20 May 2016

Amoris Laetitia and the Magisterium

Cardinal Burke has made himself quite unpopular in some Traddy circles by not denouncing AL ut Leo rugiens from his Maltese housetops. There are fierce people around who feel that, for a top lawyer simply to say that the document has no Magisterial authority, is just not nearly angry enough. Spluttering expletives, apparently, are called for. Raymond Leo Burke, they say, should put a lot more work into his spluttering techniques.

I must declare an interest here. When AL emerged, my own first comment (April 9) was to observe immediately that an Apostolic Exhortation  is "not doctrinally constitutive nor juridically legislative". Burke ... and I! ... are exactly right. That is why we do not splutter.

Some critics have claimed that AL must be magisterial because Bergoglio is on record as saying "I wrote an encyclical ... and an Apostolic Exhortation, I'm constantly making statements, giving homilies. That's magisterium."

If this Pope really does imagine that his Petrine Magisterium extends to Apostolic Exhortations, to 'statements', and even to his endless homilies, then this is quite a serious and worrying misunderstanding on his part of his own office (it reminds me of Fr Eric Mascall's wise observation that a man, even a pope, can misdescribe his own actions).

But however much this apparent claim may impress the hyperultrapapalists who surround the Holy Father but have never read Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, it should be an irrelevance to those of us who know better.

Apostolic Constitutions are way above the pay grade of Apostolic Exhortations. And the principle that "remarried" divorcees should not receive Holy Communion is embodied in the Catechism, which rests upon the authority of the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum of S John Paul II. Moreover, it was given to the Ordinariates as our doctrinal norm in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus of Benedict XVI.

This is the Catholic Faith which we have received.

It is the duty of every Catholic, high and low, to guard and hand on the Deposit of Faith which we have received, sancte et fideliter. Vatican I, unsurprisingly, took the view that this is especially the duty of the successor of S Peter (Denzinger 3070).

I still share that view, even if some of Bergoglio's closest associates do not.


mark wauck said...

"not doctrinally constitutive nor juridically legislative".

Tell that to the people in the pews. Or to the people who maybe aren't hardly ever in the pews, but call themselves Catholics. Or to people of good will of whatever background. And let me know the next time a priest gets in trouble with his local ordinary for giving communion to known adulterers.

The name of the game is no longer to issue documents that are "doctrinally constitutive" or "juridically legislative." It's to change the facts on the ground, and that's precisely what's happening. Entire bishops conferences (juridical status, please?) have already embraced this neither "doctrinally constitutive nor juridically legislative" documment. This is Marxist style political action, same as we've seen going on since Vatican II. Benedict told us (in 2007, thank you very much!) that the "extraordinary" use had never been abrogated, since the days when its use had been "ordinary." Tell that to the people in the pews. It's a long road back home, lemme tell ya.

Re Marxist style praxis, I can't recommend highly enough Sandro Magister's sharing of an article by a brave Barnabite priest, Fr. Giovanni Scalese: The Four Hooks On Which Bergoglio Hangs His Thought. It's deadly dull, but it lays out for anyone with eyes to see or ears to hear just what the real program is. And, implicitly, why Burke's comments are irrelevant.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Mark

I share your sense of outrage at the strategy you draw to our attention: Bergoglio's game of leaving the doctrines and the rules unchanged, but setting in motion Facts which leave the doctrines and the rules to wither away as the decades go by, while his Facts take their place. It is arguably diabolical.

It remains true that faithful Catholics need to know what they are to make of documents which emerge from Bergoglio. They need to know that these are not being imposed on their consciences by the Magisterium.

Things are quite bad enough without that genre-error too.

That is why Burke's and my point matters.

mark wauck said...

Just to drive home the point ...

We know that Francis regularly condemns abortion--sometimes in fairly strong language.

But early on in his papacy we were also told to stop "obsessing" over issues like abortion. And then, just a few months ago, back in February, we had this: Pope calls Italy’s foremost abortion promoter one of nation’s ‘forgotten greats’. This would be Emma Bonino, the "lady" who came up with a creative new use for the bicycle pump.

