The recent dismissal of Professor Josef Seifert – the prominent Catholic philosopher who has been punished by his ordinary, Archbishop Francisco Javier Martínez Fernández of Granada, Spain, for publishing polite questions with regard to Amoris Laetitia – has provoked an international and just sense of indignation. Among the growing list of public commentators on this incident are: Bishop Athanasius Schneider; Professor Claudio Pierantoni; Dr. John Haas, and Professor Paolo Pasqualucci. The story also has found its way into an article by Ross Douthat at the New York Times. In addition, today we have published a new commentary written by Father Brian Harrison, O.S., who has habitually shown Catholic courage and witness in these times of disorder. This strong collective reaction highlights the gravity of the injustice shown to the highly-respected Professor Seifert, as well as the danger of a direct attack on legitimate academic freedom.
Yesterday, 22 September, Professor Seifert took steps to defend himself legally against the episcopal injustice to remove him from his Dietrich von Hildebrand Chair at the International Academy of Philosophy in Granada. He has filed a civil law suit against the archdiocese of Granada and the Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein with the argument that his dismissal was unjustified and violated two of his fundamental human and constitutional rights. This legal step comes after Professor Seifert repeatedly tried to find a truly peaceful – yet truthful and just – extrajudicial solution with the archbishop. He did, however, file an immediate canonical remonstratio due to the very short period of time in which he was permitted to register such a complaint. (This is something to keep in mind by anybody who is being punished by his ecclesiastical superiors: canon law often gives only a certain amount of time, sometimes only ten days, for the faithful to file an ecclesiastic complaint!) Important, too, in this context, is that Archbishop Martínez never met personally with Professor Seifert or gave him a chance to defend himself before punishing him, and he even went so far as to publish a public announcement of Seifert’s forced retirement in response to his latest article, without first sending a formal personal letter to Seifert himself.
Thus, even to an outsider, it is evident that there have been many abnormalities in the episcopal conduct of Archbishop Martínez. Conduct that seems to bypass normal – not to speak of humane and charitable – procedures and customs that are designed to prevent such arbitrary actions. As our readers will see in the attached commentary written by Father Brian Harrison, O.S., a well-known theologian, we are also dealing here with the danger that a sort of arbitrary rule tendentiously replaces reason and justice.
One of the most grievous parts of this dismissal of Professor Seifert – next to the material damage and the fact that Seifert’s professional career has been gravely damaged – is that Archbishop Martínez published, in his official statement, some grave accusations against Professor Seifert as a Catholic. That is to say, he has claimed that Professor Seifert – with his attempt to defend the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and the family and to put a serious question about one statement in Amoris Laetitia to the pope – had “spread distrust in the papacy,” had “harmed the ecclesial community,” and also had “caused confusion of faith among the faithful.” Such charges could lead, under other historic conditions, to an excommunication, such as St. Athanasius suffered it repeatedly for defending the true divinity of Christ against Pope Liberius’ semi-Arian declarations that put this central dogma of faith into question. It was for these reasons that Professor Seifert had to act expeditiously and immediately, and to file a “remonstratio” with the Church tribunal about the injustices done to him in this matter.
However, he did not file any civil legal complaint without making every conceivable effort to reach a peaceful solution and reconciliation. Being keenly aware of the damage a civil law suit – as well as the ecclesiastical proceeding – could cause to the archdiocese, as well as to the Institute of Philosophy Edith Stein (IFES), which is Seifert’s employer, and to Archbishop Martínez, whom he is close to and admires in many respects, Seifert repeatedly reached out to the archbishop for a peaceful solution of the conflict. In spite of the harsh treatment he had already received, acceptance of his proposals would have moved him to recall the ecclesiastic, and to abstain from the civil, legal proceedings.
I personally can testify to Josef Seifert’s attempt at seeking a charitable reconciliation, since he openly (but confidentially) shared with me his own different steps and written proposals. In his last attempt – after the archbishop had refused his first written and oral proposal – Seifert went so far as to drop any request for a material and professional restitution and only requested a public recantation to be made of the grave charges against him as a Catholic. He offered to withdraw both processes (civil and ecclesiastical), in order to avoid the great economic and moral damage that losing two processes (Seifert was told by both lawyers that he could easily win them) would cause to the sacred person of the archbishop, to whom he owed much, to the IFES, the Diocese of Granada, and to the Holy Church, under the following conditions:
He asked Don Francisco Javier Martínez to put out a text that would confirm that his article (“Droht eine reine Logik die gesamte Morallehre der katholischen Kirche zu zerstören?,” Aemaet, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, http://aemaet.de, Bd. 2 (2017), 10-20 – “¿La lógica pura amenaza con destruir la entera doctrina moral de la Iglesia católica?” Infovaticana, 1. 9. 2017) stands in total harmony with the encyclicals Familiaris Consortio and Veritatis Splendor of Saint Pope John Paul II and with 2000 years of the moral doctrine of the Church. He wanted the archbishop to mention that Seifert’s article coincides with one of the dubia that the four cardinals have presented to Pope Francis. Therefore, to accuse his article of “harming the community of the church”, “confusing the faith of the faithful,” and “sowing distrust in the Holy Father” could not be more justifiedly attributed to his article than to the dubia of the four cardinals who posed their questions in the most polite form and with deep respect for the office of the Pope, just as did Seifert. Seifert asked Don Javier also to put in writing that the cardinals themselves understand their dubia, just as Seifert understands his article (with the additional support of several cardinals, archbishops, bishops and other many faithful), as a service to the Holy Church and to Pope Francis.
Seifert left it entirely in the hands of the archbishop to revoke his forced retirement, which was not due to any valid and constitutional law about retirement at age 70, but was clearly a response to his article so severely attacked by the public statement put out by the Archdiocese of Granada. Seifert proposed to leave him in his chair, at least for four years, in order to honor the commitment of IFES to do so in order to receive a large research grant Seifert has requested. However, Seifert promised not to undertake any legal steps to save his position or salary, if the charges against him were publicly set into perspective (even if not retracted) and if Professor Seifert could revoke a donation he had made to the Institute of many books and unedited original writings of four or five important philosophers and his own unpublished manuscripts, according to the terms of the contract of the donation. It is worth noting that Professor Seifert thought that he would spend the rest of his life in Granada!
What can be seen from this proposal of peace is that Professor Seifert has accepted to suffer any damage to his career, as well as financial and material losses that would result from his dismissal in the mere exchange for a reconciliation with his archbishop on the level of justice and truthfulness. At the same time, he could not sacrifice the truth and his reputation as a respected Catholic thinker in own good standing and full orthodoxy.
To Professor Seifert’s second written proposal of a conciliary solution, Martínez did not make any further reply.
Thus it seems more than just and appropriate for Professor Seifert now to take all the licit steps at his disposal to receive justice and to defend the truth, including the truth about the real reasons for his dismissal, which IFES and the Diocese now seek to hide under the false pretext of simply applying a “law about retiring at age 70,” a law the Supreme Courtof Spain has declared unconstituional in 2016. He thereby fights not only for the truth and his own reputation and career, but also for all those within the Catholic Church who already suffer under similar injustices, or who will do so in the future. Thus we ask our readers to keep these legal actions in your prayers, for the greater good of the Church and also for the deeper “conversion” of Archbishop Martínez from his flagrantly unjust claims and actions. As we understand from different sources, Professor Seifert has very good chances to win both his ecclesiastical and civil cases because so many ecclesiastic and civil rules have been unjustly broken and rights violated. Since the civil claim went first to a “Peace-Court of Reconciliation” there are still chances and hopes that the conflict can be resolved in an extrajudicial forum.