Since the publication of the Correctio Filialis, the public Filial Correction of Pope Francis, some things seem to be accelerating in the Catholic Church. As I dared to say on the night of the first breaking of the news – on the eve of the 24th of September – there was before our eyes a perceptible and great moment of Grace. Fully unexpected, this document, which then had been signed by 62 signatories (the number of signatures has now reached 233), was at once reported on a worldwide scale, at least within hours of time, for the whole world to read and to savor.
It is as if some of the asphyxiating rubble – under which we for too long now have had to live – is cracking, and ventilating, and breaking loose.
And this perceived loosening does not constrict itself only to the papacy of Pope Francis. On 5 October 2017, Professor Josef Seifert – who had published his second 2017 critique of Amoris Laetitia after having been punished for his first 2016 critique, demonstrating thereby his willingness to suffer for the truth – published an excellent article at First Things. In this article, Professor Seifert deals primarily with the fundamental problems of Amoris Laetitia with regard to Catholic moral teaching as well as the growing persecution of orthodoxy in the Church. He also makes, in passing, a noteworthy comment:
Moreover, the pope [Pope Francis] himself told the SSPX [Society of St. Pius X] that they did not—and Pope Francis acted quite rightly in this—have to subscribe to all non-dogmatic documents of the Second Vatican Council in order to be fully reintegrated in the Church. [emphasis added]
While Professor Seifert makes a reference to the SSPX in order to point out that he himself is also thus permitted to make criticisms about a non-infallible document (i.e., Amoris Laetitia), his remark has an even greater meaning. With one stroke of a pen, he defends the SSPX from the denunciations and suspicions which have lain upon them for decades. And with it, he has also pointed to the freedom that should exist in Catholic discourse about many important matters of doctrine and morals with regard to the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath.
Josef Seifert is not the first in the recent past to have made this claim about being able to criticize certain documents of the Second Vatican Council. We remind our readers here of the important statements of Archbishop Guido Pozzo – Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei – and of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, as well as of Professor Roberto de Mattei, all three of whom have articulated the same principled guidance.
For example, Archbishop Pozzo said, in August of 2016, the following with regard to these Vatican documents: Nostra Aetate about interreligious dialogue; the decree Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenism; and the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae on religious liberty:
They are not about doctrines or definitive statements, but, rather, about instructions and orienting guides for pastoral practice. One can continue to discuss these pastoral aspects after the canonical approval [of the SSPX], in order to lead us to further clarifications. [emphasis added]
And in December of that same year, Bishop Schneider made similar comments about the SSPX and their reasoned objections against some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council:
If the Society [of St. Pius X] has difficulties in accepting certain documents of Vatican II, one has to place that into the context of the pastoral objective of the Council. The Dogma has not changed. We have the same Faith. Thus, there is no problem to integrate canonically the Society of St. Pius X. [emphasis added]
Bishop Schneider also said that an agreement with the SSPX “would only be an act of rendering justice – quite belatedly – to the unjust suppression of the Society in 1975 on the part of the Holy See.” What Bishop Schneider shows here is that the SSPX has not objected to elements of the Church’s teaching that are infallible and binding upon the faithful, but only those that are parts of pastoral considerations that very well may be publicly criticized. The parallel to our current resistance against certain statements of Amoris Laetitia is based upon the same logical foundation. We, too, are not objecting to any infallible doctrines of the Church.