And today we read: Papal spokesman praises radical pro-abortion, pro-divorce politician. This was what Antonio Socci elsewhere described as "the incredible Vatican eulogy for Marco Pannella," the bisexual, atheist, radical politician who helped lead Italy in the 1970s to legalize divorce and abortion. (It's worth following the link to Socci's Italian site just for the wonderfully expressive photo juxtaposition.)

Obviously neither of these statements were either "doctrinally constitutive" or "juridically legislative," so what's the point? That Francis is inconsistent? I think not. I think it's all carefully calculated. Who thinks any bishop will publicly rebuke "Catholic" (or any) politicians for their stands on abortion or virtually any other moral issue now?

And all this is what can be accomplished through statements that are "not doctrinally constitutive nor juridically legislative". And the beat of papal appointments goes on, and on ...

mark wauck said...

Thanks for your response, Father.

I certainly agree that "faithful Catholics need to know what they are to make of documents which emerge from Bergoglio. They need to know that these are not being imposed on their consciences by the Magisterium." Nevertheless, I consider that this response, necessary as it is, is inadequate unless it is combined with an analysis of the actual Bergoglian strategy, which takes advantage of the realities of modern mass communication via images, sound bites, etc. Beyond "faithful Catholics," there is also the reality that the Faith's face to the world is the Pope. The Church's mission is to the world, but the overwhelmingly most visible and authoritative spokesman for the Church is propagating a calculated message/impression that is hard to combat, even for eminent canonists like Burke. And which discourages even the faithful who may know better. The problem for Catholics, of course, is that such an analysis of the Bergoglian strategy necessarily involves ad hominem elements which make many Catholics uncomfortable.

Cordelio said...

I am also uncomfortable with the criticisms leveled by "fierce people" at the likes of Cardinal Burke (or Bishop Schneider, or Bishop Fellay) for not denouncing every disturbing papal utterance quickly enough or vehemently enough or on every possible grounds. Part of this is doubtless a function of the modern news cycle, where we expect immediate and dramatic reaction to everything. Historically, while the Church has often been much more faithful to its duty to denounce errors than today, it has also taken plenty of time - sometimes years or more - to fully consider the facts before speaking or acting. It is ironic that one hand we wish that popes would not hold themselves above the modern news cycle, and avoid speaking publicly and immediately on everything that came to mind, while on the other hand we wish that papal critics would just spout off.

That being said, I also find the repeated emphasis on the non-magisterial nature of dubious papal statements to be odd. If the Pope were to deny the Virgin Birth in a published letter to a journalist friend (which God grant he may never do), would a normal immediate reaction be to say, "Don't worry, it's not a magisterial statement." This would be particularly the case where the statement made at a time when movements in denial of that very same doctrine were prominent in the Church.

Perhaps Cardinal Burke is primarily concerned that the faithful will be driven to sedevacantism or apostasy upon hearing such things from Rome, and this evil is more to feared than the havoc wreaked in the Church from such papal statements (regardless of how they are labeled)? His critics, on the other hand, may already appreciate - from decades of firsthand experience - that popes can say and do all manner of things damaging to the Faith while both retaining their office and not substantially threatening the indefectibilty of the Church - and thus see this focus as rather missing the more important point.

Woody said...

Cardinal Burke's comments and yours are certainly correct and to the point. It's the tone that many people have a problem with. Unless you're screaming obscenities with the rest of them, it is not good enough. I like the idea that someone came up with that a traditionalists firing line is a circle!

mark wauck said...

With apologies in advance for not getting it all together in a single comment ...

I would draw a distinction between your comments and those of Cardinal Burke. What really drew the ire of Traddies, IMO, was that Burke accused them of causing "scandal" (his word) with their criticisms of AL. That accusation is very different from the tone of your own comments. Burke's implicit attitude toward AL seems to be: The less said the sooner forgotten. In the meantime, tone down your criticism lest those "of good will who look to Christ and his Church" for guidance may be led to doubt. Again, I would draw a distinction between that attitude and the attitude you have expressed. And I would reiterate that Cardinal Burke's attitude seriously underestimates the effectiveness of the Bergoglian strategy. In fact, it plays into its hands. Old attitudes need to change in the face of a radical new strategy.

rick allen said...

