The Heresy of “Discernment”
Written by Christopher A. Ferrara
Bergoglio confers with a chief co-conspirator
Purely from the standpoint of ecclesiastical history, the Bergoglian pontificate is a fascinating anomaly. Never before has the Church witnessed a Pope fanatically devoted to the overthrow in practice of universally applicable, exceptionless negative precepts of the natural moral law, beginning with Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.
It is easy enough to show that the rest of this pontificate is merely a continuation of the trajectory established during and after the Second Vatican Council, which provided the decisive opening for the neo-Modernist uprising that has convulsed the Church ever since. As I have noted on these pages before, Pope Bergoglio’s rampant ecumenism, his disdain for liturgical tradition, his demagogic attacks on “rigorists,” his religious indifferentism, his pursuit of endless, fruitless “dialogue” with the Church’s implacable foes, and his preoccupation with social and political issues beyond the purview of the Magisterium differ from the line of immediate predecessors, if at all, only in intensity.
But as I also noted on that occasion (may the reader forgive me for quoting myself):
[T]here is one truly substantial difference between Francis and the other conciliar Popes, that being his astounding, relentless attempt to subvert, in the name of “mercy,” the Church’s teaching and sacramental discipline concerning marriage, family and sexual morality generally. It is Francis alone—dismissing the contrary teaching even of his two immediate predecessors—who has launched the “final battle” of which Sister Lucia of Fatima, speaking in light of the Third Secret, warned Cardinal Caffarra… It is here, with Francis, that we encounter something really new and terrifying, even in the midst of what Cardinal Ratzinger admitted is a “continuing process of decay” since the Council.
This new and terrifying Bergoglian innovation reduces to single subversive pseudo-doctrine, which now joins the others (e.g. “dialogue,” “ecumenism,” “collegiality”) that have proliferated in the Church since the Council. Like the other pseudo-doctrines, it in turn is reducible to a single operative word with immense but never openly explicated consequences: “discernment.”
Having plucked the word from its context in John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio, n. 84—which reaffirms the Church’s constant teaching that public adulterers in “second marriages” cannot be absolved or admitted to Holy Communion without an amendment of life—Bergoglio has, with the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia (AL), broadened its meaning into a practical framework for the introduction of situation ethics into the Church’s moral theology and praxis, thereby flatly contradicting John Paul. But Bergoglio’s—one must say it—mendacious abuse of his predecessor’s terminology allows him to claim “continuity” with the very Pope whose teaching he seeks to negate.
Whereas John Paul II spoke of “discernment” in the context of dealing pastorally with those who, on account of their divorce and remarriage, cannot be admitted to the sacraments but are in differing degrees of fault respecting their situation, Bergoglio twists the concept into a pastoral program precisely for their admission to the sacraments while continuing to engage in adulterous sexual relations. With his letter to the bishops of Buenos Aires, confirming that they are correct in interpreting AL to allow precisely for this outcome—under the illusory restriction of “more complex circumstances”—Bergoglio has left no reasonable doubt of his intention.
Hence the Four Cardinals Letter and the dubia it presents in a direct challenge to Bergoglio’s attack on the moral order. For as the cardinals recognize, AL involves much more than “a practical question regarding the divorced and civilly remarried,” but also “questions [that] touch on fundamental issues of the Christian life.”
The full implications of “discernment” are set forth with artful ambiguity in ¶¶ 303-304 of AL:
Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.
It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.
For the first time in Church history, a Pope dares to propose that a negative precept of the natural law is merely “a general rule or law” representing merely an “objective ideal” for human conduct, and that fidelity to God is not inconsistent with disobedience to the precept—e.g. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery—given the “concrete complexity of one’s limits” and the “concrete life” of each individual as “discerned” by a local pastor or bishop. In short, for the first time in Church history, a Pope advocates the pastoral practice of situation ethics: What is adultery for John may not be adultery for Sarah; it all depends on the “complexity” of their respective “limits,” which must be “discerned” in each particular situation.
Accordingly, the four cardinals wish Francis to answer Yes or No to the following question, among the five they have presented to him:
After the publication of the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s Encyclical “Veritatis Splendor” n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?
Bergoglio’s silence in the face of this question is a thunderclap that will echo in history until the end of time. He cannot answer the question because the answer, if given honestly, would condemn him as a heretic. Bergoglio really does think, and wishes the Church to think, that moral laws are merely rules from which one can be exempted based upon circumstances. This is just another way of saying that he really does not believe there is any such thing as mortal sin—at least when it comes to sexual behavior. For him, there are only variously excusable departures from “the general rule” and the “objective ideal.” Seen Bergoglio’s way, the negative precepts of the natural law would become benchmarks, not divine commands admitting of no exceptions. They would cease to have the character of true and binding law. The prohibitory Commandments would be obrogated, if not entirely abrogated, by a Bergoglian gloss on the Gospel.
As he continues to attempt to hide his nefarious scheme behind a wall of silence while his subordinates attempt to implement it, Bergoglio’s co-conspirators confirm the object of the conspiracy. One example suffices—that of his closest Jesuit confidant, Antonio Spadaro. As Spadaro revealed during a Q & A with Religion News Service:
He realizes that the problem at the core of “Amoris Laetitia” is not a dogmatic problem. Which it’s not – it’s not a dogmatic problem.
The problem is that the church must learn to apply the practice of discernment better and more deeply and not just apply rules in the same way for everyone. The church must be attentive to people’s lives, to their journey of faith and to the way in which God works in each person. So a pastor can’t be a pastor by applying general rules to individual people. The church has to grow in discernment. That would be also one of the most important topics of the next synod….
