Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

A filial correction

Last year a dubia was raised by four cardinals. Written in  charitable language it asked for clarification on Catholic teaching following confusion arising from the controversial document Amoris Laetitia. 

Amoris Laetitia is proving controversial because it contains teaching, via footnotes in chapter 8, that seem deliberately vague. That is to say written in language more usually associated with liberal Anglicanism than the clarity on which Catholicism is built. A fact currently delighting modernist prelates who are claiming the document allows the divorced and remarried to receive the sacrament without recourse to annulment. Meanwhile it vexes the theologians, and normative Catholics, who insist there can be no change of praxis if official doctrine is unchanged. Furthermore, they argue, not even a pope can trump the teaching of Jesus.

The confusion has caused tensions to rise and political infighting has broken out on social media. The culture war is back with a vengeance. The situation becoming so farcical that a divorced and remarried person who has no anulment can currently receive communion in Germany but not over the border in Poland??! A divide is exposed then, between those who stand by historic teaching and those who hunger for change. It could lead to schism if unchecked. Clearly, given the seriousness of the matter, contradiction must be sorted. Hence the dubia.

It is curious then that, instead of answering the dubia, Pope Francis has chosen to ignore it. A situation leading many to conclude he wants to encourage the change of praxis though he knows doctrine wont allow it. A grave situation if true. Yet why else does he give the nudge and wink to those encouraging change whilst demonising those who stand by traditional teaching as being rigid and uncaring?

It is a crisis which leaves the church in a precarious position. With a Pope beloved by secular culture and the press, by left wing politicians and celebrities and by those Catholics and protestants who hunger for liberal innovation. But who just as equally frustrates and bewilders the more normative sort of Catholic who was perfectly happy under the steadfast pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI; Popes who never got involved in culture wars but wisely sat above them and worked for unity of the church by being predictable and boring. By simply stating the teaching of the church.

Whatever Pope Francis’ strengths- and he has many- he is a maverick figure who divides opinion like that proverbial bottle of Marmite. (It takes one to know one!) Not good news given that unity is dependent on shared proclamation of truth. That chaos follows when gaps are created between our belief and practice. The world might cheer, when you chase worldly relevance, but it wont be converted. So all you do is alienate your core supporters. A path to decline not renewal as the last Century teaches only too clearly.

So it does not surprise me, nor seem unreasonable, that 60 academic theologians have added weight to the dubia, and pressure on the Pope, by issuing a filial correction of Amoris Laetitia. Many suspect that, like the Dubia, it will be ignored- but it ensures serious questions are not being forgotten. One suspects it is but a small step in a longer quest to unearth divine truth on the matter which the Catholic church is called to profess.

What are we grassroots Catholics to make of it? I find myself torn between wanting to show fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage and yet also sympathise with the pastoral desire to help the divorced and remarried. We are, after all, a hospital for sinners not a club for the perfect. Oh how I wish the Pope had not discarded the wisdom of an annulment process but striven instead to make the process free to access and quick to resolve. So much disagreement would have been avoided.

Instead there is chaos. So we might be wise to leave the matters to play out. A cautionary note stemming from uneasy feeling. Why, if change is possible, wasnt official doctrine developed? Why are questions not answered in conventional manner and via conventional process? The silence bothers. After all other Popes answered dubias quickly and courteously- clearing up confusion via simple answers is what dubias are for. Why then the refusal? It is here I smell the rat.

Might politics, not fidelity to Christ, be driving change? Someone suggest the issue might even be money- for the German church tax pays much to the Vatican, and prelates, fearing loss of income if people are turned off by a non PC church, are forcing changes not in keeping with church teaching. That would make sense but I have no way of knowing if its true. It could equally just be that a generation of 1970’s liberals have control for now and don’t care two hoots for official teaching!

What I do know is the question needs answering  if peace and unity are to be found where political skirmishes are now occurring. So I stand by those seeking clarity. Let us double down on the prayers for our Holy Father and the Church. And stand by official doctrine until the questions receive clear and definitive answers. And thank goodness for the magisterium that helps shape the questions, to do the checks and balances no synod ever could. The silence itself should encourage orthodox believers. This isn’t going away and the magisterium is holing. So hold your head too and keep praying.

