Critics attack ‘filial correction’ with mud-slinging at signers

Critics attack ‘filial correction’ with mud-slinging at signers

Pete Baklinski

ENGLAND, September 25, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Catholic intellectuals criticizing the “filial correction” of Pope Francis largely have no real arguments against the main claim that he is propagating heresy, only ad hominem attacks against the signers, said Dr. Joseph Shaw, one of the organizers of the correction, to LifeSiteNews.

More than 60 clergy and lay scholars issued on the weekend what they called a “Filial Correction” to Pope Francis for “propagating heresy.” They asserted that the Pope has supported heretical positions about marriage, moral life, and the Eucharist that are causing a host of “heresies and other errors” to spread throughout the Catholic Church.

But critics have attempted to downplay the correction, arguing that the 62 signers are largely obscure figures, that there was too small of a number of signers to make any significant impact, that there are no cardinals backing the letter, and that the letter itself is filled with lies and hypocrisy.

“The first reaction I had after reading the document concerned the signatories,” said Richard Gaillardetz, a theologian at Boston College, to National Catholic Reporter. “The prominence given to the number of signatories … masks the fact that these are really marginal figures.”

Villanova University theologian and historian Massimo Faggioli also downplayed the letter by stating that it has “no cardinal and no bishop, in a Catholic Church that has more than 200 cardinals and more than 5,000 bishops.”

British Catholic author Stephen Walford said the signers’ accusation of the pope propagating heresy “is based around claims the Holy Father has never made — lies essentially — and a massive dose of hypocrisy.”

After accusing the signers of hypocrisy and lying, Walford interestingly went on to say that “vitriol and judgmentalism aimed at those who are loyal to Pope Francis … are the fruits of the evil one, and they will never bring forth a restoration of a golden age that never existed.”

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh tweeted that the correction “will be ignored” since the “magisterium doesn’t bow to middle-class lobbies.”

Italian vaticanist Marco Tosatti noted that in the articles critical of the correction, one “element which is rigorously missing” is the “evaluation whether what is said in the formal correction makes sense or doesn’t. ”

Shaw addressed his critics’ arguments, one by one. He said that when it comes to faith and morals, it’s not numbers that matter, but truth.

The Church is not only a divine institution, he said, but also a “rational institution,” adding that the views that have prevailed historically in controversial theological debates are usually those which have the “best arguments.”

“It’s not the view with the most powerful supporters, or the view that has the most money behind it [that has prevailed historically in theological debates],” he said. “It’s the view where one side can’t answer certain questions, and the other side can.”

Shaw noted how at the time of the Arian heresy that rocked the early Church, it was St. Athanasius alone, against a majority of bishops and even the Pope, who kept the true faith. He prevailed in defending the faith of the Apostles by using unbeatable arguments based on apostolic teaching as well as the Bible that Jesus Christ was, in fact, true God and true man, he said.

“It’s not just a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of truth,” he said.

The same argument that highlights a lack of numbers could also be levied against Christ, who started his ministry with 12 men, most of them obscure and insignificant.

As to no cardinals signing the correction, this was a deliberate move on the part of the organizers, said Shaw.

“We deliberately didn’t approach the dubia cardinals [such as Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller] because we wanted this to be an independent initiative [by the lay-faithful],” he said.

“This is an appeal by academics and pastors at the sharp end of the application of these interpretations of Amoris, academics whose job it is to think these things through and explain them to students and Catholics in general, about how Catholic theology is all supposed to hang together,” he added.

Shaw said critics fall to the level of calling the signers liars and hypocrites because they have no other substantial argument.

“They are conscious of their weakness, and they have nothing to say about the substantive issue at hand,” he said.

Shaw said the substantive issue raised in the filial correction is that Pope Francis’ teaching on marriage and the family, as put forward in his Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has been used to advance theological concepts and justify pastoral practices that are contrary to previous Catholic teaching as well as to the words of Jesus in the Gospels dealing with adultery as well as divorce and remarriage.

“This is a very serious problem,” he said, adding that he still has yet to encounter a single argument that demonstrates how accepting adultery in the lives of Catholics can be justified using previous Catholic teaching or the Bible.

“They can’t point to an authoritative document that says divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion,” he added.

Shaw said the ad hominem attacks against the signers demonstrate that all the talk from the progressive wing within the Church about “openness” and “dialogue” is simply false.

“People who claim to be all about ‘openness,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘mercy,’ ‘making a mess,’ not sticking ‘strictly to rules,’ but allowing things to ‘develop organically from the grassroots’ … when things don’t end up in the way they want, they turn around and say, ‘Oh no, this isn’t authentic, there’s not enough of them,’ or ‘they’re too much grassroots,’ and so forth,” he said.

“It makes one realize that for many of them, all this talk about having a more open-minded or democratic approach to these issues, it was simply tactical,” he continued.

“They don’t really believe in those things at all. They just thought that by saying those things they could get around certain obstacles. And once they got around those obstacles, they would be happy to apply rules in the most stringent way, if they have the power to do that,” he added.

