A report on the Vatican under Pope Francis, given at the Catholic Identity Conference 2017, Weirton, West Virginia, Oct. 29, 2017.
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.
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
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.
INTERVIEW WITH BISHOP BERNARD FELLAY FOR THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER:
May 13, 2016
Feast of Our Lady of Fatima
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
THE CONTROVERSIAL SYNODS ON THE FAMILY
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?”.
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.
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.” 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”.
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.” 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.
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
Both the two synods culminated in the Pope’s much anticipated reflection on the two synods, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love. 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, 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.
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 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. 
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” 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. 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.
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.”
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.
 “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod” (Ignatius, 2015) http://www.ignatius.com/Products/RVS-E/the-rigging-of-a-2014-vatican-synod.aspx
 OFFICIAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF BISHOP SCHNEIDER’S REFLECTION ON AMORIS LAETITIA
VATICAN CITY — Cardinal George Pell gave encouraging messages to pro-life leaders on Saturday, upholding the Church’s established teachings on marriage and the family and stating his belief that the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family will “massively endorse” Tradition.
Addressing the Rome Life Forum, the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy spoke on the topic of parents as the best educators of children.
He pointed out an irony in contemporary society, which we realize better than we did 50 years ago: If we violate the laws of physical nature, mankind must reap the negative consequences. But he added that we find “almost no public acknowledgement” of the harmful human consequences that follow “if we violate the natural moral order.”
Cardinal Pell wondered if we aren’t “digging our own graves” by “removing the laws which defend the ideal of exclusive, lifelong marriage.”
He began his talk by appealing to those working in the pro-life field to live out Christian virtues in ways that non-Christians can admire. This is a “very significant challenge,” as sometimes pro-life activists “don’t always achieve it,” being “extremely congenial to ourselves but off-putting to those outside.”
The cardinal then underlined the crucial importance of the family and flagged plenty of “anecdotal evidence” of the effects of marital breakdown on children.
He cited findings from 2009 showing that children from broken families are two to three times more likely to suffer from social pathologies and that children of religious couples are more likely to leave the religious tradition of their childhood if their parents divorce.
He highlighted the widespread use of pornography and its related addictions, saying that many marriages are destroyed by such vice.
Connected with this, he recalled the catastrophic effect of the contraceptive pill on society and, quoting author and ethicist Mary Eberstadt, said it has brought societal changes greater than the communist revolution. He also remembered how Blessed Paul VI foretold the radical and unfortunate consequences of contraception in his encyclicalHumanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth).
The dictatorship of relativism and changes in moral teaching have also played their role in a demographic collapse, he continued, observing how very few pilgrims visiting the Vatican seem to have more than two children.
Having more children, Cardinal Pell said, means a greater likelihood of handing on the faith to the next generation, as it forces parents to be unselfish. By contrast, children in small, nuclear families may be “too isolated from the hurly-burly of life.”
Words of Hope
But in words of hope, the former archbishop of Sydney said it was worth recalling that the pagan Roman Empire was much more disordered than today’s Western culture, and yet Christianity “spread steadily in those hostile climes,” when there were no churches or established charitable agencies.
“Grace works through nature,” Cardinal Pell said. “God doesn’t intervene unilaterally; God intervenes through us.”
Families need to be centers of Christian virtue, pray often and show regular service and the ability to forgive, he added. They need to provide what the early Christians provided “and more,” he said.
Cardinal Pell reiterated there can be no holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and stressed that no parent should forget the importance of “fidelity to the core teachings of the Church.”
He also recalled how, in the early Church, adulterers were shunned in public, even after they had repented. Mercy, he said, needs “tough disciplines and penitential processes,” although he said he was inclined to feel that the early Church’s approach was “too tough.” The Church “shouldn’t go back to very stiff disciplines,” he said in a question-and-answer session following his speech. “We defend values sociologically.”
The cardinal alluded to the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who once said in support of holy Communion for remarried divorcees that, “after the shipwreck of sin, the shipwrecked person should not have a second boat at his or her disposal, but, rather, a life raft” in the form of the sacrament of Communion.
“More important than a lifeboat,” Cardinal Pell said, it is necessary to guide the faithful so “they’re not shipwrecked and don’t need a lifeboat.”
“We defend what we value through the [Church] law,” he said. “To deny that will increase the decline, and we will slide into the wrong direction.”
Asked about whether he agrees we are now in the “Fourth Great Crisis of the Church,” Cardinal Pell noted that today’s crisis is “quite different” than the Reformation, because, then, both sides agreed on the importance of Christ and God.
