VIDEO: Catholic Identity Conference 2017 Talk


A report on the Vatican under Pope Francis, given at the Catholic Identity Conference 2017, Weirton, West Virginia, Oct. 29, 2017.

Foreclosing on Faith: A Dramatic New Film on Church Closings


The Catholic documentary, premiering at the ‘La Femme Film Festival’ in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, aims to facilitate a dialogue between all those involved in this tragedy and to offer possible solutions.


A new documentary film on the tragedy of church closings in the United States will receive its first major showing at a film festival in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Foreclosing on Faith, directed and produced by Hungarian filmmaker Viktoria Somogyi (in the interests of full disclosure, a friend of mine) and Emmy Award-winning producer Jeff MacIntyre, documents the “heroic battles, passionate protests and widespread resistance” over the closing of churches in the country.

“Churches are being shuttered at an alarming rate” and at stake are “issues of ethnic and cultural identity and the well-being of communities across the land,” the movie’s producers say.

“This is a David vs Goliath struggle; a war raging within the Catholic Church,” MacIntyre said. “Many of the faithful feel used and forgotten, but courageously fight to save their spiritual homes. We’re honoured to tell their stories.”

The filmmakers say the 51 minute documentary, captured over three years in Cleveland, Boston and New York, picks up where the movie on clerical sex abuse Spotlight left off as a major reason for many of the closings is compensation claims from abuse victims that have financially crippled some dioceses.

The film is narrated by the parishioners themselves who are given the opportunity to tell their stories while the hierarchy is offered space to respond. It also offers possible solutions to could keep churches open.

“It is vital to start an open dialogue as soon as possible about church closings by involving all the players,” said Somogyi. “ It has caused a lot of suffering and despair to far too many people, and has brought much destruction in the Catholic communities around the country. The film would like to contribute to and facilitate that conversation.”

Somogyi, who is also an editor for Vatican Radio’s Hungarian program in Rome, said her deep concern for the issue came after regular visits to the U.S. since 2006 and trips to Hungarian American Catholic communities. There she witnessed “how they conserve their homeland’s historical and cultural heritage and identity, their ties to it, and what role faith plays in this crisis.”

“Destroying a home — a spiritual one in the case of these faith communities — causes an enormous shock, inflicting a huge and inestimable crisis on people at many levels,” she said. “I wanted to analyze how communities react to these shock waves, and what strategies they apply in response.”

What especially interested her was how such “seemingly powerless” communities could come up with a “winning strategy to bring them out of a desperate and an extremely disadvantageous, if not life-threatening, situation.”

But also of great interest was the importance of the sacred, and the deep need to preserve it. “Even in today’s world, deeply disconnected from the spiritual world, people are still, perhaps unconsciously aware of the presence of the sacred,” she said.

Somogyi observed how, in their protests, prayer vigils and other efforts made to keep their churches open, they show their profound wish to “protect the sacred.” She calls it “a 21st century Antigone story: divine law vs. man-made law, or rather a law induced by financial reasons.”

The film, financed by MTVA Mecenatúra, a Hungarian patronage program, and NKA, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary, is being billed as a Catholic documentary version of the recently released “All Saints.”

That movie, made by Sony Pictures, follows a group of refugees as they try to save their tiny Episcopal church, condemned for closure.

Foreclosing on Faith will show at noon Oct. 21 at the La Femme Film Festival which celebrates and supports women filmmakers.

Building Peace in Ireland – Martin McGuinness’ Short Interview with NCRegister in 2007

ROME — Northern Ireland’s Protestant Unionist party used to accuse Martin McGuinness of being a commander of the Irish Republican Army.

Today, however, decades of sectarian fighting have ended and McGuinness, a Catholic, is now leading Northern Ireland’s governing assembly with his former Unionist opponent, Rev. Ian Paisley. McGuinness spoke with Register Correspondent Edward Pentin Nov. 24 in Rome at last month’s consistory of cardinals, six months after his election as Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister.


How important is Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh’s appointment as cardinal, to you personally and to Northern Ireland?

I think it’s of momentous importance that the archbishop, effectively the archbishop of Armagh, the primate of all Ireland, is now elevated to the position of cardinal. It’s a personal honor for one of the most humble priests on the island of Ireland.

It’s also a tremendous honor for the people of Ireland, and I think everyone will be overjoyed that we now have three cardinals on the island.


How will his appointment help this process of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland?

Sean Brady has been a great supporter of the peace process and of the need to implement the Good Friday Agreement over the course of many years. He has been a real friend of the peace process.

He has worked with others within other churches to bring about further peace and reconciliation among all people, and I think this is a further boost to all of those efforts. There’s also a very clear recognition by the Pope of the tremendous political breakthrough that there has been on the island of Ireland in the course of this year.

The situation has been transformed. We now have a very peaceful situation with everyone moving forward to deal with the everyday issues that affect people in their lives and the economy. I think, as we move forward into what is uncharted waters for us, with myself and Ian Paisley in government, it’s absolutely essential that we all work together.

I think someone like Sean Brady encourages us all to do that and is tremendous help.


The Pope is said to be looking at the possibility of making a trip to Northern Ireland. Is this likely to happen?

We would all be overjoyed by a visit by the Pope to the north. Obviously, at the time of Pope John Paul II, we had a situation where he clearly wasn’t able to do that. He could only come as far as Drogheda.

I don’t know if it’s possible for the Pope to do that, the Pope obviously has a very heavy itinerary, but if it was possible, I think all Catholic communities on the island of Ireland, would be absolutely delighted and overjoyed to see that happen.


How are you getting on with Ian Paisley?

The situation is absolutely tremendous and has been transformed beyond imagination. Ian Paisley and I are now in government together, working very positively and constructively with one another.

We’ve met every day in a very cordial and civilized atmosphere during the six months we have been in government together. There hasn’t been one angry word between the two of us.

I think Ian Paisley summed it up best of all at the aftermath of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh that was attended by the Taoiseach [the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister], Ian Paisley, myself, and all of our ministers — north and south. He said it was now time to end the old hatreds and divisions of the past and work together.

So that’s the spirit in which we’re all moving forward and I think it has the overwhelming support of the people.


You have quite a past. How is that hindering or benefiting you in your current role?

Well Ian Paisley has a past; I have a past — there are few people on the island of Ireland, if you go back into the annals of history, who don’t have a past. I don’t think it’s a big hindrance at all.

I would like to believe that Ian Paisley and I working together in government are showing a good example to everybody in the community, that we’re an inspiration for people. If he and I can come together and make agreements on, for example, agreeing a draft budget, a draft program for government and an investment strategy for the next 10 years, that has to be the most potent and powerful example to anyone, not just on the island of Ireland but indeed anywhere on this planet where there is quite a lot of conflict, a lot of wars, a lot of violence and a lot of death.


So you’re very optimistic about the future?

I am very, very optimistic and I think the situation is bursting will all sorts of wonderful possibilities.

Edward Pentin writes 

from Rome


Newt Gingrich: Struggle for Religious Freedom Will Define Future of the U.S. for Next 50 Years


Newt copy 2As the Presidential elections draw closer, I caught up with former Republican Presidential candidate and erstwhile Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

In this Oct. 7 interview during a pilgrimage to Rome, Gingrich, an historian and convert to the faith, discusses his concerns about this year’s election in light of the next President’s possible choices of Supreme Court justices, why religious freedom will be one of the most important struggles for freedom over the next 50 years, and how his Catholic faith impacts his politics. 

He also shares his views on which issues should exercise Catholic voters the most, and why he believes a Catholic politician must be consistent about his faith in the public square.

First of all, what is your reaction to the recording of a lewd conversation Donald Trump made in 2005 but only broadcast last week?

This is a methodical lynching by the anti-religious left to cover up the horrifying statements of Hillary Clinton in various secret paid speeches. Trump’s comments were disgusting but do not represent who he now is or what kind of President he would be. Tonight’s debate will teach us a lot.

In what ways are the role and the obligations of a Catholic politician today different from his or her non-Catholic counterpart? How do you anticipate this might change in the future?

I think, ideally, any government leader is shaped by the core of their beliefs and I think, in that sense, to be Catholic is to have a very deeply held set of 2,000 year old beliefs about the nature of human beings, about our moral obligations, about when life begins, about a whole series of issues, some of which lead to conflict. You have many conservative Catholics, for example, who are very strong on the right to life for babies but not very strong on the right to life for murderers, so they accept the death penalty even though it’s technically against the Church’s doctrine.

The great, rising crisis in America is the totalitarian threat against religious liberty, and if you look, there’s a Massachusetts commission on transgender rights which is talking about regulating what you’re allowed to say in church — for example, if you can really raise the question of whether Our Father is a violation of gender behavior. Duke University now has a woman’s project to train men out of their superiority. So you see the whole secular, almost classic, almost French Revolution, creation of a man-centered, human-centered world in which humans get to define the new rules and the new patterns and it has nothing to do with the natural law, nothing to do with God. This will be one of the most important struggles for freedom in the next 50 years. It will literally define the future of America over the next 50 to 100 years.

The Trump Campaign has launched an energetic effort to court Catholics. After months of no mention at all, why are Catholics suddenly important?

Well Catholics were always important, it’s just a question of the sophistication of the campaign. Trump is a very gifted amateur who had no notion of the scale of the presidential campaign, how complicated it is, how many different groups you have to talk to, et cetera. I think he’s learned a fair amount about that, and I think on things like the nature of the Supreme Court, the gap between who Hillary would appoint and who Trump would appoint, is so breathtaking that it’s hard for me to understand how any seriously committed religious person of any background — Catholic, Protestant, Jew — could vote for Hillary because she’s going to create a secular court designed to imposed a secular totalitarianism that will profoundly then nature of America.

What issues, in your view, should exercise Catholic voters most? Prudential matters related to the economy, national security for instance, or those that promote immorality and, or intrinsically evil acts?

First of all, you have a President for four years, but you could have a radical Supreme Court for 40 years, so the Court is, in many ways, the most institutionally profound challenge that we’re facing. Second, you have to take foreign policy seriously. I’ve written a lot of stuff and I do two free newsletters a week for Gingrich Productions, and I’ve written a lot about a “two-front war.” You have a secular offensive in Europe and America, and you have Islamic supremacism. They’re both on the offense and we have not yet found our footing as Christians — and for that matter as Jews — to stand up against this onslaught. It is a very serious problem because you’re fighting two fronts simultaneously.

 How would you respond to another Catholic politician who uses the claim that they cannot bring their faith into public life and so publicly support things like abortion while being “personally” opposed to them?

I don’t understand it. I don’t mean this in a harsh way, but tell me what you really believe. If you really believe what the Church teaches, that life begins at conception, then by definition, abortion is murder. Now you may decide that there are reasons for the murder, you may decide on having exceptions for rape and incest, you may decide to have an exception for this, that and the next thing. But the exceptions are to permit murder, and so when someone says to me, “You know, I really believe in the same thing that my Church teaches, but it doesn’t affect my public policy.” Well then, what is your public policy based on? I mean, if public policy has no rooting in belief, not even morality, just belief — is the sky blue? Well, it could be but if you really want it to be purple and if it will make you feel better, I’ll say it’s purple — well that’s just intellectual chaos. And of course left-wing Catholic politicians have been sliding down this road since at least World War Two. They’ve done it in Europe, they’ve done it in America. What it does, of course, is that it dissolves the religion, because then you have to say: “So, tell me what it is you believe in enough that you’d risk your career [to defend it].” And it turns out not much, in which case it turns out they’re actually belief-less. They’re full of piety but lacking in belief.

