Man, JP2 and B16 sure did have a knack for raising heretics to positions of authority

So to summarize and perhaps expand just a bit on a little Twitter conversation, one thing that is especially interesting and dismaying to me about the Catholic conversation of recent weeks is how widely the uber-Catholics had to expand the circle of those who must be included among the bad guys, the ones who are not Catholic enough, those who have betrayed their faith and capitulated to the spirit of the world, in order to make their case that the discussion at the synod was evidence of the smoke of Satan in the Church .

I mean, think about it. For the Rorate Coeli and National Catholic Register narrative to be right, the people who are building a “false and dark church” are guys like

  • Christoph Schonborn, the general editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (chosen for that job by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, you’ll recall)
  • Walter Kasper, author of one of the most respected and cited christologies of the post-Vatican II era, and another distinguished work on trinitarian theology
  • Donald Wuerl, author of The Teaching of Christ, probably one of the most popular and soundest of post-Vatican II catechisms published in English prior to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • And Bruno Forte, another highly regarded theologian — accomplished and sound enough that Pope John Paul II invited Forte to preach his Lenten retreat one year (that’s an invitation, we might note, that is sometimes taken by Vatican-watchers to be a subtle indication of who the current Pope thinks might be a good successor in his chair)

Every one of these guys were named bishops and then archbishops and then (with the exception of Forte) cardinals by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

And these are our traitors? These are the people we are to believe are under the sway of the dictatorship of relativism? These are the ones who have, without a care, thrown the deposit of the faith under the bus in favor of a wishy-washy, modernistic, kumbayah alternative? Not a lone rogue element who went off the reservation, but of all of ‘em. Seriously? (And don’t forget, at least half the synod fathers — a large group of distinguished pastors from around the world — seem to think that the conversation they want to have is worth having.) Because, after all, that was the criticism of JP2 and B16 all along, right: they were careless in paying attention to the doctrinal convictions of the men they named bishops and cardinals. Yeah.

Let me be clear: I have my own doubts about whether or not Kasper’s proposal for communion to the divorced and remarried is workable. I blogged about that here, on the first day of the Synod. But my response to this fact is to think, “Hm, this will be an interesting conversation among some extraordinary theological and pastoral leaders. It sure would be amazing if we could work out a way that people who are divorced and remarried to remarried to receive Communion. Let’s see where this goes,” and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance of their work.

It is not to sound the alarms and scream about traitors to the faith who are building a dark and false church, much less to suggest in public that the Pope (another guy to whom I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt!) is doing great harm to the Church by allowing the discussion to happen.

But that’s just me.

Blessed Paul VI

With the beatification of Pope Paul VI upon us, I wanted to point out just a few posts from this blog in which this fascinating Pope is featured.

1. I did a series of posts to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. One of them took a look at the previous papal encyclical that Benedict intended to commemorate by publishing it, Pope Paul VI’s historic Populorum Progressio. I noted:

CiV was intended to mark the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark 1967 encyclical on human development, Populorum Progressio. This is itself noteworthy, since almost every social encyclical prior to that was published on an anniversary of Rerum Novarum; for tradition-minded Benedict, the departure was certainly a deliberate choice. Why make it?

That full post is here.

2. During my John Courtney Murray research, I offered a post about the events of one particular day at the Second Vatican Council, under Paul VI’s leadership. It’s a window into the Council’s deliberations on the topic of religious freedom.

This one is especially relevant right now because it’s helpful remedial history to anyone who thinks what happened in Rome these last three weeks is not a lot like what went on for four years at Vatican II. And it’s a helpful theological-doctrinal-pastoral lesson to anyone who thinks that taking the most hardline, conservative approach to any doctrinal question is always the one most faithful to authentic Catholic tradition. Does this paragraph from that post, for example, have a familiar ring to it?

Despite these dramatic statements, there still was a great deal of disarray on the issue among the bishops and theologians at the Council. Several interventions were highly negative. Archbishop Lefebvre — who was then the superior general of the Holy Ghost Fathers, but later excommunicated from the Catholic Church — bitterly condemned it the schema, saying that the principle of religious freedom “is not one conceived … by the church.” The sharp conflict even generated some apathy on the part of some Council fathers. Many of the official Protestant observers began to sense that the schema might not succeed. Historian Gilles Routhier has written of this point, “The debate seemed to have bogged down, and no one could find a way of ending it.” The next morning’s headline in the New York Herald Tribune would read “Vatican Council near Crisis over Religious Liberty Issue.”