“Now, the tension is between godlessness and the Godly,” he said. “The tension is between those who believe growth comes from starting with Gospel teaching and those who believe it comes from adaptation to the modern world.”
“The second option brings death,” he continued. “No doubt, we have a challenge on our hands.”
Turning to the synod on the family, he reaffirmed that St. John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and the family “will not be abrogated because it is based on the teaching of Christ.” And Christ’s and St. Paul’s teachings on holy Communion for remarried divorcees are “very explicit.”
“The synod will massively endorse Tradition,” he said, while “certainly wanting to help people to be compassionate.” He said he didn’t anticipate “any deviation at all” from St. John Paul II’s teachings.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
The Vatican issued a communiqué today on the crisis affecting Greece, saying the news regarding the economic and social situation in the country “is worrying”.
“The Holy Father wishes to convey his closeness to all the Greek people, with a special thought for the many families gravely beset by such a complex and keenly felt human and social crisis,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
“The dignity of the human person must remain at the centre of any political and technical debate, as well as in the taking of responsible decisions.”
He added that Pope Francis “invites all the faithful to unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”
The country is at risk of defaulting, and a referendum vote on Sunday is being seen as a ballot on staying in the euro or leaving the single currency.
Clearly serious though this is, with possibly tragic implications for Greece and further afield, many have noticed that the Holy Father has yet to say anything arguably so publicly about what is widely seen as a far greater threat to souls: namely the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in the United States, Ireland and elsewhere.
Traditionally such issues are left to local bishops to deal with.
But given the grave moral and spiritual implications of redefining marriage and the threat it poses to religious freedom, shouldn’t the Pope be speaking publicly more about that instead of — or as well as — economics and politics?
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis arrives in Sri Lanka on Monday where, within his itinerary, he plans to promote reconciliation in a country that, until recently, was stricken by a bloody 30-year civil war.
To find out more about the two-day visit, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo and president of the island-nation’s bishops’ conference, shared his comments with the Register via email Jan. 7 on what the visit will mean to the Sri Lankan people, the challenges he would like the Holy Father to address and concerns over unexpected presidential elections on Jan. 8 that have threatened to clash with the visit.
What are your expectations for the Holy Father’s visit to your country?
The Holy Father represents for us the tangible expression of God’s own loving concern for the Church and for humanity. He loved us on the cross and established the community of his disciples, the Church, as the vehicle that would carry this message of love to the whole world. He appointed St. Peter as the first apostle and the one who took his place, entrusting to him specially the task of “strengthening the brethren” in that mission of love. The visit of Pope Francis, who, for us, is the partaker in the role of Peter, would encourage us to be stronger in our commitment as disciples of Christ to work to transform the world from sin, selfishness and desperation to one of freedom, selflessness and joy.
More than at any other time, we in Sri Lanka need to become a Church that reflects such joy, enthusiastic commitment to love and service of everyone else and to the call to be the leaven of transformation in our society. The Holy Father’s visit would thus be a catalyst for such a transforming commitment in us.
What has the Sri Lankan Church been doing to prepare for the visit, and how is the country feeling generally about the apostolic trip?
Ever since we became aware of the possibility of such a visit, we have been preparing enthusiastically for it. Much more than the technical preparations, the local Church has been electrified by a spirit of joyful expectation and has united itself strongly, across all human barriers, to prepare for this visit spiritually. We have had a continuous program of catechesis on the matter, prayer, special spiritual programs, animation through the mass media and campaigns of awareness building.
We also have kept all of our non-Catholic fellow citizens informed of the visit, conducted programs of awareness-building among them on the Church, its history, both local and universal, the papacy and its central role in the spiritual service of the world.
The Sri Lankans as a whole, of all religions and linguistic and cultural groups, have enthusiastically welcomed the visit. They hold Pope Francis in great esteem and are eagerly awaiting to see him.
Another factor that makes this visit so important for Sri Lanka is the forthcoming canonization of our own apostle and saint, the 17th-century missionary from India who saved our Church from extinction at the hands of the Dutch colonial rulers, Blessed Joseph Vaz. The Holy Father approved this canonization and fixed it for Jan. 14, which means that he will canonize the saint during the visit.
What challenges is Sri Lanka facing that you would like Pope Francis to address?
One of the main challenges we face in Sri Lanka is the lack of a true spirit of reconciliation between the Sinhala and Tamil populations in the aftermath of the 30-year tragic war. There still are signs of intense suspicion and fear between these two groups.
