“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology
As I sat down to write this, I immediately found myself thinking of the above quote by C.S. Lewis. Of course, I don’t find it entirely applicable. I think today’s moral busybodies — particularly those aligned with the hard left or with theological and moral progressivism — are actually not more likely to go to Heaven, though they certainly make a hell of earth.
As the Four Cardinals Letter and the associated commentary by Cardinal Burke about a possible need for “formal correction” of the pope now ring out like a shot heard ’round the world, I have been revisiting the developments of the past seven months since the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia (AL). While Pope Benedict XVI will always be remembered for his opposition to the Dictatorship of Relativism, Pope Francis will instead be known for his imposition of a Dictatorship of Mercy. The new, anti-Catholic realities imagined by his magnum opus exhortation — ushered in under the false auspices of a pseudo “mercy” that is permissive, flaccid, and empty — will be forced upon you whether you want them or not. And you will like it.
Like many nascent tyrannies, the process of oppressively undermining the sacraments of Holy Matrimony, Confession, and the Holy Eucharist began under a pretense of openness and honesty. Recall the opening remarks of Pope Francis at the 2014 Synod:
One general and basic condition is this: speaking honestly. Let no one say: “I cannot say this, they will think this or this of me…”. It is necessary to say with parrhesia all that one feels. After the last Consistory (February 2014), in which the family was discussed, a Cardinal wrote to me, saying: what a shame that several Cardinals did not have the courage to say certain things out of respect for the Pope, perhaps believing that the Pope might think something else. This is not good, this is not synodality, because it is necessary to say all that, in the Lord, one feels the need to say: without polite deference, without hesitation. And, at the same time, one must listen with humility and welcome, with an open heart, what your brothers say. Synodality is exercised with these two approaches.
This is a theme that he again repeated in the post-synodal apostolic exhortation itself (pp. 3-4):
I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.
The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and honest questions. For this reason, I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges.
Throughout the process, we were assured again and again of an open, informal process of dialogue and discussion that encouraged honesty and openness without fear of retribution. We were assured that these were merely pastoral guidelines, and that even certain varying cultural contexts would change the way they would be interpreted and applied in different situations around the world.
Except none of that was true.
It wasn’t long after AL went to the presses that the batons and riot gear arrived on the scene. Within days of its release, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the chief advocate of this new “mercy”, said that AL had changed everything. And certainly, we saw immediate effects. There was the instant implementation of pastoral provisions for the remarried to receive communion by the Philippines Bishops Conference (the first of several such moves around the world). Supportive and enthusiastic statements from then-Archbishop Cupich and Cardinal Lehmann added energy to the adoption of the new paradigm. Advocacy for Communion for the remarried in a public statement issued by Italian priests showed that pastors were ready for a change.
Shortly thereafter, a group of European theologians — some of whom had ties to secret meetings in Rome during the Synod — proposed that it was time to “re-contextualize moral theology and canon law” in light of the exhortation.
Then, Cardinal Schönborn — to whom the pope entrusted the official interpretation of AL, said that the exhortation was magisterial — which, if Lumen Gentium 25 is to be believed, would therefore demand the “religious submission of mind and will” of the faithful.
Next, Archbishop Paglia — a Kasperite — was appointed to head the new Pontifical Academy for Life and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. At the time, he said that the pope “clearly wants to continue the new course which emanates from the Synod of Bishops [on Marriage and the Family] and his encyclical [sic] Amoris Laetitia.” Two months later, in a series of simultaneous actions that sent a strong signal to those charged with educating the faithful about Church teaching on marriage, it was announced that the Melbourne campus of the JPII Institute was to be shut down, and Cardinal Robert Sarah was suddenly replaced by Pope Francis as the keynote speaker at the opening of the JPII campus in Rome — itself newly under the leadership of the Kasperite Monsignor Pierangelo Sequeri — where the Holy Father preached his new synodal doctrine of marriage.
Cardinal Sarah, who has stood firmly against innovations in both marriage doctrine and liturgy, then suffered a near-total purge of the membership of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, of which he remains the titular head.