How has being Catholic altered your approach to politics and living your faith in public service?

I would say two characteristics. First, I come out of a Protestant background so I have a pretty strong feel for the two great wings of American Christianity. I think Catholics are more communitarian. I’m stunned at all the things Catholics do, and this trip is an example — the number of things we do together, the degree to which there is a community and family, it’s like a gigantic, extended family.

Second, Catholicism is based in a very fundamental way on the inherent belief of sinfulness, that we all sin, that we all fall short of the glory of God, and that we begin to approach the mystery of the Sacrament by saying, “Here are the ways I have fallen short, in what I do, in what I fail to do,” and, as they’ve added in recent years, that it’s all my fault. I feel either John Paul II or Benedict thought we weren’t quite getting that! [laughs] Msgr. [Walter] Rossi, my mentor in joining the Church, we were one day sitting and talking, and I said to him, “So what you’re really saying to me is, when I walk down the aisle you are re-presenting Christ, you’re not representing Christ.” I knew this historically having studied the history of the Reformation and the whole argument about whether, in fact, whether there’s a transformation at the moment that the bells are rung. The Church’s doctrine is that you and I have the opportunity to have Christ in us, and to renew that as often as we want to go to Mass. And that also explains some of the depth of Catholicism historically because if you belong to a religion which says your Savior is within you, and you relax and allow that to be true, then you are in fact never truly alone. I didn’t get that before converting. I knew the words, but I didn’t know the experience, if that makes any sense.

It’s only something you fully realize once you’re in the Church.

Yes, and that’s not to any way diminish the deep faith of Protestants and the many, many good friends I have who are Protestant and who are at least as worried about the country as Catholics are. They are deeply, deeply, deeply concerned about what is happening both in Europe and America.


From Casuistry to Mercy, Towards a New Art of Pleasing? — An Essay on the Malaise in the Church by Msgr. Michel Schooyans



Here below, by kind permission, is an essay by the respected Msgr. Michel Schooyans on what he sees as the underlying causes of the current malaise in the Church and in wider society.

Msgr. Schooyans has a doctorate in philosophy and theology and lectured at the Université Catholique de Louvain, as well as being a visiting professor at various American universities. He has written many books on political philosophy, contemporary ideologies, population policies, and conducted numerous missions in the Third World.

A native of Belgium, he is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences of the Vatican, of the Royal Institute of International Relations in Brussels, the Institute for Demographic Policy in Paris, and the Population Research Institute in Washington.

From casuistry to mercy

Towards a new art of pleasing?

by Msgr. Michel Schooyans

Professor Emeritus at the University of Louvain


June 2016



One might think that casuistry is dead and buried. The controversies of the XVIIth-century should be over once and for all. Rarely do any of our contemporaries still read the Lettres Provinciales [Provincial Letters] and the authors whom Pascal (1623-1662) attacks therein. These authors are casuists, that is to say, moralists who seek to resolve matters of conscience without succumbing to rigorism. On rereading the famous Lettres, we were struck by the similarity emerging between a controversial document written in the XVIIth-century and the positions today defended by pastors and theologians aspiring to effect radical changes in the Church’s pastoral teaching and doctrine. The recent Synod on the Family (October 2014 – October 2015) has revealed a reforming pugnacity of which the Lettres Provinciales give us a better understanding today. Hence Pascal comes to be known in an unexpected light! The intention in the pages which follow is simply to whet the appetite of the reader, and help him/her to discover a new art of pleasing.

The treasure of the Church

The Synod on the Family has revealed – even assuming this was necessary – a profound malaise in the Church. A crisis of growth without doubt, but also recurrent debates on the question of « remarried » divorced persons, « models » for the family, the role of women, birth control, surrogate motherhood, homosexuality, euthanasia. It is futile to close our eyes: the Church is challenged in its very foundations. These are to be found in the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, in the teaching of Jesus, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in the announcement of the Gospel by the Apostles, in an ever finer understanding of the Revelation, in the assent of faith by the community of believers. The Church has been entrusted by Jesus with the mission of receiving these truths, casting light on their coherence, commemorating them. The Church has not been given by the Lord either a mission to modify these truths, or a mission to rewrite the Credo. The Church is the guardian of this treasure. The Church should study these truths, clarify them, deepen man’s understanding of them and invite all men to adhere to them through faith. There are even discussions – on marriage for example – which were brought to a close by the Lord himself. It was specifically to conceal these historical truths that descendants of the Pharisees have denied the historicity of the Gospels (cf. Mark 10, 11).

Since the Acts of the Apostles, the Church has recognised and proclaimed itself to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These are distinctive « characteristics ». The Church is one because it has only one heart, that of Jesus. The Church is holy in the sense that it invites conversion to the Lord, to prayer, to contemplation of the Lord. Man does not have the power to sanctify himself, but all are called to respond to the universal call to sanctity. The Church is catholic in the sense that it has received the gift of languages from the Holy Spirit: it is universal. The understanding of languages signifies unity in diversity, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Church is also apostolic in the sense that it is founded on the apostles and prophets. The apostolic succession signifies that an uninterrupted link binds us to the very source of the doctrine of the Apostles.

To offer the world the Good News he came to bring, the Lord wanted to recruit for his work the men he chose to remain with him and go forth and teach all nations (cf. Mark 3, 13-19). These men bear witness to the words they received from the very mouth of Jesus and the signs manifested by Him. These witnesses were called by the Lord to guarantee, from generation to generation, fidelity to the teaching which He himself presented. It is incumbent on them to deepen the understanding of the testimonies concerning this teaching and authenticate its tradition.

The teaching of the Lord has an exacting moral dimension. This teaching certainly urges us to a rational adherence to the golden rule, on which mankind’s great sages have meditated for centuries. Jesus brings this rule to its perfection. But the Church’s tradition has its own precepts of conduct, prime among which is love of God and one’s neighbour. « In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.» (cf. Matthew 7, 12). This double commandment is the fundamental benchmark for the actions of the Christian. The Christian is called to be open to the inspiration of the Spirit, which is love, and to respond to this inspiration through faith, which acts through love (cf. Ga 5, 6). Between the one, love, and the other, faith, the link is indissoluble. If, in the teaching of the Church, this link is broken, Christian morality sinks into various forms of relativism or scepticism, to the point of contentment with subjective and fluctuating opinions. A severance is created between truth and action. There is no longer any reference to the truth, nor to the authority which guarantees it. Transgression is ultimately abolished, because the moral reference points imparted by God to man are rejected. Man, it will even be suggested, no longer needs to love God in order to achieve salvation, or to believe in His love. Morality is fatally split, and the door is open wide to legalism, agnosticism and secularisation. The rules for living taught by the Profits, by the Lord, by the Fathers of the Church, are methodically dismantled. What then prevails are the dictates of the new jurists, heirs to the scribes and Pharisees. Morality hence becomes a form of gnostic positivism, a knowledge reserved for the initiates. This knowledge only acquires « legitimacy » in the purely voluntaristic decisions of those who claim the privilege of announcing a new morality, severed from the founding reference to the revealed truth.

In his teaching, Saint Paul urges us to avoid the snares of a morality devoid of roots in the Revelation. This is how he exhorts Christians:

«You must not fall in with the manners of this world. There must be inward change, a remaking of your minds, so that you can satisfy yourselves what is God’s will, the good thing, the desirable thing, the perfect thing.» (Rm 12, 2). « And this is my prayer for you: may your love grow richer and richer yet, in the fullness of its knowledge and the depth of its perception, so that you may learn to prize what is of value.» (Ph 1, 9 s.; cf. 1 Th 5, 19-22).

The return of casuistry

Here one perceives the return of casuistry, believed to allow moralists to examine and resolve matters of conscience. Certain moralists intend to offer solutions which please those who have recourse to their superior knowledge. Among the casuists of yesterday and today, the fundamental principles of morality are eclipsed by the (frequently divergent) opinions pronounced by these grave spiritual advisors. The disinterest with which fundamental morality is now viewed leaves the way open for the introduction of a positive law, which removes standards of conduct from any remaining reference to the fundamental rules of morality. The casuist, or neo-casuist, has become legislator and judge. He cultivates the art of confusing the faithful. Concern for the truth, revealed and accessible to reason, is now of no interest. Ultimately, the only interest will be in « probable » positions. Through probabilism, one proposition is open to contradictory interpretations.

Probabilism will make it possible to blow first hot, then cold, for and against. Forgotten is the teaching of Jesus: « Let your word be “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. » (Mt 5, 37; Jc 5, 12 ; cf. 2 Co 1, 20). However, each neo-casuist will go with his own interpretation. The tendency is towards a confusion of propositions, duplicity, double or triple truth, an avalanche of interpretations. The casuist has a divided heart, but intends to be a friend to the world (cf. Jc 4, 4-8)

Progressively, the rules of behaviour proceeding from the will of the Lord and handed down by the Magisterium of the Church are languishing in decline. The moral assessment of acts can therefore be modified. Not content with toning down this assessment, the casuists wish to transform the moral law itself. This will be the task of casuists, confessors, spiritual advisors and, on occasion, bishops. All must have a concern to please. They must in consequence resort to compromise, accommodate their arguments to the satisfaction of human passions: no person must be rebuffed. The moral assessment of an act no longer depends on whether it conforms to the will of God, as made known to us by the Revelation. This depends on the intention of the moral agent and this intention can be modulated and moulded by the spiritual advisor who « supports » his followers. In order to please, the spiritual advisor will have to soften the rigour of the doctrine handed down by tradition. The pastor will have to adapt his words to the nature of man, whose passions are naturally lead into sin. Hence the progressive relegation of references to original sin and grace. The influence of Pelagius (a monk of British origin, see s.) is evident: man must save himself and take his destiny into his own hands. Telling the truth forms no part of the role of the casuist, who must captivate, present a line of argument which is engaging, curry favour, make salvation easy, delight those who aspire to « have itching ears » (cf. 2 Tim 4, 3).

In short, the eclipse of the decisive contribution of the Revelation to morality is paving the way for the investiture of the casuist and creating a space favourable to the installation of a government of consciences. Space is shrinking for religious liberty, as offered in the Scriptures to the children of God and inseparable from adherence to faith in the Lord. Let us therefore turn to an analysis of examples of areas in which the actions of the neo-casuists of today emerge clearly.

The government of consciences

With the arrival, in the Church, of governors of conscience, we perceive the proximity of the casuistical notion of government of the City with the notion to be found, for example, in Machiavelli, Boëtie and Hobbes. Without asserting or making themselves accountable for this, the neo-casuists are certainly heirs of these masters in the art of governing slaves, an art to be found in the three authors cited above. A mortal God, the Leviathan defines what is just and what is good; he decides what men should think and wish for. It is he, the Leviathan, who governs the consciences, thoughts and actions of all his subjects. He is accountable to no-one. He must rule over the consciences of his subjects and define the « good » they should seek and the «evil » against which they should guard. Any political authority ultimately has its source in this mortal God, who is the governor of consciences. With the three authors cited above, we can see that the neo-casuists have aligned themselves with the theoreticians of tyranny and totalitarianism. Does not the ABC of totalitarian power consist, first of all, in the subjugation, the alienation, of conscience? By this means, the casuists offer a robust guarantee to all who wish to establish a single civil religion which is easily controllable, and laws discriminating against citizens.

