21 February 2016

Is the Magisterium safe under Pope Francis?

Fr Zed has a very important piece today (February 20) about (1) how the media invented a plain untruth about "what B Paul VI said"; (2) how Papa Bergoglio has just repeated the error as if it were historical, and part of the Church's Doctrine.

I am increasingly worried about the safety of the Magisterium under this Pope. Just look at the paragraphs in blue at the end of this recent (January) post of mine, and ask yourself if I am not right.

I believe that these are dangerous days.

I thank a reader who has appended a comment on my recent post ... the "Have a good summer" post ... quoting an American canonist. The gentleman is cited as opining that the dodgy "Vatican Document" on Christianity and Judaism must be, even if only in some small degree, magisterial.

This is actually ... I think ... extremely funny.

You see, the document itself is careful to say, in its own first paragraph, "The text is not a magisterial document or doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church".

So, if the document is magisterial, then it teaches, magisterially ... that it is not magisterial! We are back with something very much like the dear old whiskery joke: "X is a Cretan and X says that all Cretans are liars ... is X telling the truth?".

To put it differently: the extent to which this document is magisterial is precisely the same as the extent to which (by its own assertion) it is not magisterial!

Or, mathematically, +1-1=0.

One of the problems about such a very 'maximalising' papacy as the present one is that its promoters and defenders ... the people who hope to piggy-back their own agenda onto the back of it ... actually reduce the whole idea of a Papacy, and of a Magisterium, to a laughing stock. In their passion to inflate the Teaching Authority of Holy Mother Church, and of the Sovereign Pontiff himself, for their own private political ends, they end up having defaced that Authority so that it looks like a derisory piece of rubbish which nobody could possibly take seriously. (I do not find it easy to believe that this is what the Holy Father himself desires.)

These people are in fact depriving us of the Magisterium we have a right to possess by emptying it of all plausibility; by blunting its edges. They are trying to steal from us the Papacy which Vatican I so succinctly and so accurately defined for us. I can only think of one Power in whose interest it is to do this.

And there is another dangerous aspect to their unfortunate and sinister game. Magisterial teachings in the Catholic Church gradually acquire, and grow in, substance and precision on the basis of precedent and of claimed support in the acta of previous authorities. Is there a risk that some pope in the future might issue, with claimed authority, an edict in which his argument is propped up by a footnote .... a footnote which gives chapter-and-verse drawing upon an earlier document which had unobtrusively started its own life as a discussion paper explicitly disclaiming magisterial authority? Or drawing upon some phrase Bergoglio had used (without giving it any particularly deep thought) in one of his Santa Marta homilies? Or while talking to the Press in an airliner?

The present Roman Pontiff is the fount of endless words, all day and every day. No human being could possibly talk as much on the record as this one does without accidentally saying a certain amount of nonsense as well as, one tremulously hopes, a large amount of very good sense. Attempts among those who plot to be his controllers to dress up in garments of awesome authority his lightest obiter dictum, or to do the same to the questionable meanderings of some committee set up by some dicastery, come very close to sacrilege and strike me as being most probably a device of the Enemy.


mark wauck said...

Dr. Peters, the canonist in question (A non-magisterial magisterial statement?), is using the term "magisterial" in its broad, technical, but also very logical, sense as referring generally to the teaching authority of the Church and its pastors. Are homilies an exercise of that teaching office? Of course they are, even if, as Dr. Peters notes, they "rank near the bottom of the magisterial authority list." And, as he further notes, this fact "should, if nothing else, give prelates pause in how they express themselves in certain contexts."

Dr. Peters, in his comments, isn't really presenting himself as an ultra-montanist--his main point is to urge caution and responsibility on pastors in the exercise of their magisterial (teaching) function (yes, I know: good luck with that). Thus, he writes:

"Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, is not something, I suggest, that can be switched on and off. Magisterium is either, according to objective (not subjective) criteria, engaged, or it isn’t. There are, of course, various degrees of magisterial authority in the Church and, yes, most folks hearing the word “magisterium” immediately, but usually wrongly, think that some grand ecclesiastical pronouncement is in the offing. But when popes and bishops publicly address themselves to matters of faith and morals, they are, I think, engaged in a magisterial act. A small act, usually, but nevertheless a real one. Protestations to the contrary—including treating magisterial acts as if their character were a matter of specific intentionality—do not change that fact."

I suspect that, by a sort of analogy, one aspect of recent events in the Church that he's getting at is the refrain one hears in certain quarters: Oh, we're not changing doctrine--these are only pastoral matters we're trying to enact. Cardinal Mueller has addressed that approach in no uncertain terms.

Of course Dr. Peters isn't addressing the whole issue of abuses of the magisterial authority, which have been known since the earliest days of the Church (cf. Paul, John, Luke). And unfortunately the CCC presents a highly idealized view of how the magisterium is supposed to work, without addressing issues of abuse.

Banshee said...

Well, I agree that anything a pope or bishop says about faith and morals is bound to have some authority. But we do have to give room for bishops to be foolish or to have exploratory discussions, or to be mostly wrong about applications but correct about a principle, or to be used by God as a test for saints while telling them stuff he will later take back.

