31 August 2018

Renewing the Magisterium

Right. So, just suppose that PF, faced with increasing calls for his resignation, resigns. What sort of successor do you think a divided College of Cardinals might elect? My guess is that they might elect someone whom the majority thought would at least not increase the divisions in the Church. A Pope whose aim would be, not to reverse the acts of PF, but somehow to draw a divided and sorely wounded Church together again. This would be a timorous but not ignoble aspiration.

But suppose the next Conclave were to elect a vigously orthodox and unambiguously Catholic pope ... let's call him Leo XIV. Suppose, as some commenters on this blog have liked  to imagine, this pope were in some way to cancel certain elements of the 'Magisterium' of PF ... or even its entirety. Good. A new start. Yes?

But ... where would that leave us?

It would leave us with a fatally compromised and weakened Magisterium.

Because if Leo XIV can scrub out the Magisterium of Francis I, it is not easy to see upon what grounds the subsequent pope Francis II can be told that he is acting ultra vires if he tries to scrub out the Magisterium of Leo XIV.

It seems to me that by trying to scrub out the Magisterium of S John Paul and of Benedict XVI, PF has created a logical conundrum to which it is not easy to see the answer. He has damaged the ability of any pope, 'liberal' or 'traditional', ever again to use effectively the Petrine Ministry.

The only 'Magisterium' which could 'trump' that of any Roman Pontiff would be that of a Pope sitting in and with an Ecumenical Council. But who wants to go down that path? The conventional assumption that doctrinal definitions of such a Council must rest upon moral unanimity would probably mean that, even in merely prectical terms, such a Council might not deliver its expectations.

Through his wilful behavour, PF has created the inevitability of an eventual (however long it may take) schism, which will be so much the more disastrous than the last great schism of the Latin Church because it will not merely be jurisdictional, but will involve large and fundamental doctrinal elements of discord.

It is likely to take generations before the full effects of the present pontificate are finally visible.


pjotr said...

Only God can restore the Church. And He will...through Mary.

Sprouting Thomas said...

This is why I am cautious about calls for the Pope to abdicate, or for him to be prosecuted by the secular authorities &c. What about the precedent? What about a Pope who is called to resign or face prosecution for "hate speech"? And yet...

I wonder if, even among the cardinals, the idea of a "compromise candidate" has finally outstayed its welcome. There is very little patience left in any quarter (I do not insist this is a good thing). Surely the churchmanship of the Schönborns will come out of the present crisis looking like a quaint relic, like the statesmanship of Chamberlain in the era of Churchill?

What would you say, Father, about a Müller pontificate? He is "Leo XIV" material, to be sure, but he is also diplomatic to his fingertips, utterly devoid of hysteria or even excitability, with the sure-footedness, patience and subtlety needed to solve your conundrum, if anyone can? To be the kind of doctor who distracts the patient with consummate skill, before applying the much-needed, painful remedy. Sound and solid, he would be respected and admired even by his opponents. He may not have the silent conflagration, the devouring holiness of a Sarah (I speak only of his external manner), but in the past few years he has emerged as the dove-like, serpent-like C..c..Claudius of Roman affairs - though his reign would have to go rather better, for it all to pay off.

I suspect Pope Francis' value to his friends will become, more and more, that of a scapegoat. If I were the progressive mafia, this would be the perfect juncture to assassinate him, pin it on the traditionalists and convert his martyrdom into a mandate to despoil the Church for the next hundred years. Luckily for us all, I am not the progressive mafia.

Ignatius, Cornwall said...

This latter, a schism taking a great amount of time to repair, seems likely, I agree -- BUT, don't forget our hope is in the workings of the Holy Ghost within the world and the Church. God's ways are not our ways, otherwise, how can we explain these greatly sinful perversions (and often illegalities against the innocent even children, -- AND NOT JUST these sexual horrors within the priesthood, but also those Magisterial and doctrinal distortions and suggested, (if not, as I fear), outright heresies of this Pope and his coterie of sycophants and political fellow travellers? Oh, and all the nonsense since Vatican II, its erroneous "spirit" and the liturgical decadence since the institution of the Novus Ordo Mass, resulting in the loss of millions of souls to the Church and Our Lord.