To adapt the Sacraments?

In order to please everyone, it is necessary « to adapt » the Sacraments. Let us take the case of the Sacrament of penitence. The disinterest with which this Sacrament is today viewed can be understood through the « rigorism » demonstrated by confessors in the times of the elders. At least, so we are assured by the casuists. Today, the confessor should learn to make this Sacrament a Sacrament which pleases penitents. However, in toning down the severity attributed to this Sacrament, the casuist separates the penitent from the grace offered by God. The neo-casuist of today distances the sinner from the divine source of mercy. It is however to this that he must return.

The consequences of this deliberate deviation are paradoxical and dramatic. The new morality leads the Christian to render the Sacrament of penitence, and hence the Cross of Christ and his resurrection, futile. (cf. 1 Co 1, 17). If this Sacrament is no longer received as one of the major manifestations of the merciful love of God for us, if it is no longer perceived as necessary to salvation, it will soon cease to be necessary to instruct bishops or priests to offer Sacramental absolution to sinners. The rarity and, ultimately, the disappearance of the Sacramental offer of pardon by the priest will lead, and in reality has already led, to other estrangements, including that of the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist. And so on for the Sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), the Sacrament of the Sick, not to speak of the liturgy in general…

At any rate, for the neo-casuists, there is in fact no longer a Revelation to be received or a tradition to be handed down. As has already been remarked, « The truth is the new! » The new is the new seal of the truth. This new casuistry is leading Christians to make a clean break with the past. Finally, the obsession with compromise is pushing the new casuists towards a return to nature, as before original sin.

The question of “re-marriage”

The teaching of the neo-casuists calls to mind the spirit of compromise demonstrated to a considerable extent by the English bishops vis-à-vis Henry VIII. This question has relevance today, although the modalities of compromise are different. Who are the clerics from all orders who seek to please the powerful in this world? Are they swearers or refusers? How great is the number of pastors of all ranks who wish to make allegiance to the powerful of this world, albeit easily and without the need to swear publicly fidelity to the new “values” of the world today? In pushing to facilitate “re-marriage”, the neo-casuists are giving their backing to all those political players who are undermining respect for life and the family. With their assistance, annulments of marriage will be easy, as will repeat or flexible “marriages”.

The neo-casuists show great interest in cases of divorced persons who are “re-married”. Ds in other cases, the different stages of their approach provide a good illustration of salami tactics (Matyas Rákosi, 1947). According to these tactics, what one would never concede as a whole is conceded slice by slice. So let us follow the process. First slice: At the point of departure we find, of course, references to the teaching in the Scriptures on marriage and the Church’s doctrine on this question. Second slice: Emphasis is placed on the difficulties in “receiving” this teaching. Third slice, in the form of a question: Are “re-married” divorced persons in a state of grave sin? The fourth slice consists of the entry on the scene of the spiritual advisor, who will help “re-married” divorced persons to “discern”, that is, to choose whatever suits them in their situation. The spiritual advisor must show himself to be understanding and indulgent. He must demonstrate compassion, but what compassion? For the casuist in effect, when one undertakes a moral assessment of an act, concern for compassion must take precedence over the assessment of actions which are objectively wrong: the advisor must be lenient, dapt to circumstances. With the fifth slice of salami, each individual will be able to discern, personally and with full freedom of thought, what suits him best. In effect, along the way, the word discernment has become equivocal, ambiguous. It is not to be interpreted in the Pauline sense recalled in the scriptural references cited above. It is not a matter of seeking the will of God, but of discerning the right choice, the choice which will maximise the « itching of the ears» evoked by Saint Paul (2 Tim 4, 3).


Homicide is another matter which merits our attention. We are now going to focus on a matter of deviation of intention. According to the classic casuistry of the XVIIth century, homicide could proceed from a desire for vengeance, which is a crime. To avoid this criminal definition, it was necessary to deviate from this criminal intention, the intention to avenge oneself, and assign to the homicide a different, morally permitted, intention. Rather than invoke vengeance as a motive, they invoked, for example, a desire to defend one’s honour, considered morally permissible.

We will now see how this deviation of intention is applicable to another matter, a contemporary matter. The argument runs as follows: Abortion is a crime. Mrs X wishes to abort the baby she is expecting; the baby is not wanted. Yet abortion is a morally inadmissible crime. The intention is then deviated from, with the result that the initial intention is erased. Not with the intention of freeing oneself from an unwanted baby! Instead and in place of this initial intention, it will be argued that, under certain circumstances, abortion is morally admissible because, for example, its purpose is to save the lives of persons who are ill, by providing physicians with anatomical parts in good condition and to which a price is attached. The intention defines the moral quality of the gift. Hence, it is possible to please a broad spectrum of beneficiaries, whose “generosity” and “freedom of spirit” the casuists lose no opportunity in flattering.

The teachings of the Church on abortion are well-known. As soon as the reality of a human being is established, the Church teaches that the life and dignity of that being should be respected until its natural death. The doctrine of the Church on this question is constant and attested to throughout tradition. This situation troubles some neo-casuists. They have therefore coined a new expression: humanisation of the embryo. There is no – they say – humanisation of the embryo unless a community wishes to welcome that embryo. It is society which humanises the embryo. If society refuses this humanisation, it will be able to legalise the elimination of the embryo. If there is no humanisation by society, the embryo is a thing for which no right can be invoked, hence no legal protection. If society refuses to humanise the embryo, there can be no homicide, given that the human reality of this embryo is not recognised. For there to be homicide, it would be necessary for humanisation to be made possible on the basis of a positive law. In the absence of which, there is neither murder, nor even homicide!

In the examples we cite here, salami tactics come to the aid of the neo-casuists. Initially, abortion is clandestine, then presented as exceptional, then rare, then facilitated, then legalised, then it becomes habitual. Those who oppose abortion are denigrated, threatened, ostracised, condemned. This is how the political institutions and the law are unpicked.

Let us note that, thanks to the casuists, abortion is first facilitated in the Church, and from there, in the State. The same now applies to “re-marriage”. Positive law is taking over from the new morality! It finds its inspiration in the neo-casuists. This is observable, in France, during debates on legislation on abortion. This is a scenario which could spread throughout the world. With the impetus of the neo-casuists, abortion could be declared a new “human right” on a universal scale.


The question of euthanasia also merits discussion. This practice is becoming more and more extensive in traditionally Christian Western countries. Demographers regularly draw attention to the ageing population in these regions of the world. Life expectancy at birth is rising almost everywhere. In principle, ageing in itself is good news. For centuries, throughout the world, men have struggled against early death. At the beginning of the XIXth century, life expectancy at birth was often thirty years of age. Today, life expectancy is eighty years of age.

However, this situation will generate problems of all kinds. Let us mention one: Who will pay the pensions? To euthanise burdensome and onerous elderly people would certainly make it possible to achieve major economies. It will then be said that it is necessary to help costly elderly people “die in dignity”. Because it is politically difficult to defer the pension age, life expectancy will be lowered. The process has already begun in certain regions of Europe. Hence significant economies: a reduction in health care, pharmaceutical products and, above all, a reduction in the pension bill. Because politically correct right-thinking people balk at a programme which is so austere, the intention must be modified to be able to pass a law legalising euthanasia.

How to proceed? By developing a pitiable argument on compassion. It is necessary to please all categories of persons affected by this programme. These persons must be persuaded to subscribe to a plan whose objective is to give death “under good conditions” and “in dignity”. Death given in dignity would be the high point in quality of life! Rather than recommend palliative treatment and surround the ill person with affection, his fragility will be abused, he will be misled as to the fatal treatment to be inflicted. Vigilant neo-casuists will be on hand to verify that the homicidal act “authorising” the gift of death is in compliance with positive law. The cooperation of carefully primed chaplains will be especially appreciated to authenticate the compassion manifested in death given as a gift.

The party of the casuists

Discussions during the Synod on the Family revealed the determination with which a group of pastors and theologians do not hesitate to undermine the Church’s doctrinal cohesion. This group functions in the manner of a powerful, international, well-heeled, organised and disciplined party. The active members of this party have ready access to the media; they frequently appear unmasked. They operate with backing from some of the highest authorities in the Church. The main target of these activists is Christian morality, criticised for having a severity incompatible with the “values” of our time. We must find ways which lead the Church to please, by reconciling its moral teaching with human passions. The solution proposed by the neo-casuists starts by calling into question fundamental morality, then obscuring the natural light of reason. The original meaning of the references to Christian morality revealed in the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus is distorted. The precepts of reason are regarded as indefinitely debatable: probabilism prevails. Primacy should be accorded to the will of those who are powerful enough to impose their will. Disparate partnerships with unbelievers will be formed without hesitation (cf. 2 Co 6, 14). This voluntarist morality will have a free hand in placing itself at the service of political power, of the State, and also the market, high finance, the law, etc. In concrete terms, it will be necessary to please corrupt political heads, champions of tax fraud and usury, abortionist doctors, manufacturers who deal in pills, lawyers willing to defend the least defensible causes, agronomists enriched by transgenic products, etc. The new morality will hence insidiously penetrate the media, families, schools, universities, hospitals, courts.

This has led to the formation of a social body which refuses to accord first place to the search for the truth, yet is highly active where there are consciences to govern, assassins to reassure, malefactors to free, wealthy citizens with whom to curry favour. Through this network, the neo-casuists will be able to hold sway over the wheels of the Church, influence the choice of candidates for high office, forge alliances which imperil the Church’s very existence.

Towards a religion of compromise?

  1. What is most troubling with regard to the casuists is their disinterest in the truth. In them, we find a relativism, indeed a scepticism, which means that, in terms of morality, one should act in accordance with the most probable standard. One should choose the standard which, in a given circumstance, is regarded as most pleasing to a given person, a given spiritual follower, a given public. This applies to the City as it does to men. Everyone has to make their choice, not in terms of the truth, but in terms of circumstances. The laws of the City also have their origin in circumstances. The best laws are those which please the most and please the greatest number. Hence we are witnessing the expansion of a religion of compromise, indeed individualist utilitarianism, since the concern to please others does not extinguish the concern to please oneself.
  2. In order to please, casuists must be up-to-date with current developments, attentive to things new. The Fathers of the Church of previous generations and the great theologians of the past, even the recent past, are presented as not adapted to the current situation in the Church; they are regarded as outmoded. For the casuists, the Church’s tradition needs, as they would put it, to be filtered and fundamentally called into question. As we are gravely assured by the neo-casuists, we know what the Church should do today to please everyone (cf. Jn 9). The desire to please is aimed at the winners in particular. The new social and political morality should handle such people with care. They have a lifestyle to be protected and even improved; they have to maintain their rank. So much the worse for the poor who do not have the same worldly constraints! Certainly, one must also please the poor, but it must be acknowledged that they are less “interesting” than the people with influence. Not everyone can be a winner!

The morality of the casuists ultimately resembles a gnosis distilled in select circles, a knowledge one might call esoteric, targeted at a minority of people who experience no need to be saved by the Cross of Jesus. Pelagianism has rarely flourished so much.

