Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Ongoing Support of the Francis Papacy

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, right, hugs Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica during the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Pope Francis pushed open the great bronze doors of St. Peter's Basilica on Tuesday to launch his Holy Year of Mercy, declaring that mercy trumps moralizing in his Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, right, hugs Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica during the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year, at the Vatican, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.  (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia; Source)

Last week saw yet another instance of Pope Emeritus Benedict giving an interview and insisting upon his unconditional support of Pope Francis and his work. EWTN reported on 28 August 2016 about this new statement of the former pope as follows:

Speaking about Pope Francis, Benedict said that obedience to his successor “was never in discussion,” but that since Francis’ election, a feeling of “deep communion and friendship” has arisen between the two.

At the moment of his election I experienced, as many, a spontaneous feeling of gratitude toward Providence,” he said, explaining that after having two Pope’s [sic]  from Central Europe, “the Lord was turning, so to speak, his gaze to the Universal Church and invited us to a more extensive communion, more Catholic.” [my emphasis]

Pope Benedict makes it very clear in this statement, as originally published on 24 August 2016 by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, that he fully supports Pope Francis. There is no hint of any polite criticisms or reservations to be seen. Earlier this year, Pope Benedict had already twice given his full and unqualified support of Pope Francis and his work, especially in his Year of Mercy and with Francis’ general accent upon that professed part of the Church’s doctrine. First, Benedict said in March of 2016:

I believe it is “a sign of the times” that the idea of God’s mercy is becoming increasingly central and dominant – starting with Sister Faustina, whose visions in various ways deeply reflect God’s image among today’s mankind and its desire for divine goodness.

Then, on occasion of his own 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination on 28 June 2016, Pope Benedict uttered these somewhat strange-sounding words, addressed directly to Pope Francis:

First of all, thank you, Holy Father! Your goodness, evident from the moment of your election, has continually impressed me, and greatly sustains my interior life. The Vatican Gardens, even for all their beauty, are not my true home: my true home is your goodness. There, I feel safe. Thank you also for the kind words of gratitude, for everything. We hope that you will continue to go forward with all of us on this road of Divine Mercy, showing us the way of Jesus, toward Jesus, toward God. [my emphasis]

Thus, in all these instances, Pope Benedict shows himself apparently to be in effective collaboration with the “reform” agenda of Pope Francis, which often enough puts Mercy above Justice. Benedict gives his blessing to a work which has led to the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (AL), which has gathered such strong criticism from theologians and philosophers that “heresy” has often been mentioned in this context. It was especially to be seen after the Austrian Philosopher, Josef Seifert, wrote a stringent and compelling critique which lay bare the objectively heretical statements to be found in Amoris Laetitia. Seifert – who is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life – lists in his 28-page analysis of Amoris Laetitia the many grave errors to be found in the papal text. For example, he refutes the claim of AL that one may have sexual relations with someone other than one’s own true spouse, if that would also somehow be helping to preserve such a currently adulterous relationship for the sake of the children of that new bond. Seifert also criticizes the claim that “no one can be condemned forever,” which is “a denial of the existence of hell.” While calling some of these statements of AL heretical, Seifert, in his charity, shows his trust in the current pope when saying:

I am thus full of confidence that, as true pope and successor of Saint Peter, should Pope Francis find a contradiction between his statements and the teachings of the Church, he would immediately rescind his theses. And I hope he will do so with regard to the following cases.

