In a new interview with Rorate Caeli, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, one of the signatories of a Dec 30 statement calling any sacramental discipline that allows Communion for the divorced and remarried “Alien to the entire tradition of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith,” explains why he is one of the signatories of this latest broadside against the popular pastoral implementation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. His interview comes amidst rumors that Pope Francis is planning a campaign of “denigration” of the signatories through his various media surrogates in retaliation for their opposition — in a way similar to what was done against the dubia cardinals (see an incomplete set of examples here, here, here, here, here, and here) following the publication of their now-famous (and still unanswered) five questions.
Schneider says “in the face of the current temporal and partial eclipse of the function of the Papal Magisterium” there is an obligation for bishops and cardinals to “assist the pope in this Magisterial duty through public professions of the immutable truths which the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium — that means what all the Popes and the entire episcopate during all times – have taught concerning the doctrine and the sacramental practice of the marriage.”
Discussing the widespread “plague of divorce” in his own country — a consequence, he says, of “70 years of Communist materialism” — Bishop Schneider nevertheless says that the “divorced and remarried” in Kazakhstan “would not dare to ask to be admitted to Holy Communion, since the awareness and conscience of sin is, thanks be to God, very deep routed in the souls, and even in the civil society.”
“In our country ,” he continues, “people commit sin as elsewhere, but our people still acknowledge that sin is sin, and therefore for such sinners there is hope for conversion and Divine mercy. It would be for our people — and even for the so-called ‘divorced and remarried’ among them — a kind of blasphemy to demand access to Holy Communion while continuing to cohabitate with a person who is not their legitimate spouse.”
Citing the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Schneider also reminds the faithful that “the pope is not the creator of the truth, of the faith and of the sacramental discipline of the Church,” but rather its servant. Schneider also revisits the teaching on the papacy from the First Vatican Council in Pastor Aeternus, which says that the papal charism “does not mean that they [the popes] might make known some new doctrine, but that, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles”.
The bishop is also critical of the “ultramontanism” that arose in the 19th and 20th centuries which has “reached its peak in our days and created an insane pope-centrism and popolatry.”
In seeking to explain the dark night that the Church is now enduring, His Excellency said that God has “permitted this current extraordinary doctrinal and moral confusion in the Church” so that when the crisis has abated “the truth will shine brighter and the Church will become more spiritually beautiful” — especially for married couples, families, and popes.
You can read the full text of Bishop Schneider’s remarks, courtesy of Rorate Caeli, below:
RORATE CAELI (RC): Your Excellency has personally been out in front in terms of restoration of the traditional liturgy for many years. Now Your Excellency, Archbishop Peta and Archbishop Lenga have come out publicly, and forcibly, in defense of marriage in the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia. Why did the three of you decide now was the time to respond?
BISHOP ATHANASIUS SCHNEIDER (BAS): After the publication of Amoris Laetitia, several bishops and Bishops’ Conferences started to issue “pastoral” norms regarding the so-called “divorced and remarried”. One has to say that, for a Catholic, there is no divorce because a valid sacramental bond of a ratified and consumed marriage is absolutely indissoluble and even the bond of a natural marriage is per se indissoluble as well. Furthermore, for a Catholic, there is only one valid marriage being his legitimate spouse still alive. Therefore, one cannot speak of a “re-marriage” in this case.
The expression “divorced and remarried” is consequently deceptive and misleading. Since this expression is commonly known, we use it only in quotation marks and with the previous remark “so-called”. The mentioned pastoral norms regarding the so- called “divorced and remarried” — norms masked with a rhetoric bordering on sophism — foresee ultimately the admittance of the “divorced and remarried” to Holy Communion without the requirement of the indispensable and Divinely established condition that they may not violate their sacred marriage bond through their habitual sexual relationship with a person who is not their legitimate spouse. A certain peak has reached in this process of implicit recognition of divorce in the life of the Church, when Pope Francis ordered to publish in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, his letter of approval of similar norms which issued the bishops of the Pastoral Region of Buenos Aires.
This act was followed by a declaration that this papal approval would belong to the authentic Magisterium of the Church. In view of such pastoral norms which contradict Divine Revelation with its absolute disapproval of divorce and contradict also the teaching and sacramental practice of the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium of the Church, we were forced by our conscience, as successors of the Apostles, to raise our voice and to reiterate the immutable doctrine and practice of the Church regarding the indissolubility of the sacramental marriage.
RC: Has the Kazakh conference officially released an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia? Do they plan to do so, or does this letter mean that the conference believes Amoris Laetitia cannot be understood in an orthodox way or is in any way compatible with the Catechism and with Scripture and Tradition?
BAS: The text of the “Profession of truths” is not a document of the Bishop’s Conference of Kazakhstan, but a document only of those bishops who signed it. Our Bishop’s Conference considered it not necessary to issue pastoral norms as an interpretation of AL. Even though in our society the plague of divorce is widespread, a consequence of 70 years of Communist materialism, and we have also in our parishes cases of so-called “divorced and remarried”, yet the same “divorced and remarried” would not dare to ask to be admitted to Holy Communion, since the awareness and conscience of sin is, thanks be to God, very deep routed in the souls, and even in the civil society.
In our country people commit sin as elsewhere, but our people still acknowledge that sin is sin, and therefore for such sinners there is hope for conversion and Divine mercy. It would be for our people — and even for the so-called “divorced and remarried” among them — a kind of blasphemy to demand access to Holy Communion while continuing to cohabitate with a person who is not their legitimate spouse. Therefore, our Bishops’ Conference did not see the necessity to issue relevant norms.