In February of 2017, Bishop Schneider further explained his position with regard to the Second Vatican Council. As we then reported, Bishop Schneider said the following:
When asked about the Second Vatican Council, Schneider showed that “the Council was primarily – as repeatedly stated even by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI – a pastoral council; not a doctrinal or dogmatic council;” and he added “so it was the intention of the Church not to give with its documents a definitive teaching.” Schneider continues: “And so when there is no definitive teaching, there can be some development of these issues still, or even some corrections. And this is normal.” [my emphasis]
With his repeated comments, Bishop Schneider also invites a freer discourse about matters of moment for the Church which will have lasting effects on the very life of the Church. He continues, saying: “And so we should create an atmosphere of discussions even on the issues of Vatican II. It is not against the authority of the Magisterium [to do so].” [emphasis added] In Schneider’s eyes, we have had, in the last 50 or 60 years, “a very unhealthy, extreme attitude to accept or to interpret and look at Vatican II and its documents almost as infallible, ex cathedra. And this is not true.” [my emphasis]
Last but not least, Professor Roberto de Mattei wrote in August of 2017 the following trenchant words about the Second Vatican Council, also in light of the message of Our Lady of Fatima:
On the historical level, however, Vatican II constitutes a non-decomposable block: It has its own unity, its essence, its nature. Considered in its origins, its implementation and consequences, it can be described as a Revolution in mentality and language, which has profoundly changed the life of the Church, initiating a moral and religious crisis without precedent. If the theological judgment may be vague and comprehensive, the judgment of history is merciless and without appeal. The Second Vatican Council was not only unsuccessful or a failure: it was a catastrophe for the Church. [emphasis added]
So now that we have four eminent and loyal Catholics – two clergymen and two lay professors – speaking thus to us, let us open up a full and free debate about what in the recent teaching of the Catholic Church has brought good fruit and what has rendered the Catholic Faith hampered and more lifeless. Here we can even refer to Pope Benedict XVI, who, after his very controversial retirement, himself pointed to the consequences of some of the new teachings when he said, in March of 2016:
The missionaries of the 16th century were convinced that the unbaptized person is lost forever. After the [Second Vatican] Council, this conviction was definitely abandoned. The result was a two-sided, deep crisis. Without this attentiveness to the salvation, the Faith loses its foundation. [emphasis added]
Pope Benedict – who had eight years’ time in his papal office to correct all these deviations with authoritative force, but who also seems, at the same time, to have been himself a major figure during the conduct of that that consequential Vatican Council – adds that this “evolution of Dogma” (an impermissible thing in itself) has now manifestly led to a “loss of the missionary zeal” in the Catholic Church. And he then asked the piercing question: “Why should you try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it?” [emphasis added] But the pope does not stop after posing that question, and he even goes one step further, saying that when there are those people who are able to save their souls without the Christian belief, “why should the Christian be bound to the necessity of the Christian Faith and its morality?” [emphasis added]
Here Pope Benedict, unfortunately, does not continue his candid path of speaking the truth, but he, rather, keeps this challenging discussion somewhat abstractly open to further reflection and dialogue, instead of forcefully calling and requiring the Church to return to her infallible doctrines, among them being that there is no salvation outside the Church. At the same time, he points to the moral consequences of an “ecumenism” of “openness” and “plurality” which have had adverse effects, not only with regard to the missionary zeal of the Church, but also with regard to the specific conduct of the Catholic faithful themselves. When a Protestant can save his soul even while his own denomination teaches him that one may break one’s marriage, why, then, should a Catholic hold himself to a higher standard? Thus, the doctrinal, historical, and cultural relativism with regard to ecumenism and ecclesiology has also had an effect upon the moral teaching of the Church.
As I wrote recently:
Here, I would like to add one last question. How is it that, in 2000, the Vatican would declare that the Protestant and Orthodox churches are still, somehow, members of the Catholic Church, while these same churches do not abide by Our Lord’s specific teaching on marriage? Neither its indissolubility nor its sacramentality, for instance?
Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M., recently made a similar point, putting it in much better words, in view of his own theological learning:
The attack on marriage and the family is a mystical unfolding of the attack on the exclusive relationship of fidelity between Jesus Christ and His Spouse, the Catholic Church.
Terrestrial marriage — even as a Christian Sacrament — is an image of this greater relationship between the Divine Bridegroom and his mystical Bride, as Saint Paul shows us (Eph. 5:22-33; cf. Also, Cant. 6:8 and the way this passage is employed by Pope Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctam).
When the faithful are lied to and assured that Jesus Christ can have “multiple wives” in all the heretical Christian sects (some of whose anniversary is wickedly being celebrated by Catholics now), and that even the unbaptized are “God’s children,” then it is logical and reasonable that Christian marriage cannot be long protected. [emphasis added]
Brother Andre Marie points out here that the doctrinal crisis precedes the current moral crisis (the latter of which, as Josef Seifert highlights in his First Things article, also goes back now for some decades).