  1. The traditional morality of the Church has always recognised that there are acts which are objectively wrong. This same moral theology also recognises, and has long done so, the importance of circumstances. This means that, in the assessment of an act, account must be taken of the circumstances in which the act has been committed and the levels of responsibility; this is what the moralists call accountability. The casuists of today proceed in the same way as their founders: they minimise the importance of traditional morality and overemphasise the role of circumstances. Along the way, conscience is led into self-deceit because it allows itself to be distorted by the desire to please.

Hence, one perceives in the media that casuists are frequently transfixed by a world destined to disappear. Too often, they forget that, with Jesus, a new world has already begun. We recall this central point in human history: «The old world has passed, now a new reality is here. » (Ap 21, 5). We turn again to Saint Paul:

« There must be a renewal in the inner life of your minds; you must be clothed in the new self, which is created in God’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth. » (Ep 4, 2-3 s.).

  1. The actions of casuists today affect not only the Church’s moral teaching, but also the entirety of dogmatic theology, in particular the question of the Magisterium. This point is frequently insufficiently emphasised. The unity of the Church is in peril where there are suggestions of biased, at times demagogic, proposals for decentralisation, largely inspired by Lutheran reform. Better to be answerable to the princes of this world than to affirm unity around the Good Shepherd! The sanctity of the Church is in peril where casuists exploit man’s weakness and preach a devotion which is easy and neglectful of the Cross. Catholicity is in peril where the Church ventures onto the path of Babel and undervalues the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the gift of languages. Is it not He, the Spirit, who brings together the diversity of those who share the same faith in Jesus, the son of God? The apostolicity of the Church is in peril where, in the name of exemption, poorly understood, a community, a “party” is exempted from the jurisdiction of the Bishop and considered to be answerable directly to the Pope. Many neo-casuists are exempt. How can it be doubted that this exemption weakens the Episcopal body as a whole?

Bibliographic credits

Cariou, Pierre, Pascal et la casuistique, an essential work, Paris, PUF, Collection Questions, 1993.

Jean-Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Vatican City, 1993.

Nouveau Testament, TOB, several editions.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, edited by Jacques Chevalier, Paris, La Pléiade, 1954.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, edited by Jean Steinmann, Paris, Armand Colin, 1962.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, Preface by Robert Kanters, Lausanne, Ed. Rencontre, 1967.

Wikipedia: excellent articles on Pascal, Casuistry, Provinciales.



The treasure of the Church

The return of casuistry

The government of consciences

To adapt the Sacraments?

The question of «re-marriage»



The party of the casuists

Towards a religion of compromise?

Key words

Elders Abortion Casuist Circumstances City Clericalism Confessor Conscience Discernment “Re-married” divorced persons Dogmatism Equivocation   Euthanasia Exemption Family Malefactor Government Humanisation Intention Languages Light Magisterium Mercy Morality Palliatives Participation Passions Party Please Politics Probabilism Reform Civil religion Revelation Rigorism Sacrament Testimony Tradition Values

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Video and Transcript of Bishop Fellay Interview


Here below is the video and transcript of a May 13th interview with the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay. My write up on the interview can be found here.

Part 1/3: The Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X gives a rundown of the reconciliation process and explains that the SSPX is at a “very interesting” but “more confusing” stage in its relations with the Holy See. He says the Pope and the CDF have a different approach to the Society, but the same conclusion: to give the SSPX recognition. He also responds to whether Archbishop Lefebvre’s insistence that reconciliation would only be possible if Rome repented of its errors is still valid, and if the SSPX were regularised, whether obedience or adherence to Tradition would take precedent.

Part 2/3: Bishop Fellay discusses the Society’s motivations for reconciliation with Rome at this time, safeguards to prevent compromises with the post-conciliar Church, and discloses that some in Rome see the SSPX as coming to the Church’s aid at a “catastrophic” and worsening time for the Church. He also shares his views on the Holy Father, and how the Pope views the SSPX.

Part 3/3: In this final segment, Bishop Fellay discusses whether the SSPX feels vindicated by the current situation in the Church, whether the SSPX will continue to be critical of aspects of the post-conciliar Church after regularization, and how he now sees Bishop Richard Williamson who was expelled from the Society in 2012. Bishop Fellay also answers a question on an alleged missing part of the Third Secret of Fatima.


May 13, 2016

Feast of Our Lady of Fatima

Menzingen, Switzerland

Edward Pentin

Your Excellency, at what stage are we in the talks between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X?

This relationship with Rome doesn’t date from today. We may say, even at time of the excommunication, because of the bishops’ consecration in 1988, there was never a total break with Rome. We never wanted to break from Rome. Archbishop Lefebvre was absolutely explicit on that. We had disputes, yes, and I may say the concerns continued till now. But these relations have become closer in the year 2000. So I may say it was a first step at the end of that year, when we had the pilgrimage in Rome for the holy year. And at the end of the year, Rome, through Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos who was the president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, told us the Holy Father wants us to solve this problem. At the time I told him: “Yes , that’s fine, that’s good, but there’s one problem: we don’t trust you.” We were describing the way they had treated other movements, especially the Society of St. Peter [FSSP], at that time. Nevertheless, talks started sporadically but which allowed Rome to get to know us a little bit better and with some years, it was obvious that Cardinal Castrillon had come to the conclusion that we were absolutely not schismatic. He said it several times, that we were Catholics. Still, he obtained the termination of the decree of excommunication which was followed by the painful situation of Bishop Williamson’s statements which brought in again some cold, but at the same time, we went a step further.

We had asked for two preambles before going further, because of this lack of trust, and these were to give, to recognize that every Catholic priest had the right to say the Tridentine Mass — something which seemed impossible in 2000 appeared to become fact in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI when he really recognized this right by saying the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated. So that was one major point that really re-introduced the freedom of the Mass, at least in theory, at the level of a right into the Church.

Then the excommunication which was the second point was, two and a half years later, terminated. So we said once this was done, we needed to talk, we needed to talk about the doctrinal problems, the problems we see as doctrinal problems. And fair enough, Benedict XVI said these discussions were necessary. I don’t think we had the same optics, but nevertheless we agreed on having talks which happened over two years at the higher level

At the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we had meetings and discussions on the different points of controversy which are, we may say, catalyzed in the Council, and which were introduced into the life of the Catholic Church through the Council, Vatican II. After these two years, Rome made a formal proposal which appeared to us to be too ambiguous. That means, it wasn’t going to solve the problem. I told them: “If we get an agreement on something ambiguous, we just postpone the problem and have to deal with it afterwards, it will make it even worse.” So I said: “We need to get to something now, before.” There was an intense back and forth situation which ended with no result. It was very difficult to see it through because I was told by people inside, very close to the Pope [Benedict], that in fact what was proposed to us did not correspond to the Pope’s views so it was very easy to see what was going on.

With the new Pope, now, Pope Francis, we arrived at the next stage, a new situation, and which is very interesting but even more confusing. I call it a paradoxical situation because, if I may say, the problems which we denounce are worsening in the Church, while a certain part, especially in Rome, is starting to say and to recognize that something must be done.

So on the side of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there is a new perspective on us, which claims that, thanks to these discussions, it appears, once again, that the Society is not schismatic. That means that the points we defend do not touch the points that would separate the Society from the Church, either at the level of schism or worse, the level of heresy, against the faith. They still estimate that something should be clarified on the question of the perception of what is the magisterium. But we claim they make it confusing, especially when we can see nowadays there are issues that don’t belong to the magisterium — which is very confusing. You have the highest authority in the Church which is saying: “I’m not teaching”. So what is it then? Is it binding? Obviously we see that they want to bind. At the same time they say it is not binding. So it is really, really messy.

This is what surprises many: that there seems to a greater chance of full communion now than there’s ever been and yet the Holy See and the Pope seem to be, in your eyes, moving away from what you would prefer.

That’s precisely what I call paradoxical. It is not ambiguous. We can explain what is happening there, but I have to add there are two lines now: we have to distinguish the position of the Pope which is one thing, and then the position of the CDF. They don’t have the same approach but have the same conclusion which is: Let’s finish the problem by giving recognition to the Society. But I’m persuaded, at least in part, by a different approach, which may in the end come to the same, which means giving less importance to the problem which we consider important, which is the Council: that means by lessening the binding of the Council.

Those are now “open questions”, you say?

I say that in a provocative way. They will not say it that way, but what they say is that the questioning of religious liberty, of Nostra Aetate, of the other relations, of ecumenism, even to a great extent the liturgical reform, are no longer a cause of separation from the Church. In other words, you can question these things and remain Catholic. That means also the criteria they would impose on us, to have us prove to them that we are Catholic, will no longer be these points. That, to us, would be very important.

How does this square with Archbishop Lefebvre saying that there couldn’t by a chance of reconciliation unless Rome repented of its errors? Has that changed or is that still the case?

No, I think you have two levels there. One is in which reality do we live? We expect the Church to be pure and holy and we confess it to be so. But we very well know that we have many people Church, from the top to the bottom, who are not living that way. That’s not new, it’s always been like this. You say, OK you have good Catholics, you have lukewarm Catholics, you have dead members, they all are members of that Church. So you have to give room to some unfortunate happenings in the Church that we admit, because we see in the Church not a human reality but a supernatural reality with the human element. We continue to keep looking at the holiness of the Church while criticizing, attacking, reproaching, condemning those elements opposed to the holiness and purity of the doctrine which come from Our Lord.

Our archbishop [Lefebvre[ always had that position. He was a bishop in the Church, he knew the state of the Church, he knew the people around him weren’t all perfect and neither would he dare himself to call himself perfect. Everybody has some defects…. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything. The problem comes when these attitudes come from the top. You get a problem of obedience there which is very serious. And in that sense, I’d say, you have to take the words of Archbishop Lefebvre: now we’re not going to obey on these things.

If you did come back into full communion, and if there were a conflict between the two, what would take precedent, obedience or Tradition?

First of all, real obedience can only be in Tradition. So the Pope is not a freelancer. He cannot invent whatever pleases him. He is bound by what we call the “deposit of the faith.” It’s the famous quote on the infallibility of the Pope, that the Holy Ghost has never promised to St. Peter and his successors that through a new inspiration, the Pope could invent something new. Absolutely not. There is no permission of help from God in such a situation. But the [Vatican I] Constitution continued: With the help of the Holy Ghost, the Pope may keep, conserve saintly, and transmit faithfully, this deposit of the faith. So if you speak of obedience, yes of course, a Catholic must be obedient, provided the superiors, the prelates, bishops and pope continue with the teaching and to be faithful to their mission.

What are you main motives for coming into full communion? Is it partly because you have to ordain new bishops?

No. First, we have always repeatedly and constantly said: We are not outside the Church. And so we maintain that. We have all the elements that are necessary and understood in former times to be in communion with the Church. I may say, with the Council, they have invented a new sense of the word “communion”, speaking of “full communion”, “partial communion”, which is confusing again – again – because the normal Catholic would understand the word communion in the old way, which is either you are in, or you are not. You are schismatic or you’re Catholic, period. Now they have introduced this “not in full” communion and one doesn’t know what it is, really. So we just claim we have the right to be labeled as Catholics, because we are, because we recognize the authorities and because we recognize all these elements as necessary. That’s the first point. But beside that, I do not seek this canonical regularization as an absolute. For me it is a given, a right to have it, but we’re not going to compromise, to hurt the faith, the discipline of the Church, to get that. We consider it as an injustice not to give it to us, and so we claim our point of view. That’s all. And so if we are put in a choice, let’s say, of between keeping the faith or making a compromise, it’s clear what we’re going to do. We’re not going to compromise.

