Cardinal Burke on Amoris Laetitia

I am still not commenting on Amoris Laetitia (AL) — I’m just helpfully directing your eyes, dear readers, to some of those who have. Today, Cardinal Raymond Burke weighs-in on the exhortation for the National Catholic Register. Here is a snippet of what he has to say:

The only key to the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia is the constant teaching of the Church and her discipline that safeguards and fosters this teaching. Pope Francis makes clear, from the beginning, that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation is not an act of the magisterium (No. 3). The very form of the document confirms the same. It is written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops.

. . . .

In other words, the Holy Father is proposing what he personally believes is the will of Christ for His Church, but he does not intend to impose his point of view, nor to condemn those who insist on what he calls “a more rigorous pastoral care.” The personal, that is, non-magisterial, nature of the document is also evident in the fact that the references cited are principally the final report of the 2015 session of the Synod of Bishops, and the addresses and homilies of Pope Francis himself. There is no consistent effort to relate the text, in general, or these citations to the magisterium, the Fathers of the Church and other proven authors.

What is more, as noted above, a document which is the fruit of the Synod of Bishops must always be read in the light of the purpose of the Synod itself, namely, to safeguard and foster what the Church has always taught and practiced in accord with her teaching.

In other words, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, by its very nature, does not propose new doctrine and discipline but applies the perennial doctrine and discipline to the situation of the world at the time.

Beyond the controversy surrounding AL, Cardinal Burke’s words warrant careful attention from all Catholics, many of whom remain confused about the magisterial status of various papal documents and public statements (e.g., interviews given at 30,000 feet). In this unfortunate era of the celebrity pope and neo-ultramontanism, it is all too easy for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to view the pope not as the Vicar of Christ but the Oracle of God. Moreover, simply because a document is “official” and gets released with all sorts of bells and whistles attached does not mean that it automatically binds the faithful in conscience. Given the free-roaming nature of not just Francis’s writings but certain writings of his predecessors, it can be difficult, even painful, for the faithful to discern just exactly what they are supposed to believe and profess. Of course, even though Burke is correct about the non-magisterial nature of AL, that doesn’t mean its contents — or the contents of many statements made by this pope — can’t undermine settled Church teaching. This is exactly what conservative and traditional Catholics have been worrying about for some time now, and it seems that their worries are well-placed.

The Last Thing I’m Going to Say About Amoris Laetitia

By now everyone and their sister, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, has had a chance to weigh-in on Amoris Laetitia (AL), Pope Francis the Merciful’s ponderous exhortation which may, or may not, have altered Church teaching on marriage forever; reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine with beauty and profundity; or accomplished nothing at all. Where one comes down on those options (or a plethora of others which lie somewhere between them) probably says a lot more about their religious orientation than anything else. For what it’s worth, I’m leaning toward “accomplished nothing at all,” not because I believe everything is hunky-dory in the Church (no, no, no, not that) but because Catholic doctrine on marriage, the family, and sexuality has been a mess for more than half-a-century already; AL doesn’t add to it in any significant way. What it does do, however, is bring out into the open what all of those with eyes to see already knew, namely that “individual conscience” rather than the Gospel shapes the decisions of millions of Catholics regarding remarriage, contraception, and the moral status of any number of sexual practices and proclivities. Those who already cut conservative-to-traditional, for the most part, still affirm traditional doctrine in these areas; nothing in AL will now prompt them to start divorcing en masse or approaching the sacraments unworthily. Catholics on the other end of the ideological spectrum will keep doing what they’ve always been doing, though perhaps they’ll be a tad bit bolder about it. No one, however, should even attempt to claim that AL did a single thing to relieve the great moral and doctrinal crisis afflicting the Corpus Mysticum. That’s just a bridge too far.

