Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Amoris Laetitia Magisterial? A Guest Post by Ryan Grant

This morning, a Vatican newspaper printed an article declaring that Amoris Laetitia is part of the binding papal Magisterium and must be given religious submission of mind and will by the Catholic faithful.

We present here a guest commentary by Mr. Ryan Grant. Ryan is a long time friend and colleague of mine, whom most of you probably know from his work at Athanasius Contra Mundum and the excellent Mediatrix Press. Ryan, noting that the article coming out of the Vatican today is not from any official Church organ, offers reasons why Catholics concerned by Amoris Laetitia should just keep on doing what they've been doing.

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It is being said that Amoris Laetitia is now officially part of the Magisterium and Catholics must submit their intellect and will to it. This is entirely false. Here I completely prescind from discussing the merits of the document, footnote 351 or any other issue. I am only interested in its doctrinal status.

This morning I read: "Writing in the Vatican newspaper, a Spanish ecclesiology professor said that Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is part of the non-definitive ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff to which the faithful owe religious submission of intellect and will." (source)

FULL STOP. In the first place, an ecclesiology professor does not have the authority to define the status of the document. That can only be done by either the CDF or the Pope himself, unless the document itself makes it clear that Catholics are bound to give an assent to the teaching, which, as far as I can recollect, does not. By its nature, as a post-synodal exhortation, it does not bind Catholics in any way.

Secondly, the distinction made by certain theologians between the ordinary universal Magisterium (Vatican I) and the non-universal, or non-definitive Magisterium, is that it is not binding but should be respected. Amoris Laetitia imposes no decision upon Catholics, and is merely opinative.

Thirdly, this article lead is false because a religious submission of the intellect and will only obliges if it is promulgated as a law or interpretation of a law, whether by a Sacred Congregation or the Pope himself. (St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Theologia Moralis, lib. 1, tr. 2, n. 107; cf. Cardinal Franzelin, De Divina Traditione, Thesis 12, 7th corollary). In the absence of a clear decision by the competent congregation(CDF), or by the Pope himself, this document binds no one to anything.
Don't freak out, return to the normal things you do.

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For a more thorough theological exploration of the authority of non-universal Magisterial statements - and for a differing opinion - we recommend Cathedra Veritatis: On the Extension of Papal Infallibility by John Joy, available in the Cruachan Hill Press store.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NCR Firings: Martyrs or Loose Cannons?

There is a lot of hubbub this week over the recent shakeup at the NCR; I am speaking of course of the recent firings of John Paul Shimek, Mark Shea, and now Simcha Fisher.

When unexpected things happen, people generally try to create a narrative of why they happened. A narrative is a certain interpretation of what certain facts mean; narratives help people assimilate the events into our preexisting worldview in a way logically consistent with it. I discussed this some years ago when Benedict XVI resigned and Catholics were scrambling to come up with an explanation for it ("The Benedict Narrative Emerges", Feb. 2013).

Similarly, I am seeing mainstream Catholics kind of scrambling to come up with an explanation of why Shea, Fisher and Shimek were let go. The narrative emerging is very pathetic.

What I am seeing supporters of Shea and Simcha saying is that this has to do with his views on Catholic social teachings - essentially, Catholic conservatives uncomfortable with the fact that Shea opposes the conservative-Republican agenda and supports Catholic social teaching. In other words, making Shea into a martyr for the Catholic "middle way", as if his firing were about his political opinions. Similarly, Eye of the Tiber ran a piece satirically insinuating that Shea and Simcha were fired for "having opinions."

Of course, this makes these people into martyrs for their opinions, something they are encouraging (Shea's rant about Simcha's firing compares the sacking of an author to anti-Christian persecution); but it is very far from the truth.

These people were not terminated for having opinions, much less political opinions, but for being loose cannons.

John Paul Shimek - who said he wanted his mission in life to be making Traditional Catholicism an "unthinkable option" for the Church - had had his scathing articles censured for posting his dribble without authorization and bypassing any editorial review. And even those that weren't were horridly abusive to traditional Catholics in particular.

As for Shea, the official statement of the National Catholic Register states very clearly why he was sacked, and it had nothing to do with political opinions expressed in the Register. Rather, NCR cited Shea's behavior on forums outside the Register and questioned his charity in dealing with online debates:
"The Register is no longer publishing blogs or commentaries submitted by Mark Shea. Mark’s writings at the or published in our print edition were within our editorial guidelines. However, his writings and engagement on other forums were irreconcilable with our editorial vision or standards of charitable discussion."

"Irreconcilable with our editorial visions or standards of charitable discussion." He was fired for being uncharitable in his online debates. I had one with him last year in which I upheld the shocking proposition that gay men should not be ordained. While he was not personally uncharitable to me in this debate, he was slippery, and his disdain for the Church's traditional teaching was unsettling. 

