17Jan

The Pope who broke the church?

When the papal document Amoris Laetitia was released scholars, on all sides of the spectrum,  honed in on chapter 8 and a very ambiguous footnote. It soon became explosive, so much so that it now threatens to blow apart the  unity of the church. How will Pope Francis choose to respond is the key Catholic question of 2017.

Within weeks modernist prelates were claiming the footnote a green light to enable the divorced and re-married, in certain cases, to receive communion without need of annulment. More traditionally minded Catholics attacked this claim- they insist the Pope has no authority to contradict the teaching of the church especially when this teaching comes from Christ himself.

Interestingly we reach the impasse which blew Anglicanism apart; between those who believe God’s revelation open to change and interpretation by man- and those who believe it fixed, the same yesterday, today and forever. Those ‘for change’ have the culture and world behind them. Those for ‘an unchanged position’ hold the clearer arguments from scripture and tradition.

Fast forward and today we face the ludicrous situation that in some dioceses the faithful- who are divorced and remarried -are encouraged to receive communion ‘so long as they feel at one with God’. In other dioceses bishops are claiming no change in praxis exists because there has been no change in teaching. What a mess.

Seeking some much needed clarity four Cardinals wrote ‘a dubia’ to Pope Francis; a document seeking yes/no answers to blunt questions. They submitted it in private and in full accordance with the customs of the church. Dubia have been submitted throughout history and the the norm is for an answer to be given.

To date Pope Francis has broken convention and refused to answer. This forced the Cardinals to go public. The Pope then set about labelling as ‘rigid’ those who seek fidelity to Catholic teaching, at the same time giving a nudge to those interpreting the document in a modernist manner. The Pope’s refusal to comply with convention, coupled with his tendency to demonise critics, has caused eyebrows to be raised. What is going on in the Vatican at present?

There is little doubt Bergoglio wants change. But what are the faithful to make of his  unwillingness (inability?) to bring about change by convention that can satisfy reason, scripture and tradition, as it must?  Why does he cause tension by encouraging change of praxis but not doctrine? I don’t have answers but I do offer observations…

The Dubia serves everyone whose desire is honest

No matter your personal opinion, everyone should congratulate the Cardinals who raised the dubia. Nobody is served when bishops are contradicting one another. If an unraveling of unity is to be avoided clarity must arrive and quickly.

It isnt about divorce!

The presenting issue might be divorce but it isn’t what the struggle is about. The same dance occurred within Anglicanism over women priests and contraception. Divorce may be the arena then but the actual meat of the struggle centres on how the church is run and does it’s business. What is at stake is the nature of revelation and how flexible it is to change. Should the church follow the culture or stick to its own teaching and that of Jesus Christ?

In reality there are few ‘rigid’ and ‘uncaring’ priests. Most understand full well the difficulty of the modern world and pain in people’s lives. But traditionalists believe they must respect the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the church in all ages. The modernists want to re-boot the church for the 21st Century and are using this issue as a testing ground. Should they succeed the way will be cleared for all other hot button topics.

As we saw within Anglicanism- when you abandon scripture and tradition once- artificial contraception was first within Anglicanism- soon there is no logical reason to stop other changes argued from sentiment. The church is then guided by popular opinion and the prevailing culture. Catholicity and authority are sacrificed to appease the world. Martin Luther wins.

Change via footnotes and winks rings alarm bells

If there is a proper way to progress, in keeping with church teaching, then those pushing for this change should come out in the open and explain it. Else they should apologise and retract the footnote. That many words are offered to fudge the issue is suspicious. Something is clearly off when fair questions are ignored, questioners demonised, but change occur anyway.

Why is the current hierarchy forging ahead via nods, winks and footnotes? That is not how Catholicism works but hints rather at a dangerous totalitarian and worldly mindset. Nobody standing for truth fears or dodges legitimate questions.

Ambiguity is not Catholic 

This fall out from Amoris Laetitia is very reminiscent of Anglican days. For there a lack of central authority has long caused confusion and disagreement to the point that local churches now often contradict each other on vital matters of faith. But this has never been the Catholic way- and Pope Francis MUST respond sooner or later. It could prove an interesting year…not least as the Cardinals concerned about Amoris Laetitia have suggested a formal correction of the Pope might be necessary. Pray it doesn’t come to this.