At the end of his acute historic critique, which surely will have a place in future history books, Seifert asks Pope Francis to rescind these heretical statements. He says:

Then we can only ask him [Pope Francis]  imploringly to follow the glorious example of his predecessor, John XXII, who, a day before his death, rejected and condemned with the bull, Ne super his, his own false teachings that the souls separated from the body (the animae separatae) in the beyond before the Last Judgment experience neither the heavenly beatitude, nor the pains of hell – a teaching that has been condemned as heresy by his successor Benedict XII in the bull Benedictus Deus […] May Pope Francis not leave it up to a successor or to a council to condemn these statements, but, rather, may he revoke them himself. [my emphasis]

As we reported earlier, Pope Francis’ somewhat indirect response to these strong criticisms of Amoris Laetitia — coming from many directions — was to appoint Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia to several prominent positions within the Curia, with the explicit wish that he may “continue the work of Amoris Laetitia.” Thus it becomes obvious that Professor Seifert’s kind and charitable expectation that the pope would immediately rush to correct and rescind objectively heretical statements of AL was wrong. Pope Francis apparently insists upon the retention of his errors and false teachings.

To make things worse, Pope Francis even now increases the ambiguities – and the practical cultural relativism – of this papal document. He tells the Polish bishops during his trip to the World Youth Day in Poland that they may interpret Amoris Laetitia in a way that is fitting for their own culture. Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, related the words of the pope to the Polish bishops at a press conference – according to LifeSiteNews – as follows:

The pope related that in a decentralized Church, bishops’ conferences “might on their own initiative not only interpret papal encyclicals, but also looking at their own cultural situation, might approach some specific issues in an appropriate manner,” Gadecki said. [my emphasis]

Pope Francis also explicitly mentioned in this context – according to Gadecki – the matter of the putatively “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to Holy Communion. (Accordingly, Gadecki declared publicly on 28 July 2016 – hours after the meeting with the pope on that day – that the Polish bishops will not give out Holy Communion to the “remarried” divorcees unless they “live as brother and sister.”)

Nonetheless, Pope Francis has just recently allowed – and not long after his own above-mentioned remarks to the Polish bishops – an unmistakably contradictory 23 August article to be published – in his own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano – which says exactly the opposite of what he had just said in Poland.

As Catholic News Service reports:

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the “ordinary magisterium” – papal teaching – to which Catholics are obliged to give “religious submission of will and intellect,” said an article in the Vatican newspaper.

Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a “definitive way” in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the “ordinary magisterium” to which all members of the church should respond with “the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation.” [my emphasis]

In this context, the author, Father Pie-Ninot, explicitly includes in the list of the “most significant words” of Amoris Laetitia the possibility for “remarried” divorcees to receive Holy Communion:

Accepting Amoris Laetitia as authoritative church teaching, Father Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document’s “most significant words” about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.

The ambiguities with regard to Amoris Laetitia and to the vexed question as to whether one now has to follow its content – and fully adhere to it – are obviously increasing. This is not pastoral. Confusion – especially subversive equivocation – is never pastoral. And an ambiguous teaching is not at all binding upon the Catholic conscience. As Cardinal Carlo Caffarra told OnePeterFive in an interview in July of 2016 with regard to ambiguous moral teachings:

Logic teaches us that a proposition is ambiguous when it can be interpreted in two different and/or contrary meanings. It is obvious that such a proposition can have neither our theoretical assent nor our practical consent, because it does not have a sure and clear meaning.

In this situation where so many souls are at risk due to such ambiguous – and some objectively heretical – statements coming from Pope Francis, each Catholic prelate, I dare to say, has a greater duty now, in charity, to help the pope himself to correct his errors, and even some of his perceptibly hardened errors. In this context, it would be Pope Emeritus Benedict’s experienced role as the former pope, and in his role as a known theologian, to raise his clarifying voice and to help confused Catholics to find the loyal path to salvation. (With such an intervention, Benedict would also give moral support to all those prelates – such as the Head of Doctrine Cardinal Gerhard Müller – whom he once as pope called to Rome to assist him and some of whom now even desperately try to preserve the Church’s traditional moral teaching.)

It seems, however, that by giving Francis repeatedly his unqualified support, Benedict now serenely chooses to be a “team player,” even to the point of being complicit with the nuanced, equivocal novelties of Francis in his professedly “pastoral” actions.

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