Catholic Answers Provides a Protestant Answer to the Crisis
Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
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Among the diehards of the neo-Catholic establishment, there are still plenty of blind men who are stuck in the usual mode of deny, deny, deny, explain, explain, explain. Take Tim Staples, for example, the “Director of Apologetics and Evangelization” for Catholic Answers. During an installment of the radio call-in show Catholic Answers Live, speaking to a caller named “Stan,” Staples babbled on for nearly ten minutes in an effort to explain that Francis has done nothing amiss and “there is no doctrinal error here.” What follows is my commentary on Staples’ sophistical attempt to explain away the crisis whose existence he cannot admit—for a probable reason I will propose at the end of this piece.
· “[Francis] is really building on what Saint John Paul, in Familiaris Consortio had already talked about in the case of divorce and remarriage outside of the Church. While he [John Paul’] said that being in that state of remarriage outside of the Church would preclude you from receiving Communion, he said we have to make the distinction between cases where you have, for example, someone who is in that situation through no fault of their own—there are various different scenarios where this can a possibility. Or there could be mitigating factors in why a person is where they are.”
Nonsense. Francis is not “building” on the teaching of John Paul II; he is (as Olsen notes) tearing it down. Nowhere in Familiaris does John Paul teach that the distinction between different cases of divorce and “remarriage” has anything to do with admission to the sacraments as opposed to the variable pastoral approach to be taken to people who are nonetheless barred from Holy Communion because their objective condition makes reception of the Blessed Sacrament “intrinsically impossible,” as the CDF under John Paul II affirmed in 1998. One’s professed subjective disposition is irrelevant, as “mitigating factors” cannot eliminate the intrinsic evil of adulterous sexual relations, any more than they could eliminate the intrinsic evil of sodomy. Hence, as Familiaris 84 concludes:
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they “take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”
A few minutes later, contradicting his claim that Francis is “building” on John Paul’s teaching, Staples would attempt to dismiss that teaching as a mere prudential judgment that Francis can toss aside as he pleases. But first came the rhetorical exercise in which, like the Pharisees of old, the dogged defenders of AL casuistically construct elaborate “complex cases” of hypothetical hardship in order to make “exceptions” from the “general rule”—meaning the Sixth Commandment—seem reasonable and even morally imperative. Precisely same tactic has been used to justify abortion in the political realm:
“There are things in the letter [AL] that are somewhat troubling [!]. There is too much ambiguity, and I think there needs to be a clarification, to be sure. But I want to just caution people against saying that the Pope is teaching heresy. He is not. What he is saying is that there can be a possibility where you have—I’m gonna toss out a scenario here, Stan.
Let’s say you have a woman who was deserted. She has a couple of kids. Her husband just runs off with somebody. She’s left high and dry. She’s in a terrible situation. She has no job. Can’t raise her children. She goes into another marriage, kind of in a desperate situation, she marries outside the Church. Now you got three more kids come along, you got five kids, and she has kind of a reversion back to her faith.
And she is in this, this—to say irregular situation is an understatement, right Stan? There can be a situation like this where a woman finds herself at [sic]—“Look, I’m married outside of the Church, I can’t receive Communion. What am I going to do? I mean, now I’ve reverted to my Catholic faith, and I wanna receive sacraments.”
Well, in that situation, on the objective level, she would have to cease conjugal relations with her new husband because there is no marriage there. But now she’s in a situation where she has five kids. She’s got three young ones, two a little bit older. She has no job. Her husband says: “Huh, yeah, you’re gonna stop conjugal relations? I’m gonna drop you like a sack of potatoes.” He’s not Catholic. He’s gonna be out of here.
We have situations like this where, yes, on the objective level, which [sic] she needs to do the right thing, you can’t continue conjugal relations if you’re gonna receive sacraments. But there so much pressure on her. And this is what the Holy Father is emphasizing: that you can have a situation where people are objectively in a state of grave sin, but because of extenuating circumstances—fear, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that fear is a mitigating factor that can, uh, reduce culpability—what is an objective mortal sin can be reduced to the point were it is not, that person is not mortally culpable.
Staples’ blundering about in the field of moral theology ignores the intrinsic evil of sexual relations outside of marriage, which is the very reason John Paul, in line with all of Tradition, insisted that no one living in a state of objective and continuing public adultery can receive Holy Communion because their state in life makes it intrinsically impossible.