There is a schism; it needs sorting

Since Vatican II division has bubbled away in the Catholic church. In one camp are those who view the council as a rupture– who created a modern expression of Catholicism based on liberal protestant models. Evangelical worship songs replaced Catholic hymnody. Altar rails and statues were replaced by guitars and felt banners. This group delights in Pope Francis, as does the secular media and nominal and protestant Christians. They are a group, in other words, who have long challenged Catholic teaching. Pope Francis is a product of this school of thinking and their poster boy.

Meanwhile others have viewed (correctly if you read the documents) Vatican II as continuation and have attempted to uphold Catholic teaching despite a widespread shift in culture within most dioceses that has favoured the model of rupture. They embraced Pope Benedict’s reform of the reform; the bringing back of altar rails and good liturgy. This group wants a church confronting the world not being conformed by it.

Clearly caricatures are simplistic but the division is real and that is what is causing the problem. The division- not the footnote-causes the squabbles over Amoris Laetitia. For these two groups have diametrically opposed understanding of revelation and the centre cannot hold. The fight was held off in recent pontificates because JPII and Benedict XVI sought some common ground. But Francis is cut from different cloth. His leadership style was not crafted in the liberal heartlands of Europe but the volatile world of South American dictators. He cares little for convention, office or tradition. It makes him a polarising figure at present and the fears of a schism under his watch are gaining traction.

Let us pray for those bishops bravely calling for clarity. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he might be humble and obedient to the teaching of the church in all ages and not swayed by popularism and political causes. Let us pray that the dubia is answered. So much depends on it being answered well.

How will Pope Francis respond? It is the key Catholic question of 2017.

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34 thoughts on “The Pope who broke the church?

  1. Father, whilst I understand your upset and share many of your concerns all you will achieve by posting a rant like this is to allow the likes of Midland Vicar to sneer and poke fun not just at you but at the Church,to say nothing of the inappropriate and disedifying tone of your personal remarks about the Pope. If I may venture some advice; for the sake of your flock as well as those who may yet be considering the Ordinariate, you should remove this post and refrain from posting similar ones in the future. We have the promise that the Church is indefatigable. Whilst there are certainly troubled waters around and ahead that promise will, in the end, prevail.

    1. Mary, I hear your words and reflected for a long time before posting. You are wise to urge caution and I have amended it a little. But it is also true that we are not called as Christian to sit back and do nothing. Did not St. Catherine of Sienna dare to question?! What would happen if every Catholic did nothing when the church was in crisis?

      I believe I have a duty to speak truth and stand shoulder to shoulder with those raising this dubia. I have utmost respect for the Petrine office but Jesus must come first when change is suggested that contradicts the Gospel. It is a love of the church that compels me. Let people mock – happy to be a fool for Christ. But truly the future of the church is in the balance here

    2. This was not a rant, but a careful and respectful article which Father posted. We just cannot pretend that this matter will go away or that the best (most Catholic) thing to do is to remain silent. We all have a responsibility before God – even if it may seem a small and seemingly insignificant one – to defend Truth, irrespective of personages.

    3. Mary B -put simply I believe such articles give the Ordinariate a bad name. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church is not organised as is the Synod of the Protestant Church of England. The House of Laity is not composed of expert moral theologians.However the Vatican is well supplied and the Pope has sufficient academic advisors. The Pope is a merciful man and we should heed his guidance.

  2. Shalom

    Clearly the church and Christianity in general is undergoing attack from without and within. We know who the author of that attack is. We also know that the Lord has guaranteed that the enemy will not prevail. The sea is stormy but the Lord will guide. Satan attacks strongest where he fears most and I wonder if some significant progress on this front is part of the reason:-

    “Unity is an objective, not a given,” says the Rev. John Chryssavgis, an archdeacon and theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. “It may be there spiritually and liturgically and sacramentally, but to make it visible is hard, painful, slow work, and it takes time.”

    With regard to the Maltese statement it is worth reading what the bishops actually said instead of what the press says they said. The full text (all 35 pages) is here:-

    http://ms.maltadiocese.org/WEBSITE/2017/PRESS%20RELEASES/Norms%20for%20the%20Application%20of%20Chapter%20VIII%20of%20AL.pdf

    Interestingly, I read that he was taught by Cardinal Burke who is also now linked to Malta. I’ve said before that it is always possible that Pope Francis has ‘lost the plot’. If that is so, it will become obvious and the consequences obvious. I too wish that he would refrain from ‘turning the other cheek’ and deal with the problem. But, assuming that he has not ‘lost it’, He may be waiting for what he sees is the right moment to sort things out.
    In the meantime we pray for constructive resolution and trust in the Lord’s own promise.