I don’t know if they [the four cardinals] are critics of the discernment. I just know that the pope has said that life is not black and white. It is gray. There are a lot of nuances, and we have to discern nuances.
This is the meaning of the Incarnation – the Lord took flesh, which means we are involved with real humanity, which is never fixed or too clear. So the pastor has to get into the real dynamic of human life. This is the message of mercy. Discernment and mercy are the two big pillars of this pontificate.
There we have it from the Pope’s “mouthpiece” (a description Spadaro denies even as he performs the function). According to Bergoglio “the church must learn” from him—for the first time in 2,000 years! —that she cannot “apply rules in the same way for everyone,” that a priest “can’t be a pastor by applying general rules to individual people” and that “life is not black and white. It is gray.” That is, the Church must learn to practice situation ethics, applying the negative precepts of the natural law differently to different people based on “discernment” of their circumstances.
With rhetoric about as subtle as the blandishments of a used car salesman, Spadaro dares to root Bergoglio’s error in the Incarnation, risibly asserting that God Incarnate represents a humanity “that is never fixed or too clear,” meaning that the application of Christ’s moral teaching is “never too fixed or clear.” Bergoglio relies on this ecclesiastical con man, replete with Twitter account, to dupe the faithful into accepting blasphemy and moral relativism as a teaching of the authentic Magisterium.
What is this but yet another revival of the Gnostic heresy that has arisen in one form or another throughout Church history? It is the Gnosticism of the Pharisees, who claimed special knowledge— “discernment,” at it were—concerning the application of God’s law to “complex circumstances” such as divorce and purported remarriage. The Pope who ceaselessly condemns Pharisaism—on the part of those who defend our Lord’s teaching against the Pharisees’ toleration of divorce—turns out to be the leader of a Neo-Pharisaic movement. The adepts of this movement purport to “discern,” based on their superior insight, which adulterers, which cohabiters, indeed which practitioners of sodomy in “homosexual unions,” are in the state of grace and may be allowed to receive the Holy Eucharist, and which of these objective sinners, on the other hand, must continue to be denied the Sacrament. But what are the criteria for this “discernment”?
There are none. There is only the gnosis of the discerner, who is in the know.
The new age of “discernment” has been revealed—so the neo-Pharisees tell us—by a “God of surprises” very much like the God who never failed to tell the Pharisees exactly what they wanted to hear. It is the God of the keepers of the ever-evolving gnosis, who always know better than the simple faithful what God requires “today,” denouncing their orthodox Catholic opposition as “rigorists” and accusing them of being exactly what they themselves are. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider has observed of these neo-Pharisees (without naming their leader), they
try to legitimize their infidelity to Christ’s word by means of arguments such as “pastoral need”, “mercy”, “openness to the Holy Spirit”. Moreover, they have no fear and no scruples to pervert in a Gnostic manner the real meaning of these words labeling at the same time those who oppose them and defend the immutable Divine commandment and the true non-human tradition as rigid, scrupulous or traditionalist. During the great Arian crisis in the 4th century the defenders of the Divinity of the Son of God were labeled “intransigent” and “traditionalist” as well.
The “God of surprises” is simply the God of the silent apostasy, of that time when the people “will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables (2 Tim 4:3-4).” And the author of these fables, as always, is man masquerading as God.
But who could have imagined that the chief fabulist would sit on the Chair of Peter? Who could have foreseen that there would one day be a Pope who observes a stony silence—broken only by petty invective against his questioners—when asked if he really intends to bring about the collapse of the moral order? Who could have thought that a Pope would relentlessly engage in threatening to end the Church’s salvific mission by having her consent to be nothing more than yet another religious organization that has died the death of the sexual Zeitgeist?
In an article on the rising Catholic opposition to his insane designs, Bergoglio is reported to have admitted to the members of his inner circle that “It is not to excluded that I will be remembered in history as the one who split the Church.” With Bergoglio, by his own admission, we are confronted with a possible realization of the hypothetical scenario of a schismatic Pope as discussed by the great Suarez and other theologians, or at least a Pope who is the cause of schism. There is certainly no sign that Bergoglio wishes to avoid the schism he is already provoking, or that he has any intention of changing the course that would earn him that shameful place in history. He seems, rather, to be proud of the effect he is having on the Church, a testament to the power of his vainglorious “vision” or “dream” of a “Church of Mercy” he actually seems to think did not exist before his arrival from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, which he left in shambles. (Is it some ironic heavenly twist that Bergoglio has the same number of syllables and rhymes perfectly with orgoglio, the Italian word for pride?)
Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, one of the four presenters of the dubia, has rightly and courageously declared that “Whoever thinks that persistent adultery and the reception of Holy Communion are compatible is a heretic and promotes schism.” The man from Argentina may well succeed in being the Pope who split the Church, although not even a Pope can defeat her. Should it happen, the Church will recover from the Bergoglian Schism as the Holy Ghost infallibly secures the promises of Christ through the intercession of the Mediatrix of All Graces.
But this much must be said of Pope Bergoglio lest we unjustly attribute to his predecessors his own unique contribution to the post-conciliar crisis: No document of the Council, nor any Pope since then, has so much as intimated a practical elimination of the distinction between right and wrong in the natural moral law that is written on the heart of every man. In propagating the heresy of “discernment,” Jorge Mario Bergoglio stands alone among all the Roman Pontiffs. Alone in the singularity of his disgrace.