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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

La Stampa and the Fallible Infallible Magisterium

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La Stampa and the Fallible Infallible Magisterium
In their relentless effort to defend the indefensible, the participants in the neo-Catholic commentatriat have been pushed to new extremes by the exigencies of the current pontificate.  Confronted with a Pope who is determined to undermine the contrary teaching of his predecessors on the “intrinsic impossibility” of absolution and Holy Communion for people who intend to continue engaging in sexual relations with people to whom they pretend to be “remarried” by way of civil divorce, the Neo Catholic Excuse Factory has trotted out its latest polemical model: the 2017 Inerrant Papacy.

Yes, we are now informed that a Pope can never err when he teaches! Ever. Under any circumstances. Therefore, no one may question the teaching of Amoris Laetitia (AL), regardless of what it says (or implies) on the subject of Holy Communion for public adulterers. For whatever AL says (or implies) must be right because the Pope has said it, and the Pope cannot err in what he teaches.

Does this sound incredible?  Read this gem from the Vatican Insider documents of La Stampa by one Emmett O’Regan, a blogger of some sort, who has been trotted out from nowhere to declare the following nonsensical conclusion in defense of AL and contra the signers of the Filial Correction:

This false accusation railed against Pope Francis, claiming that he is teaching or prompting heresy in part of his Ordinary Magisterium is in effect a denial of the one of the essential truths behind the teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, who is granted Divine assistance which prevents him from erring in matters of faith and morals, even when teaching non-infallibly.

In other words, the Pope is infallible even when he teaches non-infallibly!  The idea of an infallible non-infallible papal teaching would appear to violate the principle of non-contradiction, but what does rational thought matter when to comes to defending the monumentally dysfunctional Novus Ordo against any suggestion that it is dysfunctional?  For the neo-Catholic is primarily interested in defending what is new, not the Faith of our fathers, which must always give way to the unheard-of novelties of the past fifty years.  That is what neo-Catholicism means.
magisterial statementLest anyone think O’Regan’s blunder is but a slip of the pen, read this from the same silly piece:

So while there may be certain deficiencies present in the Ordinary Magisterium, the faithful are still required to submit their will and intellect to its higher prudential judgment by giving religious assent, and such deficiencies can never fall into error in matters of faith and morals through the promise of Divine assistance accorded to even these non-infallible pronouncements.

There it is again:  non-infallible papal pronouncements on faith and morals are never wrong, even if they are fallible. Or, more simply: fallible papal teaching on faith and morals is infallible. Then there is the sloppy category confusion between “higher prudential judgment” (whatever that means) and doctrinal teaching, which is never a matter of mere prudential judgment.

This fellow is in a serious muddle.  Let me help him.  His confusion is between the Magisterium, the teaching office the Church, and the particular Pope who happens to occupy the Chair of Peter at a given moment in Church history.  “Magisterium” and “whatever the Pope says” on a matter involving faith or morals are not perfectly congruent categories. It is perfectly possible for particular Pope to utter an error pertaining to faith and morals, as we see with the famous case of Pope John XXII, who denied the immediacy of the beatific vision for the blessed after Purgatory and was finally pressured into retracting the error on his deathbed after theologians told him he was wrong.

Now, should a Pope happen to utter some theological error, that error—being an error—cannot be part of the Magisterium.  The reason should be obvious: the Church cannot promulgate error via her teaching office, which presents only what the Church has constantly taught from the time of the Apostles based on divine revelation, developed and explicated as necessary for a fuller understanding.  For example, the social teaching on the just wage develops the Church’s doctrine on justice and charity toward laborers and the poor, while the teaching against artificial contraception develops the Church’s doctrine on the intrinsic evils of adultery and fornication.  The Church does not present new doctrines over time but only new applications of the same doctrines to new situations, such as the advent of the Pill or the rise of the factory system. As the First Vatican Council declared in defining the strict limits of papal infallibility:

For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

Thus, O’Regan has it half right: the Magisterium is infallible.  There is no “fallible Ordinary Magisterium,” for if there were then everything the Church has taught for centuries, short of few formal dogmatic definitions, would be open to question. But particular Popes may err in particular statements that depart from what the Magisterium has constantly taught. From this it follows that papal errors in matters of faith and morals, though exceedingly rare—at least before Francis unleashed an endless torrent of extemporaneous remarks and ghostwritten book-length manifestos—can only belong to the category of papal opinions.  And such papal opinions, by the very fact of being errors, can only involve propositions the Magisterium has never taught.

