On Dec. 21st, 2020, Pope Francis made his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia in which he contrasts the concept of crisis with that of conflict. He also called for a year long study of Amoris Laetitia. This article is a partial response to the pope’s address.
“Jesus, you really do love your Church.”
Those were the words I spoke when I first read, back in August of 2018, that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò had called out Pope Francis, and to a lesser extent, Pope Benedict, on their handling of then Cardinal McCarrick in an eleven page testimony. Having been the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Viganò’s credentials were impeccable to make such claims, and so I was heartened to hear someone speak the truth.
I also said what I said because I was experiencing a loss of trust and a bewilderment in what the Catholic Church was and is experiencing as a sense of pastoral betrayal under Pope Francis via his planned paradigm shifts using Amoris laetitia. This is an issue that is going to come to a head this coming year as the Pope has called for a year (in actuality, 15 months) of reflection on this controversial document starting March 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph.
Since 2018, Archbishop Viganò has followed up with other missives and addresses about crises and conflicts in the Church. For a few examples, see his September 25th, 2020 essay on the Deep State/Deep Church; his greatly detailed extended response to the McCarrick Report; and his Oct. 24, 2020 address at the Catholic Identity Conference: Vatican II & the New World Order. To read any one of these would send one to one’s knees in prayer for the Catholic Church. To read all four in a row would drive one to tears and perhaps despair of the crisis and conflict in the Church.
For me, the first hint of a sense of pastoral betrayal occurred back in 2013 when my mother (God rest her soul) held up the morning newspaper with the headline “Pope says not to be obsessed with Abortion” and asked, “Why would he say such a thing?” (In fact, the whole pro-life community said the same thing.) This was followed by the betrayal of having to answer the question of a mother who foster parented and then adopted four siblings, in addition to raising her own three children, when the Pope said that “Catholics should not breed like rabbits” — a statement that was immediately apologized for by the papal staff. But like my mother said, “Why would he say such a thing?”
I felt the same sense of pastoral betrayal when seeing the Vatican-released photo of the then USCCB President, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, laughing with Pope Francis in Rome when he should have been demanding to see the papal order allowing then-Cardinal McCarrick to operate his dealings with Communist China — to say nothing of the whole sense of betrayal of the Catholics there.
There is also the sense of betrayal of having the Vatican make a stamp commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant revolution (a copy of which I had laminated and keep in my wallet.) It is the betrayal of having to explain to my parishioners a failed Vatican financial investment scheme involving over $150 Million in property in London that has been reported to house apartments for homosexual priests to meet up, and millions more invested in a movie about Elton John called “Rocketman.”
The sense of pastoral betrayal continues when one views the Pope watching a pagan ceremony take place in the Vatican Gardens as he directs his Master of Ceremonies to place the PachaMama bowl on the Holy Altar of Sacrifice in St. Peter’s Basilica; such an act of betrayal of the true faith in favor of paganism in light of which the 2020 Christmas Nativity, in a perverse way, makes sense.
And then there is the pastoral betrayal of Pope Francis’ recent statement regarding his approval of Homosexual Unions and having to explain, following Cardinal Burke’s strong suggestion, that pastors publicly say that the Pope is in error here. (Which I did.)
But the key sense of pastoral betrayal of priests qua pastors stems from the dual co-synods of 2015-16 on the family and marriage that produced the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love,” with its concomitant unanswered theological dubia offered by four faithful Cardinals.
The issue involved here in Amoris Laetitia is an issue central to every Catholic Priest and pastor in that we are required to take both The Profession of Faith and the Oath of Fidelity when we take possession of a new parish. The outstanding question: to what extent is this document a part of the magisterial teaching of the Church?
The Profession of Faith ends with:
“With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.
I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.
Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”
Essentially what Amoris Laetitia creates is both crisis and conflict within the pastor, because he is now in conflict with previous papal teachings and Sacred Scripture if he is told to give Holy Communion to those who are divorced and remarried outside the Church, or to those in same-sex unions. It is a document that fundamentally changes, or rather paradigm shifts, Sacramental theology via a footnote that subjectivizes consciences. Any priest or bishop worth his salt should be questioning this pastoral action. Although I was installed as pastor prior to Amoris Laetitia, I am truly troubled about having to take the Oath again without qualification.
I am truly at a loss as to having to explain this interior crisis of conscience to others regarding the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity. The only poor analogy I think of is painting. Imagine yourself helping the absent bridegroom paint his house red, and you overhear the best man say to the newcomers to start painting it blue. What do you do? Do you keep painting it red? Do you do so knowing that the best man is hoping that you leave, or as in the case of two of the four the Dubia Cardinals, die off?
I have asked my own Bishop about Amoris Laetitia twice without receiving a substantive answer. When I recently had a chance to ask our incoming bishop about a response of Cardinal Cupich to a reporter about giving Holy Communion to the divorced/remarried and those in same sex unions (the cardinal approved), the bishop’s only answer was to say he hadn’t heard the cardinal say that. What Cardinal Cupich did say is that, if anyone has a problem with this document that they need to have “a conversion in their lives.”