This is a concern of some, Bishop Richard Williamson for example [who was expelled from the Society in 2012 because of disobedience], that you’re going towards a certain modernist tendency by become part of the post-conciliar Church. What do you say to that, that there’s a danger of this, and what safeguards are there in place to prevent that danger from being realized?

I may say there are dangers everywhere. The general situation of the Church is very risky right now. You have dangers everywhere. I always describe our situation as one of being on a crest, a mountain, and you have two abysses: one on your right and one on your left. If you put your foot wrongly too much to the right or too much to the left, you fall. The devil doesn’t care on which side you fall, what matters for him is that you fall. I consider it almost a miracle that we have not fallen till now and, let’s say, we pray that we may not. So no, Bishop Williamson’s perspective is totally wrong. He thinks first that we want to compromise, that we want this at any cost. And then, the second point, he says we will be under the influence of liberal people and as they would be the authorities, we would necessarily go into the mainstream. Once again, that’s not for us an option. So we ask, we request from Rome, for guarantees that we can continue the way we do.

And have you seen guarantees you could accept being put forward, or not yet?

I think that the more we go on, the more lenient Rome becomes. And that’s why we begin to speak about getting closer, because Rome is little by little granting what we see as a necessity, and what they start to see as a necessity given the situation of the Church. It’s not the whole Rome, it’s a part of it, it’s the conservatives who are totally appalled by what’s happening in the Church.

Given the confusion in the Church at the moment and the discontent among those on the conservative side, as you say, do you see yourselves as perhaps coming to the rescue of the Church?

Some in Rome say that to us, some will not use the word “rescue” but “help”, and definitely, even in the proposed document [on regularization], this is spoken about. So it’s not us who invent something. The situation in the Church is, really, let’s say, catastrophic. And I say finally, now, in this catastrophe which is increasing, you have voices who start to speak and people who approach us and try to consider our position as not always so bad as it was looked at before.

Someone have reflected that if you were regularized, it’s almost as if God’s mercy is being shown to those who are very upset about the confusion and uneasy about the situation in the Church now. Do you see the hand of God in this?

I’m persuaded that God has not left his Church. He allows trials but He is always there. It is always a little bit difficult beforehand to give such names and labels but for me, the fact is, we are not condemned in that situation, which is really paradoxical because we haven’t changed anything and we continue to denounce what is happening. Nevertheless you see this movement in [our] favor inside Rome. So for me, yes, I do see the hand of God in that, but in that sense, if that would happen, and I’m not yet sure [it will], definitely it would be a good sign of the mercy of God — yes, for everybody.

You’ve said that you like this Pope, you like certain aspects of this Pope.

The Holy Father is totally atypical and the problem we have when we approach him is to try to put him in one of these categories we’re used to. And if I may say, one of the major problems is that the normal way of judging someone is deriving from his actions and concluding he’s acting like this because he thinks like that. So if you go back to a doctrine or sometimes an ideology with the present Pope you are totally puzzled, because one day he does something and the following day he does, or says, almost the contrary. So that is what is one of them most confusing points about the present Pope.

I think we have to understand his approach is not at that level. He’s said this several times: he’s said that he considers doctrine as quite an obstacle in dealing with people. For him what is important is life, it’s the person, and so he tries to look at the person and there, if I may say, he’s very human. Now what are his motives? Here again, we always try to look there. For me he appears as someone who would like to see everybody saved, to see everybody have access to God, and who, like a rescuer, unties the rope which is the security to put himself in a risky situation to try to get to other people. That is probably what he’s also doing with us. For the modernists, he has certainly untied the so-called secure rope to get to us. And he himself has told us that he has had some problems with people in the Church because of this approach, but he’s using the same approach to everybody.

The Pope’s harshest criticism always tends to be directed to the “doctors of the law” and whom he views as pharisaical. Some would argue that he’s talking about, among others, the Society. What do you say to that, that he seems to be most angry towards people like yourselves?

I asked some people in Rome, who is he aiming at? They didn’t know, they didn’t know what to say. They said “maybe you, but…”. The answer I most got was: “Conservative Americans”! So really, frankly, I don’t know. He definitely dislikes people who are too ideological. That’s very clear. And I think he knows us enough from Argentina to see that we care about people. Yes, we may have a very strong position on the doctrine, but we care. So we show a genuine, so to say, action following this doctrine and I think what he’s reproaching is not that. Certainly he doesn’t agree with us on these points on the Council which we are attacking. Definitely he doesn’t. But for him, as the doctrine is not so important, man, the people, are important, and there we have given enough proof that we are Catholics. That’s the approach that he has.

You reportedly said recently that you think he sees the SSPX as sympathetic to his own concerns about a self-satisfied established Church that no longer looks for the lost sheep.

I would not go so far, he just sees that we are genuine, period. He certainly sees things he would disagree with in us, things he would like to see us change, but for him that’s not what’s important. What’s important is to love Jesus and that’s it.

If this does come to fruition, under the terms of any regularization would the SSPX be willing to hand over to Rome the right to choose its own candidates for episcopal ordination, in rejection of your own personal wishes?

It’s not what he’s forcing. Rome is forcing in the choice, or in the nomination of the superior of the new canonical structure, that we would present three names, and the Pope would choose among them the superior who would then be the bishop.

And if he chose one you didn’t like, you preferred someone else, would that be a problem?

We cannot go into all the possible negative situations. If it is given to us that we choose three I think then it’s up to us to choose the right ones.

Some people think even if you are regularized, what’s to stop people now joining the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, (FSSP), if there are no real differences?

I think in time it’s the Fraternity of St. Peter that’s going to join the Society of St. Pius X!

But do you see yourselves as perhaps coming into some sort of alliance at some point?

I don’t see it happening quickly because there’s too much in the past. They separated from us, they claimed we were schismatics and so on, and even now a part of them continue that kind of situation. So I don’t think this will come so quickly, even with recognition, because they base their statement on [certain] grounds, and I don’t think they’re ready to change those grounds. So I mean there will still be grounds for dispute. I don’t think everything is fine, it’s not true. The situation of the Church is not fine. So it will be up to everyone to look at this and reflect on how we get out of this mess.

The situation of the Church, when we look at it now, will grow into a really messy situation which means there’s a lot of work to do and everybody, every Catholic, is placed to reflect on what do we do actively, or passively, to get back to a normal situation in the Church. So I don’t think that to be recognized canonically is eliminating the problem, which is not us. The problem is in the Church and is what we see now, which is confusion at all levels, moral and doctrinal.

Do you feel vindicated in what you’ve been saying for the past 30 years or so?

I see it as a step which proves how right we were which is not yet the end by no means.

And if you were regularized, what safeguards are there that you could continue being as critical as you have been, or if you feel you have to be?

Well right now what has been happening for about two years is that other voices have arisen. That [fact] is a practical guarantee. We are no longer the only ones. If we would have been the only ones [being critical], that could have been a concern, but right now, as many other voices start express themselves, it’s becoming a habit, so something granted. And the authorities are almost losing ground because the situation is so severe. So I think that they’ll start to be happy with any voice who correctly starts to address the situation.

As another condition, it’s been suggested that the head of the SSPX might be made a cardinal. Is that something you would insist on?

No, it’s really for the Pope to decide and to choose his counselors because the cardinals are supposedly his counselors. So no, for me we have a job. Our job is to stay in our place and to do our job at our place, and not to dream. I don’t think being a cardinal would change anything. Whatever post, office or job we get, we have to fulfill it in front of God, and that’s it.

On the problems you have with the Council, are you happy for those problems to just carry on if regularized, or will you make some kind of insistence that they be changed or amended in some way?

Rome is forcing discussions on these points to go on. So definitely yes, we will maintain the urgency to make corrections and I would say that, in part, they are starting to recognize that urgency.

And if there aren’t corrections, if you don’t see any movement on that?

Well, we’ll be patient. They will come.

How confident are you that the faithful in the Society are behind you? For example, it’s unlikely they support Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

But nobody is behind it.

But could an issue like that make them more skeptical and reticent about coming into full communion, becoming regularized?

I think, if you don’t have the whole picture, you’d think they were crazy to make an agreement now. So it will be quite a work and it will take time to be able to bring the faithful to realize this new face in the history of the Church, this new reality. We are in a reality, we have to grasp it as precisely, as accurately possible, in order to handle it correctly. To say we don’t move because things are bad is by no way what God, Our Lord, is requesting from his apostles.

Another possible problem for you concerns this possibility of women deacons. Does that kind of thing make it even more difficult for you to bring your faithful along with you?

It’s just one more thing, it does not change the fundamental problem. It’s just adding one more element to the tragedy the Church is living in, which is the presence of confusion, playing with words, applying to today things that did happen in the past but not in the same way. You find the name “deaconess” in the Holy Scripture when Paul speaks of deaconess, but it was not a sacramental ministry, so it had nothing to do with that. It just had to do with a service, say helping, which at the time was similar – there was a similitude – with a service which was requested from the deacons but that was at a different level because the deacon has, and of course still has, let’s say, a power of the sacraments which the deaconess at that time absolutely did not. So it’s mixing two things and bringing more confusion. And, of course, touching a very delicate point we know modernists want to get into which is a new situation of having women priests and bishops. This is interesting because Rome took the care to label as a sin against faith to pretend that. If someone claims there can be women priests and bishops, he is out of the Church and lost the faith.

Do you think that is perhaps the ulterior motive behind this proposal?

Not necessarily on the part of the Pope because again, he has no ideological strategy. He looks at it from another perspective. But you have people who do have it and who will use it in that direction. That’s very clear.

Do you think the Pope listens to you when you meet him?

He certainly does, but I don’t think he wants to talk about doctrine. So we talk about saving souls and finding the ways to do it.

But doctrine takes second place for him?

From his perspective, in dealing with problems yes, I’m pretty persuaded.

Do you worry sometimes that, as some people think, he wants to bring you in simply to neutralize you and make you be quiet?

That’s not his perspective. I would say the contrary. He would be someone who would see the advantage of having controversy. And he himself is very controversial. So I would rather see him wanting us to be controversial to provoke, and to create a new situation which maybe, in an Hegelian way, would bring a better situation. Of course, we’re against such a dialectical approach, but it could be the one. I’m not sure though that I can make a point on that.

On Bishop Williamson, what do you think about recent episcopal consecration to support what he calls the “resistance movement.” Is that a concern for you and how are you responding to it?

No, for me he is gone — unfortunately, very unfortunately. He is gone and he has just taken another step into the abyss. It’s a stone in the water and it doesn’t change anything. It does not help in any way. It’s a huge mistake and well, let’s pray for him.

Some wonder if you see the irony of expelling him for disobedience given that people criticize you for being disobedient to Rome?