Sprouting Thomas said...

I add that my initial reaction to this post was "Wot Magisterium?"

Would a Leo XIV actually have to overturn anything? Surely all he would have to do is clarify and rephrase; to teach where there has been silence; to "do doctrine" where PF has "done pastoral". What would you identify as the concrete magisterial utterances which will lead us into this conundrum?

Catholic State said...

In all due respect the schism started circa late 1960's.
We agree the schism is going to possibly become even more divided and confusing.
I don't expect nor asking anyone to agree with me on my final point.
How someone can look at the Catholic Church pre-1964 and post-1964 then conclude the V2 council and subsequent Novus Ordo religion were not intended to destroy CATHOLICISM is mind boggling.
The types who vehemently write against the revolutionary liturgical changes from 1951-1973 yet use and accept the new Sacramental forms of Holy Orders, Extreme Unction,confirmation,and baptism.
The liturgical mutilations were created by the very same type of revolutionary who created the new Sacramental forms 1968-1973.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Could not a future Pope just clarify the ambiguities of Pope Francis in an orthodox sense?
The biggest problem for the next Pope is cleaning up the mess financial, corrupt, etc etc. Pope Francis may have done many things but he has not actually said that abortion, adultery, sodomy etc are okay so no problem in enforcing the teaching of the Church.

daldred said...

I don't think it would be that difficult to roll back some of Frances' statements.

After all, the main criticism of them is that they are unclear, and if that is the case, they are open to authoritative clarification. The infamous footnote, for example, and the degree of its intention to make any change, are matters open to interpretation. The change to the Catechism wording on the death penalty contains a prudential judgement as to the current state of societies (as did the previous wording) : societies can and do regress.

He's not done the whole infallible thing, and he's not produced anything of the clarity and reasoned, logical force that characterised his two predecessors. Fuzzy statements can be magisterially de-fuzzied.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Father Joseph Clifford Fenton:

The efforts of each man or group of men are sharply limited. The effective work of one defender of Christ may reach a few listeners for a short time. Others will come and there in turn may go. But while men live upon this earth there is no more precious and sacred privilege than that of standing forth and speaking for Christ.

The Vicar of Christ has no interest in standing and speaking for Christ because he is an antiChrist.

One supposes the Church will continue in its schism for there is a clear schism with one anthropocentric side , the Hierarchy and the plurality of pew dwellers, and the other, the theocentric side located in the chapels and churches that feature The Real Mass and the Faithful living the Tradition of the Faith once delivered.

ABS loves you Father but the problem of not forcefully responding to a revolution with a counter-revolution is that the fear of what may happen is spiritually debilitating but Jesus had no such fear and neither ought we. The Church must teach the truth even knowing that the truth divides.

The revolutionary men who murdered the Real Mass must be publicly identified and called to account by the next Pope and he must abrogate the Lil' Licit Liturgy and restore The Real Mass as normative for starters.

Any other action (it seems to this Corkie) means the revolution is triumphant.

Many men think the Church will continue to crumble and collapse until it reaches that sorry state in which it is so weak and seemingly irrelevant that the The Anti Christ will appear.

ABS admits that is prolly ineluctable and so why not fight tooth and nail for the Faith once delivered?

Woody said...

Excellent and penetrating analysis as always Father. I can anticipate the answers of the papalists will be to say that the questionable parts of PF’s teaching are some how not magisterial, or at least do not command the highest levels of assent, thus permitting informed and respectful disagreement. But that argument only gets back to the same place that you posit—if the objectionable teachings can be described as non-Magisterial, then so can (and has been, see e.g. the syllabus of errors or 19th century teaching on religious freedom) almost anything, or maybe completely anything, be.

Ceile De said...

But what if he were later declared by a subsequent pope, for whatever reason, an anti-pope?

ezadro said...

About half of the Cardinal electors appointed by Francis. Many of these are liberal sycophants, and many others seem to be relatively unknown prelates from the 'peripheries' where I dare say they have a limited understanding of the gravity of the sexual abuse crisis in the 'old world'/anglopshere. At a minimum, I am doubtful that they will clearly apprehend the extent to which structural reform is needed in terms of financial and procedural transparency and due process in canon law.

