Asking Questions and Reading the Signs
The current confusion in the Church has been compared to the Arian crisis.
When priests, bishops, and other Church leaders start to do and teach strange things, each Catholic has to make some choices. Where will you go to worship? Will you go to your local parish or the cathedral, where heterodoxy or liturgical abuse may be the norm? Do you decide, “They may be heterodox, but they are the priests and the bishop, so I’ll keep following them”?
I guess that many, maybe most, lay Catholics during the Arian crisis did not know or fully grasp the theological issues at stake. Most people were probably illiterate and not well informed about theological debates. They had to make a practical decision about how to live the faith: where they would go to Mass, where to receive the Sacraments. Many of them may have had no choice; maybe in many dioceses, there was no alternative to the heretical clerics.
It is a terrible position to be in, when all you want is to be a simple, faithful Catholic. Should you stick with your validly ordained but heretical bishop, or follow excommunicated St. Athanasius in the desert?
I am afraid that a similar crisis is developing today, and has been developing for decades, as Paul VI’s and John Paul II’s quotes show. Tragically, rather than continuity, the historical evidence shows rupture from the past since Vatican II – a rupture in beliefs and practices, faith and morals. In my view, the “hermeneutic of continuity” is just wishful thinking. What good is it to say that Catholic morals as defined in the Catechism or other magisterial documents have not changed, but clerics do not teach the Faith, or they teach only selected parts of the Faith, from the pulpit, and thus lead souls astray? As Pope St. Felix III says, “Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says all Church teachings, including those of Vatican II and since, “must be interpreted according to the Tradition, based on Revelation and on Scripture.” The problem is that priests, bishops, and theologians use their teaching office to spread ideas that directly contradict the past teachings of the Church, and they do so without being corrected or disciplined. While doctrine does not change, policies and practices of Church leaders today undermine doctrine and dogma, putting souls in jeopardy.
For example, a certain priest named Walter Kasper wrote a book questioning the miracles and even resurrection of Jesus, and John Paul II elevated him to the cardinalate. Why?
Sodomy is still a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance, so why, then, are “gay Masses” permitted in places like London, New York, etc., with full knowledge of the bishops? Why do a majority of American Catholics support “same-sex marriage”?
How is it that various bishops publicly say homosexual practices are positive and the Church should offer a rite of commitment for two people engaging in sodomy with each other?
How can the pope’s celebration of the Protestant revolt and praise of Martin Luther – and the post-Vatican II program of “ecumenism” as a whole – be reconciled with Pius XI’s Encyclical Mortalium Animos (1928) and Magisterium’s condemnations of Luther?
Why is it that Catholics are accused of grave sin by Pope Francis for trying to help non-Catholic Christians, or those of other religions, to learn about and enter the Catholic Church (i.e., “proselytizing”)? Was St. Francis de Sales sinning by proactively converting Protestants to Catholicism by preaching door-to-door and distributing pamphlets and tracts? Was St. Dominic in error when he confronted and told heretics they were wrong and should return to Catholicism?
Why are the Four Last Things almost never heard preached, and many priests do little or nothing to encourage parishioners to dress modestly for Mass?
Why is Thomistic theology no longer part of the curriculum, or at least neglected, in many (most?) seminaries today?
Regarding the liturgy itself, in an encyclical, Pius XII defended the use of Latin as “a manifest and beautiful sign of unity as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrine.” Yet many priests and bishops so zealously push the vernacular in all their Masses that entire parishes have become hostile to the Church’s mother tongue.
Here are a few examples of recent papal statements that are quite difficult to read in light of Tradition or the Magisterium:
- In summer 2016, Pope Francis said something odd: “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” He also said, defending non-marital cohabitation, “I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage. They have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity.” This is a confusing thing to say. If the preponderance of Catholic marriages are null, this is an emergency for most Catholics in the world. The second quote is also a disturbing rejection of the Church’s constant teaching on the immorality of non-marital relations. Taken together, the quotes make it sound as though the Pope believes that people living in sin have more valid and grace-filled relationships than (presumably) married Catholics.
- Recently, the pope stated: “There is a healthy secularism, for instance, the secularism of the State. In general, a secular State is a good thing; it is better than a confessional State, because confessional States finish badly.” This is a departure from the explicit teaching of earlier popes and the tradition of the Church that the state should favor the Catholic Church, in the interest of the common good of helping everyone get to heaven. Pius XI, like other popes, said the state has a duty to promote the true religion. Does Pope Francis’s teaching not contradict the 1925 encyclical Quas Primas?