As for Simcha...I don't know. I imagine more of the same. Simcha's writing was terrible whiny and unprofessional; consider her lovely little NCR piece she wrote about Cardinal Burke's transfer back in 2014, which we critiqued back then. Look at how she talks about people who were concerned about Burke's demotion:

You, with the subscription to Whimpers in Blogvillia! You, with your Blackberry set to play "Dies Irae" every time Four Lattes Daily resets their Novus Ordo End Times Ticker. You, with the Lady Cardinal robes in your closet, still in the dry cleaner bags, waiting to be whipped out the moment it Finally Happens. You, with your all your personal clocks set to Central European Time, so you don't miss a moment before you weep or break out the Chateau de Schutte '79 every time the doorman at the Roman Curia unlocks the front door, sweeps off the doormat, and chases the homeless cats away in preparation for another day of things that never do and never could have any affect on your personal life.

That is so terribly that the sort of rambling nonsense one wants to read in the NCR? Rorate Caeli is often held up as the epitome of mean rad-trad blogs, and Rorate never posts anything approximating this. I don't know why Simcha was fired, but if someone told me it was because she straight-up sucks as a professional writer, I would not be surprised.

So, forget the narrative of the top-notch, quality Catholic authors unjustly fired because they were valiantly supporting Church doctrine against greedy, Americanized conservatives uncomfortable with the Catholic social teaching. They were fired for being uncharitable loose cannons who never deserved to have the platform of the NCR from which to churn out their ridiculous nonsense. The message of NCR was clear: act like adults, or get fired.

One more thing: consider emailing Jeanette Demelo, Editor at the NCR, and thanking her for terminating these loose cannons. She can be reached at: jdemelo[at]

Monday, August 08, 2016

New USC eBook: Laudato Si: The 40 Concerns of an Exhausted Layman

I am not a fast person when it comes to churning out material. I write when I feel like it and take my time, if possible. Hence back in 2015, when there was a whole bunch of hubbub about Pope Francis' environment encyclical Laudato Si, I did not write anything on the matter. I wanted to spend some time digesting the encyclical and formulating my thoughts on it.

On my desk, I have had a copy of Laudato Si sitting out for the past year. I've been studying it whenever I have had time in order to really comprehend what the encyclical. Over that year, I have been working on a synopsis of my thoughts on the encyclical, which I am happy to offer now in the form of an eBook.

The book goes through the encyclical, pretty much paragraph by paragraph, and just goes through little observations I made about various aspects of the pope's thought. Though most of the book is dedicated to concerns I have with the document, I do mention the things I like about it as well. My purpose in writing this was to do beyond the pop-media "synopsis" that we always get about new documents and really dig into the meat, as well as looking at some of the real theological issues in the document and getting away from just discussing climate change - because the real revolutionary passages in this encyclical are not about climate change.

Here is a bit from the introduction:

The encyclical Laudato Si of Pope Francis was released with much fanfare on May 24th, 2015. There has been an abundance of commentary on the encyclical, though pop-Catholic editorials on Laudato Si have, to a large extent, suffered from the deficiency of trying to consider the encyclical very broadly; "summing up" the content of the document in 1500 words or less.
The problem is this cumbersome document does not lend itself easily to summation. It is certainly about "the environment", but from a pedagogical standpoint it has very little structure. It reads more like a disjointed connection of reflections on various environmental themes rather than a single, coherent body of thought. Because of this, each theme needs to be examined independently. Laudato Si has rightly been called a "platypus document", having characteristics of various strains of thought all merged together in a 246 paragraph hodge-podge. 
Thus, these meager attempts at "summing up" Laudato Si generally fail to give us an adequate view of the document because they do not delve into the text itself. One commentator who had published an article on the fundamentals of Laudato Si admitted to me privately that she had barely begun reading the document before publishing her apologia of it. If people are objecting to traditionalist critiques of Laudato Si as proceeding from a predetermined and irrational dislike of Francis, is not an apologia published prior to a reading of the encyclical evidence of a predetermined and irrational
We at at Unam Sanctam Catholicam have endeavored not to fall into this trap. I hitherto have offered no commentary on the encyclical because I hadn't finished reading it. I printed it the day of its publication and spent months patiently reading it, taking notes, and meditating on the implications of each segment. And there are parts of it I like very much. In fact, on my initial reading, I liked it more than I thought I would.
Still, I had some grave concerns. In fact, even though I liked it more than I thought I would, I have to say this was one of the most disappointing ecclesiastical documents I've ever read - on so many levels. With all going on in the Church and world, this is what the Pope thinks is pressing?
I do not want to keep my misgivings vague; I do not want to write short, broad apologias or condemnations, as so many others. And I did not want to write hastily. I did not sit down to write in the heat of the moment, but spent the better part of nine months reflecting on these passages and formulating my feelings into a somewhat cogent critique.

