BY MAIKE HICKSON ON JUNE 20, 2016
While many Catholics in the world were indignant about the remarks of Pope Francis on 16 June regarding the likely invalidity of many Catholic sacramental marriages, he made another important statement on the same day that seems largely to have been overlooked.
The Austrian Catholic website kath.net reported on these additional remarks of Pope Francis. In spite of – or, perhaps, because of – the many well-grounded criticisms of the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia – expressed by such learned and deeply faithful Catholics such as Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, Professor Robert Spaemann, Professor Jude Dougherty, as well as Professor Josef Seifert – Pope Francis has now insisted that his exhortation is, indeed, “doctrinally sound.”
In a question and answer session after his remarks at the opening of the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome on 16 June, and in the evening, Pope Francis said with regard to his exhortation.
For your consolation, I have to tell you that everything that is written in the exhortation [Amoris Laetitia] […] everything is Thomistic, from the beginning to the end. It is sound doctrine.
For the purposes of substantiation, I will include here the original Italian text of the pope’s own words:
Per la vostra tranquillità, devo dirvi che tutto quello che è scritto nell’Esortazione – e riprendo le parole di un grande teologo che è stato segretario della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, il cardinale Schönborn, che l’ha presentata – tutto è tomista, dall’inizio alla fine. E’ la dottrina sicura. Ma noi vogliamo, tante volte, che la dottrina sicura abbia quella sicurezza matematica che non esiste, né con il lassismo, di manica larga, né con la rigidità.
And here is our translation:
For your own peace of mind, I have to tell you that everything that is written in the exhortation [Amoris Laetitia] – and here I refer to the words of a great theologian who once was a secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Schönborn, who presented it [Amoris Laetitia] – everything is Thomistic, from the beginning to the end. It is sound doctrine. But, so many times, we want it to be so that sound doctrine would have a mathematical security which does not, in fact, exist – neither in a lax and indulgent way, nor in a stiff and rigid way.
It is noteworthy here that Pope Francis also continues to claim that Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was once a secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, even though this is not the case. OnePeterFive noted this discrepancy at the time of our translation and subtitling of the pope’s press conference on the way back from Greece (see the parenthetical within the English transcript of his comments near the bottom.) Subsequently, none other than the Vatican expert Dr. Sandro Magister, in fact, corrected Pope Francis publicly:
Already on April 16, questioned by the journalists on the return flight to Rome from the island of Lesbos, Francis had indicated [Cardinal Christoph] Schönborn as the right interpreter of the document, recommending that his presentation be read and rewarding him on the spot with flattering titles, even mistakenly promoting him to former “secretary” of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
But then [Cardinal Gerhard] Müller gave his talk in Oviedo, with the intention of bringing clarity to the carousel of contrasting interpretations and applications of Amoris Laetitia that had already gained a foothold. But for the pope, that talk of his wasn’t worth a thing. Just as it wasn’t worth a thing for L’Osservatore Romano, which completely ignored it.
What we see happening now is that Pope Francis – and with his close advisor and the ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia – are both now trying to defend the papal exhortation from criticism that it contains doctrinal ambiguities as never before seen in the history of the Church. Before speaking more about that ghostwriter – Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández – I would first like to focus on the pope’s additional answer to a question at the Lateran University on 16 June.
Pope Francis proceeded to explain to his audience that he himself, when he had first become a bishop, was given advice by his predecessor. He was told to give to a priest who “falters a bit, slips” (unspecific words, but in this context it means is somehow in a condition of sin) some space and time. “’Listen to me: go home, think about it, and come back in two weeks, and we’ll talk,’” Francis then said, quoting the words of advice of this other bishop. “And then this priest comes back and repents: “Yes, it’s true. Help me!” Again in resistance against a perceived “rigidity” and “strictness,” Pope Francis then added: “What was better? That the bishop had the generosity to give him fifteen days to reconsider, with the risk of celebrating Mass in mortal sin? Or, is the other , the rigid morality, better?”
One might wonder what would have happened if such a priest, in the meantime, would have had a car accident or some other sudden form of death, without first having gone to Sacramental Confession? How would such a bishop then think about his earlier moral advice, especially with regard to the salvation of the soul of that priest? What a confusion.
It is once again such a confusion of offhand teaching that has caused the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, repeatedly and politely to correct his superior, the pope, and also his papal advisor, Archbishop Fernández. As the German philosopher, Professor Robert Spaemann, put it in a recent 17 June article:
If, in the meantime, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sees himself forced to publicly accuse one of the closest episcopal counselors and ghostwriter of the pope of heresy, things really have already gone too far. Also in the Church there is a limit to what is bearable.
Professor Spaemann refers here to Cardinal Müller’s recent critique of Archbishop Fernández, as we reported at the time.
Archbishop Fernández, in his own later public reply (without mentioning the cardinal’s name) to Cardinal Müller also tried to come to the rescue of Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia by belittling the serious international criticism of the papal document, and by claiming that the majority of Catholics are quite pleased with the exhortation. When asked by the Italian newspaper La Stampa about the reaction to Amoris Laetitia, the Argentinian responds:
In some places it [Amoris Laetitia] was welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm, generosity and responsibility. In particular, many have taken seriously the central chapters which are what the Pope wanted to highlight more. Others are overly occupied – positively or negatively – with the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.