To me, it seems the most likely outcome is the first scenario you proposed: someone who is outwardly a 'unifying' figure, probably a bit on the liberal-left end of the spectrum but not aggressively so, yet someone who is not part of Pope Francis' curial "club." This Pope will probably be less scheming than Pope Francis but will allow the present doctrinal confusion to continue. They will be able to do this because they have an excellent excuse: They need to enact structural reforms - which, for the reasons I have set out above, will probably be ineffectual in any event. And likewise, the episcopacy will probably only be too happy to be given an excuse to ignore the festering schism. So the Church remains in stasis.

Cardinal Tagle fits the bill here pretty well. Tagle is only 61 years old, meaning he could be Pope for 20 years. It is unlikely that Pope Francis' "magisterium" will be changed one jot in the meantime, and far more probable that ten years into a Cardinal Tagle papacy we will see an Ecumenical Council to sort out the loose ends of this crisis once it has settled down and all the 'old guard' Cardinals are either dead or retired. I'm sure we can agree this isn't exactly a welcome prospect but on the other hand, the 'biological' solution means that a lot of the liberal impetus for reform will wane.

Absent an profound intervention of the Holy Spirit, it seems extremely unlikely that a conservative Cardinal will be elected. If this does happen, he will have a pretty strong mandate to clean things up, doctrinally. While it may be that the authority of his office is weakened, liberals will not be in a good position to argue this on doctrinal grounds after insisting for the last five years that Pope Francis' actions have been exclusively "pastoral" and that 2+2=5. They will also suffer the ignominy of having aligned themselves with a Pope and other curial figures who have been disgraced by an abuse scandal.

From a theological standpoint, burning questions about ambiguities in the papal magisterium will remain, but they could be put off for the time being.

But is resignation even a remote possibility here? As I understand it a papal resignation not made willingly is invalid. Absent some sudden and severe illness, it is impossible to see how Pope Francis can now resign without it appearing that he was pressured to do so. Granted, this only defers the question of who his successor will be, but for the time being it seems that his theological programme will be seriously curtailed, since many bishops are now unlikely to afford him the benefit of the doubt on any controversial issue.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your oberservations Father. But we are not to forget two public! statements of people PF appreciate-s/d/:

1. Archbishop Mc Carrick said it would take Bergoglio 5 years to "reform" the church! (2013-2018)
2. Archbishop Fernandez said that the pope will make "un-reversible" changes!

I think as you do, that the next conclave will bring forth a man who doesn´t "polarize". So Burke and Sarah don´t have a realistic chance as they have to gain more then 80 votes! And I´m not sure anyone will let some curial man have any chance be it Ouellette or Parolin. I think the best chance is for someone outside the curia. The African goup is too small-Napier has not many people to support him. South America has no chance for any candidate after this pontificate. Other Europeans like Erdö have not enough support. Schönborn could get some as he is a opportunist and well connected to Benedict and Francis. The US are to weak now-but Dolan and DiNardo will play a major role. The main candidate is Tagle. He has connections to the USA and Italy and travels a lot for caritas. He is the man of the liberals. The only negative point would be his age as he is under 70 and could reign for very long. His character is similar to John Paul I. I think there could be a fight between a curial man like Oulette (Pope Clement) and Tagle. And then the majority will vote for a non curial man. But this is mere human speculation. Perhaps God will intervene-fiat voluntas sua! I wish we will have a "Papa Josephus I". Its time for a Joseph, patronus ecclesiae.

Fr. David Evans said...

Unlikely as the situation you propose is, might I remind you of the sensus fidelium which John Henry Newman realised was so crucial in any understanding of 'novelties' suggested as magisterial pronouncements.

There has been a not-so subtle attempt to abolish the 'seventh commandment' but it has not received anything like a 'sensus' amongst the faithful. Admittedly, some pastors of the Church have defended such an abolition but can they be said to have succeeded ? Has the mind of the faithful been so moved ? I really do not think so. One has the feeling that there is amongst the faithful of the sort of sentiment that one reserves to an elderly relative whom one feels had to be invited to the wedding reception. Half a barley wine later all sorts of rectifications for family, country and world are espoused.....to the general murmur of 'oh bless'.

vetusta ecclesia said...