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55 Comments

  1. A Reader

    Yes: once a protestant, always a protestant.

  2. Patrick fahey

    Hello Fr Ed,

    Is the Pope Catholic? I don’t think so!

    Patrick.

  3. MV

    I know you’re a Home Counties Tory boy but on what evidence do you base your extraordinary claim that Mgr Bergoglio is ‘beloved by left wing politicians’? I have never heard Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry or John Macdonnell ever mention him.

    • Admin

      Maybe ponder his accepting a hammer and sickle crucifix in Bolivia and why it was handed to him, or analyse how the press treat him compared to his predecessor. Or just open your eyes.
      And for the record I am not a Tory boy at all- but a floating voter who is motivated more by faith than party politics.

      • MV

        The press is ….er….notoriously right wing in this country.

        Tell me who these ‘Left wing politicians’ who love Pope Francis so much are.
        For my part I am a Labour and Momentum member and I don’t think Bergoglio is that brilliant. He’s even more liberal than his predecessor!

        • David Knowles

          As Churchill once said, “a man who is not a Socialist at twenty has no heart and a man who is not a Conservative at forty has no brain”. So how old is MV?

          • MV

            Ah now you have a point, Dave. Churchill said it so it must be true. He won the war for us didn’t he – Gawd bless the Queen Mum!

      • Mary B

        I really don’t think it’s helpful to try to apply conventional party political labels when trying to assess where a Pope or even Catholics in general stand in matters of faith. This is where the Americans even more so fall down. Anti abortion ? Clearly a Republican! In favour of refugees and social justice ? Ooh must be a Democrat!

        Rather you should say that Pope Francis has been much more favourably received by the secular press because they perceive him to be liberal leaning as opposed to his immediate predecessors who they perceived as the opposite.

        Idon’t think in the end these political descriptions advance the argument at all. and, for the record, the Pope looked pretty hacked off when given the hammer and sickle Crucifix. What makes the argument about how he is perceived is that his hosts gave it to him. No one would have ever dared give something like that to JP2 or Benedict but that doesn’t mean that Pope Francis is a closet Commie. Far from it I would say and, if I might be so bold Fr. Ed, you using “left wing” as a veiled term of disparagement is actually pretty unthinking when many of your readers (myself included) do have left wing political sympathies but are anything but modernist in matters of faith and morals. Which rather neatly illustrates my point does it not?

        • Admin

          But I dont see left wing as a disparaging label. I am simply noting that left leaning thinkers tend to embrace him fulsomely because his entire message is straight out of the Soros/Obama school of favoured causes- his message re environmentalism, immigration policy, role of government- is all in synch with such thought and this riles others. It is simply an observation.

          • Mary B

            Sorry Father but you really can’t get away with that. When you insert “left wing politicians” into the middle of “secular culture and the press……. celebrities and by those Catholics and protestants who hunger for liberal innovation” you are quite clearly intending that the members of that list should be construed sui generis. and we all know what you think about everyone else in it.

          • MV

            Which left leaning thinkers, Ed?

            You ought to shave your backside if you’re going to talk out of it so much.

          • Admin

            How about Emma Bonino- Italian abortionist invited to speak at the Vatican and praised by Francis- who in turn praised him. Or you could read the book, available on Amazon, “The Political Pope: How pope francis is delighting the liberal left and abandoning conservatives” Or Bernie Sanders calling Francis a “visionary” and claiming he is a socialist. Shall I continue?

            Oh and MV- your rude comment only makes you look foolish and unpleasant. You might want to be a little more courteous in debate.

        • Albrecht von Brandendurg

          H H has uttered so much nonsense that it’s easy to see where he stands – and the media perceives this correctly. You not an ultramontanist, Mary, by any chance are you?

          • Mary B

            Er..no I’m not, at least not in the sense I think you mean Albrecht. Although I do, obviously, think that and believe that the office and teaching authority of the Pope extends to the universal Church. What I am puzzled about is how you could have come to that suspicion on the basis of what I have written here ?