The full post is here.

3. Finally, when Pope Francis released his remarkable apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium last year, I pointed out the appearance in it of a significant quotation from Pope Paul VI’s apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens. In a post titled “Octogesima Adveniens is Back,” I commented:

Among the (ever-growing) list of “firsts” ascribed to Pope Francis, we can add: first Pope to quote section 4 of OA in a papal document. (Not as sexy, I’ll grant you, as first Pope to be named Esquire magazine’s Best Dressed Man of the Year. But interesting at the very least.)

Find out why the quotation is both unique and perhaps quite important in the full post, here.

These are not the only places Paul VI has been brought up on this blog. All my posts related to Paul VI are here.

This supremely Catholic synod

In an article published today at The Week, Damon Linker opens with a question and asks for some help answering it. He spends a few paragraphs asking it, taking his time and doing a good job laying the groundwork and making clear the reasons for his “confusion.” Here is what he writes:

Maybe you can help me. I’m confused.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares as a matter of binding doctrine that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity,” “contrary to the natural law,” and “intrinsically” as well as “objectively disordered.” “Under no circumstances” can those acts “be approved.” Although people who feel same-sex attractions “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are called by the church to take up “the Lord’s cross” and embrace a life of “chastity” through “self-mastery” of their desires. That is the only way for them to “gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

That sounds pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you say?

Now let’s look at Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times, which contains an above-the-fold front-page story about a 12-page document released on Monday by the synod on marriage and the family that Pope Francis has convened at the Vatican. In the second paragraph of the story, we are informed (quite accurately) that the document “does not change church doctrine or teaching.” And yet the story also states (in the third paragraph) that the document is “the first signal that the institutional church may follow the direction Francis has set in the first 18 months of his papacy, away from condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness, and mercy.”

And indeed, the document does say some nice things, about homosexual relationships, but also about “cohabitation” among heterosexual couples. If you’re a non-celibate gay Catholic, or a Catholic who’s divorced and remarried and so technically excluded from receiving the sacrament of Communion at Mass, these words no doubt come as a comfort.

But how significant are they? The answer to that question depends in large part on what the pope has in mind. And that’s where I become confused.

Even if the language of the document released on Monday is approved in total at the conclusion of the synod, it will still change nothing at all in church doctrine or teaching. Homosexual acts will still be deemed intrinsically and objectively disordered. It’s just that the Vatican will now be urging pastors to soft-peddle the doctrine to parishioners. Priests and bishops will be urged to accentuate the positive, to talk about the “gifts and qualities” that gay people “offer to the Christian community,” and to acknowledge that gay couples often provide each other “mutual aid” and “precious support.”

That sounds like a modest expansion on or elaboration of the Catechism’s injunction to accept gay people “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” combined with a suggestion that priests and bishops not shove down people’s throats the much harsher official doctrine about homosexual acts.

But the doctrine itself will remain unchanged.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this makes no sense whatsoever.

I want to offer an answer to the question, because it seems that there are not a few good, faithful Catholics who are asking themselves something like it in recent days, and also because there are many bad answers to it being offered — answers that would have us believe that a “dark and false Church” is in the making, that a “dictatorship of relativism” is holding sway at the synod, that the synod itself is “counterfeit” and “sick,” and that it might be time for the few good bishops who are left in Rome to starting kicking some ass. Linker himself suggests that Pope Francis must have some “supremely Machiavellian strategy” in play to change church teaching.

So, here goes.

I’m a dad. The father of seven, in fact. (And while we’re on the topic, I’m the father of seven largely because my wife and I believe Humanae Vitae to be an expression of moral truth, taught to us authoritatively by Christ’s vicar on earth — so let’s please dispense now with any idea of this whole post being rooted in my wishy-washy heretical modernism.)