- In the same interview, the pope said: “[N]o religion as such can foment war. Because in this case it would be proclaiming a god of destruction, a god of hatred. One cannot wage war in the name of God or in the name of a religious position. War cannot be waged in any religion.” This is simply not true, factually. One recalls Joshua and Jericho and other Old Testament examples. A more recent example is that the doctrines of Islam call for jihad. Mohammed himself was a warlord, and he is considered a model of behavior for Muslims.
Tradition, Doctrine and Magisterium
Has doctrine changed? Doctrine is supposed to be unchangeable in the Catholic Church, so I will not claim that it has. However, what is obvious is that many pronouncements by Church leaders, both written and spoken, appear to contradict the traditional doctrine of the Church. It seems there are many Church leaders who would like doctrine to change. Many conciliar and post-Vatican II statements are difficult (or, frankly, impossible) to interpret as consistent with Tradition and the Magisterium.
I am not an expert on these things, but I have done a little research, and here is what I’ve found about traditional doctrines that appear to be contradicted by Vatican II and post-conciliar documents and actions by Church leaders.
The Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae says that humans have a natural right to religious freedom. Such a teaching was explicitly rejected by all Church fathers, doctors, and popes prior to Vatican II. There is no right to practice false religions or spread error, according to pre-Vatican II doctrine. Dignitatis Humanae says false religions may be publicly promoted – a position condemned in the past. In the past, saints destroyed idols and temples and legislated against pagan and heretical practices. According to Vatican II’s modern notion of religious freedom, it appears St. Louis IX was in error for promoting Catholicism in his kingdom, and St. Thomas More was wrong for using state authority to crack down on the publication and circulation of Lutheran literature in England. The modern view is well represented in the quote from Pope Francis above that the state should be secular.
The modernist ideas of religious liberty expressed in Vatican II documents were condemned by Pius IX in Quanta Cura, Leo XIII in Libertas Praetantissimum, and the Syllabus of Errors of 1864, among many other magisterial documents. Surprisingly, Cdl. Ratzinger claims that Gaudium et Spes is a “countersyllabus” to that of 1864: ”Let us content ourselves here with stating that the text [of Gaudium et Spes] plays the role of a counter-Syllabus to the measure that it represents an attempt to officially reconcile the Church with the world as it had become after 1789.” In other words, Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes directly challenges the teaching of an earlier pope in a magisterial document.
Pius XI reminds us that Christ is King of the universe, which includes the social and political realms, and the state has duties toward God that include support for the Catholic Church. Pius XII negotiated a concordat with Spain in 1953 that made Catholicism the state religion, which Pius XII considered a model for other countries. After Vatican II, based on Dignitatis Humanae, the Vatican pressured Spain (and other similar Catholic countries) to change the constitution to recognize the new idea of “religious liberty.”
Questions about Amoris Laetitia
The big controversy of the moment provides a good example of how doctrine appears to be changing. But doctrine cannot change, and that is why there are so many questions about 2016’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which allows for the reasoning that people in adulterous relationships can be admitted to Holy Communion. This is how the document is already being implemented in many dioceses, such as in Argentina and Rome, with the pope’s approval. Such a practice threatens the integrity of the Sacraments and obscures truths about family life and morality.
The so-called “Kasper proposal,” which kicked all this off in early 2014, was to admit civilly divorced and remarried Catholics still in valid marriages to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In a November 2015 interview, Pope Francis said, “This is bottom line result, the de facto appraisals, are entrusted to the confessors, but at the end of faster or slower paths, all the divorced who ask will be admitted.”
St. John the Baptist died for upholding the truth on marriage. So did Ss. Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. And of course, Our Lord’s words in Scripture on adultery are clear. Absolution in confession depends on contrition and the resolution to avoid sin. The Eucharist should be received only by those in a state of grace. But A.L. appears irreconcilable with these doctrines.
Contradictory implementations of Amoris, such that Communion for adulterers is considered pastoral medicine in some dioceses but mortal sin in others, destroy Church unity. If the Four Cardinals receive no answer to their dubia and therefore issue some kind of public correction of the pope, will every Catholic – pew-sitter to prelate – be put on the spot to take sides in the controversy? If your bishop or parish priest defends Amoris and distributes Communion to public, unrepentant adulterers, consistent with the pope’s teaching, what will you do?
Benjamin J. Vail, OFS is a Franciscan tertiary from the USA living with his family in Brno, Czech Republic.