That fatal flaw in his argument aside, Staples’ irrelevant “hard case” hypothetical leaves out some key facts. First of all, the woman’s real husband, who first abandoned her, would be paying child support and alimony as well as an equitable portion of the marital assets. The Church permits an abandoned wife to obtain a judgment of civil divorce solely for the purpose of adjusting of legal and equitable rights and duties between the parties. Only a purported civil “remarriage” is forbidden. Secondly, the feckless “second husband” would likewise be subject to a judgment for alimony, child support, and equitable distribution. So the woman will hardly be destitute; she might even be fairly well off. This is not even to mention her relatives and various forms of social assistance, and, above all, the order of divine providence operating for women who rely on God rather than a brutish “second husband” because they are faithful to His law. Furthermore, now free of her despicable partner in adultery, the woman can seek reconciliation with the only man to whom she is actually married.
During the ensuing commercial break Staples appeared to have realized that his hypothetical scenario of unendurable hardship sans continuing adultery leaked water from every part. So, like any good practitioner of the neo-Mosaic casuistry that Francis has promoted (while incoherently denouncing orthodox Catholics as Pharisees on an almost hourly basis), Staples patched up the holes in his tale of woe with additional imaginary facts. Now the woman lives in Brazil and cannot expect any serious support from either her real husband or the co-adulterer she purported to marry:
I wanna finish that scenario real quick. What we’re talking about here, and what the Holy Father is getting at, is that you can have a situation—I’m using the example of a woman who finds herself in an irregular situation, and she’s in this marriage, and she has children that are dependent upon the breadwinner, which is the father, and if in fact she ceases from conjugal relations, he’s gonna be out of there, her children could literally be out on the streets. She’s living in the middle of Brazil somewhere, already someone impoverished.
Now just a minute. If the woman was already impoverished while living in adultery, why did she take up with an impecunious cad after her real husband abandoned her and have two children with him to boot? It sounds like her “second marriage” was a classic fielder’s choice, not a decision under duress. Further, even in the middle of Brazil the hypothetical woman would have numerous relatives to assist her. Then again, Staples could whisk away the relatives with another adjustment of his neo-Mosaic casuistry.
At any rate, no matter how many facts Staples loaded into his hypothetical, there remained the insuperable impediment of the intrinsic impossibility of public adulterers receiving Holy Communion while continuing in their adultery, concerning which Staples, the purveyor of “Catholic Answers,” was either ignorant or deliberately silent throughout his rambling advice to “Stan.”
But what about simply obeying the Sixth Commandment and trusting in God’s providence? Clearly floundering in his attempt to explain the inexplicable and defend the indefensible, Staples dismissed adherence to the Commandment as heroic virtue that Francis the Merciful would not expect from anyone, even if his hard-hearted predecessors and the musty old Council of Trent, following that Jesus fellow, might have thought otherwise:
And while she could—no doubt, heroically—say “You know what, no matter what he does, this is what I’m gonna do. And praise God for that. And what Our Holy Father is saying—and by the way, he’s not saying that she, as some accuse the Pope of saying, she’s not, he’s not saying she would sin if she obeys the Gospel. That’s not what the Pope’s saying. What the Pope is saying is that there’s a fear factor that can mitigate the culpability to where what is objectively grave sin becomes a venial sin. She’s not fully culpable because of all the fear surrounding her decision.
The nebulous “fear factor” Staples imagines to negate a multitude of mortal sins appears to consist primarily in a threatened loss of financial support from a heartless partner in adultery. According to that moral logic, a prostitute does not sin gravely because of her “fear” that without attachment to her pimp as a source of income she will be “out on the streets” in “the middle of Brazil.” Of course, no streetwalker can reasonably be expected to be out on the streets in the middle of Brazil without doing at least a few tricks to pay the bills. Our Lord might have told a certain prostitute to sin no more, after which she became a saint, but that was merely God Incarnate speaking, whereas now we have Pope Francis.