The eBook is 41 pages, $5.00 USD. It is available in ePub, Mobi, and PDF. If you are interested you can purchase from this page, or it is also listed on the Cruachan Hill Press website.

Special thanks to Ryan Grant from Mediatrix Press for the cover design and creating the eBook files.

Select File Type

Friday, August 05, 2016

Deaconess Commission: Building the Momentum

[Aug 5, 2016] Well, Pope Francis wants a commission to study the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate from a historical perspective.

Of course, the idea of female deacons is ludicrous. Historically, they were simply non-existent, and everybody knows that references to "deaconesses" in the New Testament (Rom. 16:1) and the Fathers refer not to the hierarchical office of Deacon as instituted in Acts 7, but to women working in the role of servants carrying out various auxiliary functions in the early Church. This confusion arises from the literal meaning of the Greek word diakonos, which means "servant." It can refer to a Deacon as a grade of Holy Orders, or it can refer to anyone who serves in general. References to "deaconesses" in early Church literature certainly use the word in the latter sense. Deaconesses as a grade of Holy Orders are specifically repudiated at Nicaea and other early synods. I thought everybody knew this. 

Now, for some, this fact gives comfort. "Don't worry! The Church won't approve female deacons. It can't. There is no historical precedent." Well...okay. Not having historical precedent didn't stop Mass facing the people or a host of other novelties...but whatever.

The real thing that bugs me is its like some people can't fathom that there are more sides to the problem than whether or not the Church will allow female deacons. Like, for some people, it's either the Church allows female deacons (lose) or she doesn't (win). Since we know the Church can't ultimately ordain female deacons, we know she won't; ergo, tradition "wins." Ergo, there is absolutely nothing to worry about, no cause for alarm, nothing to see here folks, move along, 12 things to know and share, blah, blah blah...

Look, the fact that the Church cannot ultimately ordain women deacons does not mean we "win." Simply because there are many other ways we can "lose" without getting to the actual ordination of female deacons.

I remember when I was in public office, there were times when merely creating a committee or commission to "study" something was a way of destablizing it, even if you knew in the end you could not get what you wanted. Like, so-and-so wants a certain public project done. But you know there is no funding for it and there's no way it can happen. But so-and-so says, "Well, let's just form a commission to study the various aspects of the question. The commission won't be able to make any decisions, just try to get a better knowledge of the issue. And you don't have any objection to just getting information, right?"

And of course, you don't want to look like you are afraid of information or mere knowledge, so you think, "Sure, go ahead and form your study commission. After all, they have no authority to make any changes. And if I don't like what they say, I can just disregard it." But the thing to realize is the mere fact of opening a subject to discussion makes it appear that its open for discussion. Even if there's no money for the project and it literally cannot happen, the fact it is being discussed makes people think it can.

And the impossibility of the project coming to fruition does not stop its partisans. They use the commission as a means of propagating their ideas and refining their arguments - of networking with the right people and putting the right mechanisms in place to further their agenda. Of putting out whatever message to the public they wish. Of building public support and leveraging pressure on those in charge to bend to their wishes.

In other words, they might know they are not going to get what they want, but they create a momentum towards it.

Why create momentum when they know it literally can't happen? Well, in politics nothing is ever ultimately impossible. But in the Church, literally women can never be ordained to the diaconate. It simply cannot happen any more than a woman could be ordained to the priesthood. But that does not mean its proponents - who think it is possible - will not try to create the momentum. And the momentum is what is so dangerous,  because even if we never have women deacons, the momentum is like a huge net that will drag all sorts of souls into error on this point, create dissension, false expectations, schisms, scandal, confusion and chaos. And the chaos itself is detrimental, whether or not we ever get women deacons.

People who think this is "no biggie" just because it "won't happen" don't understand the way people hijack parliamentary procedure and the commission-committee system to foment chaos to create momentum towards their goals. It is all destabilizing, and ultimately destabilization of the traditional Church structure is what the progressives are after.

The pope ought to have said, "There is no point in a commission to study. This can never happen, and if so, there's no point in studying it. I don't want to give Catholics the impression something could change when it can't." But by allowing a commission to "study" the question, Pope Francis is opening the door for partisans of women deacons to start building that momentum towards a female diaconate; whether they get it or not it irrelevant. The fact is, the traditional exclusion of women from Holy Orders is now open for discussion, and that fact alone - regardless of what conclusion they come to - is dangerous. 

By the way, if you are not clear on why there can never be a female diaconate, I refer you to the article "The Unity of Holy Orders" by Fr. Chad Ripperger, available as a PDF here. But essentially, there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders, and its characteristics are one across its three major grades. John Paul II infallibly taught that women could never be ordained to the priesthood in the 1994 encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Because there is only one sacrament of Holy Orders (not three), this infers necessarily that women could never be ordained deaconesses either. But I recommend the article of Fr. Ripperger for a much more thorough treatment.

In the meantime, get ready for more destabilization.