modernity:
a) the concession to set popular phrases like “everyone is free to do…” “who says that things must be this way…” “who am I to…” allowed to slip out in the conviction that they are dialogical and up-to-date. Presenting himself as a simple bishop to justify hardly formal behaviors, do not cover up and cannot cover up the different weight and different responsibility that instead belong to his words, any word, since the bishop of Rome and the pope are one and the same;
b) the lack of scrutiny on the part of persons of trust, but wise and cultured, and Italian, of the texts destined to be circulated, perhaps in the papal conviction that there is no need for this;
c) a certain authoritarian inclination (“I will do everything to…”) in singular contrast with the frequent pluralistic propositions, but typical of the democratic “revolutionaries,” with the risk of imprudent collisions with tradition and the “sensus fidelium”;
d) moreover, there remains incongruous in Pope Francis this constant taking of individual public communication initiatives and this wanting to be without filters (the symptomatic image of the papal apartment as a bottleneck), which reveal the unwillingness to feel himself a man of governance (something more difficult than being a reformer) in an eminent and “sui generis” institution like the Catholic Church.
His is, at times, the conduct of a modern and informal manager, one of those who concede a great deal to the press. But this clinging to persons and things on the outside – collaborators, friends, press, public opinion, even the apartment in Santa Marta is “outside” – as if the man Bergoglio were afraid he would not know what to do once he were left alone, as pope, in the apartment of the popes, is not positive. And the thing could not last. Even the media will get tired of supporting a pope who needs them too much.
Two last observations.
1. To those who invoke the Ignatian style of accompanying the sinner, or the far away, I reply that this concerns the relationship of the internal forum or the direction of conscience or private conversation. But if the pope expresses himself this way in public, his words enter the flow of the ordinary magisterium, they become catechesis. We all know that the conciliarist motto “from the cudgel to mercy” was aimed not so much at softening confessors as at weakening the authority of Rome.
2. The expressive model chosen by Bergoglio cannot be pushed to the limit of knocking down the ordinary magisterium and making it hardly or not at all obligatory. The powers of a pope do not extend to the very nature of his own “munus,” which transcends him and imposes limits on him. I do not approve of the traditionalist extremists, but there is no doubt that tradition is the norm and the power of the successor of Peter.
Florence, October 2, 2013
We speak with our TAC children almost weekly, and by all accounts they are loving the experience so far. The classes and discussions are stimulating for both of them, and the school’s rigorous curriculum takes up the majority of their time. They like their sections and their tutors. They are taking advantage of the incredible spiritual life available to them. But they are also making friends and participating in extra-curricular activities – music groups, dances, pro-life activity, and so forth. Already I can hear more confidence and maturity in their voices.
Recently after Mass on Sunday I was able to catch up with a gentleman, about my age, who graduated from TAC in the early years. He mentioned how difficult it was coming home to his family for extended periods because “the conversations just couldn’t measure up” to those he had every day on campus. I suppose that would be a bit of an adjustment. TAC is going to be a hard act to follow during the holidays!
I have always appreciated how the college markets itself. It’s a serious place for serious students, and the school’s promotional work is truth-in-advertising. TAC’s new introduction video adheres to the same high standard.