The bishop of Rouen did not manifest much magisterial teaching in what he said and taught in the matter of Joan of Arc, and yet he was no heretic or schismatic.

St. Anthony Mary Claret, poor guy, did expect better from his fellow Council Fathers at Vatican I, and was so scandalized by some of the speeches that it probably helped cause the stroke that killed him afterward. But although we can hope for it and expect it, we will not always get it.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I agree. I did not name the 'canonist' because I did not want to be in the position of attacking Peters ... who would? But (1) I do think it must be wrong to suggest that a document which explicitly disclaims being magisterial, somehow has got to be! It is true that a man may misdescribe his own actions, as Eric Mascall used to point out; but I suspect that this case is comparable with a situation in which somebody deliberately witholds his intention when conferring or receiving a Sacrament: if you deliberately manifest an intention of not being being magisterial, then I don't think you are being.
(2) If the papacy continues down its present paths, I think orthodox Catholics are going to have to do what the Liberals did in previous pontificates: taking a critical (in the formal sense of that word) attitude to what emerges from Rome. I am therefore getting more wary about an unnecessarily generous attitude to the status of Vatican documents. Just as Cardinal Burke did when he concluded that Evangelii gaudium was not magisterial.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Whether or not something is magisterial (and this statement on relationship with the Jews is plainly not) surely it has to make sense? Clause 40 contains two sentences as follows:

" The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews."

The first sentence can reasonably be deduced from all that has preceded it. But what does the second sentence mean? Does it state as a matter of fact "that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews"? Or does it mean that there should be no such mission? Whatever of the two meanings one attributes to it no evidence whatsoever is adduced for either of them. The use of the words "In concrete terms" suggests to me that the writer knew well that this is just a baseless assertion. Until Cardinal Koch comes up with a reasonable explanation the document should be ignored as to that point.

mark wauck said...

I certainly agree with your point #2--in all times it has been the responsibility of the faithful to receive teaching critically. In the positive sense of the word. After all, was it only Paul's responsibility to confront Peter at Antioch? Should not others have spoken up? On the other hand, Peters is, I think, correct to insist that discussions on these matters should adhere to the technical meaning of the terms being used, or risk confusion. Thus, I certainly sympathize with Cardinal Burke re Evangelii Gaudium, but certainly he would know better than anyone that the real issue is: what is the status--or more properly, what is the authority--of a document that in any ordinary understanding purports to be a product of the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, but which may in fact contradict settled doctrine? Well, we've seen this before, we've seen corrections made in the CCC, and I suppose that Burke was speaking in terms he felt would be less confrontational and, perhaps, more readily understood. Certainly an encyclical wouldn't ordinarily be considered to fall under the infallible magisterium, which is what I think he was communicating in a sort of shorthand way.

I think Peters, if pushed to offer an alternative, would suggest that if Koch wanted to offer a non-magisterial opinion on this matter he should have published an article in a non-magisterial forum such as an academic journal, so that there would be no doubt that he was merely expressing his opinion. To use an official position in the Vatican to offer his opinion, even with the "non-magisterial" caveat, is a disservice to the Church, as we see from the press coverage. As are so many of Pope Bergoglio's obiter dicta. And I also suspect that Peters would agree that, given the realities of modern media, the "non-magisterial" caveat is just as disingenuous as the "pastoral not dogmatic" gambit.

Jack Tollers said...

Dear Father Hunwicke, here's a letter I'm sure you will find most interesting.


It's very much to the point (and irony seems to be the only thing working).

Jack Tollers (from Argentina)

Tamquam said...

Speaking of "device of the Enemy," I was noticing, as I read your post, the similarity between what you describe and a common tactic of the Left. If an authority is of their Party, or is in some way supporting the Party Line, the rule is, support and amplify; 0therwise undermine and vilify. Truth has no place in this schema, only the lust for power.

Belfry Bat said...

I think, actually, that Dr. Peters' Point was something along the lines of posing and addressing the question, "What is the net effect of deliberately publishing, in print, on Vatican Letterhead as it were, propositions of dubious or outright-heretical character, whether advertised as such or not?" And I gather his proposed answer is: the net effect is to erode the Church's perceived authority even where She speaks unequivocally. Of course, this raises the further question of how much perceived authority there is left to erode, but ... well, for another time.

Yes, the non-magisterial letter in question disclaim its own magisterial weight, and thereby further dilutes the putative magisterial weight of other letters from peer Vatican offices, whether they disclaim their own bearing or not.

Ben of the Bayou said...

Well said, Mr. Bat.

St. Corbinian's Bear said...

What difference does it make when the news outlets go with "Church says..." and the press releases are fired off as if the matters in question were settled once and for all? The important thing is to lay down a marker. Just let any pontiff try to back off from that absurd document and see what happens.

Valdemar said...

Father is right to address this as he does. I also think Bat is correct. The effect of documents...ANY documents coming out of the Vatican is to direct the reader to the point at hand, which, naturally, in this case is...rubbish. But that rubbish, just like the entire rotting corpus of "spirit of Vatican 2" nonsense can and does have a direct impact on the direction, the culture, the perception and the ministry of the Church.