I see no reason to comment in-depth on AL or, for that matter, much of anything else the Holy Father in Rome has to say. When it comes specifically to the issue of marriage, his credibility was shot the second he imprudently reformed the annulment process last year. At that moment “Catholic divorce” became a sure-fire reality and all claims that the Catholic Church’s approach to broken marriages differed substantially from the Orthodox approach were rendered implausible. In fact, given the nature of Francis’s annulment reforms and the easy-going manner in which many annulments can now be attained, there is a powerful argument to be made that the Orthodox (at least in the Russian tradition) have a much more demanding process in place for marriage dissolutions. Does that make the Orthodox approach “right”? Probably not, though they deserve credit for being honest about what they are doing even if it emerged as something of a late-Byzantine historical accident. And while nobody wants to mutter this too loudly, let’s not forget that until the late 19th/early 20th Century, a number of Greek Catholic churches followed Ortho-praxis regarding second and third marriages. If Rome is serious about the Eastern Catholics reclaiming their authentic traditions, shouldn’t that be back on the table, too?

But I digress. It’s well above my paygrade to pontificate on how the Greek Catholic churches ought to handle marriages and divorces. Besides, Rome has been telling them what to do (in contradictory fashion) for decades now. Imagine, though, if the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) were to adopt contemporary Russian Orthodox practice regarding marriage dissolutions. What that would mean is that the UGCC would be more thorough about the dissolution issue than the Latins are about annulments. Would that be such a bad thing? Yes, I know many conservative and traditional Latins would scoff at that possibility just as they scoff about the idea of married Eastern clergy, but so what? If the Latin Catholic Church wishes to play coy about how they handle marriage and divorce with nary a mention of the myriad of contradictions which attend to that handling, why not let the Greek Catholics join their separated Orthodox brethren in being perfectly frank about what is going on? Just think of the ecumenical implications! (Ok, maybe there aren’t any; Greek Catholics are still “accursed Uniates” and “bandits” according to some luminaries in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches.)

With all that said, let me close by promising that I will never speak of AL on Opus Publicum ever again. I do reserve the right to make mention of it in other forums, however, should the need arise. I will leave it to those far more invested in apologizing for/damning Francis, the post-Vatican II magisterium, and the deplorable leadership in the Latin Church to unpack this-or-that murky passage in AL or project what some footnote could mean for the future of Holy Mother Church. I have popcorn to make.

Opus Publicum on the BBC (Sort Of)

Quite unexpectedly I was asked yesterday to participate in an on-air discussion about Pope Francis’s freshly minted exhortation for the BBC World program World Have Your Say. The full audio of the show is available online here and can also be downloaded as a podcast off of iTunes. Only the second-half of the show deals with Amoris Laetitia and I come into the conversation (briefly) around the 30-minute mark on the iTunes download or around the 32-minute mark on the website stream. After replying to two questions, I was cut-off and not given a chance to respond to the gentleman from Divorced Catholic who took umbrage with some of my words. Obviously I would have liked to have said more, but I appreciate the producers of the show for inviting me on.

Friday, Friday, Friday

Patrick Archbold is calling it the “exhortation of desolation.” Louie Verrecchio thinks it will undermine settled Catholic doctrine. And Ann Barnhardt thinks the title means “The Joy of Sodomy.” (Oh, and Steve Skojec seems to be leaning toward agreeing with her on Facebook.) What else could I be talking about other than Pope Francis’s pending post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia? Not since Humanae Vitae has a papal document caused so much anxiety among so many people, though unlike HumanaeAmoris likely won’t have much to say regarding doctrine. Instead, it is expected to restate most — if not all — of the “conclusions” reached during the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, only with more words. If the reports are true and the document does turn out to be 200+ pages, then it is highly doubtful that most Catholics will even bother to read it. Instead, “experts” of all ideological stripes will be falling over each other to declare what the exhortation “really means” for the Church and her faithful, thus contributing to the already dense atmosphere of confusion surrounding Catholic doctrine on marriage, the family, and sexuality.