Precisely we claim we are not disobedient. I say we maintain the principle of obedience as a necessity and so whatever the Pope is requesting which is Catholic, corresponding to what the Church has always requested and done, we bow down and follow. So we are not, let’s say by principle, disobedient and obedience is a deep, deep Catholic principle.

Today is Our Lady of Fatima. It’s said that an aspect of the Third Secret not yet revealed is that apostasy will begin “from the top.”. [Alice von Hilderbrand has given testimony affirming such a statement, originally made by Cardinal Luigi Ciappi]. What do you say to this?

I don’t recall such a quote being officially included in the message of Fatima or the secret. You have a lot of reconstructions, theories. One point which is obvious is that not everything was given [revealed]. Sister Lucia, in her third report, gave words of the Blessed Virgin Mary with an “et cetera” and in what has been produced by Rome, there are no words, there is only a vision. So obviously there is something failing [missing]. So what is it? You have a whole effort to try to build or reconstruct this part by quotes from those who have read it. And of course, it’s very interesting. We can certainly say that it deals with the faith. Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said it touches on the dangers to the faith in the Church, not just about the vision and so… You have a report of Father Fuentes, having talked with Sister Lucy, in which he gives a dramatic conference [saying it] might be really not necessarily all the message, or the secret, but the perception Sister Lucia has of this. And there she speaks of a diabolical disorientation, and of course that comes from the top. And I think we have that. It’s in front of us.

How do you think things in the Church will proceed in the future?

The human aspect is very difficult to describe. If God allows this human aspect to continue, that means a big mess. We already have that, but it will be even more, more confusion. Pope Benedict, when he was cardinal, issued a book, “Salt of the Earth”, in which he described a dissolution of the Church into little pieces, with little islands, oases. So yes, if God allows the things which are now in front of us, to develop, that’s the situation we’re going to face. We’ll have little places of Catholicism in the middle of a big tempest, turmoil.

And the principal cause is putting man in place of God in the Church, would you say?

Definitely, definitely. The Church is first of all divine, godly. Its means, its aim, is supernatural, and if you try and pretend to go down, by the aim, by means, to the human, you dissolve the Church, you kill it. Of course, the Church cannot be destroyed, but you do whatever you can to do it [through this].

Do you see it like an eclipse of the Church?

La Salette says that. Eclipse means that the being is still there but you don’t see it anymore, for a while. Will God allow things to go so far? Well I’m sure people now ask themselves “Where is the Church?” So maybe we are already so far.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

Preview: SSPX’s Bishop Fellay Talks Exclusively to the National Catholic Register


Coming soon in a lengthy exclusive interview with the National Catholic Register, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X gives an overview of current talks between the Society and the Holy See, his views on Pope Francis, and what he sees as the “catastrophic” state of the Church today. Look out for the full interview soon on

Talk on the Controversial Synods on the Family



Edward Pentin

Hanus Fellowship, Bratislava, Slovakia

April 26, 2016



Thank you all for coming here to hear me speak about the controversial Synods on the Family.

I think it was Bismarck who said laws are like sausages, one should never see either being made. Well I think we can add another to that list: Vatican synods during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

Before I go on, I should probably preface my remarks by saying that I am a convert from the Anglican church. I chose to become a Catholic, or rather God chose me on account of my sins, and I love the Church.

But over the past three years, and especially during the Synods on the Family, the Church seemed to be being attacked from the inside in a way I’d not witnessed during my 13 years reporting on the Vatican. What I found particularly remarkable was that centuries of the Church magisterium and tradition, particularly Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and the family, were being cast aside or ignored.

Those doing the casting aside would, just 5 years ago, probably have been described as dissenters in the Catholic newspaper I write for. Now they were in charge of the synod process.

This seemed potentially calamitous and at the very least, unnerving for the Church. It also reminded me of what has happened to the Anglican communion and led to its demise. Yes, doctrine develops, but the extent of the change, albeit done subtly, seemed unprecedented.

It’s primarily for these reasons that I wrote the book on the first synod on the family in 2014 called “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?”.[1]

In this talk, I want to take you through not just some of the controversies of the two synods so you can get a clearer picture of what went on, but also look at how the synod turned out: a brief look at the Pope’s summary document on the synods, Amoris Laetitia, and lastly offer some conclusions.

First Synod

With little fanfare, in October 2013 Pope Francis announced that he was going to hold two Synods on the Family. He wanted to have an open and free debate about how the Church could rise to the pastoral challenges facing marriage and the family today.

Given the crisis in the family, primarily in the West, and the challenge of linking truth and mercy to the pastoral care of those damaged in countless ways by this crisis, the Pope wished this synod to be different from synods of the past. He wanted to have all these issues threshed out by bishops and experts over two years in a spirit of parrhesia: frankness and boldness.

No one really argued with that. It seemed for many, and still does seem, a fair and noble task.

But as a side note, it’s good to remember one of the synod’s initial stated aims. That was to provide a solution to certain individuals and episcopates, particularly Germany’s, who wished to “go it alone” in determining their own pastoral practice on these matters, separate from the universal Church. This involved Holy Communion for remarried divorcees, but not only that. Also acceptance of those living in same-sex relationships.

It was important, the Vatican said back in 2013, that the Synod on the Family helps the Church “move forward in full communion with the ecclesial community.”[2] As we will see later, the opposite seems to have occurred, and now there is a serious risk of fragmentation and, some think, even overt schism.

As you may know, the first synod, called an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was marred by allegations of manipulation, lies, and dirty tricks. Being exploratory in nature, and touching on highly contentious issues that the Church has been grappling with for at least 50 years, some tension was to be expected.

But the synod also provoked criticism in some circles for “muddying the waters” of doctrine, causing general confusion, and making it appear — in the words of the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago — that key elements of the Church’s teaching were “up for grabs”.[3]

To this day, the unsightly machinations of the first synod have tended to be ignored. So I’d just like to briefly refresh your memories of what went on during the first synod. Excuse me for a bit while I go through the sausage making process.

The first indicator that something wasn’t right came when the interim report was published after the first week of the synod. It was widely criticized for its imprecision and ambiguity in terms of its statements on the Church’s moral teaching, especially when it came to cohabitation and same-sex relationships.

Cardinal George Pell said it was as though there was an “idealized vision of every imperfect situation.”[4] The head of the Polish bishops said the interim report “created an impression that the teaching of the Church has been merciless so far, as if the teaching of mercy were beginning only now.” Others said its imprecise language was unheard of in a Church document of that kind.

But what was more serious was that the document was sent to the press before the synod fathers had read it, showing that certain figures wanted to give the media the impression the Church was opening doors to such situations when she actually wasn’t. Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, said the document portrayed the Church as making a “stunning” and “revolutionary” step towards accepting homosexual activity as morally legitimate. Once such media perceptions are “out there”, he observed, “there’s no way of retrieving them.”

As it happens, the document caused such an outcry that, perhaps for this reason, any overt opening to same-sex unions was dropped by the end of the synod process. The Pope also issued a strong rejection of same-sex “marriage” in Amoris Laetitia, his summary document on the synod. But other serious problems remained, including the fact that the teachings of John Paul II were hardly mentioned.

I also put in my book further evidence of manipulation and strong-arm tactics during the first synod: for example, the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Peter Erdo, was forced to write documents not in accordance with his wishes; Synod officials tried to sideline Cardinal Napier on the committee for drafting the final document; Holy See officials also often tried to spin the synod proceedings in a liberal direction and left out orthodox statements. Much of the Catholic media was also complicit in the spin, avoiding any negative criticism of the process.

Then there was the so-called “Book Heist” ­— interference by the Synod secretariat of the delivery of the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ”, whose authors included 5 cardinals and upheld the Church’s teaching on marriage. The book’s delivery was delayed to prevent the synod fathers from reading it. The book’s editor was later threatened with dismissal from his senior academic post at the Vatican until the Pope intervened.

There was also what became known as the “Kasper episode” when, alas, I had to show that Cardinal Kasper had not spoken the truth when he denied saying disparaging remarks about the Africans. That unfortunate episode added to the already tense atmosphere at the synod, a lot of it to do with the Kasper proposal for the divorced and remarried and a general spirit of inclusiveness that at the same time cast out doctrine and tradition.

By the time the first synod had ended, those trying to uphold tradition and orthodoxy felt steamrollered. Many believed the process had been rigged to achieve a certain result, which was to make the Church more “modern”, and aligned to secular mores and culture.

It’s well known that doctrine can be developed but not fundamentally changed. And yet it can seem to radically change if pastoral practice is significantly altered. Changing pastoral practice was the overriding goal of the synod. But the hidden agenda, some believe, was to destroy the Church’s moral teaching, carried out through a mix of innovative practices, one of which was to favor soft, non-condemnatory language.

It’s perhaps helpful here contrast this with what Pius XII said in his 1939 encyclical Summi pontificatus (note that hardly any preconciliar references were made during whole synod process and in AL): “We feel We owe no greater debt to Our office and to Our time than to testify to the truth with Apostolic firmness: ‘to give testimony to the truth.’ This duty necessarily entails the exposition and confutation of errors and human faults; for these must be made known before it is possible to tend and to heal them. ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’ (Jn 8:32).

Another alleged tactic was to use the divorce and remarriage issue as a Trojan horse. If such couples, whom the Church believes are living in adultery, are going to be allowed to receive Holy Communion, then all kinds of people living in mortal sin, such as same-sex or cohabiting couples, can do likewise. It was therefore also seen as an attack on the Eucharist as well as some of the other sacraments. More importantly, it was viewed as giving the green light to individuals living in mortal sin to receive Holy Communion, placing their immortal soul in grave danger.

Now for those pushing for change, there was no manipulation or rigging. Some heavy-handedness, they argued, was needed to push a progressive agenda and overcome resistance. That visible agenda was to make the Church appear less authoritarian, less merciless, and less seemingly out of touch — and instead better able to deal pastorally with the complexities and suffering in people’s lives. If people won’t come to the Church, so the argument goes, the Church would go to them.

Pope Francis’ field hospital analogy is often helpful here to understand the approach: the spiritual wounds are so extensive and urgent today that all resistance must be put to one side so the doctor can treat the patient with God’s mercy as soon as possible.

But some felt that came at a price. The extraordinary synod’s final report appeared in many instances to reject the immutable natural moral law in favor of a teaching that is no longer unchangeable but instead moves with the times.

I should add here that many of the synod fathers greatly appreciated the synods. They were grateful to have their pastoral perspectives broadened by meeting other priests, bishops and laypeople from across the world.

But even so, the rigging continued. To give just three examples between the two synods: the committee of theologians and consulters for the second synod were almost all progressives, or so-called “innovators”. We called it “stacking of the deck”. As in the first synod, orthodox thinkers and those advocating the teachings of John Paul II were mostly left out.

Then in May last year, a secretive meeting of liberal theologians was held in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome to try to influence the 2015 Ordinary synod. And in the run-up to that synod, Pope Francis chose 45 Church leaders as synod fathers, 15% more than the set limit, and almost all of them were what one might call innovators.

Second Synod

When it came to the 2015 synod — the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that took place over 3 weeks last October — the synod proceeded in a less acrimonious manner but not without incident, manipulation or recrimination — and from the Pope no less. Thirteen cardinals sent a private and confidential letter to Pope Francis on the eve of the meeting calling on him to uphold Church doctrine and appealing for a fairer process. The Pope with some daring judged it — unfairly in the eyes of those genuinely concerned — to be conspiratorial thinking. To this day, no one knows how the private letter was made public.