  4. Pat

    “not even a pope can trump the teaching of Jesus”

    1. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say that we must not feed the sinner. I have seen it argued that his words could be taken to mean that the opposite is the case, otherwise the sinner cannot have spiritual life and come into reconciliation with God. So it appears that Cardinal Meuller was referencing a Divine Law which seems not to exist. Current sacramental rules are Church rules which have built up over time (and changeable?).

    2. Did not Jesus give the Apostles (i.e. the Church) the ‘Power of the Keys’? Or do some not believe that it is a very real power?

    Interestingly, in the Didache (IX, 5), St. Peter’s teaching on the Eucharist is:-
    ‘But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord’s Name.’ Note that there seems to be no other exclusion at that time.

    The jury is out on this one, I’d say.

  5. David Knowles

    As far as the filial correction is concerned we are in uncharted territory. I often wondered what a Jesuit pope would be like and after all this time I’m not sure I am any wiser, but for my part I am keeping an open mind.
    As you probably suspect I am not one who believes that doctrine is set in concrete and I think a pilgrim should look ahead and not backwards.
    In time I believe that Francis will prove he is not a heretic and may even turn out to be a hero. He seems to me to be totally focussed on the two commandments which “encompass all the law and the prophets”.

    • Pat

      What does seem to be clear is that there are those whose agenda is to undermine him in any way possible (including keeping information from him if Mr Milone’s remarks are true. Inaction, or foot-dragging, from Meuller’s department led to the resignation of Marie Collins. I note that she still has the ear of Pope Francis. It could turn out that the blockers and delayers actually lead to a more powerful voice for those they think they have taken out of the picture. Others have pointed out that Francis is a Jesuit and they eye the long haul.

  6. Albrecht von Brandenburg

    Mary

    What you mean is ejusdem generis – that’s the relevant statutory interpretation rule. “Sui generis” = of its own kind.

  7. David Knowles

    MV
    Your rudeness makes me wonder if you are a friend of the sneering Emma Dent Coad, a wonderful example of how far new old labour has sunk. Having said that I think perhaps we should all take a step back from political feuding or we will have Mary B to answer to!

    • MV

      Awww, Dave! You read the Daily Mail. How sweet.

      • David Knowles

        How very well read you are MV!

      • Mary B

        Awww mv. You continue to be a total eejit. How annoying.
        I have a suggestion which is that if you can’t behave like a grown up you naff off elsewhere?

        • Pat

          A thought.
          I hope you aware of the subtle difference in register between the Irish vernacular use of ‘eejit’ and ‘idiot’?

  8. Mary B

    Albrecht you are quite right. Apologies. Point still stands though.
    Mary

  9. Mary B

    And, Fr Ed, whilst I agree with you about MV’s rudeness (not the first time he has been reproved on here either) the rest of your response to him falls into the same trap i.e. left leaning politically = liberal theologically. It just isn’t true and is intellectually lazy. To look at the examples you cite: how do you know the politics of the abortionist? Re Sanders, to quote the Profumo witness comment “Well he would say that wouldn’t he”.
    And George Neumayr who wrote the Francis book you mention is clearly a man with a mission. The interview with him on OnePeterFive gives the game away at the outset when he says:
    “Having gone to a Jesuit university, I am very familiar with the flakes and frauds that populate that order. When I heard the pope, in the first few months of his pontificate, engage in non-stop left-wing babble, it reminded me of all the nonsense that I heard as a student from similar “progressive” Jesuits. The program of Francis was so obviously set to promote political liberalism while downplaying doctrine; that was the formula of trendy and empty Catholicism that I saw on display at the Jesuit University of San Francisco.”

    As we are all perhaps aware, in American conservative lingo, ” left wing babble” means anything to the left of what we, in England, would consider hard right Toryism.

    By all means rail against liberalism and modernism but please don’t try to force it into party political labels. It just doesn’t work ; it’s much much more nuanced than that.

    • Admin

      I agree with most every word you say Mary- but I hold to the point that many on the hard left give Francis a pass where they demonised Benedict. This is part of the truth of the situation. I would not hesitate to call out the right for support of Trump – this isn’t about party politics for me.