I suppose I should just register my dismay about how every utterance of Pope Francis seems to be spun. First the mainstream media puts it into its normally-preferred narrative that the pope is moving the Church toward major changes. Then the traditionalist press and media weigh in confirming that very reading. This almost always includes confident assertions about what the pope's "real" intentions are.

I am an educated layman who's been Catholics for about 35 years. I have enough of a grasp of Hebrew, Greek and Latin to read the scriptures and the Fathers, and have always had an amateur's interest in theology and Church history. So, I am no expert, certainly no professional, but it seems to me that typically the objections to Pope Francis' pronouncement are read into them--one has to look for the objectionable, to really work to find what is objectionable. I understand that that's not entirely ouy of bounds--it's the old hermeneutic of suspicion rather than the hermeneutic of continuity. But it strikes me as an odd attitude for Catholics to take to the Bishop of Rome.

Some of this is inevitable. But it seems to me a shame that the authority of the pope, which presumably was established for our comfort, has become an occasion of unrelenting anxiety, a feeling among many that Pope Francis can somehow scuttle the Church's teaching by the implication of a footnote.

This is not intended as a criticism of close study or this blog in particular. But so much discussion reminds me of the tone of our (American) political rhetoric thaI it discouraging.

Remnant Clergy said...

The barn door is open and the horses have run out. As if saying "it's only an exhortation" makes a difference. Fear can rationalize anything. Stand up for the flock, father.

Donna Bethell said...

Mark Wauck has it exactly right in his first comment: "The name of the game is no longer to issue documents that are 'doctrinally constitutive' or 'juridically legislative.' It's to change the facts on the ground, and that's precisely what's happening."

Card. Burke has somewhat refined his remarks in the last few days and said that the parts of AL that comform to the Magisterium are magisterial and other parts are not. So now we are at the real crux of the matter: AL is not magisterial, not because of its form or style or even because Pope Francis said it isn't, but because it does not comform to the Magisterium.

Card. Müller found it necessary to present a thorough explication of the Church's teaching on marriage and the reception of the Sacraments, while saying that AL should be interpreted in conformity with that teaching, but he did not address why a major papal document needs to be steered so heavily.

So while everything the Cardinals have said is true and needed to be said, they are missing the point of the papal strategy: it is not to make a formal change of doctrine but to signal, to those on the same wavelength, that practice and behavior formerly forbidden are now allowed. The pope did not say that the divorced and remarried can now receive Holy Communion. But, after an elaborate two-year process to address that very question, he did not answer it: he did not say that they cannot. That is all Card. Kasper & Co. needed.

Worse, Pope Francis laid down claims that undermine the entire moral doctrine of the Church: No one can be condemned forever; It is no longer (what changed?) possible to say that persons in irregular unions are necessarily in a state of sin; Even a person with a well-formed conscience can conclude that in his circumstances he is doing all that God wants of him now, although short of the "rule."

Absolution will now be expected by everyone who wants it, as each "penitent" decides for himself whether he is rare, medium, or well-done: standing pat, maybe slowly moving, or amending his life. What had been in the external forum of objective fact has moved to the internal forum of private judgement, a recurring theme in this pontificate.

In the hierarchy, only Bishop Schneider has laid out the logically necessary conclusions and horrendous consequences of these claims. With the hard work done, why has no other bishop even managed to say "I agree with Bishop Schneider"?

Paulusmaximus said...

It is quite clear that Scripture, Tradition, the Catechism, the Magisterium, the CDF mean little or nothing to Pope Francis (except where it is convenient to misquote/decontextualise statements from these sources to persuade his less revolutionary followers). The long-term plan seems to be to make these these 'static' institutions wither and die through irrelevance - in much the same way that Engels and Lenin believed that the state would ultimately fade away.

