Since the publication of the Four Cardinals Letter, the Catholic world is in turmoil. While there are some harsh rebukes of the four courageous cardinals – who have done nothing but defend the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and the family – there are also some encouraging new voices coming forth in their support.
In the following, I shall give just two examples of the ongoing debate surrounding the Four Cardinals Letter — though more are yet emerging — with a contrasting third example added at the end to show also the growing sense of heterodoxy in the Church.
First, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has made some comments about the Four Cardinals Letter that are derogatory and depreciative. As the well-respected French Catholic website Riposte Catholique on 21 November 2016 reports, Schönborn made a comment on the matter of Amoris Laetitia on 18 November, during a meeting with the Roman Rota Tribunal in Rome, saying that this document is “magisterial.” As the French website rightly observes, this comment stands in direct contradiction to Amoris Laetitia which, “in its introduction, takes great care to affirm the legitimacy of a free discussion.” According to Riposte Catholique, Schönborn claimed that The Four Cardinals Letter is “an attack on the pope,” because the cardinals “have to obey the pope.” As the French website comments: “To request a clarification is thus from now on already a form of disobedience….” For Cardinal Schönborn, moreover, this document has thus already become “a super dogma.”
Also important to note in this context is that this same French article reveals that Cardinal Schönborn had originally been (in 2015) the twelfth author of the now-called “Eleven Cardinals Book.” However, his contribution had not been accepted by its editors, because he was “too unpredictable and too fickle.” As Riposte Catholique concludes: “Just as with the Apostles, the twelve cardinals found themselves to be eleven….”
A second example of the growing conflict — as well as the loyal resistance — within the Church is coming to us from out of Germany. Hans Hoping, a professor of theology at the University of Freiburg, has now expressed his own grave reservations and explicit objections to the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia. As the Austrian Catholic website, Kath.net, reports on 21 November, Hoping has recently raised in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the following piercing and very logical question: “Can remarried divorcees be married in two valid marriages at the same time?” The theologian adds: “The text Amoris Laetitia leaves open the answer to this crucial question that it itself has provoked.”
Hoping argues that – since Amoris Laetitia has not put into question the indissolubility of marriage – “one has to clarify how the marriage of remarried divorcees is related to it.” Some argue, according to the German theologian, that this new marriage is a form of a natural marriage. But he objects that even “such a non-sacramental, natural marriage” can also be, in the eyes of the Church, a valid marriage, for example in the case of a mixed marriage.
With reference to Cardinal Walter Kasper – who claims that Amoris Laetitia does not change the teaching of the Church but, at the same time, is somehow still a “paradigm shift” – Hoping says that this cardinal is trying to avoid “the impression of a breach with the previous magisterial tradition.” However, says the theologian, Amoris Laetitia not only “re-adjusts” the pastoral care, but also considers – depending upon the circumstances – “a sexual relationship outside of an existing marriage not any more as being in all cases illicit (Al 301).” Hoping sees that this new approach thus departs “from a crucial point made by Pope John Paul II’s teaching on marriage and the family where he, along with [Saint] Thomas, held firm to the decisive magisterial tradition.”
Thus Professor Hoping now adds his own resistant voice to those voices of many other theologians who have so far already publicly criticized Amoris Laetitia.
Just how far the confusion in the Church reaches and spreads nowadays is shown by the third event coming to us from the German-speaking world. Cardinal Karl Lehmann – one of the members of the progressivist “Sankt Gallen Group” – has recently made another stunning commentary in which he now invites all bishops to an act of disobedience toward the Church. As Peter Winnemöller, author at Kath.net reports:
“For that matter, what, then, is hindering us from taking married deacons – who perform a great service in the Church – and then ordaining them so that they may also take over priestly duties?” Such is the question, according to a KNA report, that was raised by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop emeritus of Mainz, in a discussion with the head of the ZDF [German television]. He [Lehmann] invited the bishops, in a provocative way, to use the freedoms which Pope Francis purportedly is granting. With reference to the fact that all religions [in Germany] are now inundated up to the neck, there should finally come some reforms, the cardinal himself stressed.
Winnemöller then asks the very good question:
Why has the cardinal, during his long life as a bishop, not already performed this act [of disobedience] himself? The question could very well give its own clear answer by itself. For, still also under Pope Francis, any bishop who performs such an illicit consecration would himself be immediately suspended.”
This Catholic author is rightly indignant about Cardinal Lehmann when he says: “It is unclear why a retired bishop now calls upon his fellow bishops to risk their own offices. […] It is of very little help in a situation of crisis to promote a further split and to call upon fellow bishops to violate the law and to be disobedient.” Winnemöller also highlights and emphasizes that “all Protestant communities ordain married persons. The lack of ministers in the EKD [Evangelical Church in Germany], however, is far more dramatic than the lack of priests in the [Catholic] Church.” Thus, in his eyes, Cardinal Lehmann’s proposal would not even slightly help solve the current problems of the Church. Winnemöller concludes:
Thus, the cardinal has done nothing else but to throw a populist [an alluring] stink bomb [or some Mainzer Stinkkäse?] into the already crisis-ridden ecclesial landscape. To speak out at a Theological Faculty [of a University] – and thereby to increase there the anyway already existent lack of sentire cum ecclesia – is irresponsible and it also promotes the latently existing inner split of the Church.
Thus, Cardinal Lehmann – one of the very men who, as it now seems, has helped Jorge Bergoglio attain his papal office – is currently further helping to undermine that same office. In light of all of this disorder and infidelity, may we keep our own heads clear and stay strong. This demoralizing time of “confusion worse confounded” – with its conflict and with its chaos – will also, we hope, soon pass!