My kids do “bad” things all the time. (They’re my kids, after all.) From time to time they squabble, ignore homework assignments, talk disrespectfully to my wife and I, refuse to walk the dog when asked, and other such things. When they do these things, I or my wife correct them. It’s our job as parents, right? And when they sometimes choose to ignore several quick and polite verbal corrections, as they occasionally do, it’s sometimes necessary for me to raise my voice a bit or provide some consequence that gets their attention a little more effectively: they’re sent to their room for a period of time or loose the privilege of watching television for a while, that sort of thing.

But if these corrections and punishments were all I ever had to say to them, or even most of what I ever had to say to them, if I simply kept quiet and bided my time until the next bad choice came along, my relationship with them would quickly go into a tailspin, because what the heck kind of father-child relationship is that: me, the Corrector? They would grow tired of and quite accustomed to my scoldings, and any joy in their relationship with me would wither. Sure, I love them, and I might even convince myself that I am correcting them and punishing them because I love them, because after all, it is true that it’s wrong to fight and be disrespectful, and loving them means teaching them that, dammit. But my children would only with great difficulty know that I love them and experience the relationship as one of love.

This is one reason — though certainly not the only one — that I try to make sure I have lots of conversations with them about the good things happening at school, the fun stuff they’re doing with their friends, the books they’re reading, and the best shows on television. I also make sure that I point out as often as I can the great stuff they do and excellent moral choices they make. When they excel at sports or get good grades, I encourage and praise them, and when they go out of their way to be respectful, loving, or generous, I say so enthusiastically.  Not only is this just; it almost certainly makes my moments of correction and punishment more effective, because they know these corrections are coming from a parent who loves them and respects them, and they know I don’t do it simply because I like correcting them; indeed, they know I would much rather be praising them.

In fact, I make sure my kids know, unequivocally (they have heard me say this clearly and often): There is nothing you can do that would make me stop loving you. If they don’t know that — and I mean know it in their bones — I’ve failed in a significant way as a father.

I would suggest that herein lies the “sense” of approach we find in the mid-term synod document released yesterday. As has been made clear by almost everyone, no doctrinal changes have been proposed or are suggested. The Church still believes marriage is intended by God to be permanent, that it is between a man and a woman, that remarriage after divorce is contrary to the nature of marriage, and that homosexual activity is sinful.

The insight of at least some of the synod fathers and, it seems, Pope Francis, is that if the only thing the Church ever says to people who are divorced and remarried or people who are gay or people who are living together is “what you are doing is wrong” or “your desires are disordered,” then the Church is carrying out its role as mater et magister poorly.

Some will object to this line of thinking: “But that’s not all we say to them. Haven’t you read the Theology of the Body?” I have read it, in fact, and find it to be quite compelling and in places beautiful. I have taught its ideas to others over the years. In fact, I was an “early adopter,” if you will, teaching Theology of the Body in the mid-1990s, long before it became much more widely known within the Church.

But the fact is, it’s not that compelling to some folks. Some are not convinced by Catholic moral teaching — in some cases because they could care less what the Church says, and in some cases because they have reflected on it, prayed about it, discussed it, and struggled with it, and they still don’t buy it. Of course, the Church should and must continue to teach it as the good news that it is. But if all they hear is the Church continually insisting that they’re wrong about that, and they never hear that despite the Church’s different view of things, they are still respected and loved and welcome among us, we’re doing something wrong.

If people, all people, do not know that there’s nothing they can do to make God stop loving them, and therefore that there is nothing they can do to make the Church stop loving them and respecting them and welcoming them, then the Church’s teachers have to some degree failed in their roles as fathers and teachers. In my view, the mid-term synod document was a moment in which the synod of bishops decided to say something like that. And in saying it, they were expressing the orthodox, evangelical, essential truth of Catholic Christianity.

And so maybe Cardinal Burke wasn’t “punished” (as Mr. Linker puts it) “for forthrightly stating and defending in public the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church.” Maybe he was moved on to a less prominent position because he seems unenthusiastic about stating and defending in public another authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church: that God loves sinners, and he wants them to know, through the Church’s teaching and practices, in their bones, that they are loved.

“I submit,” Damon Linker writes, “that there is only one way to make sense of the pope’s actions…. It’s a brilliant, clever, supremely Machiavellian strategy — one that promises to produce far-reaching reforms down the road while permitting the present pope both to claim plausible deniability (‘I haven’t changed church doctrine!’) and to enjoy nearly constant effusive coverage in the secular press.”

