And if such commentary is needed, it is today. My, there is a lot going on, isn't there? Let's review some of the wild events that have occurred in the past few weeks.
On September 19th, Pope Francis signed a motu proprio which effectively retooled the John Paul II Institute For Marriage and Family; well technically he abolished it. The text of the motu proprio Summa familiae cura states that the new entity, the John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family, will effectively "substitute" for the prior entity, annulling St. John Paul II's 1981 motu proprio.
The new institute for studying the "sciences" of marriage and family will have a broader mission than the old institute. Whereas the old institute was largely grounded in theology and philosophy, the new institute will incorporate the social sciences—in fact, elevating them to be the primary focus of the new institute. Philosophy and theology are not even mentioned in Pope Francis' motu proprio. Thus, we can assume the work of the new body will be more influenced by secular sociology. Francis has stated he wishes the new institute's focus to be primarily scientific, “expanding the field of interest, both in terms of the new dimensions of the pastoral task and the ecclesial mission, as well as in the development of human sciences and the anthropological culture in such a crucial field for the culture of life" (source
). The reason for this is "to fertilize the vast field of engagement...effectively contributing to make it fully correspond to the modern needs of the pastoral mission of the Church” (ibid).
The purpose appears to be to institutionalize the teachings of Amoris Laetitia
. St. John Paul II essentially did the same thing when he created the institute in 1982 for the purpose of promoting the teaching of Familiaris Consortio
, a much worthier document. He hopes the new institute will work towards making Amoris Laetitia
a more permanent fixture of Magisterial teaching. At the September 19th press briefing at which the change was announced, Archbishop Paglia called Amoris Laetitia
the "Magna Carta" of the new institute.
Two interesting things here: First, Pope Francis said the purpose of the change was so that the teachings of St. John Paul II on marriage and family could be “better known and appreciated in its fruitfulness and relevance” (ibid); Familiaris Consortio "finds its realization" in Amoris Laetitia
Of course, there is reason to fear that some of the implications of Amoris Laetitia
are in fundamental conflict with the teachings of John Paul II. We are left with the irony that the teaching of St. John Paul II is being potentially undermined in the name of making his teaching more widely known! It's like a retirement party that is ostensibly to honor an employee's service but whose real purpose is to simply shove them out the door
Second, if you are one of those people who believes Amoris Laetitia and Familiaris Consortio are in agreement with one another, then why is a new institute needed? If Amoris Laetitia is not a break in continuity with tradition, why dissolve an institution empowered to carry out that tradition? It gives leverage to those who suggest Amoris Laetitia is a document of rupture.
The Filial Correction
On August 11th, the document now known as the "Filial Correction" was delivered to Pope Francis at his residence in Domus Sanctae Marthae. This document was made public on September 24th. Originally signed by 62 scholars, that number has now ballooned to around 100 at the time of this post.
It would take too long to summarize all of the nonsense surrounding this document, both by those for and against it. Those who are ridiculously enthusiastic about it as well as those who are writing it off as insignificant are missing it, I think.
The document itself is very beautiful. I read it in its entirety the day it was released, along with the addenda. It is a splendid explanation of the Catholic tradition on marriage, reception of the sacraments, and the moral nature of our actions. I personally thought the tone of correction was very charitable and humble. It extended to Francis the benefit of the doubt, taking the "Sire, evil counselors are doing bad things in your name" sort of approach, and it made clear that the signatories did not claim any sort of jurisdiction to formally accuse the pope of anything. The title "Filial Correction" is somewhat of a misnomer; it is more a deep, impassioned plea for clear, decisive action.
The mainstream Catholic media is shrugging this off and saying none of these people have the authority to issue any sort of correction (despite the precedent of Europe's theological faculty correcting John XXII in 1333). I saw one apologist whose response to this was to impugn the signatories by trying to dredge up snippets of other comments they'd made over the years which he found objectionable, as if that somehow was relevant to the arguments put forward in the text of the Filial Correction itself.
Others are viewing this in terms of a political power struggle. "The Correction won't amount to anything because the signatories are not really clerical heavyweights." Ultimately, the Church is not a political movement; its fortunes are not measured in terms of the "power" wielded by different factions. And the fact is, to the degree that the Filial Correction speaks God's honest truth, it will bear some sort of fruit. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:10-11). God will bring some good out of this, even if it is nothing else than to edify the authors and signatories.
But...(and this is a major "but"), it may not be the good traditionalists are expecting. While I think the content of the Filial Correction needs to be considered in and of itself apart from the signatories—and while I have faith that God will use this for good and that it may be part of a larger puzzle—we are kidding ourselves if anyone thinks this is actually going to do anything. The Filial Correction's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, the same weakness conservative Catholics have been making for fifty years: it offers a beautiful and honest exposition of the faith, but ultimately, in this struggle, words do not matter. Yes, God will not let them go unrewarded who speak His truth, as I said above.