RC: We’ve had the famous dubia sent to the Pope and a filial correction – mostly by laymen – sent as well. Neither have garnered a response. However, many feel Francis has already responded in a sense, when he officially endorsed the Buenos Aires bishops’ apparently heretical instruction to the divorced, remarried and still cohabitating. Should we still expect anything more from Francis on this matter?
BAS: The Buenos Aires bishops’ instructions do not express directly a heresy. Yet they allow, in individual cases, “divorced and remarried” people to receive Holy Communion in spite of the fact that they do not want to stop sexual relationships with their non-conjugal partner. In this case the mentioned pastoral instructions deny in practice, and hence indirectly, the Divinely revealed truth of the indissolubility of marriage. The sad circumstance is that the Pope approved such instructions. By this way the Pope gave, in my opinion, directly an answer to the first point and indirectly to the four other points of the dubia. We can only expect through our appeals, prayers and sacrifices, that Pope Francis may answer in a most unequivocal manner to the five points of the dubia according to the relevant teaching of the Ordinary and Universal infallible Magisterium.
RC: The threat to the Faithful has been clear, not only since Amoris Laetitia was promulgated, but just from the discussions alone at the synods. The confusion it has all caused cannot be questioned. However, much like the usefulness of Humanae Vitae was lessoned due to how long it took for it to be published, is all this now too late to stop the damage, especially when the Pope has now officially given permission for some divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion?
BAS: We have to bear in mind that the Church is not in our hands, and not even in the hands of the Pope, but in the almighty hands of Christ, and therefore we cannot say that all this is now too late to stop the damage. We can also apply the following affirmation of Saint Paul to our situation inside the Church: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). God had permitted this current extraordinary doctrinal and moral confusion in the Church for the aim that, after this crisis, the truth will shine brighter and the Church will become spiritually more beautiful, especially in the married couples, in the families and in the popes.
RC: We have heard now, for over a year, that a formal correction coming from the cardinals is imminent, yet nothing has happened. What do you believe is the hold up?
BAS: In the face of the current temporal and partial eclipse of the function of the Papal Magisterium concerning concretely the defense and practical enforcement of the indissolubility the marriage, the members of the episcopal and of the cardinalitial colleges have to assist the Pope in this Magisterial duty through public professions of the immutable truths which the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium — that means what all the Popes and the entire episcopate during all times – have taught concerning the doctrine and the sacramental practice of the marriage.
RC: If a formal correction is made by a number of cardinals, and Francis continues to officially approve of bishops’ conferences giving Holy Communion to some divorced and remarried, then what?
BAS: There exists the following principle of the traditional Catholic doctrine since the first centuries: “Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur”, i.e., the first episcopal chair in the Church (the chair of the Pope) cannot be judged by anybody. When bishops remind the Pope respectfully of the immutable truth and discipline of the church, they don’t judge hereby the first chair of the Church, instead they behave themselves as colleagues and brothers of the Pope. The attitude of the bishops towards the Pope has to be collegial, fraternal, not servile and always supernaturally respectful, as it stressed the Second Vatican Council (especially in the documents Lumen gentium and Christus Dominus). One has to continue to profess the immutable faith and pray still more for the Pope and, then, only God can intervene and He will do this unquestionably.
RC: For the typical Catholic, who goes to Mass but maybe doesn’t follow the politics of the Church like Rorate readers do, the casual Catholics whom hear the Supreme Pontiff saying numerous confusing things over the past few years, things that appear contrary (hopefully) to what they’ve been taught their entire lives, what does Your Excellency say to them? And how do serious Catholics push back when, at every turn, they’re asked by modernists if they think they’re “more Catholic than the Pope”?
BAS: First, these faithful have to continue to read and study the immutable Catechism, and especially the great doctrinal documents of the Church. Such documents are theme here, e.g., the Decrees of the Councils of Trent about the sacraments; the encyclicals Pascendi from Pius X.; Casti connubii from Pius XI; Humani generis from Pius XII;Humanae vitae from Paul VI; the Credo of the People of God from Paul VI; the encyclical Veritatis splendor from John Paul II; and his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. These documents do not reflect a personal and short-lived meaning of a Pope or of a pastoral synod. Instead, these documents reflect and reproduce the infallible Ordinary and Universal Magisterium of the Church.
Second, they have to bear in mind that the Pope is not the creator of the truth, of the faith and of the sacramental discipline of the Church. The Pope and the entire Magisterium “is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on” (Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, 10). The First Vatican Council taught that the charism of the ministry of the successors of Peter “does not mean that they might make known some new doctrine, but that, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles” (Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
Third, the Pope cannot be the focal point of the daily life of the faith of a Catholic faithful. The focal point must instead be Christ. Otherwise, we become victims of an insane pope-centrism or of a kind of popalatry, an attitude which is alien to the tradition of the Apostles, of the Church Fathers and of the greater tradition of the Church. The so called “ultramontanism” of the 19th and 20th centuries reached its peak in our days and created an insane pope-centrism and popolatry. To mention just an example: There had been in Rome in the end of the 19th century a famous Monsignor who led different pilgrim groups to the Papal audiences. Before he let them enter to see and hear the Pope, he said to them: “Listen carefully to the infallible words which will come out of the mouth of the Vicar of Christ”. Surely such an attitude is a pure caricature of the Petrine ministry and contrary to the doctrine of the Church. Nevertheless, even in our days, not so few Catholics, priests and bishops show substantially the same caricatural attitude towards the sacred ministry of the successor of Peter.
The true attitude towards the Pope according to the Catholic tradition has to be always with sane moderation, with intelligence, with logic, with common sense, with the spirit of faith and of course, also, with heartfelt devotion. Yet there has to be a balanced synthesis of all these characteristics. We hope that after the current crisis the Church will reach a more balanced and sane attitude towards the person of the Pope and toward his sacred and indispensable ministry in the Church.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.