Pewsitter publishes the following editorial, which appeared in the March 17th Edition of L’Osservatore Romano under the title of “The Last Word”. This is a rough translation from the original Italian.
(ROME – Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot) – In confrontation with the Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, which collects the reflections of the 2014-2015 Synods on the Family, some critical public voices have been raised in the form of “dissent,” and therefore it can be important to reflect theologically on this sensitive issue. For guidance we turn to the document published by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith, Donum Veritatis, On the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, published in 1990 by Cardinal Ratzinger; Ratzinger discusses “the problem of dissent” in the chapter of that name (nn. 32-41).
Recall, to better frame the whole issue, the type of Magisterium involved in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which is ordinary and not definitive. As defined in Donum Veritatis, such an exercise seeks to propose: “a teaching which leads to a better understanding of revelation in matters of faith and morals, and the moral directives resulting from this teaching … [that] although it is not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, is not devoid of divine assistance and [a] call for the adherence of the faithful” (n. 17).
Notice how this precise description is realized in Amoris Laetitia; therefore “the desire for genuine consent to this teaching of the Magisterium on the subject in itself is not beyond reform, it must be the rule,” keeping in mind that involves “prudential judgments”, although Ratzinger noted carefully that this does not mean that “it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission” (Donum veritatis, n. 24; see also the article by this writer on the magisterium of Amoris Laetitia in L’Osservatore Romano of August 24, 2016). It should also be noted that Amoris Laetitia (no. 3) recognizes a plurality in practice, since there are “different ways and consequences” because “in the Church is required a unity of doctrine and practice, but this does not mean that there are not different ways to interpret some aspects of doctrine or some of the consequences that follow from it. This will happen until the Spirit will bring us to all truth (cfr. John, 16, 13).”
It is in this context that some formulations appear – that perhaps may have sparked some criticism because of their unusualness – such as the decisive principle in Amoris Laetitia of “gradualness in the exercise of prudential free acts in people who are not in a position to understand, appreciate or fully practice the objective requirements of the law” (n. 295). In its approach to ”prudential exercise” the encyclical reminds us of Donum Veritatis, speaking of the interventions of the ordinary, not decisive, magisterium, says they are “prudential policy” and involving “prudential judgments” (No. 24). It is therefore this principle that is decisive in making possible a practical result that had already been expressed in the final report of the 2015 synod, in the key number 85.
Well, because this result is the fruit of a prudent decision that does not lead to a plurality of practices, of a relativistic or purely subjective type, [which are] the result of “wrong messages” (Amoris Laetitia, n. 300), there is an urgent need for a “pastoral discernment” that will pass through a dual attitude (cfr. n. 312): first the faithful living in “complex situations” must approach with confidence the representatives of the Church – pastors or lay people, prepared by keeping in mind [that] “what they propose are the faithful ideal of the full Gospel and the doctrine of the Church” (n. 308); secondly, these representatives of the Church are called, not to legitimize everything, but to understand the situation and to “get into the heart of the drama of the people and […] understand their point of view, to help them live better and to recognize their place in the Church” following “The way […] of Jesus: of mercy and integration” (n. 296). It will then be just this kind of pastoral discernment that seeks to “discern the will of God” (Romans 12:2), to allow advisors to “avoid the serious risk of wrong messages, such as the idea that a priest can grant quick “exceptions”, or that there are people who can get sacramental privileges in exchange for favors” (n. 300).
It should however be noted that this practical application and plurality should not become – as it seems to have been for some, definitely in good faith – turned into an opportunity to express a certain “dissent” in the form of public criticism, the objective of which would lead them to decline [the formulation] that “the consequences or effects of a rule need not always be the same” (n. 300). Amoris Laetitia, however, in order to understand delicate situations [such as being divorced and living with a new partner], brings the aforementioned decisive principle, which does not involve a “gradualness of the law” but a “gradual exercise of prudential free acts” (n. 295). [Using this principle of gradual exercise of free prudential action it confirms] the need for a “truly formed conscience” (n. 295), which, to avoid falling into subjectivism, must be “accompanied by a responsible and serious discernment of the shepherd” (n. 303).
In this context, and with reference to possible “dissent” in the form of public criticism to the Magisterium, Donum Veritatis recalled that “Dissent is generally defended by various arguments, two of which have a more fundamental character. The first is the order of hermeneutics: the documents of the magisterium would be nothing more than a reflection of a questionable theology […]. In opposition to and in competition with the authentic magisterium is thus a kind of “parallel magisterium” of theologians […]. (The theologian) has hermeneutical rules, which include the principle that the teaching of the magisterium – with divine assistance – is beyond argument […] [and] which he serves” (n. 34). In fact, it is clear that “the Magisterial interventions serve to guarantee the Church’s unity in the truth of the Lord. They help to “abide in the truth” in the face of the arbitrary character of changeable opinions and are an expression of obedience to the Word of God” (n. 35).
In this respect it is stressed that “the right conscience of the Catholic theologian presumes not only faith in the Word of God whose riches he must explore, but also love for the Church from whom he receives his mission, and respect for her divinely assisted Magisterium […]. If you separate from the shepherds who watch over and keep the apostolic tradition alive, it is the bond with Christ which is irreparably compromised” (n. 38). In this area of reflection, it is also important to bear in mind the precise theological distinction between the contribution proper to the magisterium and that proper to theology, already announced by Saint Augustine: “what I understand, therefore, I owe to reason; what I believe, to authority” (De utilitate credendi, 9).
In fact, it is understood that the contribution of theology from this perspective is the scientific value of its thinking and the scientific arguments on which it relies. On the other hand, the contribution of the Magisterium is not based on scientific arguments – although it can use them secondarily – but on the value of the testimony of faith that [supports it], because the ultimate reason for the faith is not argumentation but “the authority of the same God who reveals, who can neither deceive nor be deceived” (Vatican I, Dei filius, ch. 3). Keep in mind that for the Catholic faith the comparison between the magisterium, in this case the Pope, and a dissenting theological interpretation, is not a simple conflict between two opinions, as the magisterium of the Pope is not a theological opinion [as such], but comes from a testimony of faith as the “authorized interpretation of the Word of God” (cf.. Dei verbum, n. 10) by the person who, as the successor of Peter, has the primary ministry of “confirming his brothers” (cfr. Luke, 22, 32; Dei filius; Lumen Gentium, n. 25).
Finally, on the specific characteristics of papal primacy, with regard to the magisterium, it is appropriate to recall, as stated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the document on primacy (1998), signed by Cardinal Ratzinger: “…That only the pope – or the Pope with the ecumenical Council – has, as the successor of Peter, the authority and the competence to say the last word on the ways to exercise their ministry in the universal Church” (n. 13). Therefore, [the Pope] does not compete with others, even if they are motivated by good faith; the last word [belongs to] the primatial ministry in the Church entrusted to Peter’s successor. Here, then, is the fundamental attitude inherent in this Magisterium of Pope Francis, demonstrated beautifully in Amoris Laetitia and that we Catholics must welcome: to practice and witness with the best and most living spirit of ecclesial communion.
Translated from the original Italian with the aid of Google Translate. The original printed article can be found here, on page 7, under the title, L’ultima parola.