The whole fiasco opens up an interesting opportunity for traditional Catholics. Will the Pope’s words finally alienate a significant number of conservatives into going “full trad”? Or does the fact that so many traditionalists are damning the exhortation before it’s even been released just feed the ongoing narrative that traditional Catholicism is comprised largely of close-minded, merciless hypocrites who — to use an old cliche — believe themselves to be more Catholic than the Pope? Traditional Catholics could do themselves, and their apostolate, a great favor by refraining from hyperbole, hysterics, and hate by instead offering up a thoroughgoing, traditionally rooted analysis of Amoris Laetitia in the light of the Church’s extant and infallible magisterium. Such an analysis will require a great deal of restraint if it is to be taken seriously, but it is an analysis which could prove to be a great gift to the universal Church if framed charitably while expressing itself firmly.

Now, do I expect such an analysis to be forthcoming? Probably not, at least not from any of the “mainline” traditionalist outlets. I do, however, harbor the hope that the Society of St. Pius X, which has charitably critiqued Pope Francis’s official statements in the past, can bring the full weight of its theological learning to bear on the matter. Perhaps others might follow the Society’s example and open up a serious-minded discussion of the exhortation’s contents, not to score potshots but to help guide the faithful during this tumultuous period in Church history. That’s what I am praying for at least.

Maybe the Liturgical Extremists Have a Point?

Update 4/6/16: It appears that Rorate Caeli has taken down the post linked below. A cached version can be found here.

Rorate Caeli has a fresh post up detailing the small, but growing, number of Latin Mass communities which celebrate Holy Week according to the pre-Pius XII rite. Numerous other parishes could probably be added to that list, and it is generally well-known that an increasing number of communities freely incorporate at least some elements of the older Holy Week ritual. In calling attention to this reality, Rorate felt compelled to write the following:

The liturgical reforms that were implemented in the Roman Rite from 1951 to the end of 1962 remain a subject of much contention among Catholic Traditionalists and their friends, and for this reason this blog has tended to strike a “middle way” in discussing these reforms. It should be acknowledged that the vast majority of Catholic Traditionalist communities — whether with the SSPX or under Diocesan / “Ecclesia Dei” authority — continue to faithfully celebrate the Mass, Office and Sacraments according to the liturgical books and regulations in force as of the end of the year 1962. Furthermore this blog’s record in promoting liturgical celebrations according to the 1962 Missal speaks for itself. In its official stance (as distinct from individual contributors’ opinions) this blog has never had any problem with the liturgical reforms of Pius XII and John XXIII.

That’s a troubling position to take since there are many problems with the reforms of both Pius XII and John XXIII. So why not just come out and say so? (That doesn’t mean, however, that the “1962 books” are the summum malum as the sedevacantists and liturgical extremists opine.) It seems that blind fealty to “the authorities” has clouded some traditionalists’ better judgment when it comes to things liturgical, or perhaps the climate of fear in the Church is so strong that not even the more vocal traditionalists want to “rock the boat” lest they lose access to the old Mass altogether.

If this sort of complacent attitude were present among the Greek Catholics of the last century, we’d still be celebrating the Divine Liturgy with eviscerated service books and a calendar bereft of Slavic saints. It was only through the tireless — and critical — efforts of churchmen such as Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, Blessed Leonid Feodorov, and the members of both the Recensio Ruthena and Recensio Vulgata commissions that the Eastern Catholicism’s Byzantine liturgical heritage was restored (even if only on the level of theory). It would be a shame if Latin Catholics failed to take a more proactive approach to reestablishing their authentic patrimony out of either misplaced obedience to ill-conceived liturgical changes or useless fear. There should be little doubt by now that the Holy Week reforms of 1955 lack either firm historical or theological footing and that continued celebration of the 1962 rite will only serve to normalize an inferior liturgy in the hearts and minds of the faithful. What a shame that would be.

A Followup Comment on Ignoring Amoris Laetitia

The ink hadn’t even dried on my earlier blog post before Patrick Archbold, operator of Creative Minority Report and contributor to various Catholic publications, decided to counsel the faithful on how to read Amoris Laetitia (a.k.a. “the exhortation of desolation“). Here’s the meat of it:

First, know this. The document will contain:
2% Actual Catholic teaching on marriage and the rest. This will provide all the cover necessary for the “everything is awesome” toadies to crow about how beautiful and orthodox it is. “I mean, did you read the second paragraph on page 98, that almost sounds like Pope Pius X. All is well.” It will be a load of crap, but there will be those who just eat it up and call it ice cream.

