The latest effort to correct Pope Francis, for what it is worth

The latest effort to correct Pope Francis, for what it is worth

[In Dr. Jeff’s opinion: Little or nothing]

By Dr. Jeff Mirus  | Sep 26, 2017

Readers were no doubt startled by Phil Lawler’s assertion yesterday that “the ‘filial appeal’ to Pope Francis was not the most important story that emerged from the Vatican this past weekend.” It may strike some as scandalous that should think the complaints of the Vatican’s former auditor general are more important than an effort by the faithful to convince the Pope to repudiate the heretical ideas which he too often appears to support.

But if my colleague has gone out on a rhetorical limb, it is a limb so thick and strong as to be almost impossible to sever from the Catholic tree. Why is this so?

There are at least three reasons:

  • First, it is necessary to remind everyone that there is nothing in any sense “official” or “canonical” about this filial appeal, entitled Correctio Filialis de Haeresibus Propagatis. I do not mean to suggest that the signatories claim otherwise; they make it absolutely clear that they do not. What they have chosen to call “filial correction” is presented as no more than it can be—fraternal correction of the same type that St. Paul offered to St. Peter. But some news outlets will refer to this effort as a procedure not used since the Middle Ages, as if it is a little-known canonical safety-valve which can be officially invoked in desperate times. To the contrary, you can be morally certain that fraternal correction has been offered to a great many popes over the centuries. Public fraternal correction, fraternal correction that enters the history books, is another matter.
  • Second, as Edward Pentin noted in covering the story for the National Catholic Register, this is the sixth public effort at fraternal correction of Pope Francis. The Pope has not responded directly to any of them. Instead, he prefers to continue to praise and approve those who agree with him while tarring all who disagree with his infamous rigidity brush. This latest “filial correction” is really quite late to the party.
  • Third, the signatories are neither numerous nor illustrious. A careful review reveals a high percentage of persons no more qualified than you or I, along with a significant number of chronic malcontents—those who have been also quick to condemn features of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In at least one case, a signatory is in open rebellion against the Church’s canonical authority. Only one bishop in good standing (though retired) has signed (belatedly), and at this writing he does not yet appear on the official list of signatories. This raises another curious point: Although the document has already been delivered to Pope Francis, there is a website on which signatures are continuing to be collected. While this is not unusual in the worlds of political maneuvering and public relations, it is somewhat jarring here.

To some extent, then, this has the aroma of an effort to increase the stature of the network of original signatories. At the same time, a continued respectful effort to correct this Pope is clearly legitimate. In this instance, the document makes a sound case. It is particularly strong in outlining the evidence in the Pope’s statements and actions that the need for correction is urgent. In a final section, the authors also attempt to shed light on what they regard as Pope Francis’ confusion by examining its roots in both Modernism and Lutheranism. One can argue about whether these are the sources of the problem, but the analysis is reasonable.

A paradox: News because it isn’t

Nonetheless, while the dubia presented by cardinals last year really was important news, this latest effort does not share that distinction. Moreover, there are two questions which we ignore at our peril if we choose to continue down this path:

(1) What can any particular group hope to gain beyond personal gratification and publicity if the Pope has already chosen to ignore more weighty prior challenges? I refer to the petition signed by nearly a million souls in late 2015; the appeal to the College of Cardinals by a group of prelates, scholars and clergy in mid-2016; and the formal dubia submitted by four cardinals (and their allies in the College) in late 2016. The answer is nothing—unless, perhaps, we have an extraordinarily holy response to the final question.

(2) What can any of us hope to accomplish through repeated overtures to Pope Francis unless we can honestly affirm the following: First, that we have prayed assiduously for light in understanding the Holy Father; second that we have sacrificed and prayed with ever-increasing urgency that God will enable the Pope to both recognize and experience contrition for whatever in his words and actions undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The faithful have been presenting their concerns now for four years. Only grace can enable Pope Francis to respond as he should.

