20 January 2015

Thumping people who insult your mother

This piece appeared at the beginning of last July. I am repeating it because it approaches a problem which is still very much with us: witness the endearing remarks which our beloved Holy Father made in the airliner about how he would thump anybody who insulted his mother. In the present circumstances, I don't see how any reasonable person could fail to see this as being at least a mitigation of the condemnation due to the Islamic terrorists who murdered the Paris Blasphemers. Yet again, Fr Lombardi went out afterwards to try to clear things up. It seems to me arguable that Popes should not make public statements which have not been vetted by the responsible dicastery of the Roman Curia. Because a Pope is not ... or should not be ... sharing his very interesting personal opinions (as I do in this blog). He should be reproving doctrinal error and strengthening us in doctrinal truth. And he is not enabled to do this by magic, but by a spirit-filled process of discernment in which his servants in the Roman Curia are indispensable assistants. He does not teach qua individual, but as the Bishop of Rome faithfully handing on the Tradition which the Roman and Petrine Church (pre-eminent and rock-like among all the Particular Churches in which the deposit of Faith has been handed down from the Apostles) has received. 

The admirable Fr Zed sensibly and judiciously reminded us that much of what our beloved Holy Father says, and not least his daily fervorino, is 'Non-Magisterial'. He is right.  But I sense a problem starting to emerge here which will not go away. It is not totally new (it has been growing particularly since Popes started chatting to journalists in airliners), but it seems to me to get more acute as the decades pass.

The Pope's remarks to the Latin American religious who went to see him were, I presume, very definitely non-Magisterial. They claimed he hinted rather heavily that they should not lose too much sleep about CDF interventions. But ... those worthy religious who went half-way round the world to Rome did not do so because they have a private hobby of chatting to emeriti Argentinian bishops. They went to see, to question, to hear, the Pope qua Pope. And journalists who hear a Roman Pontiff speaking in an aeroplane are not ordinary airline passengers who find that chatting to some genial fellow-passenger relieves the boredom of the flight. They are specifically there to talk with, to listen to, to report the words of, the Pope qua Pope. And these journalists, for the main part, are not theological specialists in the status of papal utterances. As they received their potty training ('In cathedram, pusille! In cathedram mingendum!'), Mummy or Nurse did not tell them about the mysteries of ex cathedra. As toddlers, they did not receive precise information from masterful Nannies about Magisterial versus non-Magisterial. Even when they went to their Preparatory Schools, they were probably not catechised on religiosum obsequium and definitive tenendum. For these good, plain, honest hacks ... and probably also for their even plainer and yet more honest editors ... "The Pope says" means "The Pope says" without painstaking distinctions. And the hermeneutic they bring to what they hear is gained from analysing the implications and nuances in the soundbites of secular politicians with ephemeral, mutable, and transient policy objectives.

And so, given the distinction we already have between Magisterial and non-Magisterial utterances, a further distinction seems to be necessary; between formal and informal utterances. Thus, the volumes Joseph Ratzinger wrote about Jesus of Nazareth were, and were clearly said to be, non-Magisterial. But they were formal utterances. And Francis' daily homilies, while non-Magisterial, must be 'formal' because every sermon preached by an accredited minister of the Church is formal. Evangelii gaudium may not be Magisterial, as Cardinal Burke clearly demonstrated, but it is surely formal. However, remarks like those of Pope Francis to the Spanish American religious about the ministry of the CDF, or his comment that, while he can understand old people being attached to the Vetus Ordo, he thinks that its popularity among the young can only be a mere fashion (modo), must be less than formal. Furthermore, they involve other problems. They may very well have been unreliably reported. And yet they may be particularly newsworthy as bearing upon current topics, or as revealing the mind of the man who is also Bishop of Rome. They may even correspond rather uncertainly to previous statements of the Magisterium (his reported comments on the Vetus Ordo sit a little uneasily with formal and Magisterial statements of Pope Benedict about the Old Rite being a treasure for all the Church). Will you really say to me that there are no problems at all in this?