Still, criticism of AL mounted. Scholars and philosophers and theologians and experts from across the world spoke out. Men of such esteem as German Catholic philosophers Robert Spaemann and Josef Siefert, and American Catholic philosopher Jude P. Dougherty. Moral and dogmatic theologians like Dr. E. Christian Brugger and Dr. Jessica Murdoch. Catholic prelates like Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Cardinal Carlo Caffara, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider. An international group of 45 Catholic theologians, pastors, historians, and scholars sent an in depth 13-page document to every one of the 218 Cardinals and Patriarch of the Church, enumerating 19 theological censures — some involving heresy — against plain interpretations of certain statements in the exhortation.
But The Dictatorship of Mercy was just getting started.
After a number of bishops in the Buenos Aires region released a document pertaining to the implementation of AL that included an option for communion for those living in adulterous relationships, Pope Francis personally affirmed their work in a letter, writing, “The document is very good and completely explains the meaning of chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia. There are no other interpretations.” Pressed on the authenticity of the letter, the Vatican confirmed that it was, indeed, from the Holy Father.
Just ten days after reports of the papal letter emerged, the Cardinal-Vicar of the Diocese of Rome — the Pope’s own diocese — solemnly proclaimed guidelines for the implementation of AL that allowed communion for the remarried. He did so in the cathedral of St. John Lateran — the literal “seat” of St. Peter.
The following month, Cardinal-elect Kevin J. Farrell, the appointed head of a new Vatican division for Laity and Family, said that Amoris Laetitia “is the Holy Spirit Speaking”. “I honestly don’t see what and why some bishops seem to think that they have to interpret this document,” said Farrell. Meanwhile, Vatican insiders Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi launched a diatribe against papal critics, accusing them of being “dissidents” who “are anti-Francis but love [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.” Yesterday, Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne — one of the primary quoted sources for the Tornielli/Galeazzi screed — posted on Facebook (with Andre Tornielli tagged) that he believes Cardinal Burke is now guilty of a Catholic “fundamentalism” that is “potentially schismatic”.
Which brings us, of course, to the present week. Bishop Marcello Semeraro — “secretary of the Council of 9 Cardinals chosen by Pope Francis to be his personal advisers” and bishop of Albano in Italy — has just given a speech on AL at the Jesuit Univeristy of Comillas in Madrid in which he said:
Amoris Laetitia surpasses the logic of “it is not possible – it is possible,” and introduces instead a “clear distinction between general rule and particular case.” Discernment and accompaniment are the key ingredients here, he added.
Regarding the regulation for Catholics who have entered a second civil union after a prior sacramental marriage (and civil divorce) to live as brother and sister in order to receive the sacraments, Bishop Semeraro qualified: “What would it mean that people who have children live as brother and sister? The step forward of Amoris Laetitia, with respect to Familiaris Consortio, is that they [the civilly remarried] can express their affection in their situation, and this is where the accompaniment and guidance of the spiritual director would enter into play.” He added with more clarity: “It is not a brother and sister relationship but a conjugal relationship. They are people who have children and have responsibilities in their relationship.” He claimed to support his interpretation with earlier Church magisterial teaching: “Gaudium et spes says that spouses who abstain from marital relations endanger their relationship and may commit infidelities.”
“Moral discernment by which one tries to know the will of God on a general level, valid for all, and what is good and what is bad” stands in opposition to the personal pastoral discernment that “helps me to know where I am, what is my situation,” the bishop explained.
Papal “mouthpiece” and close collaborator Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, spewed his own venom at critics of AL this week, saying that, “The Pope has ‘clarified’. Those who don’t like what they hear pretend not to hear it!” In another tweet, since deleted but screen captured by Catholic journalist and deacon Nick Donnelly, Spadaro made a reference to the film version of J.R.R. Tokien’s Lord of the Rings, apparently referring to opponents as “witless worm(s)”.
Meanwhile, Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell has also re-asserted his previous position in new comments, this time harshly criticizing one prominent U.S. bishop’s guidelines for the implementation of AL as causing “division”:
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines issued in July unequivocally state that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Holy Communion unless they “refrain from sexual intimacy.” Chaput, who currently heads the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee for implementing the pope’s controversial Apostolic Exhortation, has stated that the document must be interpreted “within the tradition of the Church’s teaching and life.”
But Farrell, who was recently appointed by the pope to head the new Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, stated that he disagreed with Chaput’s position.