But I submit, Mr. Linker, that there is more than one way to make sense of the pope’s actions, and that the most reasonable and likely way involves not a supremely Machiavellian strategy, but a supremely Catholic one, and that is that he intends to proclaim God’s unconditional love to the sinners for whom his Son Jesus died.


Q&A, remedial

Fr. Dwight Longenecker, apparently troubled about the Synod’s encouragement of a more welcoming attitude by the Church toward gay people, asks:

Surely we believe that all persons have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community. Are we saying that homosexuals have some sort of special, unique gifts to offer simply because they are persons with same sex attraction? Where does that come from? What exactly are those unique gifts they have because they are homosexuals? Do they have gifts and qualities and insights because they live a celibate and single life? How are their gifts different then, from the gifts and qualities of the heterosexual single, celibate person? Isn’t this patronizing and offensive to heterosexual single people?…

People with same sex attraction are already welcomed into the church equally with whatever gifts and qualities they have as individuals. Why does their sexuality have anything to do with it? Are we suggesting that homosexual people are more sensitive, caring, artistic or spiritual? If so, isn’t that patronizing–almost like saying, “Gerald is such a witty person! He’d make such a good interior designer…” If that is what we are saying are we suggesting that all homosexual people have these gifts and qualities simply because they have same sex attraction? Does that mean we think there cannot be homosexuals who are dull, selfish, stupid, brutish, violent, vulgar and boorish? Are we putting one group of people in some kind of special category because of their sexual orientation? If so how crazy is that?

Mark Shea, with the patience of a good kindergarten teacher, answers helpfully:

[I]f we are going to welcome homosexuals into the circle of humanity for whom Christ died, that means, you know, treating them like human beings, both made in the image and likeness of God and fallen sinners. And that means, when homosexuals consistently report a sense that they are not welcome and not human beings to many of their fellow Catholics (and when those who are trying to live faithful lives report that even that effort is not good enough for some of their fellow Catholics), it may be time to do a re-think about how best to shepherd them.

As if we should have to explain such things.

“Mercy is joined to justice”: Enzo Bianchi on the synod

Yesterday morning, Massimo Faggioli tweeted that “no Catholic religious in America has had the courage to write what Enzo Bianchi wrote today on the Synod, marriage, and divorce.” (Enzo Bianchi is an Italian monk, the founder and head of a remarkable ecumenical monastic community in Italy called The Community of Bose.) Faggioli pointed to an essay by Bianchi published in Italian at the Vatican Insider website by the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Though many articles on the site are often offered in English as well, this one is not (yet).

I checked it out and agreed, so spent some time doing a quick translation into English. Though I don’t have the time to go over this with the kind of care and attention it deserves, here’s my quick and dirty translation of Bianchi’s peice. It’s worth a look:


Immediately after the election of Pope Francis, Cardinal Rivasi declared, “We look forward to a new breeze.” Today, after twenty months of this pontificate, we can say that there is a new climate in the fabric of the church: a climate of freedom in which every Catholic, both bishops and the simple faithful, can feel free to speak with honesty and courage according to their conscience and to say what they think, without being immediately silenced, censored, and even punished, as has been the case over in recent decades.

This doesn’t mean it is an idyllic climate, because even within the Church there are bitter conflicts — as the New Testament shows us was the case from the beginning — but if these are approached without mutual excommunications, if each person listens to the reasons offered by the other before declaring him to be an enemy, if all are careful to maintain communion, then even conflicts are fruitful and serve to deepen and more effectively give reasons for the hope that lives in the hearts of Christians.

Unfortunately, one can see that there are now “enemies of the Pope”: people who don’t limit themselves to respectful criticism, as happened with Benedict XVI and John Paul II, but who go so far as to despise him. A bishop who declares to his priests that the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium “could have been written by a peasant” expresses a judgment of contempt, but at the same time prophetically recognizes that that letter is readable and understandable even to a poor and simple Christian at the peripheries of the world. And so, despite his intentions, these derogatory words are in fact words of praise. Some even attempt to delegitimize Bergoglio’s election by saying the conclave was not conducted according to the rules, while others claim that there are still two popes, both successors of Peter, but with different duties…. We have known for a long time people inclined to follow their own ecclesiastical hypotheses rather than the objectivity of the great Catholic tradition in which the gospel is given primacy.

