God or Mammon: Benedict XVI’s Twilight Reflections on the Church in Germany

This past Autumn Last Testment in his own words, an interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald was released in its English translation. It is full of fascinating and tantalising, almost teasing, tidbits. Scattered through the book are several passing comments on the Church in Germany, Benedict’s native land. Put them together and one finds a sobering reflection on this powerhouse of European Catholicism.

First, a quick reminder of the German Church. It has proved aggressively liberal, not least in some of its most prominent prelates, such as Cardinals Marx, Lehmann and Kasper. They cam into their own at Vatican II when they successfully pushed their liberal agenda onto the Council by means of their wealth and organisational savvy. The title alone of the classic (and approving!) contemporary history of the Council, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, reveals that perfectly. Continue reading “God or Mammon: Benedict XVI’s Twilight Reflections on the Church in Germany”

Discerning the really real: dubia, popes and dissent

The flu has hit me, and sitting at a desk for more than 10 or so minutes has been nigh impossible. That has been all the more galling seeing some of the latest developments in Dubiagate. Even prelates for whom I had conserved some respect are managing the amazing feat of supporting the insupportable.

In fact, one wonders if irony is finally dead. Thus, from America magazine,

Archbishop Mark Coleridge thinks some of his fellow prelates are afraid of confronting reality.

Now one might have assumed he was going to state the obvious: that those prelates and curial apparatchiks chiding i quattro cardinali for publishing their five dubia regarding the papal exhortation Amoris Laetitia in the wake of their being ignored by Pope Francis are very much out of order, and refusing to face the reality that pragmatic perversion of general pastoral policy cannot supplant the teaching of Christ. Continue reading “Discerning the really real: dubia, popes and dissent”

Merton the Rigid?

On Facebook this evening I posted a quotation, asking people to guess its author without recourse to Google. There were some interesting guesses, but one canny lady got to it by a clever process of questioning and reasoning.

The author was none other than Fr Thomas Merton OCSO (or O.C.R. as it was), from his 1950 pamphlet “What is Contemplation?” as published by Burns & Oates as title 7 in their Paternoster Series. This is early Cistercian Merton, grappling intellectually and manfully with spiritual things. Reading this particular little section, I was stopped in my tracks on page 13: Continue reading “Merton the Rigid?”

Ecclesiastical hysterics

The interventions, two of them now, of Fr Pio Pinto against The Four Cardinals i Quattro Cardinali have probably been a little exaggerated in their reporting. However reading excerpts of his answers is enough to realise that Fr Pinto was verging on the hysterical in his support-of-the-pope-by-attacking-the-cardinals. In a second interview he has stepped back from any suggestion that the pope could strip the cardinals of their scarlet. He extols the pope’s mercifulness, twists the two synods on the family into conclusion they did not make, and makes a nasty ad hominem attack against Cardinal Meisner. The tone of Fr Pinto stands in stark contrast to the measured and respectful tone of the cardinals’ letter. Fr Pinto is getting on and some may be wondering if he is hoping for a little sacred purple to cushion his retirement. Chi sa? Continue reading “Ecclesiastical hysterics”

Popes, cardinals and ambiguity

A brief thought on the ongoing, and troubling, impasse over Amoris Laetitia, and the dubia  submitted by i quattro cardinali seeking clarification of controverted formulations in and implications of the papal exhortation.

Sandro Magister today wrote of what he described as “the calculated ambiguity of the text, which has opened the way to a multiplicity of interpretations and applications, some of them decidedly new with respect to the age-old teaching of the Church.” This was part of his introduction to an essay by Claudio Pierantoni which finds a parallel to the current crisis of confusion in the early Church.

However it strikes me that we can find not merely a parallel with but also the origin of the present situation. Magister is almost certainly right in detecting a deliberate ambiguity in Amoris Laetitia (AL). However, it is probably not so very surprising that this is so. AL seems to embody a hermeneutic of ambiguity that can find its roots in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. One does not need to be a scholar to recall the many ways in which ambiguity has been read into conciliar texts, or extracted form them, in order to justify innovations in liturgy, theology and ecclesial life that the majority of the Council fathers would not have countenanced if they had been presented to them at the Council itself.