The fact is the problems in the Church today do not originate from clear Magesterial teaching but rather from many, many lower level documents, statements, homilies, interviews, actions, etc of Popes and Bishops that are personal opinion or off the cuff or poorly grounded "teaching" or just spur of the moment "sounded like a good idea at the time" stuff {kissing the Koran, bowing toward Mecca in a Mosque, stuff like that...}. And thus, whether they are a part of the Magesterium or not is irrelevant, they have their way with the Church, and she is worse for it.

It is troubling that this culture has now been around for as long as it has been. Can any of us fathom Popes prior to the second half of the 20th Century doing anything so horrific as the above {Koran-smooching, adoring in a Mosque, etc?} or spreading obvious religious indifference {celebrating schism; Reformation} as has been happening recently? Have we so stooped to such a nadir that these things are accepted as stuff merely to be chuckled at or ignored or worse yet, learned from?

They say that the "hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" and taking that as a starting point, we must remember that nothing that happens in the kitchen of one's home is codified and legislated into law or policy in a nation, but nevertheless it forms the foundation for culture. And THAT is what we are seeing in the Church today. THAT is what we must fight against, a rotten "kitchen culture" of non-binding theological sewage that is polluting the Tiber.

Chatto said...

Father, is there a 'ceiling' above which this sort of disclaimer would not work? If a pope published a document addressed to all the world's faithful, on a particular matter of faith and morals, but said at the start that it wasn't a magisterial document, would he be right?

Nicolas Bellord said...

I am not sure your mathematics are relevant to this case. Surely this is a case of the square root of minus one which is represented by i which stands for imaginary.

Jacobi said...

Yes, dangerous times (interesting as the Chinese would say). The Church's voice is ignored or more frequently demeaned. The post -VAT II silence of bishops has not helped. We are back in, perhaps worse than, 2/3rd century Rome.

The Magisterium cannot change. Newman was unhappy with his use of the term develope and said so afterwards. Fish can develope into tetrapods but are not tetrapods The Magisterium can deepen our understanding, that is all, regardless of who claims what to the contrary.

So cheer up Father. In two or three Popes time, and with another Council to sort out the current mess, for mess it is, a new Sobiesky, spiritual and physical, will have appeared .

Liam Ronan said...

"Be on your guard against false prophets, men who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but are ravenous wolves within. You will know them by the fruit they yield. Can grapes be plucked from briers, or figs from thistles?

So, indeed, any sound tree will bear good fruit, while any tree that is withered will bear fruit that is worthless; that worthless fruit should come from a sound tree, or good fruit from a withered tree, is impossible.

Any tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. I say therefore, it is by their fruit that you will know them." Matthew 7:15-20

The difficulty for the world these days is that it does not know the difference between figs and thistles. Man seems gradually to have acquired a positive liking for thistles so that when the thistle-men tout their wares in the public market there is no lack of consumer demand.

Are we dealing with rogues, the simple-minded, or the diabolic? I suggest, from the very top to the very bottom, it is all three.

The dragon has swept a third of the stars from the heavens and now confronts The Woman. We are far into the night, Father. But the dawn will certainly come whether we are all there to witness it or no.

Theodor said...

Father, I'm not sure, whether the Magisterium is just "in danger". Our beloved Holy Father said the following during todays Angelus: "Il comandamento «non uccidere» ha valore assoluto e riguarda sia l’innocente che il colpevole. Il Giubileo straordinario della Misericordia è un’occasione propizia per promuovere nel mondo forme sempre più mature di rispetto della vita e della dignità di ogni persona. Anche il criminale mantiene l’inviolabile diritto alla vita, dono di Dio."
I'm not a specialist for moral theology, but it seems to be clear to me, that Francis wants to tell us, that killing is always "intrinsice malum". JP II (in Evangelium Vitae 56f.) made very clear, that the killing of innocent life is "intrinsice malum". If the fifth commandment is absolute for guilty life as well, it is absolutely forbidden (in other words: a mortal sin) to kill a person to protect my life, the life of my wife, my family or my nation. To be clear: From my point of view this was a short homily in public with the obvious intention to further develop the teaching of Evangelium Vitae. It seems to be part of the ordinary magisterium!
Can you help me?

Ben of the Bayou said...

Oh, and Father, what if a Council, an Ecumenical Council, specifically said that it was pastoral and not dogmatic, except where it clearly indicated that it was dogmatic, but then never specifically indicated which parts were which, what would we be left to think?

r100s said...

You do your readers a disservice by not fleshing out the full story...


Jacobi said...

For what it worth, this reader has already read and commented on the article the article that r100 has referred to.

I was not impressed by it.

Melinda said...


No disservice here. See Fr. Z's recent debunking of Crux's story.

The Bones said...

Of course if Pope Francis is canonised then everything he says becomes 'more magisterial' at a later date, right? Is that the game plan?

M. Prodigal said...

r100s: would not use Crux 'news' as a good source.

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