Mr. Neutron said...

AL may not be doctrinally constitutive nor juridically legislative, but my ordinary has announced plans to drive a bus through the ambiguity created by AL:


Ben of the Bayou said...

Dear Mr. Wauck,

I find your observations thought-provoking and worthy of consideration.

One question: why would a reasoned analysis of any man's m.o. require, per SE, ad hominem attacks? Does it not seem that the very nature of logic obviates that very method?

mark wauck said...

Ben, perhaps I spoke a bit loosely, but my thinking was simply that any time you discuss a person's strategy you necessarily get into their goals and that naturally seems to lead to motives. To that extent you tend to be dealing with the person, rather than confining yourself to something more like textual exegesis. I think Fr. Hunwicke's comment that "It's arguably diabolical" illustrates how the tendency works. That's how I meant "ad hominem": not in the sense of name-calling or abandoning logic, because such a discussion can certainly be quite logical. My experience has been that many, probably most, Catholics are reflexively uncomfortable with the idea of discussing a pope's motives if those motives appear to lead in directions that are arguably detrimental to the Church. They tend to rule out such possibilities automatically and view such talk as in the nature of a personal attack on the pope.

Deacon Augustine said...

Fr. H, it may be technically correct from a Canonical p.o.v. to minimize the magisterial importance of an Apostolic Exhortation, but Familiaris consortio is also an Apostolic Exhortation and until now it has been seen as the standard against which all other teaching on marriage, family and sexuality should be measured. How does one diss AL without dissing FC?

I would contend that what makes FC authoritative despite it only being an Apostolic Exhortation is that the teaching it contains conforms to, reaffirms and is built on the teaching of the Catholic Church. In short it is authoritative primarily because it is true - not because of who wrote it. In contrast that other Apostolic Exhortation frequently undermines, and denies the teaching of the Catholic Church and is built on an ideology which has an occult source.

I don't believe it is necessary to jump up and down and scream about it (albeit that can be entertaining sometimes), but one can quite rationally and calmly ask that the document be revised in line with the Catholic faith or retracted/binned.

What I do believe is a futile exercise is to try to interpret it in continuity with the last 2,000 years of revelation/tradition/magisterium because that would be to attempt to overthrow the law of non-contradiction. No sane person would try and I have certainly seen no evidence of you attempting to do this - but others out there do appear to be adopting this response. If it would be legitimate to call this document "garbage" were it to be authored by Hans Kung or Matthew Fox, then objectively it must be legitimate to call it garbage whosoever wrote it. To treat it as anything else due to the status of its author would be to commit the sin of Human Respect which is still listed as a sin in that Catechism you swore by.

Ben of the Bayou said...


Yes, now I take your meaning. I think I see the issue: you begin with strategy which (you are right) leads Ina direct line to motive. What I cannot see is how we are permitted to go in that direction. Saint after Saint tells us (e.g., Catherine of Siena, John Vianney) that, however so bad the Pope/Bishop/Priest be, we must not speak against his character, which unarguably includes his motives.

Why must we see some Marxist plot behind this? Why must we lift up every cassok looking for a Mason? Why must we endlessly wring our hands over this lobby or that? If the thing is bad, it's bad whether or no we know what motivated the author of it.

In charity, I would admonish you that we ought to avoid that way, though you will likely take me for one of "those" Catholics to whom you earlier referred, since it is, by your own admission, a "personal" attack against the Pope.

I will tell you that I think certain sections of AL are spot on, while some particular sections are wrong and destructive. But I can say all of that in charity without ever having to impute to Pope Francis some larger scheme to undermine the Church's true Faith.

I invite you to go along the way with me, rather than follow that other way.

Hrodgar said...

Perhaps "it's only an exhortation" IS a sufficient response if other problems, such as Bergoglio's apparent hostility to the tradition he is supposed to safeguard, are already assumed? Certainly they seem to be assumed by both the folks who offer and the folks who bristle at that response.