“I don’t share the view of what Archbishop Chaput did, no,” the cardinal-designate told Catholic News Service on Tuesday. “I think there are all kinds of different circumstances and situations that we have to look at — each case as it is presented to us,” he said.
“I think that is what our Holy Father is speaking about, is when we talk about accompanying, it is not a decision that is made irrespective of the couple,” he said, adding that while there is an “objective moral law” you will never find two couples who have the same reason for being divorced and remarried.
The Cardinal-designate said implementing the pope’s exhortation should be done “in communion” with all U.S. bishops, not by individual bishops.
Today, in a new report from Italy indicates that the Italian Bishops Conference — which met last weekend to discuss AL — has decided to allow communion for the divorced and remarried, and to take what many have long speculated is the next step for the organizers of the synods: the promotion of homosexuality within the Church.
Finally, as I already told you earlier this week, top Vaticanista Sandro Magister revealed just two days ago that there is an organization called Osservatorio per l’Attuazione della Riforma della Chiesa di Papa Francesco (Observatory for the Implementation of the Church Reform of Pope Francis) that is “Monitoring studies and teaching” of Catholic professors to see if it is in accord with AL. From Rorate Caeli’s translation of Magister’s post, we see the chilling email that the group has sent to some members of the Catholic academic community:
Dear Mr/Ms Professor
Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
Pontifical Lateran University
As has already happened and is happening for other pastoral, academic, and cultural Catholic institutions, our Observatory for the Implementation of the Church Reform of Pope Francis (OARCPF) – an initiative of a group of Catholuc lay people in support of the pontificate of Pope Francis – has begun in the current academic year the monitoring of the contents of publications of faculty and the teachings imparted [in class] in the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in order to make clear the adaptations or eventual disagreements regarding the address made by Pope Francis on the occasion of the opening of the new academic year of your Institute (Sala Clementina, October 28, 2016), in which you were called “to support the necessary opening of the intelligence of the faith in the service of the pastoral solicitude of the Successor of Peter.”
In particular, the contents of published works and the imparted classes will be taken into consideration in reference to what is expressed in the apostolic Exhortation “Amoris laetitia”, according to the image “of the Church that is, not of a Church thought in one’s own image and likeness,” orienting research and teaching not anymore towards “a too abstract theological ideal of matrimony, almost artificially built, far from the concrete situation and from the effective possibilities of families as they are” (Pope Francis, mentioned address, October 28, 2016).
To this end, we will make use of the analytical and critical reading of the studies published by the faculty, of the theses of graduation and doctorate approved by the Institute, of the syllabus of classes of of their bibliographies, as well as interviews of students made after classes, in the square in front of the Lateran University.
Certain that we are doing a useful task to improve the service that you perform with dedication to the Church and to the Holy Father, we keep you up to date on the results of our observational study.
This is war.
I have heard reports that the Vatican is like an occupied state. Certain sources I’ve spoken with have a fear that communications with Vatican officials are being monitored; some have even reported suspicious anomalies in their telephone conversations in which, after a dropped call, the audio of the last moments of their conversation has played over and over again on a loop, as though they are hearing a recording. Some individuals who work within the Vatican are advising their contacts on the outside not to share sensitive information via email or their Vatican-issued cell phones.
If it sounds surreal, bizarre, and conspiratorial, I agree. But what could be more bizarre than a pope needing to be confronted for his forceful promulgation of what could reasonably be construed as heresy?
I do not expect that things will slow down anytime soon. Reports have now surfaced that Pope Francis will, for the first time, avoid spending time with the curia before this weekend’s consistory in which the newly created cardinals will be officially elevated. Marco Tosatti speculates that this may very well be a tactic for the pope to avoid having the dubia about AL presented to him in person. He does not want to answer. He does not feel that he needs to.
You see, The Dictatorship of Mercy demands your complete obsequience. Resistance is futile.
UPDATE: In a postscript at his blog, Sandro Magister indicates that it was discovered that the letter from the “Observatory for the Implementation of the Church Reform of Pope Francis” was an initiative created by a group of students, and not something with an origin within the official machinery of the Vatican. Says Magister, “It remains a sign of what today is a pervasive, inquisitorial animosity against those who are not considered in line with the current pontificate.”
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.