How are we to handle such a situation? I am asking a genuine question  to which I do not have an answer to peddle. Let me phrase it thus. Is it OK for us ordinary Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and Laics to say publicly, with regard to a non-Magisterial and non-formal papal statement, "Goodness me, what twaddle Bar Jona/Borgia/Lambertini/Pacelli/Ratzinger/Bergoglio did talk this morning"? If you reply to me "No; because of the deep respect and deference owed to the Vicar of Christ", then I have to say that, by bringing in his status, you seem to me to be smuggling the Magisterium back into the equation. If you suggest to me that it would be OK to talk thus frankly about the non-Magisterial and non-formal utterances of a previous Pontiff but not about those of this one (like all those bishops and journalists who kept moderately quiet during the last pontificate but do not refrain now from public sneers at Benedict XVI), I would have to ask you why the death or resignation of a Roman Pontiff means that the respect and deference due to a Vicar of Christ is no longer due to him. And I might raise with you an Alexander VI question: was it, either during his lifetime or since, proper to speak in frank criticism of that pope's sexually scandalous life-style? Will you reply to me "No, because of the deep respect and deference owed to the Vicar of Christ, one ought not even to condemn him qua serial adulterer"? And, if not, why not? Are not all Christians under some obligation to rebuke vice? (Of course, within the dynamics of an absolutist Byzantine or Renaissance court, one would hesitate to hint at the least criticism of what an absolute monarch had said. It might lead him to withhold a favour. But Pope Francis has intimated that this is not the model he has for his pontificate. And, in any case, B Pius IX implicitly condemned the proposition that the Roman Pontiff is an absolute monarch)

There must be in the four paragraphs above at least a few occasions when you might have murmured a sentence beginning with the verb distinguo. Yes? I really do seek illumination!
In the old, July, thread, Eques makes a good point. Might one distinguish thus: in his daily Domus Marthae sermons, the celebrant speaks with presbyteral but not with Papal Magisterium?


Eques said...

I fail to see how a homily or semon can be anything other than magisterial, particularly one in the context of a liturgy. Indeed, when thus preaching, it seems to me that the priest, bishop, or pope is at his most magisterial. Not only does he not stop being pope when he steps into the pulpit, it does seem to me the most obvious example of his ordinary magisterium, precisely because of the connection to the liturgy. If I am in error, please enlighten me.

Stephen Spencer said...

Difficult questions.

To show loyalty to the OFFICE of the Pope, on a human level, do we not have to show loyalty to the man currently in the office--being unable to kneel and kiss the ring of the dead?

On the other hand, is it really loyal to be silent--if not encouraging--if a Pope harms the Church through confusion? And what about our loyalty to those souls who are being confused?

Sometimes we are faced with a choice between being loyal and being honest--raising the question of whether authentic Catholic loyalty is not something more honest that the ideological variety?

The Woman of the House said...

Thank you, thank you Fr. Hunwicke for explaining it all. I was so flustered and feeling so alone when most people to whom I talked about my extreme confusion about the Jubilee of Pope St. Celestine the V, either thought I was attacking the Pope to even bring it up, or wanted only to say sweet things and wanted to hear nothing of the concerns I have about the Man. (Pope Francis that is). Why can't we ask questions? Pope John Paul II openly invited the questions and even from the Youth. He told them to SEEK, ASK and KNOCK. This fear everyone has of even asking a question is disturbingly stifling. Why are we having a Jubilee year of a Pope who while a Saint was a horrible Administrator, ran away from his post after 6 months, and slept in a hut in the Vatican. Are we to do something similar, is that what the Jubilee year means?

Belfry Bat said...

Which Pope was dragged before the Holy Inquisition and recanted some of his preaching? I do remember it happened.

