November 30, 2016
“This Is an Insult Toward Many Catholics!” is the trenchant title of an article written in defense of the Four Cardinals and published today on the Austrian Catholic news website, kath.net. The author of this text is Dr. Markus Brüning, a German theologian, lawyer, book author, and father of a family. Several of his books have dealt with the question as to how one is to grow in holiness; one book deals with the aspects of the virtues (with a foreword by Cardinal Joachim Meisner, one of the Four Cardinals); another book discusses the importance of the Sacramentals for our lives as Catholics (with a foreword by the persecuted yet loyal Swiss Bishop Vitus Huonder); yet another book discusses the role of the Sacraments in the life of the Saints (with a foreword by our beloved Bishop Athanasius Schneider).
As the specific list of his endorsers already shows, this author is indebted to, and close to, many of the orthodox prelates who are right now themselves leading a spiritual battle against the forces of confusion and of evil in the Church and in temporal society. And Brüning has had the honor now to defend them. For this, he is to be congratulated and he certainly deserves our own support.
In his above-mentioned article, Brüning himself makes it clear that he has supported and defended Pope Francis in the past. Thus, he cannot be justly counted as an outspoken dissident critic of the pope. However, the way in which the Four Cardinals have now been treated has provoked his own just indignation.
He starts his article with the categorical words: “The threat from the Dean of the Roman Rota aimed at the Cardinals: Meisner, Brandmüller, Burke, and Caffarra. Is this what the ecclesiastical, the papal culture of dialogue looks like?” Brüning even calls this ominous event a “badly made tragedy” and a “bitter reality.” He continues: “What we have to read from the Dean Pinto from Rome is especially shattering for all those Catholics who for years, and locally, have fought in their parishes for the preservation of [Catholic] doctrine and an ordered liturgy.” So far, the German adds, these Catholics have been confident that there still “was in Rome an authority which has understood their intentions.” But, says the German author, “this seems now to be different.” In the current Church, there is talk about “museumlike Christians,” “liturgical nostalgics,” “painters of black-and-white images,” as well as “those who throw rocks at sinners (see AL, no. 305).” Brüning adds: “The level of [derisive] labeling – sometimes also coming from the pope’s own mouth – only renders one sad any more. And now this, on top of all: four cardinals – who do nothing else but ask the pope to speak clearly about the content of Amoris Laetitia – are being threatened with the removal of their cardinalate. It is obvious that a climate of fear is intentionally being fostered and established in order to ‘shut everybody up.’ But one cannot intimidate the truth, and certainly not in this way!”
Brüning also shows himself “personally wounded” by these attacks, especially those against Cardinal Meisner, whom he knows personally. He says: “Here I feel challenged to take sides with clarity about our beloved cardinal who has supported my book apostolate with a deeply impressive foreword to my last book on the virtues (“Encouragement to Holiness”), describing in a very personal way his own vocation to become a bishop. This man himself had to grow up under Communism [just as Bishop Athanasius Schneider did] and he still became priest – in spite of the obstacles. He always bravely witnessed to the Faith.” In a piercing tone, the German author comments: “Here, it is not fitting that a [subordinate] curial member [Archbishop Pinto] should rebuke him. And certainly not in this manner. This clergyman of the Curia can, it seems, only use such [harsh] tones because his own superior – who sets the tone – wants it done, or at least tolerates it. If this is not the case, the pope should, please, rebuke this [insolent] clergyman – who is now engaged in his fits of anger – and to do it in order to make clear to us Catholics that he himself does not accept such a style in our Church.” Brüning then raises the fundamental question of the conduct [of courtesy and dignity] among Catholics in the Catholic Church. He says: “In any event, we now have not ‘only’ the problem of the unanswered Dubia, no, now we have to deal, in my eyes, also with the question of decency and of the decent treatment ‘of the inferiors by their boss.’ Pope Francis, as a matter of fact, has always and repeatedly called for a culture of dialogue [and openness, parrhesia]. This, however, is not what a dialogue looks like, which is first formed by the respect for those who are of another opinion.”
Brüning’s whole line of argumentation is also so especially convincing, because he has heretofore been a public defender of Pope Francis. As he points out in his article, he could not imagine at the time “that a pope would write such an ambiguous document [such as Amoris Laetitia].” But now, says the German, the pope “has to provide clarity, since this nebulous document has spread [ominous] clouds over the Church.” To those who claim that the pope himself did not even write Amoris Laetitia, or that he is not himself a theologian, Brüning responds: “No: the pope is the supreme teacher of his Church! And a teacher has to teach. If he does not do it in all clarity and truth, the Church then has a serious problem of leadership.”
For all of us Catholics who are still trying to understand the nature and range of the current crisis in the Church, Brüning adds a few considerations that might well be worthy for us to further reflect upon. Since the end of his article is so rich, I shall translate the entire paragraph:
“Much less helpful are the repeatedly presented calls to obey the pope unconditionally. I beg your pardon? We are, after all, not in a dictatorship here. That goes too far. For me, kairos [the ripe and fitting moment] has come; and, fully so in the sense of Blessed John Henry Newman, we should now question this papalism that we have all-too often practiced in our own circles. Additionally, we have at times the duty to oppose ecclesial authorities. Let us hear what St. Thomas Aquinas tells us about this matter: ‘Where, however, the Faith is in danger, one has to correct the superiors publicly, just as St. Paul did it; and as Augustine wrote on this matter: ‘Peter himself has given to the superiors the model that they – if they ever stray from the right path – shall accept not unwillingly when their own inferiors correct them.” (Summa theol., II-II q. 33, 4c) If one ever should degrade these [four] cardinals, this would be equal to their anticipated canonization! Then they would be in good company with those bishops who were once banned by the majority of the bishops and by the emperor during the time of the Arian conflict, [for example]. Here is then also applicable the words of the Confessor and Bishop Saint Hilarius [of Poitiers]: ‘I want always to live in exile if only one starts again to proclaim the truth’ (Hil. De Syn, 78). Nothing is to be added to it!”