97% Jesuitical blather and pious sounding non-sequiturs. How do I know? 200 pages.

And then 1% will be where all the action and all the danger will be. Buried deep within the text will be the cryptic marching orders. Clear to those who have eyes to see, these marching orders will be done in such a way as to give plausible deniability. But the damage will be done and all will go from there. The wise will point to these paragraphs as the danger they truly represent, but the Catholic mainstream media and the defenders of the status quo will ignore them or criticize those who point out the dangers.

Maybe Archbold is right, but it seems a wee bit premature to fly this far off the handle before the official text is even published. Moreover, I am not sure what agonizing over this document is supposed to accomplish. Do these gloom n’ doom predictions edify the faithful? Are they going to prompt people to pray fervently for better Church leadership? Or is this just more “trad porn”? (I ask that with an air of lightness; I am sure Archbold means well.)

If it is true that the Pope cannot revamp doctrine and that a post-synodal exhortation, which has less magisterial weight than an encyclical or motu proprio, then what is all of the fuss about? Surely Archbold and other faithful Catholics know what the Church actually teaches regarding marriage, the family, and sexuality. No papal document can change that, or can it? And this is where one of the (many) tensions of contemporary Catholicism comes into focus. Catholics have convinced themselves for centuries that the pope can do no wrong; that he is the only thing that provides doctrinal and disciplinary surety; and that in the grand scheme of things he is the only successor to the Apostles that matters. Is it any wonder that the Orthodox (and some pockets of Eastern Catholics) look at the present situation in the Church with anything but horror? Regardless of what comes next, I doubt that screaming about it will help anything.

A Comment on Ignoring Amoris Laetitia

During an off-the-cuff chitchat with a young evangelical in a coffee shop in Grand Rapids, the question of conversion arose and I asked why he, a student clearly interested in ecclesiastical history and medieval theology, had not converted to Catholicism. His reply: It’s too much like Episcopalianism now. My unconfirmed suspicion is that this gent will be on his way to second (or third) Rome sooner or later, just as many Protestants of all ages have tried to find solace in the arms of Orthodoxy. It doesn’t always work, but few things ever do. I can’t blame would-be Protestant converts for finding very little which is satisfying about contemporary Catholicism, what with the doctrinal confusion, disciplinary chaos, and overarching unseriousness which infects the Mystical Body of Christ. I was fruitless in my efforts to convince this aforementioned young man that Pope Francis hadn’t already revamped Catholic teaching on marriage, the family, and sexuality or that there is no dogmatic basis within Catholicism for the conclusion that any pope can simply change settled doctrine on a whim. Even if that were so, he opined, it didn’t change the reality that Francis has de facto altered the doctrinal course of the Church and that the “intellectual arguments” of theologians, canonists, and mere layfolk mean very little for how the Church functions “on the ground.” He’s right of course, and so I opted to say my goodbyes and go about my merry business.

The easiest way to deal with the present crisis in the Church is to ignore it, or so I’ve been told. I know several people who have no interest whatsoever in reading — or reading about — Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s pending post-synodal exhortation which will be released Friday. At 200 ponderous pages, I don’t blame them. The odds are high that the document will be so circuitous and convoluted as to be susceptible to any number of conflicting interpretations. Only the traditionalists are likely to cry foul over its contents, though conservatives will likely be pressed to express some discomfort with certain paragraphs. No one expects it to be a revolutionary document, not even the liberals. The most they can hope for at this point is that the exhortation contains enough backdoors and passageways to allow them — in conjunction with local episcopal conferences — to do an end-run around doctrine in the name of “the pastoral.” And what happens when that goes down? Will there be a schism? Will the faithful rise up in defense of the Faith? Or will things just proceed along as they largely have for the last 50 years, with the last remnants of the pre-conciliar Church continuing to crumble while some angry voices murmur in the corner? What a magnificent catastrophe.