As Cardinal Caffarra explains in the above-cited interview, if pastoral “discernment”—or worse, self-assessment—concerning the supposedly diminished subjective culpability of a public adulterer could eliminate the impediment to reception of Holy Communion, then “[a]s a simple question of logic, one must then also teach that adultery is not in and of itself evil.” Moreover, the presence of diminished culpability for past acts of adultery “cannot be a principle for acts to be committed [in the future]” because the priest who is engaged in “discernment” with an objective adulterer “has the duty to enlighten the ignorant and to correct the errant.”
Which is precisely why John Paul II insisted that the very state of “public and permanent adultery” in and of itself renders Holy Communion “intrinsically impossible” because adultery is always and everywhere evil by reason of its object: sexual relations outside of marriage, which can never be justified under any circumstances. Confronted with this problem, Staples resorted to the usual neo-Catholic dodge: the prior papal teaching was only a “prudential judgment” that Francis has now decided no longer applies. This is in accord with the Neo-Catholic Hermeneutic: The teaching of any pre-Vatican II Pope at odds with the current novelties is a mere prudential judgment, no matter how often the prior teaching was repeated, whereas the current novelties, even if uttered only once, are all binding Catholic doctrine. Quoth Staples:
· “For Pope Saint John Paul the Great in Familiaris Consortio, the state [his emphasis]—being in that state—means you cannot receive sacraments. Period. But this is not a doctrinal statement. That is a matter of prudence. And you can see reasons for that. As Saint John Paul said, there’s the scandal factor.”
More nonsense. That people living in adultery cannot receive Holy Communion is no mere revocable prudential judgment but an ecclesiastical discipline of bimillenial standing, inextricably bound to revealed truth on the indissolubility of marriage, the validity of sacramental absolution (requiring a firm purpose of amendment) and the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. As Familiaris teaches:
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
Further, as the CDF under John Paul II declared in 1998, in the instruction cited above, this prohibition is not a matter of discretion involving “epikeia andaequitascanonica, which exist in the sphere of human and purely ecclesiastical norms of great significance,” but rather pertains to:
norms over which the Church has no discretionary authority. The indissoluble nature of marriage is one of these norms which goes back to Christ Himself and is thus identified as a norm of divine law. The Church cannot sanction pastoral practices—for example, sacramental pastoral practices—which contradict the clear instruction of the Lord.
In other words, if the prior marriage of two divorced and remarried members of the faithful was valid, under no circumstances can their new union be considered lawful and therefore reception of the sacraments is intrinsically impossible. The conscience of the individual is bound to this norm without exception.
Without exception! But not according to Tim Staples, who gamely defended Francis’ plainly void attempt to create exceptions where none are possible.
As Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, one of the four authors of the dubia, declared in another published interview: “Whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism.” Staples evidently could not bring himself to inform “Stan” that this is precisely what Francis does think. Instead, purporting to provide “Catholic Answers,” he aided and abetted the spread of heresy and schism taking place before his very eyes.
Worse, having already misinformed poor “Stan” very badly, Staples provided a further “Catholic Answer” that can only induce derisive laughter in any reasonably knowledgeable member of the faithful: that Francis has given priests a new “power” they did not possess during the previous two millennia:
So I know this is kind of a long explanation, but Stan’s it’s important that we make these distinctions so that we don’t accuse the Pope of—you know, of heresy or anything like that, like I’ve seen some do, and I’ve dealt with them over and over.
But at the same time we don’t want to go to the other extreme and say: “Oh the Pope didn’t do anything. Nothing has changed.” No, he really did give priests the power, if you will, to discern in the internal forum, what is going on in the lives of these people. Now these cases are gonna be, I would argue, very rare, that you would have situations like this. It’s to be dealt with in the internal forum.
Staples concluded on a note of exquisite irony that undermined his entire effort to explain how, following the teaching of Francis, a public adulterer would be able to partake of the Blessed Sacrament while continuing to commit adultery:
There’s absolutely no doctrinal change, as the Pope made clear in the letter. There’s no change of law, as the Pope made clear as well. He said, you know, he would not even attempt to make a change of law in this, as it would end in endless casuistry trying to get into all the details. This is something that has to be dealt with on a pastoral level.
“Endless casuistry trying to get into all the details” is precisely what Staples himself had just done with “Stan.” So, to follow Staples’ argument to its ridiculous conclusion: Francis has sagely avoided the “endless casuistry of trying to get into all the details” about which public adulterers can receive Holy Communion by leaving the endless casuistry to local priests and bishops, Catholic radio talk show hosts providing advice to callers, and indeed any individual Catholic who “discerns” in the “internal forum”—meaning his own mind—that his persistent adultery is excusable under the circumstances.