When I ask my priest friends about the Oath, I get responses ranging from the suggestion of making a mental reservation to the idea that the Pope has no authority. To be clear, Pope Francis has given a response that has been entered into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis — making it an official act of the Holy See — and has said that there is no other response than the one he gave. The nature of that response, given in a semi-private letter to the Bishops of Buenos Aires, approved their guidelines indicating that the sacraments, under pastoral supervision, may be given to those who Catholics who have been divorced and “remarried,” and by logical extension, possibly also for those in same-sex unions. Clearly, these things are at odds with earlier Papal teaching.
It seems that there should be a word for the current (and somewhat variegated) state of denial among Catholic priests regarding Amoris Laetitia, but I haven’t found it yet. Its form appears to be a sort of mashup of episodic Sedevacantism, with occasional Ultramontanism, and also a good dose of selective hearing. The problem comes when we do hear what the Pope is saying in Amoris Laetitia and that he says it as an apparent exercise of the Petrine Office. When we are then pressed to say that we believe and assent, it causes a type of cognitive dissonance. One cannot hold two opposing things to be true at the same time. I cannot imagine any good priest would have become one if he was told that he would be giving Holy Communion to the divorced & remarried, or to those in same-sex unions.
The further issue is that Amoris Laetitia is not an encyclical per se, but a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, making its theological weight less clear. Though Cardinal Burke said that it cannot be part of the papal magisterium, the pope disagrees. And he disagrees to such an extent that starting March 19, 2021 and running until June 26, 2022, we will be collectively “reflecting” on this document as a preparation for the World Meeting of Families conference in Rome.
Since the publication of Amoris Laetitia in 2016, Pope Francis has been installing Bishops and Cardinals according to his own mind in place, in order to fully implement his agenda. It is an agenda that the U.S. Bishops were reminded of at their November bi-annual meeting by the U.S. Papal Nuncio that bordered on a diplomatic rant. To paraphrase: “Get on board the Amoris Laetitia train, because it is coming and it ain’t stopping. (I reference here the song Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull — reportedly a favorite song of a young Fr. Bergoglio).
In his address to the Curia, the Pope contrasts crisis with conflict and he defends the current crises of the ecclesial kind as an opportunity; indeed, a positive opportunity for growth and change, whereas, in his view, conflict only leads to division:
Dear brothers and sisters, let us maintain great peace and serenity, in the full awareness that all of us, beginning with myself, are only “unworthy servants” (Lk 17:10) to whom the Lord has shown mercy. For this reason, it would be good for us to stop living in conflict and feel once more that we are journeying together, open to crisis. Journeys always involve verbs of movement. A crisis is itself movement, a part of our journey. Conflict, on the other hand, is a false trail leading us astray, aimless, directionless and trapped in a labyrinth; it is a waste of energy and an occasion for evil. The first evil that conflict leads us to, and which we must try to avoid, is gossip. Let us be attentive to this! Talking about gossip is not an obsession of mine; it is the denunciation of an evil that enters the Curia. Here in the Palace, there are many doors and windows, and it enters and we get used to this. Gossip traps us in an unpleasant, sad and stifling state of self-absorption. It turns crisis into conflict. The Gospel tells us that the shepherds believed the angel’s message and set out on the path towards Jesus (cf. Lk2:15-16). Herod, on the other hand, closed his heart before the story told by the Magi and turned that closed-heartedness to deceit and violence (cf. Mt2:1-16).
Each of us, whatever our place in the Church, should ask whether we want to follow Jesus with the docility of the shepherds or with the defensiveness of Herod, to follow him amidst crisis or to keep him at bay in conflict.
At the end of his address the Pope asks his audience to “pray for me, so that I can have the courage to remain in crisis.” I’m sorry, but all that came to my mind when reading his Christmas address was a line from the movie The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word (crisis). I don’t think it means what you think it means.” But as my priests friends point out, the Pope wants this confusion and has said so, having told the attendees at World Youth Day in Brazil to “make a mess.”
And so we have Pope Francis, in what I consider an act of gaslighting the Roman Curia about crises and conflicts, now forcing the pastoral issue of Amoris Laetitia on the whole Church. As one who has graduated from the now defunct and re-constituted Pope John Paul II Institute (the “overhaul” of which I consider as another betrayal), I am also one of the priests who signed the 2019 petition calling for the Bishops to investigate Pope Francis under the canonical delict of heresy (a petition I ask any Bishop reading this to still consider).
With all due respect, Holy Father, the current crises and conflicts happening in the Church are not all coming from the curia or from the outside; many are of your instigation, and will continue to be so until, as a start, you answer the dubia. Until then, we are all going to be experiencing a heightened sense of pastoral betrayal this coming year.
This post has been updated to move a section of the pope’s Christmas address into the blockquote. It was unintentionally left as the concluding paragraph of the original piece.
Fr. Timothy Sauppé was born in Milwaukee and attended Cleveland State University. He has a M.Div./S.T.B. from the Dominican House of Studies (Wash. D.C.) and a S.T.L. from the Pope John Paul II Institute (Wash. D.C.). He received a certificate of studies towards a S.T.D. (Incomplete) from the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institue, Dayton, Ohio. He was ordained in 1992 and has been pastor of St. Mary’s, Westville, IL. since 2008 and St. Isaac Jogues, Georgetown, IL. since 2014.