Indeed, John XXII, when furiously opposed in his error regarding final beatitude, protested that he had only been expressing his personal theological view.  Francis, however, has not done the Church this courtesy.  Apparently, like O’Regan, Francis thinks—or at least he wishes us to think—that whatever he says is “Magisterium.” As he opined in the early interview published in America magazine: “I’m constantly making statements, giving homilies. That’s magisterium. That’s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out; it’s very clear.”  Actually, it is anything but clear—even if, as O’Regan would have it, we must believe it is very clear because Francis said so, and what he says on this point is part of O’Regan’s “fallible Ordinary Magisterium,” which is infallible even when it is not infallible.

So, Francis thinks that whatever he thinks is the Magisterium, and O’Regan heartily agrees.  And they are both wrong.  The Magisterium is the mind of the Church, not the mind of Francis or, for that matter, the mind of any one Pope. And if the faithful could not tell the difference between what the Church has always taught and what Francis thinks, or if we were expected to believe there can be no difference between the mind of the Church and the mind of Francis, even if the two self-evidently differ, then our faith would have no objective content and the Church would be a gnostic sect headed by the Oracle of Rome.

What O’Regan posits, which is typical of neo-Catholic thinking, is a kind of portable Magisterium, carried hither and yon by the Pope to any place he would like to take it. But there is no (to quote O’Regan) “Ordinary Magisterium of Pope Francis.” There is only the Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church to which even the Pope must conform himself.

Not to the contrary is O’Regan’s citation to the Lumen Gentium, which refers to the “authentic Magisterium”—not whatever a Pope speaks or reduces to writing, no matter what its content. Likewise, O’Regan’s citation to the Catechism of the Catholic Church presupposes an exercise of the same authentic Magisterium, which is much more than “whatever any Pope says.”  The Catechism describes the authentic Magisterium thus:

Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it. (CCC 892)  

That is, the Ordinary Magisterium is the universal teaching of the successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Pope, which leads to a better understanding of revealed truth. It is not Francis’s personal view on whether public adulterers may receive Holy Communion while continuing their adulterous relations. Many bishops, in fact, reject his view and maintain the Church’s bimillenial Eucharistic discipline, which Francis has no power to abolish.  Thus, Francis’s opinion—which, moreover, he refuses to express formally—cannot possibly be a teaching of the authentic Magisterium.

Nor does O’Regan get anywhere with this citation to Donum Veritatis: “For this reason magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.”  Francis has not issued any disciplinary decision to which anyone is bound to adhere. AL commands nothing, but merely leaves the door open for certain bishops to do what he would obviously like them to do—give Holy Communion to public adulterers—while other bishops refuse to follow suit. Indeed, Francis will never issue any command in this regard precisely because he knows the authentic Magisterium cannot overturn the bimillenial discipline his own immediate predecessors affirmed.

Finally, I note only in passing O’Regan’s pronouncement that the Filial Correction is “illicit” because “the authors of the Filial Correction have turned directly to the mass media in order to present their dissent to Amoris Laetitia (which is part of the Ordinary Magisterium of Pope Francis), [and] this action was made in direct contravention of the guidelines for dissenting theologians outlaid in Donum Veritatis.”

More nonsense.  First of all, we have not “turned directly to the mass media” but rather first submitted the Filial Correction directly to Francis, who ignored it for more than a month, just as he has ignored the four cardinals’ dubia for more than a year—which dubia O’Regan the Blogger also deems “illicit.”