But it does seem to me that part of our due deference to the Episcopus Romanae, Servus Servorum etc. is, when it is our place to speak at all, to speak to him, exhorting and reproving and ├Ždifying according to the faith (following St. Paul's excellent example with the afore-mentioned Bar Jona when he was avoiding dinner with baptised gentiles).

B flat said...

Particular respect is due to the holder of a particular office, but a high respect is due to every person made in the image and likeness of God.
Calumny and scandal, disguised as (disingenuous) questions regarding any person must be immoral. A question which will cause doubts or scandal, is morally inadmissible if the questioner does not provide the answer to resolve or expunge the scandal in the hearer.(None of the foregoing is a criticism of your excellent and openly honest post, Father).
BUT, I think every person has a right to defend themselves against scandal or doubt caused by another, no matter how high his office. The obvious way is to ask, reasonably and meekly:"What is it that you meant by...?"
If there is no possibility of putting the question directly, and the matter enters public debate (because it was a public act, or statement) then there are several possibilities open to us.
One is to take note of the matter with all due respect, and consign it to the jumble of dubia which composts to oblivion.
Another is to join open debate about it, and risk oneself becoming embroiled in scandal-mongering, which is always to be avoided like the plague. You tread a difficult middle way, Father, in seeking to lance the eruptions of doubt by lucid explanation, and thus relieving the pain and always avoiding calumny and scandal. God give you continuing wisdom in this, and strength for many years.

As for the Alexander VI question, the answer is, to my mind, surely NO.
We teach, warn and educate according to our particular responsibility as a teacher, parent, judge etc. Within a hierarchical church, the junior does not teach the senior - especially publicly. Anyone could be scandalised, and any senior would be entitled to ask that junior: "By what authority do you do these things?" Was not the (ignorant) question of the sanhedrin to the man born blind, now cured, "you were altogether born in sin, and do you teach us?" based on the Natural moral Law?

Jacobi said...

I don't know if the pope's seatbelt-less conferences are in English, the usual language of such. If so his very poor command of this language, and any others, as far as I can see, may partly explain the problems.

If I may offer a bit of Lay, strictly Non-Formal advice, please note, I think it only right and proper that before thumping the bloke on the jaw, you should offer him the opportunity to apologise. If he doesn't, the correct procedure is, as turning away, with a sad smile of course, to slug him with your elbow in the, eh, well no, I had better not encourage this, and incidentally give away some still remembered tricks from my misspent youth!

John H. Graney said...

While I'm not sure exactly what to think about the punching remark, I have to say that I am glad that the Pope's remarks didn't just ratify the "freedom of speech" narrative. Someone here remarked that surely this was about peoples' right not to be murdered. It is fairly awful to watch the constant rhetoric of escalation between the modern western world and at least certain elements of the Muslim world. I understand Arabic and so I can unfortunately hear both sides. I am very certain that the only individual whose interest is served by all of this, is the devil.

GOR said...

I have been resisting the temptation to judge, but I’m not succeeding: Pope Francis talks too much! “Words to the heat of deeds”…and all that. He has the deeds. Let them speak for themselves.

The story is told of American President Calvin Coolidge (a man of few words, he was dubbed “Silent Cal” by the media) that a journalist once said to him that he had bet a friend he could get Coolidge to say three words or more. Coolidge’s rejoinder…“You lose!”

Our Holy Father could learn something from Coolidge…

Fr. Yousuf said...

It seems to me that a bishop preaching during the celebration of the Eucharist in his own diocese must be thought to have episcopal teaching authority rather than 'presbyteral', regardless of the presence or absence of the pontifical ceremony.

Don Camillo SSC said...

Was it wrong of St Paul to rebuke St Peter (rather rudely, it might appear)? Were St Catherine and St Bridget wrong to criticize the policies/actions of the Popes of their day? If every utterance of a Pope is to be regarded as beyond criticism, are we not falling into W.G.Wardism?