Certainly the composition of this synod, its new way working, the Pope’s invitation to participants to speak plainly and even to criticize his thinking or offer a different opinion, and the request for frankness in the interventions have created a synodal atmosphere that was unseen in the previous synods. Pope Francis wants [l'assise?] to be lived in the spirit of episcopal collegiality and of ecclesial synodality and not to be a simple celebration: and Francis also doesn’t hesitate to say that the synod takes place according to the great tradition cum Petro et sub Petro, that is with the Pope present and, as successor of Peter, personally reaching a final discernment.

As for the theme of the synod, it is so crucial because what is under discussion is not just a different discipline in regard to marriage, family, and sexuality, but the face of the invisible God, a face that we Christians know only through the face of Jesus Christ, the one who reveals, explains and makes known God. Under discussion is the face of the merciful and compassionate God, as it was revealed in his holy name given to Moses and was spoken about by Jesus, the Son he sent into the world, who never chastised sinners, never punished, but forgave them whereever he met them, and in that way moved them toward repentance and conversion.

There is no doubt that at the heart of the debate and the synodal discussions, there are words of Jesus that can be neither forgotten nor tampered with. In the Gospels, in fact, when talking about divorce — which was permitted by Moses but condemned, we mustn’t forget, by the prophets — Jesus did not choose the way of casuistry but recalled the intention of the Lawgiver and Creator and rejected any possibility of breaking the bond that is formed by the love of a man and a woman: “In the beginning it was not so… The two become one flesh… No person can divide what God has joined together!” The language is clear, demanding, and radical because the relationship between a man and a woman bound in the covenant of the word is a sign of the faithful covenant between God and his people: if fidelity in one becomes a lie, then the other is no longer credible either. It is a demanding and difficult message, which priests should teach their people from their knees: “It is the Lord’s words, not ours, the call for this fidelity. We repeat it because it is our duty to do so, but we offer it from our knees, without conceit or arrogance, because we know that to live one’s marriage faithfully and with a continually renewed love is difficult, exhausting, even impossible without the help of God’s grace….”

But even if this is the unchangable teaching of the Gospel, it remains true that in history, and especially today, this bond in the history of love, romance is not always taken up in faith, in adherence to the word of Christ. In any case, it sometimes deteriorates, withers, and dies. Yes, spouses should remain faithful to their committment until one returns to the other, but if that is no longer possible, after repeated attempts, then separation may be a lesser evil. And it is here that one can sometimes begin a new history of love that can prove to be a bearer of life, lived in loyalty and fidelity, in the sharing of faith and of life-giving connection with the Christian community. For those who live in this situation, it is not possible to celebrate another wedding without contradicting the sacrament of marriage already celebrated, but if there is a penitential journey, if they show fidelity over the passing of the years to the new bonds they have formed, could they not at least be admitted to communion, which offers them nourishment along the way of their journey towards the Kingdom? According to traditional Catholic teaching, the Eucharist is also a sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. Cardinal Martini asked: The question of whether divorcees can receive Holy Communion should be reversed: how can the Church come to their aid with the power of the sacraments?” The answer to these questions can come only from the Pope, after having heard the voice of the Church through the synod.

One other point should be made: Why can priests, monks, and religious who have made public promises to God in the heart of the Church and then abandoned their vocations and contradicted their vows — vows that St. Thomas Aquinas said the Church can never dissolve — participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church, while those in other situations of infidelity are excluded? There seems to be an injustice in this practice, created by clerics who may or may not live their celibacy well but who have no experience of the effort and the difficulties involved in married life.

What then is a Catholic who is mature in his or her faith to expect from the synod? A proclamation, again and again, of the indissolubility of marriage, yes, but offered in a way that manifests the mercy of God, reaching out to those who, in the course of this demanding adventure, have fallen into a contradiction of the covenant and inviting them into the fullness of ecclesial life. The Christian God has a face in which mercy is joined to justice, a compassionate God who in Jesus walked and continues to walk among the woundedthe sick a God who calls everyone to conversion and to life.