Secondly, we not “dissenting” from AL as such, but rather from Francis’s sub rosa interpretation of his own document—again, an interpretation not shared by many (if not most) bishops. Given the very existence of a debate over AL’s meaning, and its differing application by the bishops, the contention that the signers of the Filial Correction are “dissenting” from AL is ludicrous.  Dissenting from what, exactly?

Furthermore, no Catholic is obliged to give assent to the demonstrably false or misleading citations that litter AL.  The most egregious of these is the shameful abuse of the teaching of Saint Thomas regarding epikeia, which is a prudential grant of exceptions to civil or ecclesiastical general laws in order effectuate justice—for example, excusing Mass attendance if one is ill or (to cite Saint Thomas’s example) refusing to return a sword on deposit if the holder knows the owner will use the sword to wage war against his own country.

As explained masterfully here, AL dishonestly presents Thomas’s teaching as a warrant for differing “pastoral” application of exceptionless negative precepts of the natural moral law forbidding intrinsically evil acts such as adultery. In aid of this deception, AL conspicuously omits any reference to Saint Thomas’s own teaching that “Under no circumstance in fact, can one rob or commit adultery.”  As the linked source notes, also trampled underfoot is the contrary teaching of John Paul II in Veritatis splendor: “the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the ‘creativity’ of any contrary determination whatsoever.”  This is why John Paul II affirmed the Church’s constant teaching against the admission of divorced and “remarried” Catholics to the sacraments so long as they remain intent on continuing their adulterous sexual relations.

Thirdly, we are not “dissenting theologians” but rather Catholics who object to AL’s opening to a radical break with the Magisterium, including the teaching of Francis’s two immediate predecessors. It is Francis who, given his evident opinion in the matter, is dissenting from the authentic Magisterium with a faux magisterial exercise in studied ambiguity, accompanied by winks and nods to those “in the know” about his intentions.

Fourthly, nothing in Donum Veritatis can take away the right of the faithful in natural justice to express publicly their concerns about the integrity of the faith as imperiled by AL.  To quote the law of the Church:

The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence towards their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.  (CIC 1983, can. 212, §§ 2, 3).

In sum, O’Regan apparently knows next to nothing about the matter on which La Stampa, to its great embarrassment, has allowed him to express such an incompetent opinion.

The question is, how did this obscure blogger, who seems to have a penchant for rashly accusing people of canonical delicts, gain entrée to such a prominent forum in order to make such absurd, high-profile accusations against the signers of the Filial Correction? It seems that in their final battle in defense of the indefensible, which coincides with the final battle over marriage and family of which Sister Lucia warned the late Cardinal Caffarra in light of the Message of Fatima, the neo-Catholic brigades are reduced to sending raw recruits into the conflict who have no idea what they are talking about.

Next, I suppose, will be a scorched earth campaign in which neo-Catholic opinion leaders will hand up to the ecclesiastical, if not the civil, authorities any Catholic who dares to defend against the novelties of Bergoglio the Church’s perennial teaching to the contrary—including the teaching of John Paul the Not-So-Great-Any-More. In much in the same way the followers of Saint Athanasius were hounded into the desert while the heresy of Arius reigned over nearly the entire Church, and Athanasius himself was declared excommunicated more than once.

But take heart.  The increasingly desperate campaign to silence all opposition to the errors of Francis may well be a sign, as was the Arians’ brutal suppression of opposition to their heresy, that victory for the truth of Christ and the cause of the Gospel will not be long in coming.


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Last modified on Thursday, October 5, 2017
Christopher A. Ferrara

Christopher A. Ferrara: President and lead counsel for the American Catholic Lawyers Inc., Mr. Ferrara has been at the forefront of the legal defense of pro-lifers for the better part of a quarter century. Having served with the legal team for high profile victims of the culture of death such as Terri Schiavo, he has long since distinguished him a premier civil rights Catholic lawyer.  Mr. Ferrara has been a lead columnist for The Remnant since 2000 and has authored several books published by The Remnant Press, including the bestseller The Great Façade. Together with his children and wife, Wendy, he lives in Richmond, Virginia.