Is the Vatican, under Pope Francis, moving away from teachings of John Paul II on life and marriage?

Is the Vatican, under Pope Francis, moving away from teachings of John Paul II on life and marriage?

[Or as some say, carrying them and those of Vatican II to their logical conclusions?]

By Phil Lawler | Aug 26, 2016

Yesterday’s top CWN headline story, about problems with the sex-education guide issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family, sheds more light—or perhaps I should say, casts a darker shadow—on a story that appeared earlier this month, about new appointments to the Roman Curia.

The problematical sex-ed program was prepared by the Pontifical Council for the Family, headed by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. On August 14, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had named Archbishop Paglia to become president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. In the past, those two Vatican offices—the Pontifical Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute—have been bulwarks of support for the pro-life/pro-family movement. The dual appointment for Archbishop Paglia seems clearly to signal a change.

The release of the sex-ed program was not the first time that Archbishop Paglia has raised the hackles of more conservative Catholics. Last year he organized a series of seminars, leading up to the Synod on the Family, with a list of speakers heavily tilted toward the “Kasper proposal” for allowing divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

In naming Archbishop Paglia to his new post, Pope Francis also gave him some public instructions, encouraging him to focus on “the new challenges concerning the value of life.” The Pope elaborated:

I refer to the various aspects concerning the care of the dignity of the human person in the various ages of existence, mutual respect between genders and generations, the defense of the dignity of every single human being, the promotion of quality of human life that integrates the material and spiritual values, in view of an authentic ‘human ecology’, which helps to restore the original balance of creation between the human person and the whole universe.

Conspicuously missing from the Holy Father’s list of concerns were the sort of clear-cut statements on abortion and euthanasia, divorce and contraception, that Catholics came to expect during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. And remember that Archbishop Paglia will also be serving as chancellor of the scholarly institute named for the saintly Pontiff. There, too, changes are in store.

Msgr. Livio Melina, who has earned international respect as the president of the John Paul II Institute—and as an energetic defender of the teachings put forward by St. John Paul II on marriage and family life—is being replaced. (Msgr. Melina was forthright in his defense of the Church’s traditional teaching that divorced-and-remarried Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist, and that recent papal statements do not change that doctrinal stand.) The new president is Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, who was described in the Vatican announcement as a theologian, but is better known as the composer of a popular Italian hymn.

Neither these new leaders nor the Pope’s instructions to them inspire confidence that the John Paul II Institute will continue to promote the teachings of the late Polish Pontiff. And unfortunately these are not the first indications that the work of the Institute—and, more importantly, the teaching of John Paul II—are being downgraded. Remember that the John Paul Institute was not represented among the participants in the first meeting of the Synod for the Family, and in Amoris Laetitia, his final summary of that Synod, Pope Francis was sparing in his citations of the tremendous work that John Paul II had done on the same topic.

The appointments of Archbishop Paglia and Msgr. Sequeri were announced on August 17 along with the higher-profile appointment of the American Bishop Kevin Farrell, formerly of Dallas, as the first prefect of the new dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. In his charge to Bishop Farrell, Pope Francis said that the mission of the new office should be “ever more clearly inscribed within the horizon of mercy,” and referred to his image of the Church as a “field hospital” that should serve especially “individuals most threatened by the new culture of competition and disposal.” Few Catholics would disagree with that mission, I trust. But there is a distinct difference in tone between Pope Francis, with his complaints about a “throwaway culture,” and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, with their grimmer portrayal of a “culture of death.”

Different Church leaders use different rhetoric, of course, and a change in tone does not necessarily mean a change in policy. But it is also noteworthy that Pope Francis, in his discussion of threats to marriage and family life, does not speak about the intrinsic evils that were condemned in Veritatis Splendor. (In fact that landmark encyclical is never cited in Amoris in Laetitia!) The key question—sharpened by these latest Curial appointments—is whether Pope Francis is deliberately moving away from the teachings of St. John Paul II on marriage, family, and life.

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13 comments on “Is the Vatican, under Pope Francis, moving away from teachings of John Paul II on life and marriage?

  1. [Nonetheless, from his colleague at Catholic World News]

    Back to Amoris Laetitia: When do we owe “religious submission of mind and will”?

    By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Aug 24, 2016

    A Spanish ecclesiology professor, Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot, has asserted in L’Osservatore Romano that Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is an act of the ordinary Magisterium which requires religious submission of mind and will. Speaking very generally, he is right that Amoris Laetitia can be placed within this general class, but we must understand what this means.