It is my experience in many conversations with well-meaning, courteous and generous high-ranking Catholics with influence over Catholic discourse – clergymen and laymen alike – that when one starts asking such questions to them as were put here above, they often softly agree or at least do not really know how to respond amply and honestly. It is a sign for me that they, too, have been caught in this sort of skewed or attenuated teaching that is not fully based on Catholic truth and reality. As with every ideology, however, it will not abide and persevere for long – as our friends and acquaintances from former communist countries can confirm – because an ideology is contradicted by reality and because Grace is not attached to it. (I for myself have experienced in my own lifetime the point where ideologies fell off my soul, as it were, as soon as I came in touch with grace-filled truth. That has occurred in many areas!)
I am thus encouraged also by OnePeterFive’s 5 October 2017 article written by Whispers of Restoration about the parallels between Lumen Gentium and Amoris Laetitia. So many Catholics, from so many directions, are starting to ask clear questions, to express criticism and thus to contribute to an honest, loyal and well-reasoned discourse within the Faith. We may not fear that such discourse would undermine the Catholic Church’s authority. On the contrary, only if we return to the fullness of her teaching – as taught infallibly by many popes over the centuries (also in the form of the ordinary universal magisterium, as Father John Hardon, S.J., used to highlight*) – will we gratefully gain the fitting fruits and the fullness of the Faith and help increase the radiant life of the Faith.
This form of free and disciplined discourse should not shun someone’s speaking out about the recent popes and about some of their own confusing or erroneous statements. While I well understand that some conservative Catholics have considered it wrong in any way to criticize their popes publicly at a time of cultural upheaval, I do think that the same principle is to be applied to them as it is to be applied to Pope Francis: the truth, as well as our loyalty toward Christ’s teaching, comes first. The basis for unity is truth. It is, for example, in this context, to be discussed why certain progressivists who are now taking the lead under Pope Francis were ever made cardinals in the first place. Why did Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann, for example, receive the “red hat” from Pope John Paul II in spite of their known and public heterodoxies?
There are so many aspects that could still be discussed. There are, indeed, so many elements to be re-discovered. I remember one priest – from a diocesan parish – who had finally turned to the traditional Latin Mass. He once gave my family and me a blessing, saying that ever since he discovered how highly the stigmatist Therese Neumann of Konnersreuth valued the blessing of a priest, he is much more inclined generously to give out those blessings. The Catholic Church has so many ways to extend blessings and Grace to mankind. May she soon more fully find her way back to her own old and enduring convictions that stem from Christ Himself (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by Me.”) and may she soon give us back all the devotions, liturgies, blessings, prayers, words and silences that the world so direly needs.
Let us thus come out from under the stifling rubble and, on the way, also clear our minds of cant, often asphyxiating cant!
* I would now like to quote here, ten years before he died in late 2000, Father John A. Hardon’s own 1990 criticism of the final draft of the proposed Catechism of the Catholic Church, which he once also shared with my husband, Dr. Robert Hickson. In that commentary the Jesuit priest and teacher of dogmatic and moral theology said the following:
As already noted, the authors of the “Revised Draft” [of the Catechism of the Catholic Church] do indeed speak of “the infallibility of the apostolic magisterium.” But this minuscule statement not only fails to explain the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. It ignores such infallibility with devastating consequences to a large part of the Church’s irreversible teaching, especially in the vast area of personal and social morality.
Most of the dissenters from the Church’s teachings in the twentieth century have rejected the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. Every single moral law governing the fifth, sixth and ninth commandments has been called into question. Contraception and abortion, fornication and adultery, masturbation and homosexuality are being defended by nominally Catholic writers and educators. Why? Because it is claimed that the Church has never spoken infallibly on these matters.
The “Revised Draft” of the proposed Universal Catechism supports this view by its silence on the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. [Even] The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this crucial matter [in Lumen Gentium 25] is by-passed as though it did not exist.
(25-26) [Moreover,] The Church has the divine right to defend the unchangeable natural [moral] law, as Pope Paul VI declared in Humanae Vitae. It is irrelevant that so much of this doctrine has never been taught by the Church’s extraordinary magisterium. It has been taught infallibly by the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium. Yet the “Revised Draft” has chosen to ignore this indispensable truth of the Catholic faith. One plausible reason for this omission is to avoid taking a definite stand on such allegedly controversial matters as contraception and extramarital sexual relations. [emphasis added]