It is compounded on the one side by the lack of a clear plan to engage in a process of dialogue between them and to seek a mutually acceptable solution and, on the other, through a spirit of fear on the part of the Tamils, that their traditional habitats are being deprived to them. [They feel] their aspiration to live in peace, safeguarding their own identity, is being eroded, while the majority-Sinhalese community, too, feels fearful that there is an international conspiracy to divide their homeland, their only little corner of the earth, and to throw them out — a conspiracy that they feel is being fostered by the former LTTE guerilla group [Tamil Tigers] now living in exile in the west and enjoying the support of the powerful Western nations.
It is a situation that needs a spirit of give and take from both sides in order to work out a settlement. Politicians on both sides of the divide are not allowing this to happen, as they are unwilling to reach out to the other side in a spirit of large-heartedness and a give-and-take process, which would be the best way out.
Secondly, there is a need to further strengthen interreligious harmony and cooperation between the adherents of the main religious groups. At times, there are tensions created due, in part, to the activities of aggressive proselytism carried out by the Christian fundamentalist sects. As a result, there is pressure on the part of those of the majority religious community to introduce legislation to ban proselytism by unethical means. These attempts, though to some extent justified, do create suspicion and fear in the minds of the minority religious communities and could lead to division. That needs to be prevented or controlled.
Some controversy has surrounded the visit, regarding a clash with presidential elections. What are the dangers of the visit coming so soon after the Jan. 8 vote, and what is being done to lessen possible problems?
When the idea of a visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka was first mooted, there were no indications of these elections, as the incumbent president had three more years of stewardship ahead of him. Yet, after everything had been already planned, the elections were announced. This situation caused a tremendous embarrassment to us. Yet the bishops did meet with the two leading candidates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his main opponent, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, and they both assured us that whoever wins the election they would ensure that nothing will disturb the program of the visit.
Indeed, I have continued to meet both candidates and to keep them updated about all the developments of the visit. Both have assured us that they will help in every way possible. Besides, the bishops’ conference has also made a public appeal for a free and fair election and for the cooperation of everyone to make the visit a success. Generally, everyone here is enthusiastically awaiting the Pope, and many feel that the visit would even help to smooth the post-election tensions, if any.
How much is the faith growing in Sri Lanka, and how much can this be attributed to the Holy Father, the “Francis Effect” and his non-Eurocentric background?
The Holy Father is much loved, appreciated and respected by the Catholics, as well as by all our people, irrespective of religious differences. His people-friendly and simple ways have made him very much a role model for a religious leader. It has also helped to strengthen the Catholic community. His visit has also helped to unite the Catholic community across the linguistic and cultural divide, especially the Sinhala and Tamil Catholics.
The Pope is not considered by our people as a European, but as one of their own. This helps to open up the hearts of everyone to receive him cordially. It also helps to give a positive image to the Catholic Church and the papacy in Sri Lanka, which, because of colonial-era experiences in the past, has not always seen these two institutions positively. This visit will, then, help to heal that memory, to some extent.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent
In response to a statement from His Eminence Cardinal Kasper denying giving the interview that appeared in ZENIT Wednesday 15th October, I issue the following response:
His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke to me and two other journalists, one British, the other French, around 7.15pm on Tuesday as he left the Synod hall.
I transcribed the recording of our conversation, and my iPhone on which I recorded the exchange was visible. I introduced myself as a journalist with the [National Catholic] Register, and the others also introduced themselves as journalists. I therefore figured the interview was on the record and His Eminence appeared happy to talk with us. In the end, I posted the full interview in ZENIT rather than the Register. ZENIT removed the article on Thursday in response to Cardinal Kasper’s denial.
His Eminence made no comment about not wanting his remarks published. It depends on the context, but normally in such a situation, comments are considered on the record unless otherwise requested.
The recording can be downloaded below. A couple of the questions came from the other two journalists and I included them as part of the interview. Some of the quality of the English has also been improved for publication.
If there was a misunderstanding, I apologise, but I stand by the interview that was published as a correct account of the exchange.
Your Eminence, how is everything going in the Synod?
Everything is very quiet now. This morning it was on fire a little bit but of course that’s because of you – the newspapers!
Yesterday we were told the “Spirit of Vatican II” was in the synod. Do you agree with this?
This is the spirit of the Council – this is very true.
Have you seen some movement on the divorce and “remarriage” issue?
I hoped there would be some opening and I think the majority is in favor. That is the impression I have, but there is no vote. But I think some opening would be left [to happen]. Perhaps it would also be left to the next part of the synod.
Have you seen opposition growing to your proposals in the last few days?
No. In the first phase of the synod I saw a growing majority in favor of an opening. I saw it – but it’s more of a feeling. There was no vote. There will be a vote but not yet.