  3. Five hundred years after Dr Luther took up the cudgels against the Vatican it is striking to see another call for reformation of the roman church. Protestant truth never sleeps.

    1. Interestingly enough, from what I have encountered, there is a strong pressure from within various Lutheran churches to come back into the fold. Both sides recognize the damage that Luther did by his approach. I hope Burke is not going down the same road because he is making statements and threats which are way outside his authority. Only the pope who wrote something can change it (or a subsequent pope). The College of Cardinals has no such authority. Popes cannot be seen to be subject to threats from whatever source.

      1. Pat, contrary to what you say, at least one Pope (John XXII) was censured for heresy and forced to retract the views in question. The Pope isn’t an absolute dictator who can do and say whatever he likes.

        1. The John XXII situation was not as clear cut as some would like to present and think. The excerpt below is from a lengthy article at:-

          http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08431a.htm

          ‘In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.

          Note the very different approach from that taken by Burke. John XXII was not censured or compelled and seems to have been content to encourage debate’.

          Archbishop Fragkiskos Papamanolis has gone to town on Burke etc. Whereas I think that, so far, his opening is a bit strong his accusation of one of them changing his words is very damaging:-
          The John XXII situation was not as clear cut as some would like to present and think. The excerpt below is from a lengthy article at:-

          http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08431a.htm

          In the last years of John’s pontificate there arose a dogmatic conflict about the Beatific Vision, which was brought on by himself, and which his enemies made use of to discredit him. Before his elevation to the Holy See, he had written a work on this question, in which he stated that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. After becoming pope, he advanced the same teaching in his sermons. In this he met with strong opposition, many theologians, who adhered to the usual opinion that the blessed departed did see God before the Resurrection of the Body and the Last Judgment, even calling his view heretical. A great commotion was aroused in the University of Paris when the General of the Minorites and a Dominican tried to disseminate there the pope’s view. Pope John wrote to King Philip IV on the matter (November, 1333), and emphasized the fact that, as long as the Holy See had not given a decision, the theologians enjoyed perfect freedom in this matter. In December, 1333, the theologians at Paris, after a consultation on the question, decided in favour of the doctrine that the souls of the blessed departed saw God immediately after death or after their complete purification; at the same time they pointed out that the pope had given no decision on this question but only advanced his personal opinion, and now petitioned the pope to confirm their decision. John appointed a commission at Avignon to study the writings of the Fathers, and to discuss further the disputed question. In a consistory held on 3 January, 1334, the pope explicitly declared that he had never meant to teach aught contrary to Holy Scripture or the rule of faith and in fact had not intended to give any decision whatever. Before his death he withdrew his former opinion, and declared his belief that souls separated from their bodies enjoyed in heaven the Beatific Vision.

          Note the very different approach from that taken by Burke. John XXII was not censured or compelled and seems to have been content to encourage debate.

          Archbishop Fragkiskos Papamanolis has gone to town on Burke etc. Whereas I think that, so far, his opening is a bit strong his accusation of one of them changing his word is very damaging:-

          “This brother (one of you four), speaking with his interlocutors, modified my affirmations and put in my mouth words that I didn’t say. Further, you gave my declaration an interpretation that could not be gathered in any way from what I had affirmed.”

        2. Sorry about the double post in my John XXII comment. What some would call ‘fat finger trouble’. I doubt if my kids would be as charitable

  4. Unlike Mary B, I do not consider Fr. Ed’s posting to be “a rant” in any way. It is simply a clear and lucid presentation of the implications of (a) the actions of a pope who seemingly wishes to alter the perpetual and (thus) Traditional (note the capital T) teaching of the Church on marriage and eucharistic communion by means of altering Church practice in those respects (without having the honesty and integrity to state his intentions clearly), and (b) the actions of bishops or of bishops conferences who in practice treat the pope as an oracle rather then the guardian of Tradition that the dogmas of Vatican I presuppose and bolster – or else (as with the Maltese bishops) use the pope’s statements as an excuse to abandon Catholic practice altogether.

