In one of the pivotal scenes of the Gospel — one of several moments in which the apostles begin to recognize Christ’s true power — we find Jesus asleep in the stern of a tempest-tossed boat.
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that the ship was filled. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awake him, and say to him: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish? And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? And they feared exceedingly: and they said one to another: Who is this (thinkest thou) that both wind and sea obey him? (Mark 4:37-40)
This is one of my favorite scriptures. Like so much of what happens in the New Testament, the speech is restrained, the drama of the scene muted. But explore the subtext: at least four of the apostles — Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John — were experienced fisherman, who spent their lives on the water. The storm must have been absolutely ferocious for them to have been so terrified. They turn to Our Lord and find Him sleeping, and they get a bit upset. As they rouse Him with their concerns of imminent doom, He turns and with just three words — “Peace, be still” — he brings the storm to heel.
The Roman Pontiff, whom St. Catherine of Siena famously referred to as “Our Sweet Christ on Earth”, also has the power to calm the raging storm now buffeting the Barque of Peter. It is not the battering of wind and waves that endangers the vessel, but confusion, error, and doubt — and worse, a rapidly metastasizing schism, spreading like a deadly poison throughout the Mystical Body of Christ.
When it comes to the self-made crisis in the Church — the mounting battle over marriage, divorce, remarriage, sacraments for those in objective grave sin, and the question of the existence of objective sin itself — our Holy Father, like the very Christ he is duty-bound to serve, has at his disposal five simple words that would pacify the tempest:
“No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
These are, of course, the only answers that a Catholic could ever give to the dubia. There are no other options. No exceptions. No pastoral discernment. No need for verbosity or for yet more nuance.
Distilled down to a crudely simple form, the dubia are essentially as follows:
- Can the divorced and remarried who are still engaged in a sexual relationship receive absolution and communion without a change of life?
- Do absolute moral norms still exist?
- Does objective grave sin still exist?
- Is the teaching still valid that however much circumstances may lessen an individual’s guilt, those circumstances cannot change an intrinsically evil act into a subjectively good act?
- Does the Church’s teaching that an appeal to conscience cannot overcome absolute moral norms still hold true?
These five questions are so simple, their answers so obvious, they require no more than 30 seconds of Francis’ time. (If it would make things easier, the five words could be spoken from the pressurized cabin of an airplane, an environment that seems to stimulate papal loquacity.)
Sadly, the only clarity Catholics now have from their shepherd-in-chief is the understanding that this will not happen. It has been nearly three months since Francis has been presented with the dubia. And what he has made obvious — through his own actions, inactions, and insinuations — is that even if he spoke, he would not answer in this simple, straightforward way. The stakes are just too high. For him to respond to the dubia in the orthodox fashion outlined above would be to undo the work of not just his precious synods, but his magnum opus, Amoris Laetitia.
If, on the other hand, he were to answer the dubia with the answers above inverted — as his exhortation seems to indicate is his thinking on these topics — he would, in essence, be making a public admission that he is a heretic — if we take as the definition of heretic that of St. Thomas: “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas”.
So he does not answer. He cannot. And yet, not to answer is to answer.
His silence, however, is anything but stoic. There are those who have been speaking on his behalf, acting like little better than henchmen, saying the things he is apparently afraid to say. Men close to him. Men such as a few of his newly-picked cardinals (or old friends in the curia or in other influential positions in Rome); certain useful prelates in the East; and certain advisers and allies in the media, such as Fr. Antonio Spadaro and papal biographer Austin Ivereigh.
It is this last figure who seems to have taken point in the all-out assault against papal questioners. In an invective-laden and self-indulgent diatribe at Crux, Ivereigh — who has constructed his own fortification against any personal criticism by successfully suing the Daily Mail for libel — tears viciously into the Four Cardinals and their supporters, impugning their motives and calling them “dissenters” from Church teaching akin to those who rose up during the papacy of John Paul II:
What to them seems entirely self-evident – arguments, logically developed from absolute first principles, backed by a few emeritus bishops, building to a case that cries out to be answered – almost always meets with silence from Rome. At this point there is a reaction of anger and stupefaction which over time coagulates into suppurating resentment.
