Thursday, 1 December 2016

Four Cardinals and a funeral?

It is axiomatic ("self-evident" according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary) to much of the commentary and reaction to Amoris Laetitia that is visible in the media that:
there is something wrong with Amoris Laetitia;
and there is widespread confusion among Catholics as a result of Amoris Laetitia.
I don't think there is anything wrong with Amoris Laetitia, if it is read for what it actually says;  and I believe that a significant responsibility for the spreading of confusion lies with those who are themselves exerting great effort in decrying the said confusion. Had the great and good kept rather more of their own counsel, I suspect that there would have been rather less legitimisation of such confusion as might have existed.

On the latter point, I think most of the Church's pastors and faithful would see it rather as Aunty does here (but I don't share the sentiments of the comments), or as Bishop Egan described it in a pastoral letter in July 2016:
When Amoris Laetitia was published, there was a controversy about the care of the divorced and remarried. In fact, Pope Francis reaffirms Jesus’ teaching on chastity, marriage, sexuality and family life; he does not change Church discipline. But he does speak in a new compassionate way about those who have drifted from the practice of faith because they have found themselves in marital situations and patterns of behaviour at variance with the Gospel....
Given this perspective, there is a certain bemusement that pertains with regard to the efforts of 45 theologians and, more recently, four cardinals to seek clarification from Pope Francis in respect of what has not in the first place been denied. As far as the cardinal's letter is concerned, I am inclined to characterise Pope Francis' choice not to respond in a similar way as does Rocco Buttiglione - that he has considered it not opportune to respond rather than it constituting a refusal to respond. And in respect of the 45 theologians, I just wondered what, with all the doctorates represented among them, they thought to achieve by writing in the language of censure and the citation of authorities. It is difficult to appreciate their approach to capital punishment, for example, when the question of today is no longer about the exercise of justice by Christian rulers but about executions under Sharia law in countries like Saudi Arabia and the experience of "death row" in the United Stages to which Sr Helen Prejean gives witness.

I find fanciful in the extreme the idea that Pope Francis has in some way declined to exercise his teaching authority because he happens not to have replied to a particular communication from four Cardinals (or, earlier, to 45 theologians). That this has subsequently engendered a discussion - taken seriously in some particular quarters - about a "suspension of the Magisterium", "doubts" and "a formal act of correction" is even more fanciful; and all the more so for its appearance of learning. "Authoritative teaching" might suit the mind set of some; but Pope Francis more gentle style of such teaching does not represent the absence of teaching of which he is accused.

In September, I read the following in a blog post reflecting on the situation since Amoris Laetitia :
...I fear for many Catholics that rather than as Newman says, "I shall drink to the Pope, if you please, still, to Conscience first", we must make a conscious choice between Conscience and the Pope, and that choice will have very uncomfortable consequences for those who feel compelled to follow conscience. The Kasper doctrine which the Pope has signified he favours is for many of us a sign of the distancing of the Church from Revelation and the person of Jesus Christ, that is not what the Church is for ...
At the time, I wondered on the final destination of one whose orientation moves from an adherence to the exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter towards an adherence to a notion of Tradition or of ecclesial life that is in some way distanced from the exercise of that office (though in the blog post cited this was articulated as a choice of conscience). Perhaps we are now seeing the final working out of such a distancing, the emergence of an orientation towards a Tradition distinguished from a Magisterium rather than an orientation towards a Tradition that lives with a Magisterium.

I, for one, prefer to stay alongside the successor of St Peter.

[Postscript: It should be clear that this is not a question of having to like everything a particular Pope does and says. The question is indifferent as to whether I like what Pope Francis does or do not like what Pope Francis does. The question is an objective one about an ecclesial orientation.]

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