The Reappointment of Cardinal Burke to the Apostolic Signatura
But for fifty years conservatives have been deluded into thinking that if they just clearly, patiently, and charitably explain the truth that their efforts will prevail. That is simply not true. It's why honest, orthodox scholars who see Vatican II only as a series of documents are fundamentally missing the point. The progressives don't care what you write or how eloquently you explain it. As long as they can keep you shut out of diocesan leadership and out of important positions, you can say whatever you want. Conservatives view this in terms of speaking the truth; the liberals view it as a movement or progression of action. Conservatives have seen Vatican II as sixteen documents. Liberals have seen it as a moment in history with that moves the Church on a new historical trajectory. Whether one is right and the other wrong is sort of irrelevant because the liberal view is more dynamic. Merely saying what the truth is - especially in the face of a pontificate like Francis - is not really going to have any substantial effect in the temporal order.
Also, the historical precedent for this is a little over argued. The scholars who corrected Pope John XXII in 1333 were the most eminent theologians of Christendom, the heads of theological faculty at Europe's premiere universities. Many of them were eminent clerics. There is a marked contrast between the credentials of the men of 1333 and those of 2017. Save for a few notable names, most of the signatories of the 2017 document are obscure men, at least in the big picture. And in many cases their objection to Pope Francis' behavior comes as no surprise. Roberto de Mattei disagrees with Pope Francis! Bishop Fellay thinks the Franciscan pontificate is confusing! Call out the press! Are we supposed to be surprised by this?
Am I writing off the signatories like I just complained others were doing? No. I am not. What they are doing matters. But honestly, it would matter more if the signatories were cardinals and bishops who were not already known opponents of Pope Francis. It's true; the document would matter more if the signatories were more eminent—just like it would matter less if the signatories were merely a bunch of bloggers. A smattering of parish priests, religious brethren, and isolated professors and authors is not tremendously impressive, even less so given that Bishop Fellay is the sole representative of the episcopate on the list. They couldn't even get Athanasius Schneider to sign.
Am I belittling the effort? No. It was a worthwhile effort, the document is very well put together, and the objective ambiguities swirling around the subject made such an effort necessary. Maybe—hopefully?—it will encourage other, more eminent men to do the same. But at the same time I would like to see this in perspective, for what it really is. It's not some groundbreaking beginning; much less does it merit any sort of "So now it begins!" revolutionary gravitas. A bunch of the pope's critics got together and put together a very cogent, well-argued piece calmly explaining the truth of the faith. Effort applauded. Next.
Earlier this month Cardinal Burke was reappointed to the Apostolic Signatura, although not to his previous post as prefect. From a personnel standpoint, this makes very little sense. Personnel is policy, and a leader's appointment or dismissal of personnel is a strong indicator of the leader's policy. When I was in political office, I appointed many people. And I refused to reappoint people as well. One thing I never
did was dismiss somebody and then reappoint them. That just...never happened. I understand that the Church doesn't operate along the same guidelines a political body would, but the principle "personnel is policy" is true across the board for any organization, political, business or ecclesiastic. I can't understand why the pope would have reappointed Burke to the Signatura save as some sort of compromise he felt compelled to grant, probably against his own preference. It seems it was a kind of bone tossed to some faction in the Church to rehabilitate Burke, but without restoring him to his previous level of influence.
Of course, some are calling to mind the famous line of line of Vito Corleone
; however, I do not think this is why Francis has reappointed Burke. I doubt its a secret plot to undermine him. I suspect it was more about making a compromise with some other faction or individual. I think, if Francis had his way, he would not have reappointed Cardinal Burke whatsoever. But who knows.
Pope Francis and the Death Penalty
In remarks commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church - a book which specifically says "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty" (CCC 2267) - Pope Francis announced that the death penalty is "in itself contrary to the Gospel." The pope went on to explain that previous historical applications of the death penalty only "seemed" logical, but weren't really - this was followed by an apology for the use of the death penalty within the Papal States.
Football Players Kneeling
Francis did not offer any explanation as to how something that is "in itself contrary to the Gospel" can be affirmed by the Catechism as "the traditional teaching of the Church." It apparently did not strike him that this would need to be explained. I am not certain what is more troubling, that Francis says something taught in the Catechism is contrary to the Gospel, or that he feels that no explanation is needed to explain how this is possible.
Of course, the pope's homily does not supersede the Church's official teaching. But it does muddle things.
And by the way, before the situation changes, can we all go back and find articles from mainstream Catholic apologists defending the use of the death penalty and screen shot them before they try to pull them down and pretend like they never happened? After all, we are no longer at war with Eurasia. We are at war with East Asia. We have always been at war with East Asia.
Some are reporting that the pope is "changing" the CCC. This is not true. The Vatican, however, is releasing a new "commented" edition of the book in which will feature a running commentary on certain sections drawn from the preaching of Pope Francis.
Does anyone actually care what these football players actually think
about anything? Are they not solely valued in terms of how well they throw, run, and catch? I'm serious here - does anybody actually give a damn what their opinions are about anything
whatsoever? I think celebrities get this weird sense of self-importance where they think that people care them outside of their area of professional expertise. We don't. Or at least we shouldn't. Someone doesn't get a platform just because they are well known.
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