Some will break off, claiming the one true Church lies elsewhere or nowhere, but most resentfully stay, “clinging onto my faith by my fingertips” as they like to say, or “still a Catholic – despite the pope’s best efforts to drive me out.”
Clinging to the pain of their betrayal, they take refuge in their progressive or traditionalist liturgies and incandescent websites, firing off letters and petitions from lobbies and associations, vainly demanding, as “faithful Catholics” that the pope do this, that, or the other.
Francis can no more respond to the cardinals’ dubia than Benedict XVI could answer a petition to ordain women as deacons: because the Catholic Church has its own mechanisms of development, based on consultation and spiritual discernment.
Put another way, whether it is a conclave or a synod, the Catholic Church likes to lobby-proof its deliberations, precisely to allow the Holy Spirit space to breathe.
Francis cannot answer the cardinals directly – although he has done indirectly countless times – without undermining that action of the Holy Spirit present in the most thorough process of ecclesial discernment since Vatican II. As he last week told the Belgian Christian weekly Tertio, everything in Amoris Laetitia – including the controversial Chapter 8 – received a two-thirds majority in a synod that was notoriously frank, open and drawn out.
Roma locuta, causa finita, as Catholics used to say. And the case is even more closed this time, because it is the universal Church which has spoken, not just the pope.
To respond to the cardinals would be tantamount to rewinding the clock, to refuting the very process of the synod, in order to rehearse arguments that the synod settled, if not resolved.
Accusations of schism, bitterness, impulsivity, and resistance to the “Holy Spirit” are thereby mixed with the cultivated deception of a “two-thirds majority” that even Msgr. Pinto inadvertently admitted, in a recent interview with Edward Pentin, only came to exist after the rules were changed and the deck was stacked:
Given the clear manipulation at both synods, claiming they were the work of the Holy Spirit has disturbed some of the faithful. I therefore reminded him that the most controversial topics failed to obtain a two-thirds majority in the first synod, and so should customarily have been rejected (the Pope authoritatively instead insisted they be carried over to the second synod). To this, he replied: “Yes, but you bind the Holy Spirit to the two-thirds? That’s a bit special, no?”.
A two-thirds majority is required during a synod to offer reassurance that whatever passes is of the Holy Spirit. Synods also have no authority to change doctrine and discipline, as stated in canon 342 of the Code of Canon Law, but rather to assist the Pope in safeguarding and promotion of sound doctrine concerning faith and morals.
To further argue his point, Msgr. Pinto referred to the “wide consultation” around the synod in the form of questionnaires, and pointed out that for the second synod last year, bishops’ conferences elected synod fathers to participate. He stressed that, for the second synod, every proposition passed by two-thirds. Therefore, for him, the two-thirds majority became an important sign of the Holy Spirit at work, but only when they all achieved the required majority to pass and did not need to be forced through from above.
Pentin, of course, reveals the way the papal cabal rigged the game:
Added to that inconsistency, he omitted to mention that not all the synod fathers were elected at the second synod: 45 were handpicked by the Pope (exceeding the usual 15% limit of total delegates) because most of them supported controversial disciplinary changes in this and other areas. They included Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Brussels, Belgium, found to have covered up a sexual abuse case.
At the conclusion of the synod, the remarried-divorcee discernment and accompaniment proposition ended up passing a two-thirds majority by just one vote, probably an impossible feat without the 45 unelected delegates and, it is argued, without the omissions in the text. [emphasis added]
It is of critical importance to remember that not a single defender of Amoris Laetitia has attempted answer the dubia. They can’t, for the same reasons Francis can’t: it would ruin their momentum, embolden their opponents, and reveal their true agenda.
So their arsenal instead consists of threats, character assassination, misdirection, gloating, and scorn. Lacking any honest rebuttal, they are capable only of casting stones. Not one of these papal stand-ins has made an effort to appear concerned with truth; their only observable motive is getting what they want. And what they want will result in not just the complete destruction of sacramental discipline and institutionalized sacrilege, but also a critical wounding of all of the Church’s claims — about Christ, about the Eucharist, about the infallibility of the Magisterium on faith and morals. Opening the door to those cases — however limited — in which the Church would allow those living in manifest grave sin to receive absolution and Holy Eucharist is tantamount to the removal of the cornerstone; a seemingly insignificant piece that brings the entire edifice tumbling down.