He once said he might go down in history as the Pope who divided the Church. Doesn''t seem to worry him. And we have de fscto schism already, in my view

Nicholas Ross said...

IF he resigns, and IF we have a 'Leo XIV' 'type' of pope in Office, could a formal investigation be conducted into 'forma' heresy? He has not answered the dubia, still, and there is the filial correction matter... surely things like this don't 'just happen' to popes and something would have to be done to address these visa-vis PF.

If he was then found to be in heresy, I believe it's correct that his 'contributions' could be lawfully wiped from the annals of history and this could be done without diminishing at all the integrity of the magisterium, since it would be 'magisterial'?

Just thoughts and hopes! I see Father's concern, otherwise.


Gaius said...

But is resignation even a remote possibility here? As I understand it a papal resignation not made willingly is invalid. Absent some sudden and severe illness, it is impossible to see how Pope Francis can now resign without it appearing that he was pressured to do so. Granted, this only defers the question of who his successor will be, but for the time being it seems that his theological programme will be seriously curtailed, since many bishops are now unlikely to afford him the benefit of the doubt on any controversial issue.

Resignations made under duress (e.g., somebody credibly threatening to kill the Pope unless he resigns) are invalid. Resignations made under pressure (e.g., the Pope is upset that everybody thinks he covered up for child molesters and wants to get away from it all) aren't. Indeed, if being pressured is enough to invalidate a resignation, then Benedict's resignation wasn't valid, since he clearly felt a lot of pressure to go; in which case, talk of Francis' resignation is moot, since he was never actually Pope in the first place.

Dan Hayes said...

Schonborn is my candidate! He is the only Pope-to-be-candidatec with the requisite amounts of duplicity and all-around chicanery!

Unknown said...

This is a larger hundred year old latent battle first joined by St. Pius X and mostly a cold schism since the Modernists took control at Vatican II. They mostly laid low under JP2 (unless you ask SSPX) and recent first blood was the retirement of Benedict XVI, unwilling and unable to sack God knows how more McCarricks are out there.

As much as I love him, Cardinal Burke is unlikely for nationality as much as any reason. Cardinal Sarah could be viable as a compromise candidate. Schonborn has shown himself... flexible under Francis from positions he had under Benedict. That may prove attractive after Francis... or not.

In any case, any pope contradicting his predecessor undercuts his own authority, though it's happened before (Julius II comes to mind). One would suspect the effort would be more subtle than another Honorius situation. A shift to a Canonist after the theologian and pastoral could also be on the minds of the cardinals.

Jack Quirk said...

I like the idea of another ecumenical council. I think we need one. And you're right that we can't have popes trying to "scrub out" the Magisterium of previous popes, because that would call into question the whole edifice (which is why it can't happen--that's right, I said "can't," not shouldn't). But I would like someone to give me some examples of where Pope Francis has tried to "to scrub out the Magisterium of S John Paul and of Benedict XVI...."

RichardT said...

"PF has created a logical conundrum to which it is not easy to see the answer. He has damaged the ability of any pope, 'liberal' or 'traditional', ever again to use effectively the Petrine Ministry."

This has been my worry for the last year or so. Where, now, is the authority of the Church to teach anything? If communion and marriage can be changed (respectively the bedrocks of our liturgical and practical Christian lives), then anything can be changed and nothing the Church teaches, on faith or morals, can have any credibility.

The only solution I can see is for the Church not just to clearly and definitely over-turn not just Pope Francis' teachings that conflict with the Magisterium but also to categorically deny that he, or any other Pope, had authority to make such changes. And this needs to be clear, public and soon, so as to restore the proper authority of the Church before it is lost.

A trial for heresy seems the best way to do this; I am starting to think that a repeat of what was done over Pope Formosus would not be excessive. But I'm a lawyer. Your suggestion of a Pope in Council would also work, but it would have to re-state the powers of the Papacy, and the limits of those powers, in line with Vatican I, to make it clear that it is the whole approach of Pope Francis to the Papacy that is in error, not just his specific pronouncements.

Sadly I cannot see any of this happening. It now needs a miracle to save the Church. Of course if the Church is worth saving, a miracle will come. If not, it won't.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Mr. Quirk


Leila said...