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12 comments on “The latest effort to correct Pope Francis, for what it is worth

  1. There is already the public scandal of a reckless modernist from South America using the papacy to undermine Catholic teachings and tarnish the Catholic brand. This has revived anti-Catholic bigotry among fundamentalist Protestants who point at the pope’s heretical posturing to assert their own claims against the papacy and the Catholic Church with increasing enthusiasm. Obviously, some Catholics felt a sense of duty to set the record straight. This pontificate is a disgrace. He is either senile or the most disruptive and damaging modernist heretic in our lifetime. He should be approached by a group of bishops and cardinals who have enough courage to rein him in or to recommend that he step down and retire, spending his remaining days in prayer and penance for these grave scandals. Either way, he should stop talking. His spontaneous and undisciplined logorrhea airing of his half-assed progressive opinions do not help the Catholic Church.

  2. Third, the signatories are neither numerous nor illustrious.

    That’s similar to what comes to my mind whenever I see your name, Jeff.

  3. Mirus, you’re a jerk and everybody here knows it.

  4. Why does Pope Francis refuse to respond?

    By Phil Lawler | Sep 28, 2017

    As Jeff Mirus has already pointed out [above], there was never any reason to think that Pope Francis would respond to the “filial correction” made by several dozen Catholics. After all the Holy Father has already received and ignored similar pleas from thousands of concerned lay Catholics, from distinguished theologians, and—most notably—from four cardinals. If he planned to answer such questions, he would have answered long ago.

    This week the Pope’s surrogates—the prelates and pundits who have made it their mission to defend Pope Francis (and attack his critics)—have adopted a new strategy, explaining that the Pope is not required to answer. That’s certainly true—there’s nothing in canon law requiring the Roman Pontiff to answer his mail—but it’s an odd argument to invoke on behalf of a Pope who speaks so often about dialogue and pastoral concern and accompanying the alienated and reaching out to the peripheries.

    Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa, who has excellent contacts inside the apostolic palace (or should I say the St. Martha residence?), helpfully reminds us that the “filial appeal” is not unprecedented. Pope Benedict XVI was sometimes accused of spreading heresy, he recalls. So was St. John Paul II. Yes, but there are always people saying that the Pope is a heretic. But in the past it has usually been easy to identify the accusers as cranks, or at least as something other than faithful, orthodox Catholics. It’s not so easy to dismiss theologians of the stature of Josef Seifert and Germain Grisez and John Finnis, not to mention Cardinals Burke and Meisner and Caffara and Brandmüller.

    Massimo Faggioli, who is quickly climbing up the list of papal surrogates, commented on his Twitter account that in the past, questions directed at Vatican dignitaries were sometimes met with a statement of non esse respondendum, indicating that it would not be appropriate to respond to the question. This non-response, Faggioli wrote, was “an acknowledgment of institutional Church that some issues were too complicated, too controversial, impossible to give clear answers.” Well, let’s see: Is it impossible to give a clear answer to the dubia submitted by the four cardinals because the answer would be too complicated? They are clear enough questions, allowing for a simple yes/no answer. Or is the subject too controversial? Again, the need to avoid controversy is an odd argument to invoke on behalf of this particular Pope.

    Faggioli goes on to say that the non esse respondendum could reflect “institutional humility,” since in many cases the Vatican did not have the information and expertise that would be necessary to give a proper answer. In many cases, an appeal to Rome might be an attempt to do an end-run around local pastors, who were better equipped to answer the specific questions.

    Exactly. That’s why, in the past, the Vatican set out general principles, and asked local pastors to apply those principles to specific cases. Now, with Amoris Laetitia, the Pope has stressed that every case is different—underlining the importance of the local pastor. But when asked whether the general principle has changed, the Holy Father is silent.

    In the absence of any plausible explanation, the Pope’s silence looks more and more like a tacit argument from authority. Sure enough, the surrogates are also becoming more strident in denouncing the impertinence of those who would dare to question the Pope’s authority. Yet again, that’s an odd argument to make for this Pope—and a particularly odd argument for these pundits to make. But it also misses the point, because the most pressing questions, the dubia, do not question the Pope’s authority. The cardinals (unlike the authors of the filial appeal) are not contending that the Pope’s teaching is wrong; they’re asking him to clarify: exactly what is he teaching? Silence is no answer to that question.