    The “implications” of such actions clearly both raise the possibility of schism and recall the facilis descensus Averni of Anglican churches over the past 45 or 50 years.

  5. Fr Ed,

    A good and timely precis of the current state of affairs that the current Pope and the Cardinals who elected him have brought about. We all know that the the change in liturgy of the past 50 years is a protestanisation of the Church and this is another step along that road. It is necessary for those Catholics who are left – I cannot include the Pope or his supporters in this catagory as they are clearly protestants in Catholic clothes – to challenge and support traditional orders only such as ICKSP and FSSP who support the teaching of Christ in its fullness.

    We all need to get to Confession and prepare for the worst.

    God Bless,

    Patrick.

    1. Patrick,

      You can’t possibly believe that the pope is a Protestant just because he wants to acknowledge that there are people who in all conscience feel able to revive communion.
      You only need to check the stats re confession and communion to understand that the scrupulousness regarding fitness for communion which pertained before VII is no longer the reality for most Catholics.
      Communion is not a reward for sanctity, it is the medicine we need to be spiritually healthy.
      The Lord does not want us to agonise about receiving Him. He wants to come to us.
      A so called ‘sacrilegious’ communion is not one where the communicant wishes to receive the Lord in love, humility and hope.
      No-one can judge another’s fitness to go to communion.
      I suspect that many, although sexually ‘pure’ are contaminatated by lies,gossip, tax fiddling,nastiness,selfishness, elitism, bullying etc. yet have no hesitation in seeing themselves worthy of communion , because let’s face it the only real sins the doctors of the law are concerned about are those relating to sex.

  6. Hello David,

    I agree with much you say and the need for confession is so great yet so often not taken that there must be those receiving the Sacrament who should not and it is not for me to judge them or anyone for that matter. The Lord will do that.
    No I am looking at those who Christ himself said that they are in a state of mortal sin and yet put themselves forward for the Sacrament – St Paul clearly states that they eat condemnation upon themselves – they should be warned which is the duty we have to them in love not to encourage them to sin further!
    Due to inept catachesis most laiety are now so ill informed they will believe anything and senior clergy within the Church are encouraging mortal sin to be committed – if you are in a state of adultery you cannot be a Catholic because you are not living by the Church teaching handed to us by The Lord and therefore cannot partake of the Sacrament – heal thy self, confess and then receive the Lord. Dont just carry on sinning and receive anyway, it makes the whole process meaningless at least and at worst sacrilegous.
    Are you saying David that there is no hell and anything goes so long as we ‘feel’ good about it?

  7. Whilst agreeing that the situation is somewhat muddied for the time being, I note that nowhere in Scripture does Jesus refuse his mercy and support to those who seek it. Likewise He did not refuse the Eucharist to Judas and Peter. I still think, perhaps wrongly, that Burke has his own agenda and that all Pope Francis is saying is that instead of rejecting or adding more suffering to the troubled spirit (remember – ‘do not quench the wavering flame …’) we should accompany that person and by guidance try to bring them back to a postion where they can receive communion again. That road can only be taken by the pastor on the spot after probably lengthy guidance. Burke must know this – if not how did he get to be a Cardinal?

    1. What about the rich young man? He refused to change his attachment to greed and therefore left unhappy? And the crucial words spoken to the woman caught in adultery were ‘go and sin no more’. So not quite as simple as suggested. And whilst I have no issue with the idea of accompaniment in one sense- I think it beyond naive to imagine that modernist priests who already tip the nod at anyone wanting communion will suddenly start to question in depth etc… All that will happen is change by praxis of what is not possible by doctrine. And the consequences will be dire indeed.

      1. I agree. It all depends on whether or not one accepts and acts on the guidance given. Interestingly, we are not told if said young man did in fact later change his ways and follow Jesus and we know nothing about what happened to the woman.
        The Lord offers it is up to us to accept (or reject) his invitation. He does not force acceptance. And, while you are right about some clergy being too liberal (trendy?) there are others who are too blinkered or set in their ways. I know of a parish which has lost a brilliant and fruitful youth group because a change of priest led to an incumbent who did not devote any time to the youth of the parish. He simply could not relate to youth (and therefore did not walk the road with them). If we have to retrain or even remove some priests then that is what must be done.

