December 30, 2016
ROME (katolisches.info) – The painful tension of doubt grows stronger with each day that Pope Francis refuses to answer the questions posed by the “Four Cardinals” regarding His Holiness’ statement on marriage, Amoris Laetitia. The doubt itself has metastasized dramatically since the “dubia” letter’s release two months ago. As Church hierarchy continues to publicly declare allegiance with one or the other side, giving strength to the impression of a fractured Church, the unnecessary viciousness of Papal confidants’ rebukes to the Four, strange rumors of a Pope “boiling with rage,” a “police-state Vatican atmosphere,” and Francis apparently declaring he will “go down in history as the divider of the Church,” have all led to rapidly increasing fear and concern in this bizarre and twisting story. Most puzzling of all, to those desperately trying to preserve the benefit of the doubt, is the Pope’s continued silence. It is thus worth asking, with Katolisches.info’s Giuseppe Nardi, whether Pope Francis really understands the gravity of the situation.
Undeterred by what appear to be punitive measures from the Vatican, Cardinal Burke has pressed forward with his public presentation of the case against the Pope. He has stated that he is acting only for the benefit of the Church, and indeed, the good of the Holy Father himself. To protect the Church and the Holy Father from the dangers of doctrinal error, now evident in (for example) the San Diego interpretation of AL, Burke and his colleagues will publish a formal act of correction of the Pope, as early as January 6, 2017, the feast of the Epiphany. Such a formal act will declare definitively that, if the Pope were to hold a heretical theological position on Eucharistic reception, he would be wrong to do so and that such can never be the teaching of the Church. Burke has recently reemphasized that the statement is not declaring the Pope to be a heretic, nor does Burke himself claim to believe that the Pope is a heretic.
Faced with this situation, the Vatican’s decidedly odd reaction has been sporadic sniping from “close confidants” of the Pope, through interviews, press conferences, and of all things, Twitter. With the exception of Greek Bishop Papamanolis‘ letter, which blasted the four Cardinals as “heretics”, the approach has been to ignore or downplay the severity of the dubia itself, the gravity of the theological problem, and the looming threat of correction.
Now, however, as Nardi notes, someone in the Papal circle is finally taking notice. Andrea Tornielli has written a piece for Vatican Insider in which he directly addresses Cd. Brandmüller’s “camera caritatis” remarks of this week. The article fails to maintain the official tone of dismissal, demonstrating the Vatican’s full knowledge of the crisis. Nardi points out that the attack is twofold: first, Tornielli attempts to drive a wedge between Burke and the other cardinals, and second, he attempts to downplay the “punishment” itself. Neither attempt is sustained by the facts, of which both sides are now fully aware.
Tornielli claims that Brandmüller’s “private, fraternal correction” remarks somehow undermine Burke’s statements. But, Brandmüller notes, Burke has not contradicted this idea. Even if Burke “expressed his own opinion in complete independence,” Brandmüller’s statements are as firm and uncompromising as Burke’s – indeed, more so. It was Cardinal Brandmüller who said seven days ago that “anyone who considers continued adultery and reception of Communion to be compatible is a heretic and pursues schism.” Stronger words could not be uttered. The wedge attack thus breaks apart – the four Cardinals stand together in their grasp of the problem’s gravity.
Tornielli does not make much of an effort to pursue the other prong of his argument. By describing Cardinal Burke’s remarks on the correction as an “ultimatum,” he implicitly acknowledges the gravity of the ongoing impasse. According to what we now know of current Papal politics, this means that the Pope does as well. Tornielli attempts to argue that there is no justification by precedent for an act of fraternal correction; in the very statement he is critiquing, Cd. Burke mentions several, including arguably the primary example, Paul’s public correction of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. Thus the second half of the argument falls flat as well.
The weakness, indirectness, and irrelevance of the Vatican’s responses to the dubia statement have proven to all but the most charitable that Pope Francis knows what he is trying to do with Amoris Laetitia. Now, the Vatican’s response to the impending formal act of correction indicates that the Pope is fully aware of the blow to his plans that such an act would represent. Above all, his alleged statement that ‘he may divide the Church’ would demonstrate his awareness. In the absence of a positive statement from the Holy Father, divination of the true state of affairs in Rome can only proceed by such negative deductions.
The choice of this strange and unpleasant path has driven the Holy Father into a corner. By verbally abusing those who have opposed him, and permitting his aides and friends to conduct similar abuse, he has escalated the gravity of the crisis, removed any ‘middle-ground’ possibilities, and sharpened the conflict over the theological question. Further obscure hints in the last few weeks have indicated that Pope Francis has considered the possibility of stepping down, in order to escape the self-imposed trap; no official statement has come forth. It seems, therefore, that the confrontation in January has been made inevitable. It is a sad situation. May God help all parties in the dispute, and bring good out of the result.
Giuseppe Nardi’s original article (in German) can be read here.