    Oh, and by the way, Libero Milone, the ousted Vatican auditor-general, discloses that he wrote to Pope Francis in July, saying that the charges that prompted his resignation were the result of a “set-up” by his rivals in the Roman Curia. This might surprise you, but Milone reports that the Pope has not replied.

    • “Superbia in proelio” is the motto of English Manchester city, meaning “Pride in battle.” In the context of the above, it should be a verbal clause such as “Take pride in battle,” and thus the Latin should be preceded by “tolle.” Alternatively, one could “verbalize” the noun as “superbio, superbiare, etc.,” meaning “take pride” or “be proud,” and “superbia” would correctly be an imperative.

  5. Robin: Superbia? The Joker and the Riddler take pride in battle, Batman.

    Batman: Indeed, they do. As do Catwoman, the Penguin, Bookworm and King Tut.

    Robin: And since it’s the motto of the city of Manchester, maybe the Riddler wants us to know that he’s a fan of Manchester United!

    Batman: Possible. Possibly, Robin. But given the context of the Pope’s silent treatment, we should consider other possibilities.

    Batman: Mister Hornet, will you kindly decline for us all of the case endings of superbia….

    The Green Hornet: We’d like to, Batman. But Kato has to get to his Kung Fu lesson.

    Kato: Maybe we could decline some Latin nouns after that, Batman.

    The Green Hornet: We promise to review Dative and Ablative forms of Latin nouns with you the next time we’re in Gotham City.

    Kato and the Green Hornet signed up for Father Mike’s Latin class later that afternoon….

    The Riddler: Superbia? What trick is that flying mouse up to with the Boy Blunder now?

    Robin: There’s a list of virtues which are the inverse of each of the Seven Deadly Sins, Batman.

    Batman: Mmmm. It is possible that we could be dealing with the Joker, Robin.

    • What about “verbalizing” “superbia” as “superbio” (meaning to “take pride” or “be proud”): Would not “superbia” be correct as an imperative if the noun were changed to a first conjugation verb?

  6. The Green Hornet: Or would it be superbite, Batman? It’s been a while. Bobby Kennedy was running for president after LBJ decided not to run when we took Father Mike’s Latin class…

    Batman: Does it list imperative mood forms for the Latin verbal expression of superbio, Robin?

    Robin: Gosh, Batman, I was thinking of a simple sentence with the verb “to be” – something like:
    Superbia causa silentiī Bergogliī est< ?I>.

    Batman: Make a note of that, Robin. Ask your Latin teacher at Fordham Prep to review imperative mood forms for Latin verbs on Monday.

  7. Batman: It would appear that superbīte would be the appropriate form for the imperative mood, Robin.

    Robin: But what if I were a neo-Catholic modernist who had taken the Transcendental Turn completely through the neo-Kantian dialectic and modern European phenomenology to the point that I was constantly lecturing others on my unique ability to interpret Wojtylian theology of the body? Would I use superbīte or superbia as a noun of causation in the declarative sentence Superbia causa silentiī Bergogliī est?

    Batman: Let’s hope that you never need to find out, Robin.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Of course, if it comes to that, you can always come to see me for Confession.

    Father Fitzgibbon: Are you keeping up with all of your imperative mood forms for Latin verbs, Father?

    Father O’Malley: Can we watch the Holy Cross game first?

  8. Robin: The field goal attempt by Holy Cross…

    Batman: …hit the uprights. The wind may have been favoring to the left. Always check wind direction before kicking a field goal, Robin.

    Robin: There were some good pass plays. And the purple jerseys look cool.

    Batman: Let’s not overlook the fine stop by the Lafayette defense on fourth down.

    Robin: A valid point, Batman.

  9. Robin: A touchdown for Holy Cross, Batman!

    Batman: A good and solid running game is a sure foundation for winning football, Robin.

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