The manipulation at the second synod was less overt, though still there. The new methodology was unclear, there was more emphasis on working groups which many welcomed, but it was also seen as a means of dividing up and thereby weakening groups opposed to the reformist agenda. And as in the Extraordinary Synod, the language relators generally fed the media a liberal perspective of the meeting.

The final report was criticized for its ambiguity and its omissions: for instance a crucial paragraph Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, explicitly banning remarried divorcees receiving Holy Communion unless living as brother and sister was left out. Its objectively grave omission, said some, allowed Cardinal Kasper and others to say it opened a door to Communion. Cardinal Pell and others, meanwhile, said it wasn’t an issue because it wasn’t explicitly mentioned

Amoris Laetitia

Both the two synods culminated in the Pope’s much anticipated reflection on the two synods, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.[5] The document has drawn mixed reviews, some highly critical. Responses have largely divided into three groups: those who see the document in continuity with previous papal teaching on marriage and the family — and that it should be read as such; those who see the document as containing some dangerously erroneous, contradictory and vague passages which, for some, invalidate the whole document; and those who see it as opening the door to revolutionary changes in pastoral practice (and therefore eventually doctrine).

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, although largely critical of the document, has said it contains “great spiritual and pastoral riches for life in marriage and the Christian family of our time.” Many other orthodox-thinking bishops and theologians have praised it, especially Chapters 4 and 5 on marital love and how children make that love fruitful. Those chapters are “the heart” of Francis’ teaching, one theologian told me, and provide “something of an Ignatian retreat on love, beginning with St. Paul’s hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13” and highlighting biblical wisdom for the family.

But there are some grave concerns about how the document presents the Church’s moral teachings. Moral theologians I’ve spoken with are concerned that the wording in various paragraphs clearly points to a more subjectivist approach, guided by conscience rather than one based on the objective moral law. They say it could pave the way to situation ethics — essentially a relativist mindset in the Church where morals are interpreted depending on the person in question.

The document didn’t offer precise pastoral guidelines, especially relating to Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, but also elsewhere. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor[6], for example, was precise in laying out the Church’s moral teachings but there’s no reference to the encyclical in the document. “Intrinsic evil” and “mortal sin” scarcely get a mention in Amoris Laetitia. The ambiguous passages have led some, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, to call on the faithful to read the document in light of the constant teaching of the faith, and disregard those passages as not being part of the magisterium.

But such ambiguity could lead to serious problems in the future, moral theologian say. Certainly, it seems that the ambiguity has opened doors to greater abuse, and very possibly intentionally by some of those advising the Holy Father.

German Reaction

Already, the Pope’s words are being used and this ambiguity exploited. Cardinal Kasper and others maintain that the document very clearly opens the door to communion for remarried divorcees.

German theologians who participated in the controversial secretive meeting[7] in Rome last May seem to be very pleased with AL and the outcome of the synodal process. Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff, a key adviser to Germany’s bishops who coined the controversial term “theology of love,” (notice the similarity with “Joy of Love” and how the word “love” can apply to all kinds of relationships) sees in the papal document a “confirmation of the Freiburg approach” whereby civilly remarried divorcees may already receive the Sacraments after a time of discernment with the help of a priest. [8]

The Freiburg diocese, he added, “has every reason to feel confirmed in the path it has already chosen so far, and thus to continue walking on it with confidence. It would be even better if other dioceses would now likewise follow [this example].”

Schockenhoff praised the Pope for the “case-by-case” application and for “not any more describing each deviation as grave sin.” By so doing, he continued, “the foundation for any general exclusion of the remarried divorcees from Communion is thereby taken away.”

The German bishops, the majority of whom support the Kasper proposal, have called the document “a real gift”[9] for married couples and the family and that they were “very happy about it,” they said in a statement. Furthermore, three bishops in Germany including Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the country’s bishops conference, have said Amoris Laetitia permits divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to access the sacraments on a case-by-case basis.[10] Filipino bishops have issued a statement saying they have made a “collective discernment” that “mercy cannot wait” and therefore all should be invited to come to the Lord’s table immediately, although it’s not clear it’s if they’re referring to Communion.[11]

Other Reaction

Few bishops or cardinals are speaking up about the dangers that moral theologians and others see in the document. Perhaps it is telling that the exhortation, although pastoral, frequently touches on doctrine, and yet the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, refuses to talk about it with the media.

The same goes for Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Liturgy and a torch bearer for orthodox Catholics along with Cardinal Burke. Cardinal Müller also wasn’t called to present the document but Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was instead. This is because Cardinal Schönborn was fully behind the document, and allegedly tailored (some Thomists would say manipulated) Thomist references to suit the text.

Despite the problems with the document, the predominant reaction among many orthodox theologians and prelates has been: “There’s nothing to see here, the Pope has not explicitly declared any changes, and so has not contradicted the magisterium.” The aim is to play it down, yet preserve respect for the Petrine Office, by saying nothing has changed, although the Pope himself later contradicted this by saying there are “new concrete possibilities” in the document. Others commend the exhortation for being a finely tuned text that cannot be precise because of the complexity of the issues involved, and that it is a pastoral document primarily about discernment and accompaniment.

But this is naïve, others say, who believe the ambiguity is intended to make the document open to interpretation. One Dominican theologian told me that naïve optimists will tell readers to accept Amoris Laetitia as a whole and not to worry about a few unsavory parts. But he said that is like “recommending a drink composed of 90% water and 10% poison. The document’s pastoral sensitivity and numerous insights cannot overshadow its moral confusion.”

He further feels that Amoris Laetitia and the Synods on the Family will be the Catholic Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference. Back then, Anglicans declared certain sins acceptable in narrowly-defined situations, and has declined ever since. Amoris Laetitia subtly does likewise, he says.

Bishop Schneider has said it is “insufficient” to say that AL should be interpreted according to the traditional doctrine and practice of the Church: “If an ecclesiastical document – which, in our case, is neither definitive nor infallible – is found to contain elements likely to give rise to interpretations and applications that could have dangerous spiritual consequences, all members of the Church, and especially the bishops, as the fraternal collaborators of the Supreme Pontiff in effective collegiality, have a duty to report this and respectfully request an authentic interpretation.”[12]

Others have described the text as “very Gramscian” referring to the 20th century Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci who advocated spreading Communism through cultural infiltration. By defying traditional orthopraxy, one theologian in Rome told me, orthodoxy is attacked, because every principled change of practice necessarily entails a change in principles. In other words, it’s a subtle way of changing the doctrine of the Church without explicitly doing so. One cardinal during the synod even admitted: “The Pope isn’t Gramscian but certainly some of those around him are.”

Cardinal Kasper appeared to go further and say the Pope has this Gramscian approach. In an interview last week he said: Pope Francis “changes many things – but not only structurally. He aims especially at the mentality. Only if that [mentality] changes, will structural reforms bear fruit. But that takes time. Francis is working on it.”

For this reason, some of the more forceful critics say those who wish to play down the document should be compared to the appeasers before the Second World War. There are dangerous errors and ambiguities in the document that need to be confronted and clarified for the wellbeing of souls, and they want this done as soon as possible to avoid further exploitation. Bishop Schneider says: Amoris Laetitia contains imprecise language, but asks what doctor would treat a patient without being clear about the medicine, and how much more important it is to be precise when it comes to saving souls.

Failure to obtain that clarification, they fear, could lead to a catastrophic collapse in the Church’s moral standing, not to mention the loss of souls in the process. One Church philosopher told me he foresees a rapid collapse like that of the former East Germany. And if the Pope’s vision of decentralization proceeds, it could be further hastened, ushering in a kind of anarchical theology and absurd situation whereby what might be considered mortal sin in Poland is allowed by clergy in Germany.

This all may be hyperbole, of course, but what it does appear to show is that the Church is in a precarious, and some think perilous, state.

So what do I draw as a journalist covering all of this?

I think there’s no doubt the synods were run in such a way to achieve preconceived results and the ambiguity we are left with. To some extent heavy handedness has been the case in previous synods before, but always the motive then was to preserve the deposit of faith and uphold the magisterium of the Church.

What makes the Synod on the Family so different, it seems to me, is that it was led in what many would consider to be a heterodox direction, or at the very least, one that considerably contradicted past pastoral praxis. And it was done with a blatant disregard for those wishing simply to uphold the Church’s teaching and tradition. I’m also afraid to say that much, if not all, of the responsibility for this rests on the Holy Father’s shoulders.

To take the divorce and remarriage issue as one example. Pope Francis asked Cardinal Kasper to give the keynote speech, after which the Holy Father never directly criticized the Kasper proposal. Instead he let it be debated over the two years, leading to much unease in the Church.

But what is also interesting, and something many have forgotten, is that the issue failed to reach the required two-thirds majority at the end of the first synod. In theory, it should have therefore been rejected but the Pope asked that it be left in to be debated at the second synod. Now we see that the issue has not only gained considerable coverage in Amoris Laetitia, but, as I mentioned earlier, Pope Francis has told reporters that there are “new concrete possibilities” in this area. It’s led some to ask where is the synodality in such practice?

There isn’t time here to go into just how the Church got to this point. But I’ll just point to two clear factors which I think are crucial: the decline of the Jesuits over the past 50 years, and the thinking of the late Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Martini. I think the influence of both on the Pope’s vision shouldn’t be underestimated.

As for the Pope’s own motives, it’s impossible to say anything definitive. But I think Robert Royal of the Faith and Reason Institute recently gave the most truthful and charitable take on the Holy Father.

He said on EWTN’s The World Over that the Holy Father is a very charismatic man. He very much feels what other people need from him and emphasizes that love isn’t just about following the rules. The rules are there precisely to serve love.

But he added, and I quote: “Everybody’s virtues can also be vices and there is a point at which the Holy Father runs the risk of trying to be so comforting to people that he actually loses some of the holiness that people are called to.”


So to conclude, Amoris Laetitia is the thorny fruit (or what some even describe as a poisonous fruit on account of its ambiguity and potential divergent interpretations) of a fraught and difficult synod process at odds with Church teaching. For others, it’s a worthy and beautiful document needed to deal with the crisis in marriage and the family in the world today.

Whatever the overall assessments, it’s been helpful in revealing who the Pope is and where he wants to lead the Church. One well placed source told me the synods offer the best clues on how Pope Francis views the Church and how he wants to change her in a practical sense. Certainly he’s been true to his word about the importance of making a mess.

But is the change he wants revolution or reform? Is it leading to a Protestantization or Anglicanization of the Church, seemingly timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Luther and the Reformation next year, selling out the Church magisterium in order to drag the Church into the 21st century? Or is it rightly leading the Church to better deal with today’s problems and potentially bringing many to the Church?

Time will tell, assuming this pontificate continues for more than a year or two. It will be interesting, though, to see just how much of the hierarchy will resist the change, or instead stand by and watch the Church possibly be altered beyond recognition in the months and years ahead. It seems possible at this point that the Pope is going to have to publish an authentic interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.

But whatever lies ahead, we can take solace in the fact that the Lord promised He will always be with his Church. She has suffered similar trials before but always Christ and the Truth remain victorious, even if the Church and the Light of Christ can seem eclipsed by ideologies, worldliness and fallible human beings.