This analysis is, sadly, spot on. The only two possible solutions (and at least the first I think will not be something readers here want or think is possible, but maybe with great prayer and sacrifice?):
1. Pope Francis repents and takes it upon himself to restore the damage he has done. The truth is that his resignation or even death would not solve the issues raised here.
2. Sweet meteor of death/second coming. From 2004 when we were all a bit younger: https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otr.cfm?ID=1638

Dan said...

Which is why perhaps what we need is not a Leo XIV (or a Pius XIII) but a Francis II, someone who will bring the current implosion to completion and thereby clear the way for the true faith to emerge triumphant again.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Error is never, under any circumstances, magisterial. I think Cardinal Burke pointed this out at some point.

Marko Ivančičević said...

You need an instrument of distinguishing between truth and error. If you have that instrument on your own disposal (let's say, Scripture and Tradition), then Magisterium is functionally obsolete.

Now, i'm not saying that one shouldn't distinguish between truth and error, nor am i an ultramontanist. I'm merely saying that we've hit the wall of theological epistemology.

So either we interpret on our own (which we're doing already, and have been doing for the pas 50 years)
we let everything be interpreted for us (which leaves us open to manipulation).

Unknown said...

I am sick of pusilanimous conservatives wringing their hands about the implications of correcting their predecessors. It's the heretics that have been taking dynamite and wrecking balls to tradition and here you are concerned about correcting the course the church has been taking. Restore the truth, banish errors and lets get on with it! Our enemies have no compunction about trying to destroy the church and we need to have the guts to put it back together. Doing so increases our credibility rather than destroying it. Lastly, there is no conservative vs liberal conflict. Either something is Catholic or it is not. Us Catholics need to grow a pair and start righting some wrongs.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...


Here philosophy is one's friend, in particular logic. Just as the law of non-contradiction came to the rescue with regard to John XXII, it comes to the rescue in regard to the errors of Pope Francis, to say nothing of those of Vatican II. Philosophy really is the handmaid of theology.

Gadfly said...

The Church has been in de facto schism for the last four decades; all that Pope Francis has done is bring it out into the open.

Ronald Sevenster said...

To me it seems that a future orthodox Pope — perhaps and hopefully the direct successor of Francis — doesn't have to "cancel certain elements of the 'Magisterium' of PF...or even its entirety". My guess is that the best course of action would be a practical restoration of long forgotten moral truth and discipline. This Pope shouldn't talk much about sexual morality but simply and silently, one by one, remove all prelates who flout Church teaching on this subject, or whose lives are not in accordance with the moral precepts of the Church. As a policy, it is better to undermine and undo Francis' appointments than his teachings. Just restore practical discipline, not by writing Encyclicals, but by a secret police who investigates the clergy, and reports to him. If one by one those who step out of line are removed, degraded, laicized, then the signal will be clear enough. In sum, the supposed orthodox successor of Francis should speak softly and little, but carry a big stick.

Dale Matson said...

God is a God of both possibilities and surprises. If Pope Francis were to step down, and the Church were to also deal with the criminality, why wouldn't this be an excellent time to anticipate another ecumenical council rather than a schism? It would be an opportunity for renewed unity in the One Holy and Apostolic Church.

Howard said...

"Because if Leo XIV can scrub out the Magisterium of Francis I, it is not easy to see upon what grounds the subsequent pope Francis II can be told that he is acting ultra vires if he tries to scrub out the Magisterium of Leo XIV."

OK, let's say he doesn't scrub out the "magisterium" of Francis. Understand you are talking about a small-m, only-in-quotations "magisterium" -- the "magisterium" not of definitive statements of binding authority, but of washing the feet of Muslim women, of making statements that can be conveniently understood to render popular sins irreproachable, and of taking refuge in forms of communication which the Holy Spirit does not guarantee to be accurate or even honest. Let's say that Leo XIV remains silent on all that "magisterium". If you think Francis II will be awed into reciprocating, you have not been paying attention to current events, let alone history.

Very, very, very few battles solve any problem for all eternity. You are a priest; surely you have noticed that penitents may say, "I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin," yet return in a week or two with very similar sins? Defeating temptation today does not guarantee it will not return tomorrow. It is the same in the life of the Church. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.