It draws attention to the reaction of some Catholic groups which refuse to apply the document, with all the wealth it contains, just because they are angry about the eighth chapter. It was similar with previous documents. But thank God this is not the attitude of the vast majority of God’s people [sic].
Here we are once more reminded of the archbishop’s theory and claim that the majority of the Catholics, as well as the media, are together with Pope Francis in support of his “reform” of the Church. He had to repeat this here, once more, by referring to recent polls in his native Argentina. Fernández admits, however, that recently in Argentina, there were also some attempts made to deride the pope. He continues by showing, nonetheless, that a recent survey conducted by the Argentinian newspaper Clarín has proven that “the pope has a 75% positive image and that only 4% of the image is negative.” Here Fernández comes back to claiming as a fact the “discreet and silent loyalty of the people, despite the murmurs and criticism of a few.”
We all have to face the situation that doctrinal and moral ambiguity is now pervasively welcomed in our increasingly relativizing and more aggressively anti-Christian society. Therefore, when speaking of mere numbers, the archbishop is most probably right. The question, however, is not whether the majority is with Pope Francis, but, whether Pope Francis’ teaching is in accordance with God’s own teaching. We all remember very well how the majority, on that piercing Friday 2000 years ago, chose Barrabas instead, and not Jesus Christ, our Savior. So today. The majority might well be pleased with Pope Francis’ moral relativism and doctrinal confusion – but are they then also loyally with God?
In this context, it might be worth referring to a 12 June post written by the Italian journalist and Fatima expert, Antonio Socci. Socci tries to clarify the matter of two putative popes – Francis and Benedict – in light of the recent confusion caused by the speech by Archbishop Georg Gänswein. Socci thus attempts to put this claim into a larger geopolitical perspective. Although I myself cannot fully follow parts of Socci’s reflections here, one part seems very striking and sobering – and if true, it is also gravely shocking. Socci claims that, while still in his papal office, Benedict XVI was given an “opportunity” – a proposition. To him it was “proposed to accept an ‘ecumenical re-unification’ with the Protestants of North Europe and/or North America in order to create a kind of ‘common religion of the West.’” For the Catholic Church, says Socci, this would have meant to “enter the unified politically correct thought soup” and to become an “irrelevant folk museum within a ‘multicultural’ Europe.” Socci continues: “To this ‘dictatorship of relativism,’ Benedict XVI said ‘no!’ He answered: ‘As long as I am here, this will not happen.’”
The Italian journalist then adds that, subsequently, Pope Benedict “was forced to give up the ‘active exercise’ of the Petrine Office (only half-way?).” Later on, Socci puts the further development of Bergoglio’s election as pope into the larger context of the hegemonic reign of relativism in the West, which we now see to be growing. Moreover, he says: “Bergoglio has made the Obama agenda his own.” And Socci then refers to a speech by United States President Obama in May in front of the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., where he said that the Church should abandon “divisive terms” such as abortion and “gay” marriage and and that she should rather “dedicate herself to the problem of poverty.” Socci thus concludes: “The empire wants the Church to be a ‘social worker’ who comforts the losers in the field hospital of the strong powers, but does not disturb the handlers.” Additionally, according to Socci, US Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton herself had proposed a year ago, at a conference of pro-abortion feminists, that “the deeply rooted cultural codes, religious beliefs and the structural bias must be changed.”
Socci then piercingly and ironically says: “The churches must therefore surrender to the ‘liberal’ secularism of the imperium. In fact, Bergoglio has already abandoned the ‘non-negotiable principles [such as those found in Amoris Laetitia!].’” It is in this same context, that Socci sees the upcoming 31 October 2016 papal trip to Sweden, in order to “celebrate Luther and to ‘stitch up’ the 500 years exactly since the schism – evidence of a new imperial religion?”
It is impossible to know with specificity much of the hidden history of how the Catholic Church has come to the point where she now is. It is in fact futile, in my eyes, to speculate too much about this matter since we have neither the knowledge nor the authority to judge adequately. But, we do have our duty and own part to play. Our part is, analogously, the part of the Blessed Mother. We wish to stay at her side and help her to defend Her Son and His Truth. We must not allow fatalism to cause us to acquiesce, nor should we consider our present circumstances passively as God’s will, and thus simply something to be resignedly endured.
We shall fight. We shall resist. We shall give a Catholic witness.
In the near future, I hope to write concerning Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s beautiful spiritual insights about how one is to be or to become a Knight of the Blessed Mother. That is to say, how she wants to make use of us in order to combat those forces, also within the Catholic Church, that are promoting subversive ambiguity and moral confusion. She had come to the world in 1917 in order to warn us and in order to give us some of the additional means as to how to help save our own souls and how to help others – especially the children – to save theirs.
Together with the inspiring example of Saint Joan of Arc, who fought a battle that seemed to be hopeless – and who as a mere girl herself seemed to be so helpless – we also intend to continue, under Grace, to battle for God and His Truth. With prayers and with words and sacrifices. And we must not ignore the place of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in all of our efforts, for it is her Immaculate Heart, as Our Blessed Mother herself told us, that will triumph.