Yesterday afternoon, I received word through one of my sources that something would be coming today, at long last, in the ongoing and seemingly never-ending process that would move things in the direction of the highly-anticipated “formal correction” of the pope. I was told that it would not be the formal correction itself, but something preliminary to it. There was no clear indicator of just what, exactly, was to be expected, or when the formal correction itself would follow. Only that a statement of some kind would be issued today, November 14, 2017, exactly one year since the publication of the original five dubia on Amoris Laetitia.
When Edward Pentin’s new interview with Cardinal Burke was published today at 3PM Rome time, we had our answer. Not only was it not the formal correction, it did not even mention those words. Our summary of the document this morning included a list of important post-exhortation milestones over the past year along the path to this moment, but it is clear that this path, such as it is, continues to wind forward — for how long, nobody seems to know — into the future.
In the interview, Cardinal Burke conveys, though somewhat mildly, that things have grown untenable. He uses terms like “increasing confusion” and “gravest of matters” and “the gravity of the situation, which is continually worsening.” As he did when AL was first published, Burke insists — standing in contradiction to a number of papal defenders — that the exhortation is non-magisterial. “The magisterium,” he says, “is God’s gift to the Church to provide clarity on issues that regard the deposit of the faith. By their very nature, affirmations that lack this clarity cannot be qualified expressions of the magisterium.” He speaks of the damage being done to teaching and sacraments, of a proposed “paradigm shift regarding the Church’s entire moral practice”, and of subversion of “essential parts of the Tradition”. He speaks of the moral implications of the reasoning deployed in the so-called pastoral care recommended in AL, asking “what would happen if this reasoning were to be applied to other cases, such as that of a medical doctor performing abortions, of a politician belonging to a ring of corruption, of a suffering person deciding to make a request for assisted suicide”?
In the end, he makes a “final plea” that the pope “confirm his brothers in the faith with a clear expression of the teaching regarding both Christian morality and the meaning of the Church’s sacramental practice”.
But if the plea is actually final, then what might we expect next? What would be the consequence of the pope ignoring yet another plea, as he has done so many times before?
It seems certain that Cardinal Burke — along with those who are supporting his efforts — wants to make certain that he has given the pope every possible chance to fix what he is breaking. But with no clear indication of the repercussions of failing to do so, it remains impossible to determine what incentive the pope has to even pay this “final plea” any attention at all.
This interview, if it is indeed a final warning, should perhaps have been labeled as such. Saying “Please stop” hasn’t worked as a strategy before now, and the urgency — is there a sense of urgency behind the calm restatement of the problem? — demands more. The time for deference and patience, I fear, has passed. The faithful are seeing the man on the Throne of St. Peter flouting divinely-revealed teaching and the safeguards of his divinely-assisted office — and getting away with it. And it is making many Catholics feel tempted to wonder: If Christ’s promises to the Church can be so easily broken, can any of what we believe really be trusted?
In that sense, the pope isn’t the only one responsible for “the gravity of the situation, which is continually worsening.” The cardinals and bishops who have delayed taking action until now are, in their own unintentional way, intensifying the scandalization of the faithful. What the pope is doing is wrong, the laity think, but when even the faithful and orthodox shepherds of the Church fail to properly address it, does that mean we have been abandoned?
And while these doubts about the Church’s indefectibility are being daily introduced into the minds of the faithful, bishops around the world continue to move forward with their own subjective interpretations of what Amoris Laetitia means for their flocks — all of which will have to be unwound once the Church regains her senses. Today, at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2017 General Assembly meeting, the agenda item of a “renewed pastoral plan on marriage and family life in light of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on ‘the Joy of Love’, Amoris Laetitia” was brought to the table by Bishop Richard Malone, who serves on the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. (For those who would like to hear the commentary themselves, you can follow it on video beginning here.)
In the ensuing discussion, popular Catholic speaker Bishop Robert Barron lamented, “I just think it’s really been a tragedy that the reception of this document [Amoris Laetitia] has been so poor in our country. If you do a web search of Amoris Laetitia, you get a mountain of literature, but it’s all about a particular chapter and even a particular footnote within that chapter. As important as that question is, I think it’s led to a overlooking of this really extraordinarily rich document, so I think it’s good for us to seize control of that process, because I think we’ve been positioned by an awful lot of people in the blogosphere who are forcing people to read this document in a particular way.”
“An awful lot of people in the blogosphere”? I wonder who he might be referring to. “Forcing people”? With what, our incredible mind powers? “Seize control”? He actually went on to mention the word “seize” — which, if we want to talk about force, means to “take hold of suddenly and forcibly” — two more times in his brief comments.
I didn’t have the patience to listen to more of the discussion.
The firing of Professor Seifert. The shaming of Professor Stark. The firing of Fr. Thomas Weinandy. The campaign of sustained ad hominems against the dubia cardinals as well as every theologian, priest, and layman who supports the work of authentic criticism of the exhortation. The Vatican-promoted heterodox interpretations of the exhortation itself, along with Vatican-promoted articles to give cover to these interpretations through an intentional obfuscation of Church teaching and the parameters of Magisterial authority. The “climate of fear” at the Vatican, where any criticism is reported and people suspected of opposing the official agenda are monitored in ways reminiscent of the techniques of the KGB. The entire apparatus of the Dictatorship of Mercy. It is in these things where the true force in the matter lies. The only reason that the orthodox counter-narrative has been able to bubble up to the top at all is because those of us who care about the truth are relentless in our pursuit of it — and because God has blessed those efforts. But there is only so much we can do, and we’re all exhausted by being constantly outnumbered and isolated.
This is why, Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller, if you should happen to read this, you should know that time is of the essence. Perhaps you do. I continue to hear whispers that the formal correction itself is not far behind. But the question after that will be the same as now: then what? What happens when every effort is ignored? How will we move forward from here?
Will an imperfect council be called? Will the pope be declared to have deposed himself through pertinacious and obdurate heresy? Will a new conclave be assembled among the tiny remnant of the faithful bishops? Will we once again have two rival claimants to the Petrine See?
Or will it be something completely different?
Everyone wants to know what to expect. Everyone is wondering, and frustrated. Everyone is speculating on how difficult things might become, but nobody I’m hearing from seems to think that they will be worse than they are now. An uncomfortable certainty is far preferable to the interminable continuation of uncertainty and doubt.
Something has to give. Please, Lord, let it give soon. Grant the successors of your apostles the courage and wisdom to see this through and begin the work of restoring 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.