        1. I agree that being blinkered and unloving is as bad as being lax and unfaithful. The true Gospel is found between these extremes and the Ordinariate seeks to sit there. But that is an extreme of approach not application of teaching.

      2. Did Jesus tell the woman of Samaria that she couldn’t have the living water? Quite the opposite in fact, despite her irregular relationships….

        1. She found the water at the moment she converted to Christ and agreed to sin no more and end those relationships. If you are claiming it was given on the understanding she could continue them then you really have missed the point.

          1. How many husbands did she have Ed? She was divorced and remarried quite a few times and she was still welcomed to receive Christ. David Knowles has this absolutely right. And so does Pope Francis, according to scripture.

          2. One Andrew or do you embrace polyamory? That she had taken many men to her bed is a different matter. What mattered to Christ, once she was forgiven, lay in the future. And into that future he said ‘sin no more’ So it is very hard to accept he was actually meaning – go back to what you were doing.

          3. Ed – I think you need to re read the scriptures.
            “Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.””
            And where in the text does he say to the woman at the well ‘Go and sin no more’?

          4. I think Ed is confusing the woman at the well in John 4 with the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

  8. Patrick,
    I think what I am saying is that there are those in ‘irregular’ situations who may, for various reasons, not be seriously culpable. Only by accompanying such people in their journey can a priest make a realistic assessment of their particular situation.
    I don’t accept that ‘one size fits all’.
    As regards hell, only those who turn their back on God and reject salvation go there. You can’t get there by mistake or being on the wrong side of a rule. The Lord takes into account the whole of ones life. I don’t see Him as the controller of a game of musical chairs who will damn you when the music stops if you are not sitting down.
    I know this is not the black and white Catholicism of our youth but it is what I have come to realise is the truth. My fear of God is no longer greater than my trust in His love for me and I feel far closer to Him now than ever.If I am wrong I am in good company with Pope Francis.
    The Jesus I know and love does not commit people to hell, they do that for themselves. It is what is in a persons heart and the way they treat their brothers and sisters that is far more important than what does or doesn’t go on in the bedroom.

  9. But David what goes on in the bedroom can contradict the vows taken in front of God during marriage, can go on hurting innocent parties such as children and a deposed spouse. By allowing this situation to continue by granting the Sacrament to those involved in such acts makes not only the Sacrament unworthly received but encourages further sin by those involved and then others who see that the Church is saying this is acceptable.

    Is the Pope a Catholic? was the old joke. Its now a serious question that I dont know the answer to!

    God Bless to all and those who read this be encouraged to use the confessional as often as possible.

  10. I have re-read all the comments : the most understanding is written by David Knowles. I feel that DK tries to bring out the compassion of Christ. It is naive for some to think that appropriate sexual behaviour is the only behaviour that matters,and it is ,I suspect, naive to believe that Catholics do not err in sexual behaviour. It is for God alone to judge if we are worthy to receive Him . At confession we receive absolution but it for God alone to judge if we have made a worthy confession.
    I do not understand your comment Admin ,that the Ordinariate seeks to sit within the true Gospel and the “two extremes” . The Ordinariate sits and lives totally within the Catholic Church in terms of belief and doctrine,and it is the duty of the Ordinariate to look to the Magisterium .

    1. All Catholic should sit within the church as you say, I spoke of an approach. We aim to be neither lax nor ridid is all. As all should. But clearly dont.

  11. I was pleased about what the CofE bishops had to say today about the state and value both of marriage and celibacy.Jesus certainly spoke about the meaning of marriage,but I’m not sure what he said about sexual activity outwith marriage.
    For me we have to find ,as Catholics,some positive way of accepting those whose sexual relationships do not fit traditional patterns.

    If we have any doubts about what best to do, we must err on the side of compassion and mercy. It is , in my opinion, absolutely wrong to focus on sexual activity as the only major or indeed THE major sin. We must attempt to understand it within the whole framework of our human relationships.

    A priest in confession is there to help the penitent find the way to a better relationship with God. The central tenet of the Good News of Jesus is to remind us to love God and to love our neighbour. All ideas of right and wrong should be viewed within this framework. How do my relationships help me to love God and to love my neighbour ?

    In some ways a cold celibacy ( and I’m not saying all celibacy is cold) is just as bad as hot ‘illicit’ sex.

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