Did you ever think that you’d find yourself in a position similar to some of the great Saints? Maybe you never thought that you’d be living through a tragedy in the life of the Church as great as that faced by St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Bridget of Sweden. Yet, as these words are being written – words that probably will not make much of a difference and disappear off into cyber space – the Church is faced with a tragedy as great as any She has ever faced. The writing is on the wall: Catholics who consider themselves faithful to the Pope are firing off shots against each other. The situation of the four Cardinals, in this veritable ecclesiastical civil war, is very telling indeed. They are accused of being unfaithful to the vow of fidelity to the Holy Father by those who a few years ago were snubbing the very same sacred office. Interesting.
Now, it is pretty obvious to most people that there are lots of things being said that are not being said in charity – but since there has been an embargo placed on all judgements the result is that reasonable conversation is in danger of being suffocated. This is even more so the case when a leading ecclesiastic makes the nominalistic claim that God can act in an unreasonable manner when it comes to basic arithmetic. Catholics, once known for both their intellectual rigor and chartity, are in danger of losing all sight of reality due to a personal opinion expressed rhetorically in a now famous question that shuts down the second act of the mind: judgement.
Has the present Holy Father many critics who are acting unjustly? Well, to answer this the present writer will need to ignore the famous rhetorical question. It, afterall, was a rhetorical device used to re-echo Christ’s teaching when He said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (Mt 7:1); or again when He says to the adulterous woman in St. John’s Gospel, “Has no one condemned you?” (Jn 8:10). Yet, Our Lord also instructed His followers to judge. He says in Jn 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Furthermore, he expects every priest to pass judgement on poor sinners in the confessional. How else will they be able to say, “By the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins…”? You can’t forgive a sinner unless you judge him to be a sinner! Our Lord commands a just judgement. This is what must be given whenever one is called upon to make a judgement. Hopefully, the following words will be of this later kind of judgement.
Has the Holy Father been slandered by Catholics in recent times? Undoubtedly so. One priest I know intimated that this is being confessed to him regularly. Have all the Holy Father’s critics been slanderous? That would be unjust to make such a claim. Especially if that claim was directed against those who take very seriously the task they have been commissioned with to serve the Church. Take, for example, the work of the 45 theologians who critiqued thoroughly the recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. They were being faithful to the work of the theologian as laid out in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1990 Instruction. Indeed, their work was clear and precise in both it’s format and content – a breath of fresh air among much theological literature these days. Likewise, the questions raised by the eminent philosopher, Professor John Finnis, and his contemporary, the moral theologian Dr. Germain Grisez, are asked from the perspective of duty to the role they have in the life of the Church. For them, asking questions is part of their ‘job description’, so to speak, and anyone who says they shouldn’t needs to ask why it is then that theology is known as “fides quaerens intellectum” – faith seeking understanding. They are not asking questions in order to be obnoxious or facetious, but rather to assist the faithful in a clearer and simpler understanding of the great mysteries of the Faith. When they themselves are personally looking for clarification on certain points they have a right to turn to the Church’s bishops – the Teachers of the Faith – or even to the Holy Father himself. It takes humility to do so, and gives due respect to the sacred office of bishop. If they did not they would just ploughing ahead with empty words and be giving their own opinion. This is what many Catholics have been subject to in recent generations – the false opinions of self-proclaimed teachers in the Church. Recently, a theologian known to this author said he wouldn’t teach a course of Christian Marriage because he was no longer sure what the Church was teaching. This is not a sign of rigidity but honesty. The Cardinals’ questions when answered – if they are answered – may allow him to know where he stands.
Some have accused the Cardinals of unfaithfulness, or simply imprudence in their acts. In the Church, the Pope alone can judge them, and He has not done so. Maybe respects their right to ask when they think it is appropriate, so as to assist him in his duties. Likewise theologians who are presently divided over many things, but are united in the essentials, may ask in charity. Some have reserevations about many things the present Holy Father has said; while others have concerns but not as many. Some see no problems whatsoever. So amongst the men (and women) who seek to give their intellectual genius to the service of the Church’s Magisterium – so as to assist the Bishops in their primary function of teaching the Faith – their is disgreement. This is not something completely knew. When it comes to how to address particular difficulties in a particular document they have various opinions, and they take various approaches.
What then of Cardinals Burke, Brandmueller, Caffara, and Meisner – are they acting contrary to their role as counsellors of the pope in the governance of the Church? To their credit they have acted with dignity in the face of accusations of heresy and betrayal, but that is an aside. Their role of counsellors is not made easy in an age of instant access to everything pope do and say. Can you imagine trying to keep up with recent popes? The poor Holy Fathers have said more things that will be forgotten than will ever be remembered, most of which has been personal opinion on everything from presidential elections to world soccer championships. Catholics have been subjected to, and often conditioned into, an understanding of the papacy that is far from what the Faith teaches regarding it. They are their own enemies on this matter. Ultramontanism (and now superstar papalolatry) are causing much confusion. One may even dare to say that those who have no love of the Faith are exploiting the natural Catholic tendency to be faithful to the pope. It’s easily done. Fortunately, the four cardinals are men of deep faith and erudition who know and feel the heavy weight of the oath of fidelity they have sworn to the Holy Father. This is why they take into consideration a distinction such as material heresy (simply being mistaken in a statement about the Faith) and that of formal heresy (the deliberate pushing of error when warned about the error). They are not shouting on the internet, “Pope Francis is an anti-pope”. Anyone who does is wrong.