      • Mary B

        An allegation that those on the left politically give Francis “a pass” I would agree. but that doesn’t make him left wing per se nor does it mean you should lump those on the left in with modernists etc. because you infer by that that those on the right are to be preferred. Or, to resort to “1066 and all that” mode, that those on the left are “Wrong and Wrepulsive” whilst those on the right are “Right and Romantic”. (!)

      • MV

        And the hard left who demonised Benedict? Who are they?

        • Admin

          Were you not in the country in the lead up to his visit?

          • MV

            Yes. The BBC misrepresented him. The mostly Tory press vilified him. I can’t remember which ‘hard left’ politicians had a go at him though. Secular liberalism is championed by the Tory party more than the ‘hard left’. Who invented same sex “marriage”, Ed?

          • Admin

            Sorry MV I am not playing party politics. Firstly because I am not taking a position on the right against your left – I am not a right wing person but a floating voter who looks for the best Catholic option. Hence I roundly condemned the Tories on this blog for gay marriage and gave my local MP a hard time. Secondly because it is detracting from the actual issue in hand.

          • MV

            OK then stop all the references to ‘left wing’ and ‘hard left’. I’m not the only person here who has found your misuse of the terms annoying.

  10. Mary B

    Apology accepted in the gracious spirit it was offered Father. Ah the joys of “1066” …..second only to Molesworth for raising a smile amongst certain members of a certain generation!

    • Steve G

      Mary B, As a certain member of a certain generation I can only applaud your comments. Sweeping generalisations and blanket stereotyping can only detract from the strength of any argument. As any fule kno. Or should.

  11. Pat

    Just a thought.
    We see but a corner of a battlefield and some bits of tactics stemming from a long term strategy which we are not privy to. The Church has always engaged with representatives of other views (it employs Jewish and Muslim scholars etc. for example). The battle has been raging since the time of Christ after all.

    • David Knowles

      I think I lost the plot a few comments ago!

      • Pat

        Don’t worry about it – you’re not alone. It’s a complex affair which my training and over 50 years experience, in various fields, some at senior levels, leads me (probably wrongly) to think that I can see some faint hints. I elect to keep them to myself because one does not wish to alert the enemy when he is busy making mistakes (Napoleon, I think) and I might be totally wrong and would be accusing people in error.

  12. MV

    Fascinating, Pat. What do you make of the Roswell incident?

  13. MV

    Just to slightly change the subject: you mention Mgr Bergoglio’s “many strengths”. Can you name any?

    • Admin

      He handles the media well, he appeals to the man on the street, he has a personal warmth, I admire his desire to reach out to the margins, he speaks up for the poor, he sorted the showers for the homeless in the Vatican, he reminds us of the need to be pastoral. Shall I continue?

    • MV: No don’t change the subject either slightly or at all. Answer the question I have put to you.
      Pat: Yes I am. In deference to maintaining a civilised atmosphere I didn’t precede the noun by the adjective with which it is commonly coupled.

  14. Fr Ed. At present everyone sensible on this blog seems to agree that MV is a (expletive deleted) eejit so, if you think so too, may I suggest that you stop publishing his comments altogether or, to give him chance to prove he isn’t, you print an edited version of his response to me with the juvenile bits edited out so we can make our own minds up.

  15. Steve G

    Strong opinions often provoke angry responses. To Father Ed’s credit he rarely resorts to the blue pencil. This shows a form of courage and a commitment to free speech. Censorship, albeit well-intentioned, is a slippery slope and risks turning this blog into an echo chamber. MV’s comments speak volumes – chiefly about MV. I see little harm in letting a man (I assume) make a fool of himself. Publish and be damned (not literally).

    • Mary B

      Yes that is a good point Steve. I think however if mv is to continue to be given the oxygen of publicity then the rest of us should observe the norm of “Don’t feed the troll” and just ignore the utterly juvenile stuff he posts ( and I agree that this has got Y chromosome writ loud and clear all over it). He does sometimes post sensible observations – which makes his forays into being a t**t even more obvious – and I see no harm in responding to that sort of thing provided there is a strict guillotine otherwise?

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