Shaw said that if critics regard the filial correction as an “important issue, which they should, then they need to provide arguments of substance, and not these ad hominem attacks.”

Asked what might happen now that the filial correction has been released publicly, Shaw responded that he hopes that it will assist in “future interventions,” including a rumored forthcoming “formal correction” from the cardinals.

“It certainly clarifies the issues for any such further intervention. Cardinal Burke and others will be able to see the response to this, the kind of support it gets and the kind of arguments that have been used against it. In all these ways, it will assist future interventions,” he said.

“It’s part of a general process of reflection and clarification, which is always necessary for the Church when there is a theological problem. And I do hope it will be of service to the Church and of service to Cardinal Burke in reflecting on what to do next, if anything,” he added.

Shaw also said that even if Pope Francis continues to ignore how his teachings are being used to undermine Catholic morality, the next Pope will not.

“The next Pope is going to access the situation and say what is the future of this approach [as laid out in Amoris Laetitia]. And this [filial correction] is one of the things he is going to take into account,” he said.

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One comment on “Critics attack ‘filial correction’ with mud-slinging at signers

  1. Politics Trumps Theology in Filial Correction Response

    William M. Briggs
    September 25, 2017

    What if a man, a man of eminence and of great and well-credentialed education, a man of authority, a priest, even, a man who has the ear of the Pope, told you that sometimes 2 + 2 = 5? Would this man by virtue of his lofty position be correct?

    What if a small child, a wretch with no virtue of schooling, a unkempt waif, told the great man, “No, sir. 2 + 2 always equals 4, even for God, who cannot change Truth”?

    Hold on! What’s this untutored child doing? Doesn’t she realize her error? She has no authority to offer a correction! Why should we listen to a kid?

    Here comes Massimo Faggioli, a professor at Villanova University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, to help us. He says the child represents a “tiny, extreme fringe of the opposition to” to our great man. The child “is clearly not a cardinal or bishop with formal standing in the Catholic Church.”

    David Gibson, who is director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, agrees. He says the child’s attempt at a correction is “akin to an online petition”. He also says, “It’s a great headline anytime a priest is accused of error. But these kids are really, kind of, the usual suspects of really far right types who have been upset with not only this priest, but other priests in recent years.”

    Even the New York Times—the New York Times!—reminds us the child is not a cardinal. And therefore her criticism is of no consequence.

    We can only conclude that because our child is not an authority, and has no right to offer a correction, she is wrong. 2 + 2 does not always equal 4. It sometimes, as the priest Antonio Spadaro (for that is his name) said, can be 5, or 3, or any number he likes. The actual figure doesn’t count as long as, presumably, the solution is merciful.


    If that argument makes sense to you, as it does to folks like Faggioli and Gibson and the others who are carping from the sidelines about qualifications of those who offered the Filial Correction, then you have succumbed to the idea that the Church is really about politics. That all battles are power plays, in which the side with the superior numbers or shiftier political abilities will, and should, win.

    The quotes above are real, changed only slightly to shift the emphasis from the accusations of heresy for some of Pope Francis’s statements, to our imaginary child. Faggioli and Gibson are far from alone. The Twitter spokesperson for Hope & Life Press scolded the Filial Correction signers, “You have zero authority to issue any correction whatsoever.”

    Well known commentator Austen Ivereigh could also only see the political angle. He wrote “Big tactical error to include Fellay as only bishop. Signatories now clearly identified with schismatic anti-Vatican II movement.” This is spiritually akin to saying, “Big tactical error for that child not to have included a tenured math professor.”

    It is also factually wrong since the Society of Saint Pius X headed by Bishop Fellay is not in schism, as acknowledged even by Pope Francis, who validated confessions given to its priests during the “Year of Mercy”. Ivereigh surely knows this, but chose to cast his “schism” aspersion anyway, because in politics as in war, all is fair.

    Ivereigh’s worst error was to say numbers matter: “‘Theologians’ misnomer in most cases; 62 is a tiny number, given strength of feeling over #AmorisLaetitia; most are well-known trad critics.” Again, this is like saying, “The child was alone, so we can dismiss her criticism.” Or it’s like saying, “Only trad mathematicians hold to the old formulas.”

    If Twitter were available circa 350 AD, Ivereigh might have tweeted, “Athanasius is only one man with almost no support. Dismiss him. Let’s hope rumors of Pope Liberius excommunicating him come true.”

    Exclusively political reactions to the Filial Correction belie another attitude. It is as if these naysayers do not believe seriously, or at all, in the supernatural elements of the Catholic faith. The authors of the correction certainly do.

    If the naysayers thought the supernatural element the most important, and not politics, there would have been immediate and lively discussion of the seven points of the Correction. Are they really heresies? All of them? Why? Why not? “Let’s dig into this most important matter,” they would have said. “The salvation of souls is paramount, and heresy cannot be countenanced. Here is where we agree, and here where we disagree on the theological points.”

    Only after we figure out, really investigate, and agree on each the points are the motives of the writers and signers of the Correction up for grabs. To focus on personalities first is an inversion—and very telling.

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