One may think the Cardinals are overstepping the mark by asking for clarifications from the Holy Father concerning some things he has written. That itself is a judgement. It is either a false judgement based on a misreading of the facts or a even a rejection of them; or is it a true judgement. If it is true then the Cardinals are in the wrong. Since they have expressed themselves clearly, however, one must give them a fair judgement. They have neither spoken in an ambiguous manner, nor in a manner contrary to charity, but have instead simply asked for the sake of the Church that clarification be given to certain crucial questions. Others may have more questions; and others may be hoping the questions cause the bark of Peter to capsize; while still others claiming to be with the pope may be hoping to recreate the papacy in their own image and likeness in order to push forward some eutopian agenda. Claiming there are two popes, for example, is a novelty that Catholics can legitimately stand against by simply calling the former pope, “Bishop Ratzinger.” No disrepect is meant. There is, after all, only one visible head of the Church: a body with two heads is a monster.
The Church has seen nearly all of it before – and Catholics would do well to read more of their own history to know what can and cannot be considered the Catholic way of acting. The four Cardinals are in no way acting contrary to what the Church expects of them – they give an example of charity, clarity, and courage. The later virtue being so sadly lacking in many leaders today.
The Cardinals’ carefully thought out questions are crucial to the very fabricate of the Faith. “Yes” or “No” answers to these questions all revolve around whether Jesus is true-God and true-Man. Every question concerning the Church’s supernatural treasurary of Faith touches upon this fundamental truth. If a Catholic cannot answer whether Jesus is God Incarnate or not with a resounding “Yes!” then the Church has serious, serious problems. Maybe the Cardinals’ request for clarity will assist others in answering as clearly as Our Lady did to the Angel Gabriel.
How is the Pope to act in the face of the current situation? The same applies to him as to any other Catholic called to teach the Faith: charity and clarity. But what if he’s not a philosopher or a theologian? What if he’s not a natural teacher? People may try to say the previous popes had advantages on these fronts. This is a characterture. The previous two popes taught the Faith – sometimes well, and in other places poorly. Their personal skills assisted them on some points but not on everything. The Holy Spirit didn’t speak every time either of them spoke. No pope has ever had the gift of speaking the truth all of the time. They do make mistakes, but fortunately all the various members of the Church Militant are able to give him a little nudge in charity – when the opportunity arises – and remind (or even educate him) in what pertains to the Faith and what does not. The relationship between the Teaching-Church and the Taught-Church, so speak, involves learning and relearning at times what is contained in the Deposit of Faith. Popes can forget the Faith; someone else can remind them of its contents. Popes can be mistaken on matters of Faith and Morals; others can – in charity ask him to think again. And if a pope pushes an error then a formal correction can be given in charity. It has happened before.
The four Cardinals are asking for simple answers so as to dispell the confusion. Bishops are consecrated to teach, and the Holy Father can ask for assistance in teaching clearly as the Supreme Teacher of the Faith. His own personal strengths and weaknesses as a teacher shouldn’t come into the discussion – there are enough people who truly know the Faith to be able to assist him. And if he really wasn’t sure, and was looking for divine assistance he could give ex cathedra statements in response to the questions being asked. That might seem a bit extreme but at least they’d be no doubt as to what was of the Catholic Faith. Yes, infallibility is a negative charism but it guarantees that under certain conditions the Pope, and Bishops in commmunion with him, will not teach error. It doesn’t guarantee that they will teach what they are supposed to when they should (or that they will not teach what they shouldn’t under other conditions). The Holy Father has everything he needs at his disposal to be able to teach clearly: it is called the Church.
Part of the Holy Father’s problem seems to be that there are those around him making silly statements which are of no help to anyone. Spin doctors and talking-heads do not seem to be assisting the Church in Her mission to ‘go out to the whole world and teach’ all that Our Lord has taught. Faith and reason seem to be lacking in many quarters. Prayer and fasting on all fronts may help – but the enemy has long since convinced Catholics that the Cross is not to be mentioned, especially in pastoral situations!
Catholics in previous ages often never knew in such detail of the divisions amongst leading churchmen, but today – as Providence would so have it – we have a ringside seat. Or maybe, its an internet-side seat! How should one respond? Judge justly. The old dictum taught in schools of theology stands firm: ‘in essentials unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; and in all things, charity.’ And for those who think the four Cardinals are causing division then maybe a little history lesson, courtesy of Youtube, might help clarify things. One wonders if a dubium should be sent to Cardinals Kasper, Marx, and several other German prelates who have backed a certain proposal from the very moment that the Sankt Galen ‘mafia’, as Cardinal Kasper boasted, got its man, to ask them if this is how the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, the Bishop of Rome, the Servant of the Servants of God, the Primate of Italy, the Metropolitan of the Roman Province, the Sovereign of the Vatican State, and the Partriarch of the West, should be treated – especially by his fellow countrymen. Why have they all now become so pope-friendly? Oh yes, and as the dear Cardinal from Vienna would remind us, we have a genuine development of doctrine with a linguistic event that allows one – after careful pastoral discerment of course – to treat one’s Father in Christ as a piece of dirt. Shame on them! And this isn’t even half of the story.
Lord have your Mercy on us all, especially on me.