    Too many theologians over the years have tried to classify degrees of assent to Church documents solely by “document type”. Clearly a private letter has no magisterial weight, but one might argue that an encyclical requires one level of assent and an apostolic exhortation requires another level. Unfortunately, the various categories of documents (among those directed to the whole Church) do not determine our level of assent. The document type may provide clues to the Pope’s intention, but it is ultimately his manifest intention, in treating a matter of faith or morals, that determines whether we are obliged to assent.

    Why and how the Holy Spirit protects Catholic teaching

    Remember that the ecclesiological reason for the Holy Spirit’s protection of the Church’s magisterium is to prevent a pope or ecumenical council from binding the whole Church to error, which would violate Christ’s promise to be with us always, and his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. That is the logic behind the doctrine of infallibility, and that is why this protection applies not to prudential matters, on which good Catholics can disagree, but to those issues which are necessary to salvation, namely faith and morals (which, after all, are the subject of Revelation).

    To qualify for this protection, then, popes (or the bishops in union with the pope) must, in terms of matter, be speaking about faith or morals; and must, in terms of intention, purport to teach on this matter to the entire Church by virtue of the Petrine authority (see Lk 22:32). This intention may be expressed in various ways, but the four elements must always be present to require assent from all the faithful.

    To further clarify this issue, I should also note that the term “magisterium” is frequently used in two different ways, only one of which is relevant to this discussion. When we speak of a “magisterial document” or a document which is “an act of the magisterium”, we are speaking rather loosely, calling attention to the fact that it was issued by (or with the express approval) of the pope and directed to the universal Church.

    But this tells us nothing about which sentences actually require assent, that is, which precise statements in the document are what we call teachings of the Magisterium. For the “magisterium” or “teaching authority” does not belong to a document; it belongs to the pope. When we refer to the Church’s “magisterium”, we mean either the teaching authority of the pope or, by transference, all those teachings on faith and morals which have been guaranteed to be true over time by the authority of the pope.

    When the pope (or a council in union with the pope) is discussing existing conditions, reviewing options, offering encouragement, recalling history, quoting saints, praising achievements and initiatives, aiming to deepen our spirituality, etc., the words may (or may not) be extraordinarily prescient, wise and helpful. But the pope exercises his “magisterium” in the full sense—the sense which requires assent—only when he is actually using his Petrine authority to teach (confirm the truth about) a matter of faith or morals.

    The problem of intention

    The problem with classifying such teachings is that the papal intention is not always clear. Obviously, when a pope formally and deliberately makes a self-identified, separate dogmatic pronouncement (take, for example, the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption), he is teaching on faith or morals to the whole Church by virtue of his Petrine authority. Such statements are clearly infallible and require the assent of Faith because they are matters of Divine Revelation.

    The Pope may also very clearly and deliberately single out some question that is not actually revealed but is so strictly connected to Revelation that it is necessary to safeguard it. Thus he may pronounce on it to settle the matter. Pope John Paul II obviously did this when he issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994. He devoted the entire document to the question he wished to treat—the ordination of women to the priesthood—and concluded with a very carefully-worded negative judgment which deliberately emphasized the four necessary aspects of his intention.

    If some matter of faith and morals is not specifically revealed but is strictly connected to Revelation, we do not use the term “assent of faith”; rather we say it must be firmly accepted and held. It is no less certainly true. And this is exactly what Pope John Paul II spelled out in the wording he chose.

    Now, when a statement clarifying Divine Revelation is formally declared to be such by the pope, we refer to it as an act of the extraordinary Magisterium. Such statements are very clearly ex cathedra (the expression from Vatican I, meaning “from the chair”, that is, “from the seat of authority”). But there are many cases in which popes or ecumenical councils issue wide-ranging discussions of particular issues which include teachings on faith or morals, but they do so without separating and identifying these specific teachings in a particularly dramatic or extraordinarily pointed manner. When this is the case, naturally, we are dealing with what we call the ordinary Magisterium.

    Because many theologians (especially Modernists) had hedged their faith by insisting that assent was really owed only to “extraordinary” statements (such as dogmatic definitions), it became clear by the middle of the twentieth century that the papal Magisterium was not being properly received. In reality, the only problem with the ordinary Magisterium is not a lack of authority, but rather a lack of that verbal fanfare which may make us more certain of the pope’s intention.

    Parsing the pope

    We must rely on the universality of the document, the matter at hand, and the words used by the pope to make his intention clear. In an encyclical deliberately addressed to the whole Church, if the pope is settling a specific matter of faith and morals in the course of the text, then there can be no real doubt. Pope Paul VI’s clear conclusion in Humanae Vitae that artificial contraception is immoral is an excellent case in point. But the ordinary Magisterium is not perfectly clear in all cases, which is why the repetition of the same teaching by the ordinary Magisterium over time can be very important. With multiple examples, what the Magisterium is doing becomes crystal clear.