Do you know how the Holy Father is viewing the synod and how it’s going so far?
He has not said – he’s been silent, he has listened very carefully but it’s clearly what he wants and that’s evident. He wants a major part of the episcopacy with him and he needs it. He cannot do it against the majority of the episcopacy.
Is there any sense that he’s trying to push things in that direction?
He does not push. His first speech was freedom: freedom of speech, everyone should say what he thinks and what he has on his mind and this was very positive. Nobody is asking: what would the Holy Father think about this? What things can I say? This freedom of speech has been very alive here in this synod, more than in others.
It has been said that he added five special rapporteurs on Friday to help the general rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo. Is that because he’s trying to push things through according to his wishes?
I do not see this going on in the Pope’s head. But I think the majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this. The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.
But are African participants listened to in this regard?
No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].
They’re not listened to?
In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.
What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod? [question from French journalist]
I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.
There is a lot of concern about your proposal.
Yes, yes, there’s a lot.
People are saying that it is causing a lot of confusion among the faithful, and people are worried about it. What do you say to that?
I can only speak of Germany where the great majority wants an opening about divorce and remarriage. It’s the same in Great Britain, it’s everywhere. When I speak to laypeople, also old people who are married for 50, 60 years, they never thought of divorce but they see a problem with their culture and so every family has a problem nowadays. The Pope also told me that [such problems exist] also in his family, and he has looked at the laity and seen the great majority are for a reasonable, responsible opening.
But people feel the Church’s teaching is going to be undermined by your proposal if it passes, that it’s undoing 2,000 years of Church teaching. What is your view on this?
Well nobody is putting into question the indissolubility of marriage. I think it wouldn’t be a help for people, but if you look to this word of Jesus, there are different synoptic gospels in different places, in different contexts. It’s different in the Judeo-Christian context and in the Hellenistic context. Mark and Matthew are different. There was already a problem in the apostolic age. The Word of Jesus is clear, but how to apply it in complex, different situations? It’s a problem to do with the application of these words.
The teaching does not change?
The teaching does not change but it can be made more profound, it can be different. There is also a certain growth in the understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine, a development. Our famous Cardinal Newman had spoken on the development of doctrine. This is also not a change but a development on the same line. Of course, the Pope wants it and the world needs it. We live in a globalized world and you cannot govern everything from the Curia. There must be a common faith, a common discipline but a different application.
“I saw it [an opening] — but it’s more of a feeling,” he said, adding that the synod has yet to vote on it. He added that the Holy Father has been “silent” about his opinion and “has listened very carefully” during the synod, “but it’s clearly what he wants and that’s evident,” he said.
“He wants a major part of the episcopacy with him and he needs it. He cannot do it against the majority of the episcopacy,” Kasper said. He added that the Pope had told him problems exist “in his family” and that he has “looked at the laity and seen the great majority are for a reasonable, responsible opening.”
The German theologian has said before that he has the “impression” the Pope would like to see an “opening” in the area of allowing Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, but now he is making the same claim within the synod. His comments drew a sharp rebuke from Cardinal Raymond Burke.
“The Pope doesn’t have laryngitis,” he said last month. “The Pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”
In an interview with the National Catholic Register this week, Cardinal Burke said: “I do not know how I could accept such [a change] in the Catholic Church. I just could not.”
Such a move would be unprecedented for the Catholic Church, with critics arguing it would significantly change the Church’s 2,000-year teaching on matrimony.
So far, Francis has been publicly silent regarding his views on the matter. Asked last night if Cardinal Kasper does indeed speak for the Pope, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi did not deny the cardinal’s claim, simply saying: “As I have said, Cardinal Kasper can tell reporters what he believes; he is free and responsible.”
Questioned about the concern and confusion his proposal is causing, Cardinal Kasper replied: “I can only speak of Germany, where the great majority wants an opening about divorce and remarriage. It’s the same in Great Britain; it’s everywhere. When I speak to laypeople, also old people who are married for 50, 60 years, they never thought of divorce but they see a problem with their culture and so every family has a problem nowadays.”
He argued that “nobody” is calling into question the indissolubility of marriage, and argues that his proposal would be a “development of doctrine” rather than a change. “There must be a common faith, a common discipline, but a different application,” he said.
Also on the synod, the cardinal appeared to suggest that African views on homosexuality — where the issue remains taboo — are not listened to by the Western delegates in the assembly. Noting how “impossible” it is for Western delegates to comment on African issues, he said likewise “they should not tell us too much what we have to do.”
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