What Staples’ nine minutes of tergiversation in defense of Francis boil down to is this: One does not sin gravely in committing adultery if one is convinced that it would be unduly burdensome to refrain from committing adultery. That notion is a Bergoglian perversion of true divine mercy, which always involves repentance and amendment of life under the influence of grace. Bergoglian “mercy” means the end of all morality in practice, for his moral novelty cannot be neatly cabined in the category of divorce and “remarriage.” Bergoglian “mercy” represents, in fact, a surrender to the ethics of Luther, who despaired of avoiding his own sins and thus declared that they were ultimately of no account given the imputed righteousness of Christ. Whence the Protestant embrace of divorce, then contraception, and ultimately (but inevitably) abortion and sodomy.
In this case, then, Catholic Answers has provided a Protestant answer to a fundamental question of morality: i.e., private judgment of one’s own subjective culpability for acts that are indisputably objective mortal sins involving an intrinsic evil. It is also the answer of a Pope whose theology, as Sandro Magister observes, is alarmingly congruent with that of the deranged monk of Wittenberg—whose memory Francis celebrated together with faux Lutheran clerics, including a woman pretending to be a bishop.
Surely, however, Staples knows better. What, then, accounts for his willingness to contrive a Protestant solution to a Catholic’s problem rather than to admit that Francis has provoked a grave crisis so many other non-traditionalist Catholic commentators, along with the four cardinals, are now publicly confronting head on?
Perhaps the answer is found in the very name of the organization Staples represents. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, no association of the faithful may “claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” (Cf. CIC, Can. 216). The competent ecclesiastical authority in this case would be Bishop Robert McElroy, local ordinary of the Diocese of San Diego, where Catholic Answers is headquartered. It was Francis who elevated McElroy to his episcopal see in furtherance of the Bergoglian master plan, which requires seeding the hierarchy with loyal ultra-progressives.
In a statement issued to parishes in San Diego, McElroy has since dutifully proclaimed precisely the Bergoglian novelty Staples defends: that priests shall now “assist those who are divorced and remarried and cannot receive an annulment to utilize the internal forum of conscience in order to discern if God is calling them to return to the Eucharist.” In other words, any public adulterer may receive Holy Communion while continuing his adultery if he thinks he is without sin. Following the Bergoglian line to its logical terminus, McElroy also calls for an “embrace” of “LGBT families,” doubtless to include Holy Communion for “homosexual couples,” employing the handy-dandy “internal forum” to “integrate” sodomy into “pastoral life.”
In fact, as Father Brian Harrison has observed, citing a discussion of McElroy’s implementation of AL by Ross Douthat in The New York Times, “if Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marital love comes to be generally interpreted and applied as liberally as it has been in the Diocese of San Diego, California, it will in effect mean the death of this sacrament as the Gospel of Christ and the Catholic Church have always presented it: a sacred covenant whose indissoluble character means that remarriage after divorce constitutes adultery—a violation of the Sixth Commandment that excludes one from sacramental absolution and Eucharistic communion.” Fr. Harrison notes that this fear has been confirmed by the Maltese debacle.
So this is the bishop in whose diocese Catholic Answers must operate. Now, what if Staples and the other directors of Catholic Answers were to defy this wayward prelate by joining their fellow Catholics in admitting the existence of the moral catastrophe Francis has unleashed upon the Church? What if they were to say, with Cardinal Brandmuller, “whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism”? What if they were to agree with Father Harrison that Bishop McElroy’s interpretation of AL—which, let us face it, is Francis’ interpretation—would “mean the death of this sacrament as the Gospel of Christ and the Catholic Church have always presented it”?
If they did that, I think it is a very safe bet that Bishop McElroy would threaten Catholic Answers with the same episcopal action that forced a certain organization, now operating out of a certain warehouse in Detroit, to change its name from “Real Catholic TV” to “Church Militant.TV.” That is,McElroy would decree that Catholic Answers may no longer call itself Catholic Answers.
Come to think of it, the way things are going with that organization such a directive could, with supreme irony, produce a just result.