Thank you.


[1] “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod” (Ignatius, 2015)












Official English translation of Bishop Schneider’s reflection on Amoris Laetitia

A Call for ‘Ecological Conversion’


VATICAN CITY — In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis has issued a lengthy warning on the “destruction of the human environment” that draws on theology and “the best scientific research available today” to challenge all people to be better stewards of creation.

The six-chapter, 184-page document, whose subtitle is “The Care for Our Common Home,” also uses environmental concerns to provoke wider discussions on the deeper questions of human existence, as well as the need to safeguard all creation and all people, however poor, small or vulnerable.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” is the question at the heart of a document that the Pope directs at all people, not only Catholics.

The encyclical, which has a chapter dedicated to the “human roots of the ecological crisis,” clearly accepts the science of anthropogenic climate change — the first such papal document to so overtly endorse the science. But at the same time, it says the Church has “no reason to offer a definitive opinion,” knowing that “honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”

The encyclical frequently speaks on behalf of the poor, while often chastising governments for poor governance and businesses for placing “speculation and the pursuit of financial gain” ahead of the common good.

As per tradition, the encyclical takes its title from its opening words — “Laudato si, mi Signore” — (Praise be to you, my Lord). The words come from the canticle of St. Francis of Assisi that “reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” the Pope writes.

He then cites further words of his namesake on creation, stressing that “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

The Pope often refers to teachings on the environment from his recent predecessors, as well as Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. And, throughout, he draws on previous papal and Church documents, as well as the teachings of some of the doctors of the Church: Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Benedict, Thérèse of Lisieux and Bonaventure. The 20th-century theologian Romano Guardini, a favorite of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is frequently cited, as are statements from various bishops’ conferences.

Rejecting ‘A Throwaway Culture’

Calling on the “whole human family” to seek a sustainable and integral development, the Pope urgently appeals for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” In the face of this, Francis criticizes “obstructionist attitudes” and calls for a “new and universal solidarity.”

The encyclical’s first chapter presents the crisis affecting the environment, saying that the Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” and that its environmental problems are “closely linked to a throwaway culture.”
Climate change, it goes on to say, is a “global problem with serious implications” that represents “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” It notes other factors, such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis and the solar cycle, but adds that “a number of scientific studies” show that “greenhouse gases” are released “mainly as a result of human activity.” This unsettled issue is shaping up as a main criticism by analysts.

“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us,” the encyclical says, adding that the “worst impact” will probably be felt in developing countries. It goes on to call for the drastic reduction of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases, substituting fossil fuels and developing renewable energy.

It points to the “tragic rise in migrants,” escaping poverty caused by environmental degradation, and tackles shortages and the poor quality of water in many parts of the world, saying it is a “basic and universal human right” and that to deprive the poor of water denies them the “right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.” The loss of biodiversity and extinction of species are also mentioned.

It speaks of the decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, citing the “unruly growth” of cities, the effects of technological innovations and the omnipresence of the media. The encyclical also focuses on global inequality and calls for a “true ecological approach” to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

Lack of Leadership

The encyclical draws attention to “weak responses” and a lack of leadership, noting, “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been.” It criticizes a “superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness.”

In Paragraph 60, Francis places the Church in between two ideological extremes: those who “doggedly uphold the myth of progress,” thinking that ecological problems will solve themselves, and those who view mankind as “no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem.”

Early on, Laudato Si also rejects population control as a means of helping the environment, saying demographic growth is “fully compatible” with an integral and shared development.

“To blame population growth, instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues,” the encyclical says.

The document then draws on the “wisdom of biblical accounts” in relation to the environment and rejects the notion that, having been created in God’s image and given dominion over the Earth, mankind is justified in having “absolute domination over other creatures.” Furthermore, it says that when we see God reflected in all that exists, “our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.”

In a later section, the document criticizes those who show “more zeal” in protecting other species than in defending human dignity or addressing “enormous inequalities in our midst.” Every act of cruelty “towards any creature is contrary to human dignity,” the Pope writes.

The Gaze of Jesus

Under the title “The Gaze of Jesus,” the document notes that Jesus lived in “full harmony with creation” and that the destiny of all creation is “bound up with the mystery of Christ.”

Chapter 3 is given over to what the encyclical calls technocracy — the dominance of technology over everyday life — and economic and political life. The Pope says this is reflected in architecture that “reflects the spirit of an age.”
He argues for a “bold cultural revolution,” in which society needs to slow down and look at reality in a different way.

Also in the chapter, it says modernity has been “marked by an excessive anthropocentricism” that actually obstructs ways of strengthening social bonds. It calls instead for “responsible stewardship” and says failure to acknowledge the worth of “a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities” makes it difficult to recognize that “everything is connected.”

Failure to protect the human embryo, it says, makes it impossible to teach concern for the vulnerable.

The document further decries a culture of relativism that objectifies others, and Francis stresses the need to protect employment, saying it is “essential” to “prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.”

Laudato Si steps back from issuing a definitive statement on genetic modification, but it does say that a “number of significant difficulties” should not be “underestimated.” It also criticizes those who wish to impose limits on such research, while failing to “apply those same principles” to issues, specifically citing experimentation on human embryos.

Human Ecology

Chapter 4 is given over to “human ecology” and stresses the importance of “relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.” It says it is “not a healthy attitude” to “cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” it says, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

Chapter 5 concerns “lines of approach and action,” in which the Pope proposes dialogue to achieve a “broad consensus” on action. He says there is an “urgent need of a true world political authority” to deal with these global problems and that the environment cannot be “adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.”

The final chapter discusses education and spirituality and invites everyone to “ecological conversion” and a “new lifestyle,” even through small actions, such as carpooling and turning off unnecessary lights.

“Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction,” it says. “If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.”

It also calls for “sobriety and humility.” And towards the end, it says the Eucharist is a “source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”

Closing Marian Reflection

Ending with a reflection on Mary, the Queen of All Creation, he says that “we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom,” as well as implore St. Joseph to “teach us how to show care” for the world.

The Pope ends with two prayers, one from Basil the Great and the other by Pope Francis himself, to close what he calls his lengthy, “joyful and troubling” encyclical.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Vatican to Prosecute Former Nuncio for Sexual Abuse


VATICAN CITY — A former papal nuncio will be tried in Vatican city state for sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.

The Vatican announced on June 15 that Polish-born Józef Wesołowski will be tried July 11 by the Vatican’s criminal court, the jury of which will be made up entirely of laypeople. This is the first time an archbishop will have been sent for trial in Vatican city state and subjected to criminal prosecution for child abuse and possession of child pornography.

The first hearing is expected to be held in public, after which the trial will take place behind closed doors in the same courtroom used to try Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of leaking papal documents in 2012.

Wesołowski was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and laicized last June, after the first stage of a canonical trial. Since September, he has been under house arrest, rather than a more restrictive detention, because of health reasons. The former archbishop has appealed against the decision to laicize him.

The Vatican said in a statement that Wesołowski is accused of a number of offenses, “some committed during his stay in Rome from August 2013 until the moment of his arrest, on Sept. 22, 2014.” Other offenses were allegedly committed when he was nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, from 2008 to 2013, the Vatican said.

It added that, with regard to the period spent in Rome, Wesołowski is “charged with the offence of possession of child pornography” under a new law introduced by Pope Francis in 2013. It added that the allegations referring to the preceding period “are based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo in relation to the sexual abuse of minors.”

The Vatican added that these serious allegations will be carefully investigated, together with civil authorities in the Dominican Republic if necessary.
“This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial,” the Vatican said.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists June 15 that no request from the Dominican Republic has yet been submitted by Vatican authorities with regard to the case.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Resignations

News of Wesołowski’s forthcoming trial came on the same day that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, following accusations of mismanagement of clerical sex-abuse cases. Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, who had been investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Nienstedt, also resigned.

The Pope has appointed Newark, N.J., Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda to serve as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a new residential archbishop is appointed.

Wesołowski’s trial and the U.S. resignations follow Francis’ approval last week of guidelines to make bishops more accountable for sexual abuse in their dioceses, even if the bishops were not directly responsible for the offense.

The new process, originally devised by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was also approved by the council of nine cardinals that advises the Holy Father on Curial reform and Church governance.

A Vatican official told the Register June 16 that Wesołowski’s trial is not directly related to last week’s announcement, as the former nuncio is to be tried under Vatican civil law, like any other Vatican citizen.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up to improve safeguards against abuse, is also not involved in the case, which is ultimately the responsibility of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pope.

The Archbishop Nienstedt case will now be examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, although Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi said he did not know if the two former bishops will be judged according to new accountability guidelines.

The resignations in Minnesota come on the heels of the resignation in April of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was convicted for failing to report suspected child abuse in connection with child pornography found on the computer of Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest of the diocese.

Questions About Cardinal Danneels

In the wake of the sexual-abuse-related resignations of Bishop Finn and Archbishop Nienstedt, who were both known for their orthodoxy, some observers are wondering if the Holy See will be equally willing to take action involving bishops known instead for their public variance from Church teaching and whose actions as local bishops regarding sexual abuse are similarly open to question — such as Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium.

Despite evidence showing he personally covered for a former priest who for years had sexually assaulted his own nephew, critics say he has never been held accountable.

In fact, Pope Francis made him a pontifical appointee at last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, and he received him in private audience in January of this year.

Cardinal Danneels is well known for dissenting opinions.

In April, two prominent Belgian politicians substantiated long-standing reports that the cardinal tried in 1990 to persuade Belgium’s King Baudouin to sign into law a bill that would have legalized abortion in the predominantly Catholic European nation. Cardinal Danneels reportedly did so because, while he personally opposes abortion, he also interprets the separation of church and state to mean that the Church should have no political power at all.

And with respect to the redefinition of marriage, Cardinal Danneels said in 2013 he thought it was a “positive development” that states are “free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want, but such unions should be given a different name than marriage.”

Meanwhile, in March 2015, the Pope appointed Msgr. Juan Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite accusations that he had protected Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of child abuse in 2011. His installation Mass had to be cut short due to protests. Bishop Barros is also known for his orthodoxy. The Vatican said it had “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Bishops who have resigned or were removed, 2000-2015, for reasons other than age:
Name Diocese Year
Archbishop John Nienstedt St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Bishop Robert Finn Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. 2015
Archbishop Józef Wesołowski Dominican Republic (apostolic nuncio) 2014
*Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay 2014
Cardinal Keith O’Brien St. Andrews-Edinburgh, Scotland 2013
Bishop Daniel Walsh Santa Rosa, Calif. 2011
Bishop Seamus Hegarty Derry, Ireland 2011
Bishop James Moriarty Kildare and Leighlin, Calif. 2010
Bishop John Magee Cloyne, Ireland 2010
*Bishop Joseph Martino Scranton, Pa. 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field Dublin 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh Dublin 2009
Bishop Donal Murray Limerick, Ireland 2009
Bishop Raymond Lahey Antigonish, Canada 2009
Bishop Eleuterio Rey Zárate-Campana, Argentina 2006
Bishop Kurt Krenn Sankt Pölten, Austria 2004
Cardinal Bernard Law Boston 2002
Bishop Brendan Comiskey Ferns, Ireland 2002
*Resignation not associated with clergy sex abuse
Source: Register staff
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