Fr. John Hunwicke
Mine is a nation which has produced some magnificently Eminent Magicians. The great Tommy Cooper, and the recently deceased Paul Daniels, spring to mind. But neither of them was ever created a Cardinal Bishop, Presbyter, or Deacon, of the Holy Roman Church. Yet each of them was a masterly exponent of the the principle which, apparently, now animates some our most senior cardinals: Now you see it, now you don’t. The Magisterium pops up, and then as rapidly gets its head down again. One moment, the rabbit is in full view of the audience. The next, it is nowhere to be seen. “Magisterium? What Magisterium?” cries the Magician, carefully adjusting his zucchetto. “I think you must have been imagining it”.
Let me explain what I mean by giving two examples.
(1) In 2007, Benedict XVI restated (Sacramentum Caritatis para.29) the immemorial praxis of the Church, based upon the ipsissima verba Domini, articulated in successive magisterial documents, of declining to offer Holy Communion to unrepentant adulterers, i.e. “remarried” divorcees. But in 2016, nine years later, Francis published Amoris laetitia, which has been interpreted by many, both friends and critics, as opening a door to modification of that praxis; or as “generating processes” which must inevitably lead to its replacement.
(2) In 2008, Benedict XVI introduced into the Extraordinary Form Liturgy a revised Prayer for the Jews (based upon Roman 11:25-26), doing so explicitly so as to resolve the controversies involving earlier forms of that Prayer. This is of significance because of the intimate connection between the Lex orandi and the Lex credendi. Indeed, both those who stand by Pope Benedict, and those who now collaborate to rubbish his pontificate, may be said to agree on the profound importance of this question (otherwise they wouldn’t keep on about it, would they?). Yet, in 2015, the English Bishops asked a Vatican sub-committee to “review” what a Roman Pontiff had enacted only seven years before. An accompanying document made clear that “review” meant “change”.
Any ecclesiology which can be adduced to give support to a situation in which, seven or even nine years after the act, a magisterial pronouncement or enactment of a Roman Pontiff, expressive of Scripture and of Apostolic Tradition, can be treated as so much disposable garbage, now you see it, now you don’t, is an ecclesiology which I, for one, repudiate from the bottom of my heart. And will continue to repudiate as widely and with as much energy as my advancing years allow me.
Some people tell me that the Graf von Schoenborn is a man of immense and winning personal charm. I can only say that when he gave that sweetly shifty smile and in effect told a questioner at the News Conference introducing Amoris laetitia “Well, dear, it’s all about development, don’tya know”, I found myself instantly convinced that I would not buy a second-hand can of baked beans from a man like that.