This has been the theme of the entire Francis pontificate: it is a non-stop attack on truth, on authority, on the Sacraments, on orthodoxy, on the very ability of the baptized Christian to know right from wrong with certainty and to form his conscience and act accordingly. It appears, in some strange way, to be an attempt to put back the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to take away from us the belief that we can ever know such things as “good” and “evil” or ever live up to the Divine Law — while planting the doubt that such a law exists at all. It is a bizarre, solipsistic deception, seeming very much like something straight from the mouth of the serpent in the third chapter of Genesis.
Where the popes once named Doctors of the Church, Francis spits invective at “Doctors of the Law.”
Where the Church provided absolute moral clarity in a complex and fallen world, Francis rails against those seeking an understanding of “black and white”.
Where the Catholics of old stood athwart an empire, barbarians, and tyrants, suffering martyrdom before giving a single pinch of incense to a false god, Francis mocks any who are so committed to their faith that they appear “rigid”, deriding them as “fundamentalists” and slandering their desire to live out The Great Commission as proselytism, which, to his mind, is “the greatest sin”.
Already, the moral turpitude enshrined in Amoris Laetitia has already crept out fetid tendrils to pollute other teachings of the Church. Just this week, the bishops of Atlantic Canada released a document “allowing priests latitude to decide whether to give euthanasia seekers the sacraments before they are killed.”
Champagne also referred to the Holy Father’s Amoris Laetitia in explaining the Atlantic bishops’ vision of pastoral care for those contemplating or arranging for assisted suicide or euthanasia.
Amoris Laetitia affirms Catholic teaching while recognizing “there are people who are not yet there,” Champagne said.
Thus when it comes to people who are suffering and contemplating, or are arranging for assisted suicide or euthanasia, “we will welcome them, try to understand and journey with them.”
The Atlantic bishops’ document … also quotes Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel.
The Holy Father “reminds us that the one who accompanies others must realize that each person’s situation before God and his/her life of grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without,” the Atlantic bishops write.
“Consequently, we must not make judgments about people’s responsibility and culpability.”
“To one and all we wish to say that the pastoral care of souls cannot be reduced to norms for the reception of the sacraments or the celebration of funeral rites,” they note.
Relativism. All is now relativism within the Church. The intentional obliteration of absolute moral values and the notion of objective grave sin is a gateway to the justification of every kind of evil. The true “Francis effect” is nothing less than the near-total erosion of the Catholic Faith in pastoral practice. And yet this revolution — for it most certainly is a revolt — is shrouded in cowardice. Its leaders are so accustomed to slinking around in darkness that they cannot bring themselves — even though they control the entire visible hierarchy of the Church — to make bold and unequivocal their heretical aims.
You want to unmake the Church? Say so. Stop conniving like snakes. Be men of action. Stake your claim. Make clear your purpose. See if you really can “be as gods,” triumphant and without the burden of consequence.
Cardinals and Bishops, Priests and Religious, laity of every kind who love Our Lord Jesus and His mystical bride, it is time to rise up together as a unified body and stand our ground. There is no more “wait and see”. There is no more benefit of the doubt, because there is no more doubt. No more trepidation about whether this, at last, is the hill to die on. There are no more hills.
Cardinal Burke, you — and by extension, those courageous prelates who joined you in issuing and supporting the dubia — promised us an act of formal correction in the event that Francis did not respond to the dubia as he should. We are awaiting the discharge of your sacred duty; we are anticipating the revelation to the Church of that which only the successors of the apostles can declare: whether the apparent material heresy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio — thus far accepted by the Universal Church as Pope Francis — is now manifest and obdurate, and whether the faithful have, therefore, a duty not to follow him.
Holy Father, time is running short, but you still have a chance to repent of what you have done. You could yet calm the storm with those five words: “No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” Our Blessed Lord made clear that no other answer will suffice. (Mt. 5:37)
Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before a full-blown schism is upon us — and it will not be one of our making.
Correction: in the original article, we said “not a single defender of Amoris Laetitia has attempted answer the dubia.” While this is true of those who are speaking on behalf of the pope, Rocco Buttiglione did attempt an answer in defense of AL, which we responded to here.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher 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 eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.