This conclusion is easily reached even without recourse to the new historiography and hermeneutics which are upsetting the deeply entrenched status quo when it comes to interpreting the Council. One need only read the 1966 classic, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, by the Divine Word missionary, Fr Ralph Wiltgen SVD. Released while the dust of the Council was still settling, and written from a liberal perspective, it is disarmingly frank in its innocent-faced revelations about the machinations of the northern European faction at the Council, including “compromises” in drafting the texts of the conciliar documents. The ambiguity of these documents was clearly planned by their theologian drafters, it not by their episcopal promulgators.

This “calculated ambiguity” in the conciliar documents begat the ambiguity today in AL. This time, however, lessons have been learned and it seems that some are prepared to confront the ambiguity in order to nip its deleterious effects in the bud. No one of sound mind wants to revisit the chaos and trauma of the post-conciliar confusion.

More often than not, magisterial formulations allow room for future doctrinal reflection and elaboration (not change) by stating the barest minimum necessary to counter error and safeguard truth. The Magisterium never tries to say more than is necessary. It has a most un-German terseness and economy of language. Words are carefully chosen, having often been fought over, precisely in order to avoid ambiguity and the chaos that would almost certainly arise from it in the future.

If the Council fathers can be said to have failed, or made a mistake, at all it is certainly in this, if not elsewhere: that they failed to do the work of thrashing out the formulations to the extent they should have. In order to prevent an ever-lengthening Council, and the atrophy that might arise from this, they accepted all too readily the compromise texts placed before them by the periti, in which, as is now often admitted, “time bombs” of ambiguity had been carefully hidden. Desperate to keep up with the swinging sixties, they raced ahead of God.

kasper
Cardinal Kasper is but the heir to Hans Küng
The fathers ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth have been set on edge. Or what they sowed we have been painfully reaping ever since. AL is part of this conciliar harvest. It seems prudent at the very least that some pastors of the Church have learned the bitter but prophetic lesson afforded by Cardinal Ottaviani and are politely but firmly working to ensure that the teeth of the next generation will not also be set on edge, that they will a richer and more abundant harvest to reap than that sown with studied ambiguity, however good its intention. We all know that adage will tells us which road it is that is paved with good intentions. And would that Pope Francis might note the bitter lesson afforded by Pope Paul VI.

alfredoottaviani
Cardinal Ottaviani: a prophet not recognised by his own?
Pax!

Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals

The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, has designated today as Red Wednesday. Mancunians know this tag for another reason, but it is being coopted and elevated by ACN to signify the day on which we take time for special remembrance who are persecuted for their faith. We are encouraged to donate if we can, or to pray and ideally to attend Mass, and as a sign to the world, to wear something red today.

red-socks
As much red as this monk can reasonably manage today

Given the headlines in the Catholic press and blogosphere the last week or two, it is hard not to think of certain red-clad cardinals. The letter of i quattro cardinali—Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner—seeking papal clarification of five dubia, doubts, that have arisen as a result of the conflicted and confusing reception of the Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (following last year’s Synod on the Family), Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love”, not “The Joys of Love” as The Week put it, which makes it sound like an instruction on sexual technique. Of course, the choice of amor(-is) does refer to the fact that it is sexual love being discussed, not the more supernatural caritas). Continue reading “Red Wednesday: the Four Cardinals”

The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality

The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality

There is a quiet media frenzy afoot about the snap decision of Pope Francis not to meet with his cardinals before this weekend’s consistory in Rome. The decision is being attributed to the letter to the pope of i Quattro Cardinali seeking definitive clarification of several points of confusion arising from the papal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, that resulted from the Synod on the Family, and which he seems steadfastly to be refusing to answer.

Pope Francis’ decision is not in itself earth-shattering. Benedict XVI opted out of such a meeting once, and he would hardly have been the first to do so. It may be for other reasons entirely. After all, he is not meeting only the four cardinals involved, but the whole college of cardinals. It would seem quite an overreaction to snub the 97% of cardinals on account of the 3%. Continue reading “The Two-Edged Sword of Collegiality”