    With all this in mind, the Second Vatican Council added an important clarification in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). The Council declared that the ordinary Magisterium also enjoys the Petrine teaching authority, so that we must respond to it with “religious submission of mind and will”. This is the case simply because it is the intention of the pope that ensures the truth of the teaching, not any particular extraordinary form of wording.

    Referring specifically, of course, to “matters of faith and morals”, the Council declared:

    This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. [Lumen Gentium, 25]

    Back to Amoris Laetitia

    To return to Amoris Laetitia, since it was clearly directed to the entire Church on a topic which has important points of intersection with Catholic faith and morals, then unless Pope Francis told us otherwise, we are bound to accept as true any obviously deliberate and clearly expressed teaching on faith and morals. But manifestly we are not bound to accept anything that is left unclear (which would then propose nothing specific for our assent). Nor are we bound to agree with everything in the Pope’s overall discussion of the relevant problems, however helpful it may be; nor with his prudential judgments, however incisive; nor with his preferred ecclesiastical strategies, even though we may benefit from a sincere effort to grasp the principles on which they are based.

    Prudential judgments and strategies depend on human perceptions, human knowledge and human wisdom. They represent ways of approaching a desired goal. They are not “truths”, and so by their very nature they cannot (should they be badly conceived) bind the whole Church to any error in Faith. Accordingly, they enjoy no specific protection from the Holy Spirit.

    There is one additional wrinkle in Amoris Laetitia, however, that may make the teaching intention of the Holy Father more difficult to interpret. Near the beginning, he makes a point which some have taken to be a disclaimer:

    I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it…. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. [3]

    As it turns out, the application of this statement is actually a point of disagreement between Cardinal Raymond Burke and the ecclesiologist, Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot, with whom I began this essay. Cardinal Burke takes this passage to mean that Pope Francis is not intending in Amoris Laetitia to offer Magisterial teaching; Fr. Pie-Ninot, for his part, assumes that this refers only to the prudential judgments involved in dealing with doctrinal, moral and pastoral issues. The latter, it seems to me, is the better interpretation, since, strictly speaking, the passage simply states that not all doctrinal, moral and pastoral questions need to be settled by the Magisterium, and we are free to highlight, not falsehoods, but different aspects of such questions in attempting to minister most effectively in accordance with the cultural perceptions and needs of those we serve.

    In truth, we do this all the time. We all choose to emphasize different aspects of central truths in the hope of more successfully addressing the particular weaknesses, needs and sensibilities of others, and it is certainly typical of Pope Francis to make this particular point. But just because he asserts that all discussions need not be settled does not mean he chooses not to settle any of them. So we may find in Amoris Laetitia some matters of faith and morals about which he apparently intended to teach.


    Nonetheless, the Pope’s statement may reasonably tip our perception of his intentions. It at least makes it more likely that the Pope intended primarily to offer an extended and inspiring discussion of marriage, the family, the threats to both, and the need for effective ministry in our time. Getting back to “document type”, in fact, this is at least typically the dominant character of an apostolic exhortation. Either way, when it comes to priorities and ecclesiastical discipline, Pope Francis’ approach represents some change but, as far as teachings on faith or morals, I do not discern anything new.

    In any case, as Vatican II put it, when it comes to the ordinary Magisterium: “[The Pope’s] mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking” (emphasis added). His comments in the third paragraph, quoted above, are certainly part of “his manner of speaking”.

    So, yes, we are bound to give “religious submission of mind and will” to the Holy Father when, despite the lack of a formal declaration of his intentions, we can discern that, on a matter of faith and morals, he intends to teach the whole Church by virtue of his Petrine authority. But this never applies to everything included in a complex text; it never applies to pastoral initiatives or strategies; it applies only to specific questions of faith and morals which the Pope intends—not just to mention or discuss or reference for some other purpose—but to teach clearly for all Catholics to know and accept.

    • Hahahahaha Jeff! Hide your name, and this could be written by a traddie. But I know you don’t believe your conclusion in the least, except as it applies to Francis. That is to say, let the SSPX apply your analysis to Vatican II and see if you’d agree with their conclusion. Of course you wouldn’t! Nonetheless, you deserve a bone for going in the right direction.

      It’s obvious that no one is bound to pay any attention to AL, or to anything that comes from the mouth of this destroyer until he apologizes and starts talking like a pope. There, Jeff, that one sentence would have saved you several column inches. This almost applies to Wojtyla, the would-be saint, except every now and then, as you pointed out, he spoke like a pope. Also, he didn’t regularly belittle and disparage Catholics. He didn’t keep to the faith, however, but peddled his own special blend of ambiguity both in documents and practice. Maybe it is a blessing, of sorts, that Francis is transparently evil so now folks like you can have a chance to come to your senses before things get really bad.

  2. Quote: “Conspicuously missing from the Holy Father’s list of concerns were the sort of clear-cut statements on abortion and euthanasia, divorce and contraception, that Catholics came to expect during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. ”

    None of those teachings can be changed. If any neo-Catholic modernist wants to explain how, go ahead and try. A situation in which Pope Francis would change such teachings would create a crisis in the Church. Let’s face it, he’s a progressive modernist flake from South America with a tendency to make ambiguous and scandalous comments in airplane interviews. Catholic teachings on such matters cannot be changed.

  3. “Moving away” from Wojtyla?

    The SSPX analysis by 45 theologians stated that Bergy is in open defiance of JPII on any number of doctrinal issues.

    Big surprise, right?

  4. John Paul II differs from Frances in one way. John Paul II undermined the Church by restating and reducing Catholic Moral and Dogmatic Teachings into what he thought were universally accepted as absolute ecumenical Natural Laws trascending all faiths. Francis, being more astute, recognizing that not all faiths and people take for granted the same universal Natural Laws, and in order to not admit ecumenism as a failure, just did away with Natural Law and Dogmatic Law. John Paul II just would not or would not take Ecumenism and Vatican II to its logical conclusion. The conclusion is that ecumenism and Vatican II is a farce, because each religion not only had different dogmas, but also a different understanding of God, and his human creation; as well as a different understanding of Human and Divine Dignity intrinsic in the relationship between God and Man. John Paul II was indeed a self-absorbed Pharisee who still continued to preach Catholic morality to Catholic and nonCatholic alike, while still insisting on Vatican II “Dignitatis Humanae”-equal dignity of all faiths, beliefs and consciences.

    • A couple thoughts after reading your comment, ghebreyesus.

      Once, John Vennari once told me after Mass that the ancient Romans would not grant citizenship to thespians. The Romans knew that the gravitas of actors as persons was usually wanting and wouldn’t put up with that sort of softness. More could be said about Wojtyla’s background but most of us know it, anyway.

      You have a point on the differences between Wojtyla and Bergoglio. The entire matter might be summed up in a comment by Fr. Chad Ripperger, PhD, FSSP, made last omonth in a conference. He explained that the protestant ethos is turned inward and is ever on a trajectory powered by subjectivism. It ultimately leads to practical atheism. Subjectivists cannot deal with objective reality. Period.

      That insight from an exorcist who is a solid Thomist (Fr. R.,) might further illuminate your point.

  5. Will Francis “top” this?

    There once was a pope named John Paul
    Who said Mass in New Guinea for all
    But when he got there
    The lectress was bare
    And it was too hot to find a shawl

    • I’ve sent one copy of that to the Nobel Selection Committee on Literature in Stockholm, Cyprian.

      And another to Steve Martin.

      Keep an eye on your mailbox, mon ami!

      • Oh, btw, I read somewhere that Minny Guinea there actually had an office job in the city.

        Wojtyla and Hitler-y Merkel Clintonovich must have used the same talent scout agency: Fake It, Inc.

        • Fake It, Inc.

          You know that and I know that, but some still believe in the Wizard of Inculturation. Pay no mind to the dirt under his fingernails.

          P.S. I’m working on my Nobel acceptance speech.

          • Believe it or not, tradition (at least culturally) is still a mainstay in Sweden. They celebrate the Epiphany as a national holiday and Advent is literally as publicly celebrated and in families, day in and out, as it once was in Medieval times, albeit the country’s Lutheran nuttiness still stands out.

            I had family who visited there for an extended time and from what I gathered, the place is just ripe as all get-out for a strong Catholic effort to bring ’em back into the fold.

            ‘Course, anyone trying that would be advised to get some SEAL training before going over.

            Although, a popular uprising against the moose-limbs is beginning to develop. The gov’t ordered some of the thugs out some time back.

            • [Especially the feast of Saint Lucy]

              Christmas in Sweden

              Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

              St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.

              December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day.

              St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!


              The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. Schools normally have their own St. Lucia’s and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

              A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people’s homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out ‘Pepparkakor’, ginger snap biscuits.

              Small children sometimes like dressing up as Lucia (with the help of their parents!). Also boys might dress up as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys) and girls might be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles).

              A popular food eaten at St. Lucia’s day are ‘Lussekatts’, St Lucia’s day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast.

              St Lucia’s Day first became widely celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700s. St Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia. In Denmark it is more a of a children’s day and in some part of Italy, children are told that St Lucy brings them presents. They leave out a sandwich for her and the donkey that helps carry the gifts!

  6. Thanks, Tom. That was very thoughtful of you to go to all that trouble.

    A lovely story and custom, indeed.

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